You decided to get a hamster, but you don’t know where to start. We got your back!
Admittedly, they are an awesome choice for a pet, so I think you are making the right decision. Why do you ask? Hamsters are affordable, cute, furry, petite, and great companions. Furthermore, they are easy to find and because of their shorter lifespan, they make convenient furry friends for new pet owners.
However, they are still a big responsibility like any other pet and will require you to dedicate your time, love, and care to them. That shouldn’t be too difficult though since they steal your heart the moment you look at them.
In this article, you will find a variety of information including pieces of advice on how to take care of a hamster, how to choose the right one for you, how to clean its habitat, and much more. Whether you are a first time pet owner or it’s your first time owning a hamster, you’ll find what you need in the content below.
Long-haired, golden or white – so many choices
There are many different hamsters and it is very difficult to choose one because all of them are incredibly cute. I’m extremely happy that my hamster was a gift; otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to choose only one.
To begin, you can think about the size of the little furry ball. Syrian hamsters can grow from four to seven inches in length. Dwarf Campbell Russian hamsters reach up to four inches maximum. Dwarf Winter White Russian hamsters grow fully from three and a half to four inches. Roborovski Dwarf hamsters are very tiny and their adult size is from one to two inches. Chinese hamsters can grow to a size of four inches.
Another thing to consider is the coloring of the fur. Hamsters come in a variety of colors. Some are grayish, some are brown, and others have different colored strips on their back or even spots. Syrian hamsters come in different colors, whereas Dwarf Winter Russian hamsters com in sapphire, pearl, and in a combination of the two.
In relation, you may want to take into account the hamster’s coat length as well. Some Syrian hamsters can have longer or shorter, and on the ones that have longer one, you can barely see their tail. Adorable!
Life expectancy in hamsters varies from one and a half years to three and a half years, depending on the breed and the quality of life they’ll have. My Syrian hamster had a very exciting and happy life of two years. The life span of a Chinese hamster is a year to a year and a half, but Syrian hamsters can live up to four years. All in all, on average most hamster breeds live up to two and a half years.
The next thing you would need to look at is the character of your new furry friend. For example, Syrian hamsters are very territorial and can become very violent towards other hamsters once they become adults. If you are planning on having more than one hamster, don’t put them together in a cage.
In contrast, most dwarf breeds are very social with other furry balls, except for the Chinese hamster which is better to be housed separately. However, they are very friendly with people and rarely bite.
Syrian hamsters are mostly active during the night because they are nocturnal little creatures. The Dwarf Campbell hamster is very playful and will spend a lot of time exercising on its wheel. Whereas, the Winter White hamster will sleep longer and wake up later in the day, and won’t be as active as the Dwarf Campbell. The Chinese hamsters are going to be active day or night, and they would enjoy climbing since they come from the mountainous regions of Mongolia and northern China.
Once you decide on the type of hamster, you need to choose the place where you want to take it. You could go to your local pet store and buy one from there or check with a local breeder. Another option is to get one from a local shelter if the place is taking in smaller animals.
Prepare for the big “Welcome home”
Before you bring your new furry companion home, ensure that you have set up space for it.
Choose a spot in your home that would be most suitable for the little guy. Hamsters can get sick if it is too cold or too hot. It would be appropriate to find a space where there is no direct sunlight and there is good ventilation, as the hamster can overheat.
If you have other pets at home, you’ll need to place the little one somewhere the other pet won’t be able to reach it. When I had my hamster, I used to place its glass tank on a high stool where it would be safe from my dog.
The furry ball will need a spacious habitat for running and playing with its toys. Your new friend will spend most of its time in this space so you must make it as comfortable as possible. You might want to choose a habitat that you can add on as time passes by, in this way the little guy won’t get bored. Or, you could go for one with layers or ladders, and in this case, there will be more space for toys. The minimum size for a hamster home is four hundred and fifty square inches, but the ideal would be six hundred square inches.
When choosing a habitat, it is important to consider the material that was used to make it. If you choose a wire cage make sure that the bars are spaced no more than half an inch for a Syrian hamster and less than a quarter of an inch for a dwarf hamster. Wire cages have better prices and because of the spacing of the bars, there is enough air circulation. The plastic cages have a lot of tubes and add-ons which remind the hamster of its natural habitat, and you can rearrange it from time to time to keep it interesting for the little one.
Glass fish tanks can also be used as a habitat for hamsters. This is what I used for my little ball of love. They can’t chew through the glass, as they could do with the plastic habitat, and there are no bars through which they could escape.
