So you’re thinking about bringing a hamster to your home? Congratulations! They’re delightful cuddly creatures that make great pets. But before you go ahead and buy or adopt one, it’s essential to remember that owning a hamster is a great responsibility.
Despite their tiny size, hamsters are a big deal when it comes to responsibility and commitment. Their fragile nature requires a lot of help from you to stay happy and healthy. You’ll need time to provide them with food, clean their cage and play with them.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through the basic steps of hamster care. From housing and feeding to cleaning and playing, we’ve got you covered.
Before you bring your little furry friend home, it’s important to learn some facts about him.
Hamsters are small furry rodents that belong to the subfamily Cricetinae. The subfamily includes about 25 hamster species classified into seven or eight genera.
They’re popular pets in the US, UK, and Europe. The most common pet hamster species are the golden hamster or Syrian hamster. In addition to three dwarf hamsters; the winter white dwarf hamster, the Roborovski hamster, and Campbell’s dwarf hamster.
Hamsters are nocturnal, meaning they come out and play when the sun goes down. That’s because they’re an easy target for many predators like snakes, foxes, eagles, and more.
Hamsters usually dig deep tunnels with multiple entrances to protect themselves. During the daytime, they hide in tunnels and burrows from predators. Moreover, hamsters can be territorial, they won’t welcome other hamsters into their tunnels.
Hamsters are great at hoarding their food, they store food in their cheek pouches, like a chipmunk. They can also stash food in their nests. So if you have a hamster pet, it’s not uncommon for him to keep a secret stash of food somewhere in his cage.
Many golden hamsters hibernate during cold weather. They like to stay in their burrows and sleep in their nests, waking up once a week to get their stashed food.
Hamsters barely see anything beyond their noses. They can only see well in dim light, which is why they’re nocturnal animals. They rely on other senses like hearing and smelling to guide them.
Now you’ve learned some interesting facts about hamsters, it’s time to learn how to take care of them.
To provide your hamsters with safety and comfort, it’s critical to have their small home ready. That means investing in a spacious cage, comfortable bedding, and some supplies to keep your hamsters active.
Depending on your hamster’s size, you’ll need to provide him with a cage that’s vast enough for him.
Hamsters are pretty active and they highly appreciate the extra space. A suitable cage size for a hamster shouldn’t be less than 24 inches by 12 inches and at least 12 inches in height. Smaller cages might result in stress and discomfort for your hamster.
The cage location is an important factor to consider because it highly affects your hamster’s quality of life.
You should choose a well-ventilated area with a suitable temperature between 18 and 26 °C (64–79 °F). It would be best to place the cage in a semi-shaded location and avoid direct sunlight.
Hamster cages come in a variety of sizes and materials. The most common hamster cages are made from plastic, glass, and wire. Each cage material has its pros and cons.
For instance, plastic lets you see your hamster better and prohibit him from chewing the cage. However, they’re not well-ventilated and can be difficult to clean.
Glass cages maintain a suitable temperature so that hamsters don’t hibernate but they’re usually heavier and more expensive than other cage types.
Finally, wire cages allow excellent ventilation, but hamsters usually chew them (which can be too loud). Plus, your hamster will most likely push their bedding outside the cage creating a mess.
Due to their burrowing and digging habits, it’s essential to provide your hamster with enough safe bedding material for burrowing and nesting.
Hamster bedding should cover the whole cage and should be deep enough. Cages with a bedding depth of 40 cm or more, enhance the hamster’s quality of life.
Conversely, hamsters provided with minimal bedding tend to chew cages and spend much more time on running wheels.
You should also choose bedding that’s safe for your hamsters to eat and doesn’t contain any harsh chemicals. Make sure the bedding is soft enough for your hamsters to sleep and doesn’t contain any sharp edges that could harm them.
When it comes to bedding material, there are several options to choose from.
The most common are shipping paper, shredded newspaper, and aspen shavings. Shipping paper is a major source of dust, so be sure to use it sparingly.
