Being a pet hamster parent is a fantastic experience for adults and kids alike and it is important for new owners to know how to care for a hamster.
Hamsters are well known for their ability to bring joy, cuteness, and even a bit of mischief into every human household they grace with their tiny presence.
But before you embark on the exciting journey of hamster ownership, it’s crucial you understand how to take care of a hamster the right way.
But don’t worry; it won’t be difficult.
Hamster care is a piece of cake if you spend 10 minutes reading this guide from start to finish and then put everything you learn into practice.
We’ll cover topics like:
- Hamster breeds
- A hamster care checklist
So put your thinking hat on and get ready to discover all things hamster!
A lot of people don’t know it, but there are several different hamster breeds.
Picking the right one is an essential first step for new pet parents.
You have the choice between:
- Syrian hamsters
- Dwarf hamsters
Let’s take a closer look at both sets of small animals.
The Syrian hamster is the most popular hamster breed in North America and much of the world.
They have a lovely golden-colored fur coat, which is the reason why this breed is often lovingly referred to as the Golden hamster or the Teddy Bear Hamster by enthusiasts.
Their color is a tribute to their place of origin: the golden dunes in the arid deserts of northern Syria and southern Turkey.
Syrian hamsters are robust little fellows — for a hamster, of course — and they usually weigh between 2.5 and 4.5 ounces (80 to 130 g). They’re roughly 6″ (15 cm) long and a bit slower than dwarf hamster breeds.
Some people even confuse them for baby guinea pigs.
Syrians make for great companions as they’re easy to handle and have longer lifespans (2-4 years) than other small animal pets.
Just note that a Syrian hamster is a territorial creature that should always be housed alone. If you try to keep more than one in the same cage, fights are going to break out. Not pretty.
Dwarf Hamster Varieties
You can generally find one of four species of dwarf hamsters at your local pet store:
These hamster breeds can live in same-sex pairs or groups, even though it’s still widely recommended to house them individually.
N.B. Ask your vet about your pet’s gender if you have more than one hamster. Male and female hamsters should never live together unless you plan on breeding baby hamsters.
Each of these dwarf hamster species is slightly different from one another, but all of them are much smaller and more active than the Syrian hamster.
They also tend to have shorter lifespans (1.5 to 2 years) than Golden hamsters.
However, they more than make for it with their adorable beady eyes and tiny bodies.
It’s important to note that dwarf hamsters are usually more challenging to handle due to their blazing fast speeds and fragile bones.
Please consider both factors if you have small children around the house.
Alright, now that you know enough about hamster breeds and you’re more or less sure whether you’ll be getting a Syrian hamster or a dwarf hamster, we can jump to the section you’ve been waiting for:
Hamster Care – All the Must-know Facts
To help get you started in the right place, we’ve pulled together a quick pet hamster checklist that you can copy over to your own notebook.
This way, you’ll always have a guide to the supplies you need to take good care of your little fluffball.
Hamster Care Checklist
Regardless of whether you own a dwarf hamster or a Syrian, they all need the same basic equipment:
- A high-quality hamster cage that’s big enough for your pet hamster to roam freely
- Hamster’s bedding to make their enclosure more comfortable and encourage digging
- A cozy hiding place, like a small wooden house
- A suitable food bowl
- A hamster-friendly water bottle that can withstand nibbling teeth
- An exercise wheel suitable in size for hamsters (N.B. dwarf hamsters might need smaller wheels)
- Quality pelleted hamster food
- A selection of hamster-sized chew toys
- Tunnels for exploring, burrowing, and hiding
- A hamster ball
With that overview of supplies in mind, let’s dig a little deeper (just like your hamster does in its soft, fluffy bedding) and uncover a few important details about cages, bedding, and toys.
Hamster Cages and Enclosures
Your hamster’s cage is their sanctuary.
They will literally spend 90-95% of their lives in it.
So it would be best if you took the time to do a bit of research and find the biggest and best cage you can afford to buy for your little pet hamster.
