Simple Hamster Guide: From Acquiring To Caring For Hamsters

Hamsters are undeniably cute and perfect for both you and your children. Caring for hamsters is quite easy. 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.  It can grow up to about 16 cm in length which is equivalent to around 6 inches.

You will also hear of other hamsters  like the Roborovski hamster, Campbell’s/dwarf hamster, Djungarian/winter-white Russian dwarf hamster and Chinese hamster.

Hamster Lifespan

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?
  1. From A Trusted/ Reputable Pet Store.
  2. Reputable Hamster breeders.
  3. Reliable Adoption Agencies/ Rescues.

It is up to you, but Breeders are recommended. Why?

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.

Handling Hamsters
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 sun rise-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.

Hamster Housing

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 are recommendations based on owners and experts.  It is up to you which one works for you as they are all good for your hamster.

#1. Detolf IKEA glass Cabinettip this on its side and take out the shelves. You will need to get a lid that must be meshed to prevent chances of hamster escape or some predator getting into the cage. The mesh also allows for proper ventilation. See setting up videos.

Assembling IKEA Detolf Hamster Cage

IKEA Detolf Hamster Cage View

#2. 40+ gallons LONG fish tanks (consider the length more than height)- You will need to get a lid that must be meshed. You can either make one yourself or buy the Zilla Fresh Air Screen Cover. It is totally up to you. You can also place gift wrap on the back outside of the tank to get colorful cage backgrounds. Same case applies to the Detolf IKEA. See image. Image credits go to Melodie from the hamster hideout forum.

Gift wrap on the back outside of the tank

#3. Alexander Hamster Cage/ Alexander Small Pet Cage

Watch a review of the Alexander cage

Alexander Hamster Cage Review

 

 

 

 

 

#4. Living World Green Moving Home Eco Habitat, Mediumas this has a wooden base make sure to line it with good solid plastic or glass to avoid it being ruined. See video on setting it up.

Setting up the Living World Green Eco Habitat HAmster Cage

 

 

 

 

 

 

#5. Joining 2 IKEA BILLY CAGES side by side.

See video on how to do this. In this video, only a hole has been made at the joining sides. It is recommended to pull down those walls completely instead of having a hole so as to have a continuous cage flow where your hamster can run continuously.

DIY Hamster Cage Double Billy Cage

DIY Hamster Cage Ikea Billy Cage

#6. Alaska Hamster Cage This cage just meets the minimum requirements but has room for your dwarf hamster.

See this cage being used

A Review of the Alaska cage

 

 

 

 

#7. DIY Ikea Linnmon Hamster Cage This is another option that meets the dimensions for your hamster (877 sq. ins) See detailed videos of setting it up and making a lid.

DIY Ikea Linnmon Hamster Cage Without Lid

Hamster Linnmon DIY Cage Lid

#8. DIY Hamster Cage or Homemade Hamster Cage

Your creativity will be needed here and make sure you abide by the hamster cage dimensions, bigger is always better. If you have to use wood anywhere, poplar or kiln-dried pine is recommended. To get ideas, you can Google images of homemade hamster cages. Before deciding to go this way, read through to see what else your pet hamster needs and see what size to build so as to fit all the required accessories. See video of an example of a DIY cage.

Building A New DIY Hamster Cage

#9. Bin Cages

Most people do not recommend these claiming poor ventilation and the likelihood of your hamster chewing a hole and escaping. Some people also say that your hamster will not be visible through the plastic compared to glass. That being said, it is up to you. If you go the Bin Cage way, make sure the bin cage is at least 30” length by 20” width by 16” height. This really matters for fitting accessories and offering enough space for your hamster. We know getting a large bin can be tasking. We found this one that is slightly lower than 450 sq. inches. It is 432 sq. inches and can work.

For ventilation, there are different options you can go with, which are, removing the lid and placing a tight-mesh wire shelving like the image below or making a mesh wire top and mesh wire window. Sometimes the window is not recommended. Also, see video below.

Hamster Bin Cages

How to make a Bin Cage 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 BEDDING INCLUDES

#1. Fitch Paper Pet Bedding (healthy for your hamster, it is soft, hides smell, it is super cheap and is very absorbent)

#2. Boxo Comfort Small Animal BeddingThis is great for burrowing as it is soft. It also controls odors.  It is also a cheap and better alternative to carefresh.

#3. FiberCore Eco-Bedding NaturalDon’t use this on its own. Mix it with either fitch, boxo or snowflake woodshavings.

#4. Snowflake Woodshavings Natural Pet Bedding (This one is dust extracted and good for your hamster)

#5. Carefresh Absorption Corp Crinkles Paper Pet Bedding forest Don’t use this on its own. Mix it with either fitch, boxo or snowflake woodshavings.

#6. In some part of the cage you can use hamster safe sand.

We will only recommend sand we know owners and experts have used and given a go ahead on safety.

  • Quikrete Play Sand Bag (This is specially graded sand that has been washed, and screened for use in children’s sandboxes. To make sure it is 100% safe for your hamster put it in your oven for about 30 minutes in the highest heat setting or 200 setting for 45 minutes)
  • Argos children’s play sand (This Children’s Play sand is made up of Quartz Synonyms: Quartz sand; silica sand; crystalline silica and silicon dioxide. It also complies with British Safety Standards.  To make sure it is 100% safe for your hamster put it in your oven for about 30 minutes in the highest heat setting or 200 setting for 45 minutes)
  • Carib Sea Caribsea Super Naturals Aquarium Sand follow the instructions at the back and to further make it safe, put it in your oven for about 30 minutes in the highest heat setting or 200 setting for 45 minutes)

#7. Harlan Tekland Envigo shredded Aspen Bedding for Pets #7093Please read more on Aspen here. It is important before purchase.

