Simple Hamster Guide: From Acquiring To Caring For Hamsters
- Hamster Lifespan
- Where do I get a Hamster?
- Can a Hamster Live Alone or Does He or She Require a Companion?
- How Old Should My Child Be to Own a Hamster?
- How to Handle Hamsters
- Is a Hamster Nocturnal?
- When Should I Play With My Hamster?
- Best Hamster Cages
- Best Hamster Cage Bedding
- Hamster Cage Accessories (wooden blocks, twigs, paper towel rolls | tubes and tunnels | hamster wheel | sand bath | hamster toilet / litter tray | hamster hideout | water bottle | food dishes)
- How do I attach my water bottle to glass tanks?
- Are hamsters easy to train?
- How to Correctly Feed Hamsters
- Do Hamsters Smell?
- Cleaning Hamster Cage (With videos)
- Can I travel with my Hamster?
- Hamster Health and Vet
The most common hamster breed you will come across is the Syrian hamster. They are also referred to as Golden Hamster, Teddy Bear Hamster, Panda Bear Hamster, Fancy Hamster or Black Bear Hamster. They can grow to about 16 cm in length, which is equivalent to around 6 inches.
You will also come across other hamsters like the Roborovski hamster, Campbell’s/dwarf hamster, Djungarian/winter-white Russian dwarf hamster and Chinese hamster.
A hamster has a lifespan of 2-3 years WITH PROPER CARE!!!!!
Where do I get a Hamster?
Where Can I Get A New Hamster?
- From A Trusted/ Reputable Pet Store.
- Reputable Hamster breeders.
- Reliable Adoption Agencies/ Rescues.
The choice is yours, but Breeders are recommended; Here’s why
Also note: The minimum recommended age to acquire a young hamster is 5-8 weeks old. You can always get an older one if you want.
Can a Hamster Live Alone Or Does He or She Require A Companion?
Do I Get One or More Than One Hamster?
DO NOT put two Syrian hamsters in one cage, especially if they are two males. They will fight to the death.
On the other hand, if you put one female and one male in one cage expect to get baby hamsters in less than a month. You might not be ready for this financially.
Get separate cages if you must have 2 or more. For dwarf hamsters, it is possible to have 2 in a cage but they have to be introduced carefully and from an early age.
A Hamster is Suitable for What Age?
How Old Should My Child Be To Own A Hamster?
Research from various reviews indicates that hamsters are suitable for children starting from the age of either 8+, 10+ or 12+. The reason behind this is the way different children handle things. Some children tend to be clumsy and can mishandle the hamster leading to injury or even death.
Caring For Hamsters (Handling)
You may have noticed that the most common hamsters kept as pets are the Syrian hamsters. Why is this? The answer is their size. They are larger and thus can handle being held compared to the other breeds. However, some hamsters do not like being held and can bite. Additionally, if there are other animals in the house, DO NOT handle the hamster around them.
Once you bring your hamster home, let him or her settle for 3 -7 days before trying to “disturb.” They usually become stressed easily once introduced to a new environment.
Is A Hamster Nocturnal?
Yes! Hamsters are nocturnal (being more active during the night) and crepuscular (active before sunrise – twilight). If you were thinking of placing the cage in your bedroom and are a light sleeper, you might be in for a long sleepless night.
When Should I Play With My Hamster?
It is important to first let your hamster get used to you. As this happens, you will have identified his or her sleeping patterns and you will know the best time to play with your hammy! DO NOT disturb your hamster during the day as he or she sleeps.
Recommended Hamster Cages
The best hamster cage will usually be BIG. Why? A hamster requires space to roam and play/exercise. Limited space will make it unhappy or snappy and it can bite.
Minimum cage dimensions for a Syrian Hamster and dwarf hamsters:
Different sources have given different dimensions. However, the minimum floor L x W should be 450sq inches.
- (30” L by 16” W by 16”H) that is (76cm L by 40cm W by 40cm H)
- (40” L by 16” W by 16”H) that is (100cm L by 40cm W by 40cm H)
Bigger is always better!!!
If you are working on a tight budget, the cheapest cages can be made of a plastic bottom and a wire canopy. An advantage of these kind of cages is that they are easy to keep clean and have a variety of sizes.