In terms of cage dimension and floor space, the golden rule for hamster cages is to get your fun pets as large an enclosure as you can possibly give them.
However, if you’re tight on space, don’t get anything smaller than:
- 30″ x 12″ x 12″ (75 x 30 x 30 cm) for a Syrian hamster
- 24″ x 12″ x 12″ (60 x 30 x 30 cm) for dwarf hamster varieties
Hamster cages come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and are manufactured using different types of materials.
Here are a few of the most common:
A wire cage is always a popular choice.
Most options are suitable for hamsters, as long as they have small gaps between the bars and a solid bottom flooring that’s delicate on tiny hamster feet.
Large gaps are dangerous because your dwarf hamsters might escape by wriggling through the wires, or they might get stuck trying.
This is less of a problem for larger Syrian hamsters, but why risk it?
These large bowls, often used as terrariums or aquariums for other species of small animal pets, are ideal for hamsters, no matter their breed or size.
They’re easy to clean and maintain, and there’s a ton more visibility. Your hamster won’t be able to escape you for long!
And speaking of escaping, hamster tanks make it impossible for even the naughtiest of hammies to find a way into your living room.
However, being made from glass, hamster-ariums are heavier and more challenging to move. So make sure you have a good back, and you don’t pay ridiculously high shipping costs.
A solid-side hamster cage is a good halfway house between a wire cage and a hamster tank.
You get the best of both worlds — they’re easy to clean, offer great security, have tons of hanging space for toys and accessories, and allow a ton of fresh air to flow into your hamster’s cage.
Bye, bye bad smells and impossible-to-place tunnels!
Oh, and one more thing:
They tend to have plenty of space for adding 2-3″ of bedding at the bottom, which is perfect for stimulating your pets’ digging instincts.
Hamster Home Comforts
Once you’ve settled on the perfect cage, you need to find a place for it in your home.
We recommend you choose a location that’s:
- Away from too much noise and attention (but not your bedroom as these nocturnal critters will keep you up all night with their midnight running)
- Constant in temperature — not too warm and not too cold
- Far away from other pets, especially dogs and cats
Next, get ready to fill your cage with tons and tons of bedding.
Bedding is the difference between a house and home when you’re a hamster.
You can either load up on bedding by checking out our guide to hamster bedding for the best online options or by popping over to your local pet supply store.
Either way, be sure to:
- Avoid pine and cedar shavings or other scented bedding as they can cause breathing problems
- Pick the softest bedding you can find (either aspen wood shavings or paper bedding)
- Add as much bedding as you can into your buddy’s cage
- Replace the substrate as soon as you notice soiled bedding (roughly once a week)
It’s also a good idea to throw some shredded toilet paper into their cages to give them some soft nesting material.
Hamsters love to hide and chill out in dark places.
This is why you should get them a hamster house (also known as a nest box), especially if you’ve gone with a tank as your hamster’s home.
These houses provide your new pet with a place to retreat and rest in perfect solitude, something all types of hamster breeds enjoy from time to time.
If you want to pinch a few pennies, you can quickly build your own hamster house by reusing some household items, like an old wooden box or a coconut shell.
Hamster Toys and Accessories
If you ever spent any amount of time with hamsters (and especially dwarf hamsters), you know they’re hyperactive and full of energy.
This means they need plenty of mental and physical stimulation in order to maintain good health.
How can you help?
By ensuring they can:
- Dig, burrow, and tunnel in their cages
- Climb and do cage gymnastics
- Run around like madmen
- Chew to their heart’s content
The best way to do all of these things is by purchasing or building a little hamster recreation center. Add some tunnels, bridges, wooden structures, tons of bedding, and a chew toy or two.
You can even buy them a hamster ball and watch them run around your house.
Speaking of toys, you absolutely need to…
Make Sure Your Hamster Exercises
Odds are that if you’ve seen more than one picture of a hamster, you’ve undoubtedly seen one of a hamster happily exercising on a wheel.
