Keeping a pet hamster is a great experience for adults and kids alike. But before you embark on the exciting world of hamster ownership, it is important to understand how to care for a hamster and ensure you are fully prepared for the journey!
Hamster Care – All you need to know
To get you started with your hamster ownership journey, we have put together this helpful guide with all the information, tips and tricks you will need to ensure you know how to care for your hamster, and create the best possible experience for both you and your new furry buddy.
Hamster care checklist
Whatever the hamster breed, they will all need the same basic equipment to ensure comfort and safety.
- A Hamster cage – suitable for your hamster’s size and breed.
- Quality hamster bedding for comfort as well as for burrowing/hiding.
- A hamster hiding place – it could be a hamster house/similar structure.
- A Hamster Water bottle – it should withstand nibbling little teeth.
- Hamster exercise wheel suitable for your hamster’s size.
- Quality hamster food mix.
- Selection of chew resistant hamster toys.
- Tunnels for exploring and hiding.
- Suitable Food dish.
- A hamster ball – optional.
Now that you have an idea of the equipment, it’s important to factor in the type of hamster you intend to keep for optimum hamster care. Here’s a brief run-down of some popular hamster breeds and their characteristics.
Large Hamster Breeds
One of the most common pet hamster breeds is the Syrian hamster, which averages just under 18 cm in size. Therefore, they are easier to handle, are relatively robust and require good sized cages and exercise wheels.
These include Roborovskis, Campbell Russian, Chinese and Winter White Russian dwarf hamsters. As their name suggests, they’re very small critters, so they are more difficult to handle due to their speed and relative fragility. Choice of cages and wheels should take into account these factors.
Hamster cages come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and are manufactured using all different types of materials.
A popular choice, these are suitable for hamsters but with several caveats. If you’re keeping one of the dwarf breeds and you don’t want to promote their escapology ability, wire cages might not be ideal. Small, flexible bodies might wriggle through the wire or get stuck. However, they’re fine for the bigger breeds like Syrian hamsters. Buy a cage with a solid bottom as wire bases could damage delicate feet.
Also used as terrariums/aquariums, they’re ideal for hamsters no matter the breed size. Easy to clean and maintain, there’s more visibility to view your hamster in one of these and they are escape-proof. However, being glass, they are heavier and if you’re getting one online, think about shipping costs.
Like the tanks, they’re more secure than wire cages if you’re keeping a dwarf hamster and you can apply add-ons like tunnels and other accessories if you want. Relatively easy to keep clean, these are fine for both the smaller and larger breeds.
The golden rule for hamster cages is to start with the minimum recommendations and then add more. All hamsters need ample space to burrow, dig and hide. In particular, don’t stint on size for dwarf hamsters as they are high energy little bundles.
- Syrian hamster and similar – 76 cm x 31 cm plus 31 cm cage height.
- Dwarf varieties – 61 cm x 31 cm plus 31cm cage height.
Hamster Home Comforts
You have the right cage for your new buddy, so now it’s time to make a house a real home.
Start with hamster bedding, otherwise known as a substrate to make your hamster feel secure and cosy. The other purpose of the bedding is its ability to absorb hamster pee. Be mindful that some materials are harmful to hamsters – pine and cedar shavings, for example, can cause breathing problems. It’s wise to stay clear of any scented bedding. Hamster-friendly wood shavings and shredded loo paper is a decent base combo and there are lots of commercial options. Opt for quality products that are low in chemical additives and control ammonia odors.
Otherwise known as nest boxes. They provide your hamster with a place of retreat, somewhere to snuggle down or hide, just as their wild cousins would behave. Breeds vary in temperament, and some of the dwarf varieties can be very nervous – a hamster house is important to their general well-being. You’ll find no shortage of commercial options but DIY is fine if you want to get creative.
Hamsters are hyperactive and will need plenty of mental and physical stimulation to maintain good health. Accessories in line with natural hamster behaviors – they love digging and burrowing so providing tunnels are a good solution. Tunnels come in all shapes, angles and sizes and these can be added onto standalone cages.
Think about structures that are good for hiding and anything that encourages your hamster to burrow. There are many options for toys on the market.
Hamster teeth grow continuously, so be cautious with the materials you choose – avoid items that release dyes, for example. Wood is perfect because it’s durable and chewable at the same time!
If you see a picture of a hamster, chances are it’s happily exercising on a wheel. Wild hamsters can cover relatively large distances so captive critters need lots of space to expend energy. Wheels are an excellent method for your pet to exercise and enjoy mental stimuli. As with cages, wheel size should take into account the breed you have.
- Dwarf varieties – 16.51 cm
- Syrian hamster – 20.32 m
The wheel shouldn’t be too small – otherwise, the hamster will arch its back while on the wheel and this can lead to musculoskeletal issues. Make sure the wheel width is a little wider than the hamster’s body, to avoid habitual falling off. Observe your pet on the wheel – this is as good as anything to assess suitability.
there’s a great video here which explains all the different types of wheels available for your hamster
Ensuring your pet has the best possible hamster food available is one of the most important considerations of hamster ownership.
It’s a good idea to do some diet research for your hamster’s breed. Some dwarf varieties, for example, can be prone to diabetes so foodstuffs with high sugar content should be offered sparingly. Similarly, food with high water content can cause digestive upsets, while obesity can also be an issue.
There are plenty of commercial hamster food mixes available, so be sure to opt for quality products to avoid additives like colorants.
Hamsters adore fresh fruit and vegetables, and it’s a good idea to offer small treats hidden in the enclosure so they can forage. Feed your hamster a tablespoon of mix once a day, and remove any uneaten food daily. Avoid overfeeding, and do bear in mind they will store food in their cheek pouches. Provide a chew-resistant feeding bowl and fresh water daily. Lots of foods are great for hamsters but some can be harmful. Check out the lists below – while not exhaustive, they will give you a good starting point.
- Kale and spinach
- Turnip and parsnip
- Alfalfa sprouts
- Chicory and clover
- Green beans
- Flaxseed and pumpkin seed
- Dandelions – flowers/leaves
- Avocado, tomatoes, aubergine
- Fruit seeds/pips/pits
- Citrus fruits
- Salted nuts
Taming and handling
One of the pleasures of hamster care is to have it walk onto your hands and explore. Some hamsters are easier to tame than others but, with patience, most of these little critters can be handled. Due to their size, the dwarf varieties are fragile and extremely agile. If these are children’s pets, always supervise playtime. To ensure they don’t fall from your hand and injure themselves, make sure you have a container underneath with a soft base. Larger hamsters are easier to handle, but it’s a good idea to place them in your palms across your lap for their safety. Here are some tips to apply – remember there may be nips and bites sometimes!
- Give your hamster time to settle in before handling.
- Let the hamster get used to your scent and presence near the cage.
- Offer treats through or above the cage.
- Begin by placing your fingers in the cage so the hamster can explore – add a treat.
- Allow the hamster to crawl onto your palm – this may take several attempts.
- Never force the hamster onto your palm.
- Once on your palm, carefully lift it out of the cage and onto your palms.
- Don’t overdo handling – little and often is ideal.
- Supervise children – hamsters are very fragile.
This depends on your hamster’s breed and temperament. Some dwarf varieties are shy and nervous, so place cages in quiet areas and away from too much noise and attention. Ensure room temperatures aren’t too hot or cold and, as many hamsters are active on wheels during the night, think about this in terms of location. The environment should be safe and secure for the hamster at all times.