Some cages come with accessories and some don’t. DO NOT get round cages, hamsters love corners. Also, make sure the cage floor is solid NOT wired.
Here is a summary of recommendations based on owners and experts. It is up to you which one works for you as they are all good for your hamster.
Hamster Cage Bedding
Caring For Hamsters (recommended bedding material)
Avoid These Bedding Materials: Cedar, pine, scented materials, fluffy materials (cotton or wool), newspaper, corn cob and cat litter. Avoid these. Remember we need to keep the hamster healthy.
THE BEST HAMSTER BEDDING
We’ve made a summary of recommended hamster bedding based on owners and experts. However, note the following:
– Hamsters like burrowing, therefore, 2-4 inches of bedding is okay. This keeps them warm.
– DO NOT expose your hamster to cold environments as it will go into what people call “hibernation” but really is torpor. In this condition they sleep and do not eat.
– Warm or room temperatures are best.
How About The Sleeping Area?
Your choices are:
- A container
- Sleeping house hideout
- Coconut hideout
- Igloo hideout
- A mat
Whatever you end up choosing, make sure it is well ventilated and spacious. Your hamster needs to be comfortable. Furthermore, it should not cost you much as once it gets worn out or soiled over time you will need to replace it. Consider also the ease of cleaning it. See recommendations in the accessories section below.
Hamster Cage Accessories
NB: when choosing these items, take into account the size of your hamster cage.
#1. Wooden blocks, twigs or paper towel rolls
Your hamster needs to chew on hard things to keep their teeth from growing too long. Long teeth injure the roof of their mouths. You can see some good examples in the hamster cage cleaning videos we’ve shared
#2. Tubes and Tunnels
Rat or ferret tubes are best for Syrians as they are larger. You can see some good examples in the hamster cage cleaning videos we’ve shared
#3. Hamster Wheel
– Wheels are important for your hamster’s exercise; and they are delicate, so, choosing a safe one is required (hamsters can hurt their feet on a bad wheel).
– Choose one that is solid and that has a bigger diameter – 8 to 12 inch wheels.
– For dwarf hamsters 6.5 to 8 inches is okay.
– For Syrian hamsters, the bigger the better – 10 to 12 inches, to prevent hamster back arc. Avoid barred or meshed, these cause bumble foot (sores and bumps on feet).
Also, here’s a short video to show the difference in hamster size
#4. Sand Bath
– Sand baths are NOT a must for Syrian hamsters.
– Dwarfs, on the other hand, may love sand baths. They may even use it as a toilet (litter tray).
– DO NOT wash your hamster with water, it may be a health risk.
– DO NOT also use dust.
NB: Some individuals will recommend Chinchilla sand. We would not recommend it as it has become very dusty for other small pets and may only be safe for chinchillas. If you use it for your hamsters, they may be at risk for respiratory and eye problems.
#5. Hamster Toilet / Litter Tray
Corner trays are recommended; however, you can use a square tray if you prefer. We have made a summary of the items you need for your hamsters (especially for aspiring hamster owners), which includes good litter tray recommendations.
As for the litter substrate, you can use:
- Cat litter (The only cat litter that is SAFE to use is paper or wood pellets. For example, Yesterday’s News Unscented Paper Cat Litter. DO NOT use clay or crystal or clumping cat litter!!)
Can Hamsters Be Trained?
Yes! To potty train your hamster, find the corner area where your hamster uses as the toilet and scoop the dirtied bedding/ substrate. Place your corner litter tray, add some litter and sprinkle some of the dirtied substrate to make the hamster know where to pee or poop. Here is a good video that will show you how.
#6. Hamster hideout
This is important since hamsters are prey animals. They need somewhere to run and hide. They can also use it as a sleeping place. We have made a summary of the items you need for your hamsters (especially for aspiring hamster owners), which includes good hamster hideout recommendations. You can also watch the hamster cleaning videos we have shared to see some good hamster hideouts in action.
#7. Water Bottle
Hamster water bottles are preferred to water bowls as they are less messy and more hygienic.
- Place the water bottle 2-3 inches above the bedding.
- If you have a wire cage, let the bottle stay outside and the sipper tube inside.
- To check if your hamsters are drinking, mark the water bottle with a whiteboard marker at the level of the water and check if the water level has moved over some days. This is for those bottles that do not have markings.