Aspen shavings are soft and absorbent, making them a great choice for keeping your pet’s cage clean. Shredded newspaper is one of the safest beddings since it has no loose fibers or dust.
It’s also worth noting that you should stay away from some materials like sawdust. The small particles can get into the hamster’s eyes and nose causing irritation, eye infections, and respiratory problems.
Cedar and pine shavings should also be avoided as they contain aromatic oils that irritate your hamster’s skin and mucous membranes.
It would be best to change your hamster’s bedding at least once a week for maximum freshness and to get rid of the bad odor.
Don’t get fooled by the tiny size of hamsters, they require a great deal of mental and physical exercise to stay happy, healthy, and active. For that reason, you should always fill your hamster’s cage with stuff as they get bored and stressed fast.
Hamsters spend most of the day time sleeping. In the wild, they’re used to hiding from predators and sleeping in their tunnels.
That’s why providing your hamster with a comfy and safe nest box is always a good idea. We recommend adding multiple nest boxes with suitable bedding material like shredded white kitchen rolls or Aspen shavings.
A running wheel is an essential tool for a hamster’s cage. It’s even hard to think about hamsters and not picture them running on them.
Hamsters enjoy running on wheels as they’re very active at night and need some activity to release their energy. It’s also a physical exercise for healthy muscles, joints, and vital organs.
Chew toys and interactive games are ideal for hamsters. Since hamsters don’t like to spend time out of their cage, you should supply them with enough entertainment so they don’t get bored or stressed.
Hamster balls, tubes, climbing toys, bridges, and hammocks will keep your hammy busy and happy. You also don’t have to spend much on buying commercial hamster toys. Most hamster owners opt for using cardboard boxes, paper bags, and towels as toys.
In the wild, hamsters spend hours searching for food; they take food off plants or search for insects.
To encourage your hamster to forage, you can sprinkle their food all over the cage instead of using a dish. That way, you’re stimulating your hamster’s senses as well as keeping him engaged and active.
You can take this technique a step further by adding safe herbs, leaves, and flowers to introduce a wide range of new smells to stimulate your hammy’s sense of smell.
Hamster sprays are also a good option when it comes to foraging. Flax, quinoa, wheat, and oat sprays allow your hamster to pick off the food off the plant, similar to how hamsters find food in the wild.
Sand baths make excellent additions to your hamster’s cage. While hamsters usually groom themselves, sand baths help remove excess oils from the hamster’s coat. In addition, sand baths are perfect for hamsters to enjoy digging as they keep their claws worn down.
Dwarf hamsters enjoy rolling in the sand, while Syrian hamsters prefer digging or using sand as a litter box.
Same as bedding, you should avoid using dust and powders as sand baths because they cause respiratory problems. Soft reptile sand and aquarium sand are both clean, fine, and healthy for your hamster as long as they don’t have added dyes or calcium.
Hamsters are omnivores, which means they’ll eat pretty much anything. However, that doesn’t mean giving them just anything to eat. Furthermore, feeding a hamster can be quite complicated as you won’t usually find commercial hamster food that meets all the nutritional needs.
That’s why most hamster owners use a mix of seeds, pellets, vegetables, and fruits to feed their hamsters. At the same time, there are some food types you should avoid feeding your hamster.
An ideal diet for a hamster should contain the following:
- Fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs
- High-quality commercial pellets
- Timothy Hay
- Treats like worms, nuts, and boiled eggs
Pellets should be the base of your hamster’s diet. Besides, hamsters enjoy eating dark green vegetables like broccoli, lettuce, carrot tops, spinach, and artichokes.
You should also add fruits like apples, strawberries, peaches, and pears to your hamster’s diet occasionally.
Timothy hay is also great for hamsters as they adore gnawing food; a natural habit for hamsters to keep their teeth healthy.
Since they’re omnivores, hamsters appreciate a treat of animal protein such as cooked chicken, boiled eggs, and mealworms.