#8. Kaytee Clean & Cozy Small Animal Bedding (White in color) UNSCENTED or

Kaytee Clean & Cozy Natural Small Animal Bedding (Brownish in color) UNSCENTED

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.

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 at the accessories section below.

Hamster Cage Accessories

Remember when choosing these items to take into account the size of your hamster cage.

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. A good example is:

Tubes and Tunnels

Rat or ferret tubes are best for Syrians as they are larger. A good example is:

Hamster Wheel

This is important for your hamster’s exercise. Wheels are delicate and 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 inch to 12 inch wheels. For dwarf hamsters 6.5 or 8 inch is okay. For Syrian, 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).

Short video to show difference in hamster size.

Hamster size difference

 

 

 

 

Recommendations for Syrian hamsters 10 to 12 inches: size matters!!
Dwarf or smaller hamsters can get the 6.5 to 8-inch wheel. Our recommendations:
Sand Bath (Most owners do not give sand baths. They are actually not a must. Hamsters use the sand as litter for the litter pan)

Sand baths are NOT a must for Syrian hamsters. Dwarfs, on the other hand, may love sand baths.  Also note that not all dwarf hamsters will be interested in the sand bath. They may even use it as a toilet (litter tray). You can check to see if your hamster will love it, but do not leave the sand bath in the cage for long. Take it out after he or she is done. If you leave the sand in there it will mean you have presented them with a toilet.

DO NOT wash your hamster with water, may be a health risk.

DO NOT also use dust.

For sand you can use:
  • Carib Sea Caribsea Super Naturals Aquarium Sand– follow the instructions at the back and to further make it safe, put it in your oven for about 30 minutes in the highest heat setting or 200 setting for 45 minutes)
  • Quikrete Play Sand Bag (This is specially graded sand that has been washed, and screened for use in children’s sandboxes. To make sure it is 100% safe for your hamster put it in your oven for about 30 minutes in the highest heat setting or 200 setting for 45 minutes)
  • Argos children’s play sand (This Children’s Play sand is made up of Quartz Synonyms: Quartz sand; silica sand; crystalline silica and silicon dioxide. It also complies with British Safety Standards.  To make sure it is 100% safe for your hamster put it in your oven for about 30 minutes in the highest heat setting or 200 setting for 45 minutes)

Some individuals will recommend Chinchilla sand. We will 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.

Hamster Toilet/ Litter Tray

Corner trays are recommended; however, you can use a square tray if you prefer.  Good recommendations are:

As for the litter substrate, you can use:

Remember we said that hamsters will pee or poop in sand well they find this as good litter substrate. Remember sand has to be prepared, see above under sand bath.

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, put 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.

Potty training hamster

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. Good examples are:

Water Bottle

Preferred to bowls as they are less messy and more hygienic.

Tips
  • 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.

You will never get a 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:

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.

How do I attach my water bottle to glass tanks?

Use industrial grade Velcro. See video:

Using velcro for attaching water bottles

 

 

 

 

 

Food dishes

Ceramic dishes are preferred to avoid tipping over. Some good examples include:

Hamster Feeding
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
    1. Higgins Sunburst Gourmet Food Mix for Hamsters & Gerbils
    2. Mazuri rat and mouse Diet
    3. 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

  • Occasional treats

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.

Schedule
  • Every evening, serve your hamster a mixture of 1 table spoon of Higgins Sunburst Gourmet Food Mix for Hamsters & Gerbils and 1 tablespoon of Mazuri rat and mouse Diet. Once or twice a week Sprinkle Natural Debittered Brewers Yeast (very little that fills the tip of a teaspoon) on top of the mixture.
  • Once or twice a week give vegetables or fruits.
  • Also, once or twice a week, give some treats.
  • Clean Fresh water should be in the cage always.

 

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)
Cleaning Frequency

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

Cleaning an IKEA DETOLF Hamster Cage

Hamster Cage IKEA DETOLF Cleaning

Cleaning the IKEA DETOLF Hamster Cage

How I Clean The IKEA DETOLF Hamster Cage

LIVING WORLD GREEN MOVING HOME ECO HABITAT CLEANING

Cleaning Living World Green Eco Habitat Hamster Cage

How To Clean The Living World Green Eco Habitat Hamster Cage

ALEXANDER HAMSTER CAGE CLEANING

Cleaning Alexander Hamster Cage!

 

 

 

 

 

40G AQUARIUM CLEANING

Hamster Tank Cleaning (40 gallon Breeder Tank)

 

 

 

 

 

ALASKA HAMSTER CAGE CLEANING

How I clean the Alaska hamster cage

 

 

 

 

 

2 JOINED IKEA BILLY CAGES CLEANING

How I Clean The Twin Billy Hamster Cage

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:
For Long distances that usually take more time

What to include in the travel cage?

  1. Get bedding from your hamster’s main cage. DO NOT put fresh new bedding. We want the hamster feeling at home.
  2. Include an igloo hideout accessory as it is lightweight. Leave heavy ceramic accessories behind.
  3. Sprinkle food in travel cage
  4. Carry cucumber cuts for source of water. Leave water bottles and bowls behind.
  5. Strap in the cage well. Use the car’s seatbelt or let somebody hold the cage.
  6. 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.

Health Checks

  • 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.
Behaviour

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.

Important Note:

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.

VET

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)

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