- If your hamster has not figured out how to use the bottle, apply some peanut butter near the tip of the sipper tube, not inside to help him or her know that there is some water there.
- Smaller bottles are recommended. This will ensure you change the water frequently.
- Always check every day whether the water bottle is clogged or is leaking.
- Before attaching it to the cage, fill it with water then turn it upside down and tap the tip as a form of priming. See how water comes out and make sure it is not dripping excessively.
It can be challenging to get an 100% good water bottle – hamster owners have had some problems with most bottles, however, most say the living world water bottle has worked well for them. Read also some important facts you need to know about this water bottle as you see alternatives and where to get them.
How do I attach my water bottle to glass tanks?
Use industrial grade Velcro. See video:
#8. Food dishes
Ceramic dishes are preferred to avoid tipping over. See some great examples here
Caring For Hamsters (Feeding Your Hamster: What, How and When)
What can I feed my hamster?
- Commercial pellets– mix 1 and 2 below (50-50 ratio) 1 table spoon of each
- Higgins Sunburst Gourmet Food Mix for Hamsters & Gerbils
- Mazuri rat and mouse Diet
- Supplement the mixture above with Natural Debittered Brewers Yeast (just a little that fills the tip of the spoon, once or twice a week, sprinkled on the above) too much can be harmful!!!
Occasional vegetables and fruits (once or twice a week!!)
Safe fruits for your hamster include: seedless apples, melon, mangoes, strawberries, seedless grapes, cherries, cantaloupe, blueberries, blackberries, banana, lychee, raspberries and their leaves
Safe vegetables for your hamster include: cucumber, kale, squash, celery, romaine lettuce, parsnips, clover, carrots, broccoli, corn on the cob, cauliflower, radicchio, sweet bell peppers, turnip. Zucchini, water cress, endive, chicory, chestnuts, asparagus, chickweed, dandelion leaves, spinach
Cheerios, sunflower seeds, scrambled or boiled eggs, crickets, grasshoppers and mealworms, unsalted pumpkin seeds, alfalfa, dog treats that do not have onion or garlic (milk-bone original dog treats, Nutro Crunchy Dog Treats), yoghurt drop (Vitakraft Hamster Drops, eCOTRITION Yogies for Hamsters), unsalted nuts (do not give almonds),
- Fresh water- should be available throughout!!
Hamsters are hoarders. This means that they will stash away some of the food you place in their food dish. You may think your hamster has consumed it all. Be sure to check his or her “food store.” To find the food store, monitor where your hamster goes after filling her or his cheek pouches.
DO NOT FEED
Apple seeds, almonds, chocolate, citrus fruits, watermelon, onions, garlic, chives, scallions, avocado, tomato leaves, raw rhubarb, eggplant, pork products, junk food, canned food, raw potatoes, cherry stone, apricot stone, spices, pickles.
How often should I feed my hamster?
A hamster is nocturnal, therefore, feeding time is in the evening.
Before feeding, check the “hoarder’s store” (where your hamster hides food) first so that you limit addition. You do not want the food in the store going bad or your hamster becoming obese.
Fresh food such as fruits and vegetables can go bad fast. Try and wedge this in the cage so that the hamster is unable to carry it back to the store. It may contaminate the rest of the food and make your hamster sick. Alternatively, you can give it in small quantities like once or twice a week.
Do Hamsters Smell?
From hamster owner’s reviews, their urine smells. Their poop, on the other end, is odorless.
A smelly cage usually indicates you are not doing regular cleaning or you are using the wrong bedding that is not absorbent.
See above for proper bedding and below on how to properly clean your hamster cage.
Cleaning Hamster Cage
Caring For Hamsters(Cleaning: How and When-including videos)
- Spot cleaning should be at least once per week.
- Thorough cleaning should be when needed(when you notice smells/see the cage is too dirty) or bi-weekly. All areas are important, but you should make sure that you replace bedding, change your hamsters drinking water, wash the food dish, clean sleeping area and clean toilet area. For smelly areas you can use hot water and white vinegar mixed in 50/50 ratio. However, make sure everything is dry before placing everything back in the cage.
Where do you place your hamster?