Finally, a clean fresh supply of water is crucial for your hammy. You should always inspect the water supply for any leaks and change the water daily.
Stay away from foods like chocolate, which is toxic to hamsters. The same goes for candy and other sugary treats.
Also avoid anything with caffeine, as it can be harmful to their health. Here’s a list of what you shouldn’t feed your hamster:
- Apple seeds
- Citrus fruits
- Garlic and onions
- Raw beans and potatoes
Hamsters should eat one or two teaspoons of pellets foods per day. You should also keep track of your hamster’s eating habits to avoid malnutrition or over-feeding.
For instance, if your hamster finishes all his food and doesn’t store much, you might need to increase the amount. Conversely, if he’s gaining weight and storing much food, you might need to reduce the amount.
It’s also worth noting that young hamsters have higher energy than older ones, so they require more calories. The same goes for nursing and pregnant mothers. Once they give birth, you can go back to feeding the normal amount.
Annual visits to the vet are critical to ensure your hamster is healthy. The vet will examine your hammy for dental diseases, swelling, and respiratory and skin infections. Moreover, the vet might assist in trimming nails, reviewing diet, and detecting health issues early.
Hamsters are prone to some illnesses such as:
- Respiratory issues
- Skin infections
- Dental diseases
- Eye problems
- Bladder stones
As in most animals, detecting the health issue as early as possible is essential for a successful treatment. If you notice any of the following telltale signs on your hamster, you should talk to your vet.
- Lumps and swellings
- Discharge from mouth, eyes, or nose
- Overgrown teeth
- Difficulty in chewing or breathing
Hamsters are great self groomers, they clean themselves even better than most animals. For that reason, hamsters don’t require grooming.
However, the Syrian hamster has a very long coat that can easily collect debris. So you might need to use a soft pet brush to clean his coat.
Note that you should never bathe your hamster because water and shampoos strip their coat of natural oils. Sand baths are more than enough for your hamster to clean himself.
Hamsters keep their teeth short by gnawing on wood, hard cereal, paper towel rolls, and chew toys. Still, you should regularly check if your hamster’s teeth are growing longer. You might as well take him to the vet to trim his teeth to prevent future dental issues.
Similar to teeth, hamsters always keep their nails short by digging. However, if you don’t provide your hamster with enough bedding and sand for digging, his nails will grow longer.
In that scenario, you’ll need to take him to the vet to trim his nails or use a small pet nail clipper and do it yourself.
Hamsters get scared pretty easily and a sudden movement is enough to scare them. Because they’re prey animals, they have the instinct to hide from almost everything.
That’s why bonding with your hamster might be challenging, especially if you have just brought him to your home.
When you first bring your hamster home, it’s essential to give him some time to adjust to his new home. You shouldn’t attempt to handle him or make too much noise near his cage; this can be overwhelming for him.
If you want to bond with your hamster, start with the basics. For instance, provide him with treats and spend time near his cage. Creating an extra space for him outside his cage might also help. But ensure the space is quiet and safe for him.
Make sure you handle your hamster correctly when taking him out of the cage. You should lift him gently from his tail’s base and support his body weight as you pick him up.
Once he’s out of the cage, let him explore and check things out for a bit. This will help him feel comfortable and build trust between you and your hamster.
Now it must be obvious that hamster care isn’t the easiest task. These cute tiny creatures need much time and effort to stay happy and healthy.
If you’re getting a hamster for the first time, it’s important to prepare his cage, bedding, food, water, and toys beforehand. You can find most of these items at your local pet store, or online.
I have a bachelor’s degree in Film/Video/Media Studies, as well as an associates degree in Communications. I began producing videos and musical recordings nearly 15 years ago. I am a guitarist and bassist in Southwest MI and have been in a few different bands since 2009, and in 2012 I began building custom guitars and basses in my home workshop as well. When I’m home, I love spending time with my three pets (a dog, cat, and snake) and gardening in my backyard. I also like photographing wild birds, especially birds of prey.