Like these two little fellows:
And there’s a good reason behind all these wheel-based marketing stunts.
Hamsters need to run several miles each night.
Your fluffball’s wild cousins can run well over 10 miles each night. Wow, right?
And since you can’t afford to let your hamster bounce all over your home, a hamster wheel is the next best choice.
Just make sure to get a properly sized wheel — otherwise, your hamster will arch their back while on the wheel, leading to musculoskeletal issues. This is a common issue if you own a larger Syrian hamster.
Here’s a great video that explains all the different types of wheels available for your hamster and how to pick the perfect one:
Offer the Right Hamster Diet
Once your hamster has a beautiful home, a ton of fun toys, and a top-of-the-line exercise wheel, the only thing left to worry about is feeding them the best possible hamster food.
It’s a good idea to do some dietary research specific to your hamster’s breed. Some dwarf varieties, for example, are very prone to diabetes, so foods with high sugar content (like fruit) should be avoided.
You have the choice between a great many types of store food, so be sure to opt for quality products with all-natural ingredients and absolutely no colorants.
We recommend you try to give your hamster a full tablespoon of pelleted hamster food daily, as this type of feed helps avoid selective feeding.
If your hamster won’t have any of the pelleted food (and it happens), go for a tasty seed mix and try to sneak a few pellets into it.
Hamsters also adore fresh vegetables, so it’s a good idea to offer them a few small treats by hiding them in their enclosure and encouraging foraging behavior. Just beware of food spoiling and take care to remove uneaten food at the end of each day.
You should also avoid overfeeding and supply them with an unlimited supply of fresh water daily.
Ideal Fresh Food for Hamsters
- Kale and spinach
- Turnip and parsnip
- Alfalfa sprouts
- Chicory and clover
- Green beans
- Flaxseed and pumpkin seed
- Dandelions – flowers/leaves
- Boiled egg (once a week max)
- A few insects
Toxic Foods To Avoid
- Avocado, tomatoes, aubergine
- Fruit seeds/pips/pits
- Citrus fruits
- Salted nuts
- Junk food
Tame and Handle Your Hamster Daily
Handling your pet is one of the greatest pleasures of hamster care.
We can’t get enough of having our hamsters walk on our hands and arms and explore the world beyond their cage.
Some hamsters are easier to tame than others but, with patience and a few yummy treats, most of these little critters can be handled.
Due to their size, dwarf varieties are both fragile and extremely agile. And that’s why we recommend you always supervise playtime if your hamsters are your children’s pets.
To ensure your hamsters don’t fall from your hand and injure themselves, place something soft underneath you, like a thick carpet or a blanket.
Here are some other handling tips:
- Give your new hamster plenty of time to settle in before you handle them
- Let the hamster get used to your scent and presence near their cage
- Offer treats through or above the cage
- Begin by placing your fingers in the cage so the hamster can explore
- Hand feed them a delicious treat
- Allow the hamster to crawl onto your palm — this may take several attempts.
- Never force the hamster onto your palm
- Once your hamster is on your palm, carefully lift it out of the cage and onto your lap
- Don’t overdo handling — little and often is ideal.
And remember, there may be some nips and bites. Don’t take them as an offense or as an “I don’t like you!” They’re simply your hamster giving you some constructive feedback on how to handle them best.
Final Thoughts on Hamster Care
Go out there and add a hamster to your family… Go on!
All it takes is one short trip to the pet store, and you’ll place your hands on the softest, tiniest buddy you’ve ever had!
A hamster is a perfect pet, especially if you have kids or you don’t have enough time or energy to spend with more demanding pets like dogs and rabbits.
Just remember what you’ve learned today and get the best possible hamster supplies (cage, house, food, water bottle, bedding, and toys) before you bring your hamster home!
You’ll make their transition much less stressful, and you’ll get to enjoy a well-adjusted, laidback hamster.