Hamsters are escape artists. You can look for a deep bucket or clean trash can and make sure he/she cannot climb out. Your hamster travel cage is also another option. Some people clean out their cages with the hamsters still in there, but it is not recommended.
We think this in an area you need to see videos on and we have selected a number:
See videos on cleaning cages:
IKEA CAGE CLEANING
LIVING WORLD GREEN MOVING HOME ECO HABITAT CLEANING
ALEXANDER HAMSTER CAGE CLEANING
40G AQUARIUM CLEANING
ALASKA HAMSTER CAGE CLEANING
2 JOINED IKEA BILLY CAGES CLEANING
Can I travel with my Hamster?
Yes, you can travel with your hamster. But try to avoid travelling with your hamster as it stresses him or her out. Your first thought should be letting a friend or family member care for your hamster when you are away.
Do not travel with your hamster on a plane, it is too stressful for him or her.
If you are moving house, going to the vet or you have no other option than to travel with your hamster, then here is what you need to do
Get a good hamster travel cage. Recommendations include:
For Short distances that take short periods of time:
- Habitrail Ovo Transport Unit
- Baoblaze Portable Hamster Cage Pet Carrier Travel Shoulder Strap Nest Mice Breathable
- Ware WR16050 Small Animal Carry-N-Cage
- Catit Design Cabrio Multi-Functional Carrier System
For Long distances that usually take more time
- Ferplast 57074499 W2 Mini Duna Multy Green
- Ferplast Duna Multy Cage for Hamsters
- Ware WR16050 Small Animal Carry-N-Cage
- Zoozone Habitat, Medium, Blue
- Zoozone Habitat, Medium, Pink
What to include in the travel cage?
- Get bedding from your hamster’s main cage. DO NOT put fresh new bedding. We want the hamster feeling at home.
- Include an igloo hideout accessory as it is lightweight. Leave heavy ceramic accessories behind.
- Sprinkle food in travel cage
- Carry cucumber cuts for source of water. Leave water bottles and bowls behind.
- Strap in the cage well. Use the car’s seatbelt or let somebody hold the cage.
- DO NOT carry the hamster wheel. If there is one in the cage, remove it.
If you are going on holiday get a friend or family member to look after your hamster or hire a pet sitter.
Hamster Health and Vet
Things to look out for when getting or looking after your hamster!
Remember the things we warned you about above? THE DO NOTS? Avoid them to give your hamster good health. Most important of all, keep your hamster’s cage clean.
Some accessories cause injuries like the meshed or barred wheels. Avoid these.
- There should be no dryness or bald patches on your hamster, especially around his or her ears. The hamster’s face should also not looks dry, flaky or red. It is, however, normal for Syrian hamsters to have bald areas on the hips (large black dot on each hip)-these are scent glands.
- Anal and genital area should not be bloody, should not have any discharge. Neither should it have faeces stuck to the fur.
- Eyes should be clear- free of discharge. They should not be sealed shut. They should not be milky.
- Ears should be clean and clear- no discharge. Make some sounds to see if its ears are tweaking.
- Dental health– they should be some shade of yellow or orange NOT white. No broken or missing teeth.
- Respiratory health-when put in a cage with the wrong bedding/ substrate they will definitely have breathing problems. Look out for wheezing, heaving, clicking, squeaking. A healthy hamster will breath lightly, barely noticeable.
- For dwarf hamsters, if you are choosing more than one (a pair) make sure they are friendly, they are not squeaking, nipping, chasing or aggressive towards each other. If they are snuggled up together as they sleep, they are friendly.
A hamster should portray confidence, curiosity and calmness. Your presence should not startle them. If you place your hand near the cage they should want to come, see what happening- curiosity. If they dash to a hideout immediately, it will be hard to train that one and he or she may bite. Most importantly, the hamster should NOT look tired, like its dragging itself. He or she should NOT be limping and the head should also not be tilted. Repetitive behaviours e.g. running in circles or flipping backwards are a sign of neurological damage.
When buying a hamster, check if the cage is dirty or congested. Check if there is any sick hamster in the cage where your hamster was living because he or she may get sick as well. Also, make sure the hamsters are of the same sex in the previous cage as you may take home a pregnant female.
Try and find a hamster savvy vet. Do not just get a random vet. (See a vet once or twice a year or when you notice something wrong with your hamster)