The bottom line is, whatever material you choose, ensure that your new companion is safe, comfortable, and has lots of space for playing.
Hamsters are very clever and very skilled in escaping. Check the cage for any holes or parts that can be removed by the hamster. If you choose a wire cage ensure that the spacing between the bars is appropriate for the type of hamster you have.
Your hamster’s new home won’t be complete without bedding. There are several types of bedding from which you can choose. The most common bedding is wood shavings. However, you should be very mindful when choosing the type of wood shavings, because cedar or pine wood shavings can be very toxic when combined with the hamster’s urine. The safest choice would be a hardwood like aspen shavings. You should keep in mind that wood shavings do not absorb much, so you will need to clean its habitat daily.
Cotton bedding is not recommended because the ball of fur can get its little feet tangled in the strands of cotton. In my opinion, the best options would be paper bedding or cellulose fiber. You could even use two types of bedding to stimulate their mind.
Whichever bedding type you choose, ensure that it is two to six inches deep. Hamsters like to dig when they are in the wild, and this will give them the feeling of their natural habitat.
Lastly, toys for the little guy. Hamsters enjoy being active, and if you put them in a small space without anything to do they will get bored. An exercise wheel is a must for your furry friend. You’ll need to pay special attention to the size of the wheel because if it is too small their back will curve and it might cause health issues.
I had a ball for my hamster that I used to put it in, and it would run around the room safely in it. It’s a good choice for keeping them active and a chance for them to be out of the cage.
You could also go for some ladders, cardboard, tubes, tunnels, the choices are endless. However, avoid overcrowding their habitat with toys as they need some free space to run around and dig.
It’s time to go home…
You chose the type of hamster. You prepared its home. Now, it’s time to take the ball of fur home.
You’ll need to provide a nice sturdy carrier, one that the hamster won’t be able to gnaw on. If you are taking the little guy from a pet store, they might have carriers, but they are normally very stressful on the hamster, and they are made of soft cardboard that it can chew through. Nevertheless, make sure that there are holes for the hamster to breathe.
Before taking it home, get to know each other. Approach it slowly, with cupped hands, to alleviate any feelings of nervousness. It is normal for the hamster to feel nervous or frightened. Sometimes hamsters can bite if they’re afraid, that is why it is very important to approach them slowly.
Let the furry friend smell your hands, so it can sense that you are not a predator. This will allow it to get familiar with you. Hamsters rely on their sense of smell to assess their surroundings.
When you perceive that it feels comfortable with you, scoop the ball of love in your hands. You might pick up a little bit of the bedding with it, but that’s okay.
You could take it for a walk around the pet store or the shelter, while it is in your hand. It will help the hamster to get used to other noises, and prepare for the moving.
Before you put the little one in the carrier and take it to its new home, it might help to put a small amount of bedding in the container for a more enjoyable ride.
Food, water, and more
You brought your new family member home, and then you remembered that it has to eat. But, what does it eat? We answer this question below.
Equip the habitat with a food bowl and water bottle. Although a food bowl is not necessary for some hamsters, it is convenient to have it. I used to scatter the food in the glass tank.
If you choose to get a food bowl, a ceramic one or one made from stainless steel would be more hygienic, and the little one can’t chew them.
The type of food should be chosen according to the breed of hamster you have. The Syrian hamsters are omnivores, and I used to buy a complete mix for Syrian hamsters. With a pelleted food mix, you’ll provide your hamster with all the nutrients it needs.
Besides, you could give it some seed mixture for more nutritional value, but this needs to be given only after the hamster has received its pelleted food mix.
Moreover, hamsters have to be given food every day. Depending on the type of hamster, the quantity should be enough for the little guy to fill both cheeks. This would mean around one tablespoon of pelleted food mix per day for a Syrian hamster, and half of that for a dwarf breed, to avoid obesity.
You could also give treats to your furry friend. These shouldn’t be given daily or as a substitute for food. Treats would be a variety of fruits or vegetables. Some of their most favorite vegetables include spinach, asparagus, carrots, green beans, turnips, broccoli, and fruits like peaches, strawberries, blueberries, apples, pears.
Avoid giving the hamster avocado or lettuce as these can cause all sorts of health problems.
Any human treats, like candies or chips, can be harmful to hamsters and they could develop diabetes from consuming them.
Wood gnaws or hard treats are essential to keep your hamster’s teeth in good health. Their teeth grow continuously and with gnawing they keep them trimmed. Observe and see on which treats it likes to chew. If you notice that it doesn’t use any of the ones you provided, maybe it would be a good idea to ask the place you took the hamster from what treats they used to give to the hamster.
Hamsters don’t get thirsty frequently, but it’s imperative to have it available for when they need it. It is not recommended to put the water in a dish because it might get dirty and the little one can get wet and die. Consequently, tubes or water bottles are preferred to be used as containers. The water should be replaced once a day to keep it fresh and clean, as well as to monitor the hamster’s water intake.
Think about a time when you moved to a new place or even a time when you went to a venue for the first time. How did you feel? Did you feel comfortable and relaxed, or did you explore the place, tried to get familiar with it? My guess is the second option.
When you set up the habitat and bring your furry friend home, let it inspect its new home and get acclimated. Give it at least twenty four hours to do its research and feel the place as its home.
Observe, be curious, and see how it behaves. You could learn a lot about your new companion by simply observing it. Hamsters use body language, as much as people do, and they can express emotions like anger, fear, or happiness. For example, if the hamster pokes its head up and looks at you with curiosity when you approach it, that means the ball of fur is happy and healthy.
If you see it burrowing in the bedding, it normally means that the little one is happy and just searching for some snacks that it has buried in the bedding.
Ensure that it has enough food and water during the acclimating period, to avoid disturbing it. You could even cover its habitat with a light, white cloth to give it some privacy.
After you allow it a day or two to get used to its new home, you could start introducing yourself steadily. Approach the habitat slowly and speak softly to notify the ball of love that you are there. It might feel nervous at first, but it just needs time to get used to you.
You could start with refilling its food and water, or with cleaning its bedding, but ensure that your hands are clean because if they smell like food, your new friend might want to take a little bite. By doing these routine tasks, the little guy will get used to your hands being around and inside its home.
While you are cleaning, monitor its behavior. If it stands on its hind legs with its dukes up, it means that the hamster is feeling threatened and might get violent.
Once a few days pass by, you could start taming your new companion. Usually, hamsters are up and about a little bit later in the day. So, be patient, and allow it to wake up, otherwise, you might have a grumpy hamster to deal with.
Try to be gentle with the little guy. They don’t like to be poked or grabbed forcefully, this might startle them and you won’t be able to deal with them properly.
Let it sniff your hand, and if it tries to bite it just pull it back gently and try again. This will teach the hamster that there is nothing to be afraid of and that your hand is not its afternoon snack. Moreover, you could add some seeds or a little bit of the hamster mix in your hand, and in this way, it can learn how to climb onto your hand.
Another way to begin with getting acquainted with your new friend is scooping it with both hands, or if it is too nervous you might want to use a plastic scoop or cup. Then, place some of the hamster’s favorite toys in a bathtub, and get in it together with the furry ball of cuteness. Don’t force it to play if it doesn’t seem interested.
Playtime shouldn’t be longer than ten to fifteen minutes. This will teach the hamster that playing with you isn’t something stressful and scary. But, you can play several times during the time it is awake.
One thing to remember is to always respect its sleeping time. Don’t bring other people to see it while it’s gathering its z’s because this might disturb it and won’t be in the mood to play. Give it time to get to know you first, then gradually introduce it to new people.
Did someone call the maid service?
Cleaning the hamster’s home should be one of your top priorities because a clean home will protect it from various conditions and diseases.
There are a few steps you should consider when cleaning its habitat.
Firstly, and most importantly, place the little one in a safe place. If you try to clean its home while it is still inside, you will make it easier for the hamster to escape and it will get agitated. I used to put it in the plastic ball so that it can play while the maid service is in progress. Another thing that could work is a second container or a cage. Just make sure that it doesn’t roll off or get lost somewhere.
Secondly, trash the bedding in a garbage bin. Remove it completely as they tend to store food in the bedding, and this will help clean thoroughly. In relation, the bedding should be thrown at least once a week to prevent odor.
Thirdly, deep clean the container. You could wash it either with regular hand soap mixed with water or special soap for a rodent that is sold in pet stores. Whatever you choose, the cage has to be rinsed completely without leaving any trace of foam because this can be harmful to your furry friend.
Lastly, once you rinse it meticulously, let it dry. Remember that hamsters have a very heightened sense of smell, and if there is any soap left it will bother them. Also, moisture can make them sick.
Don’t forget to do this entire process with all their accessories as well. It is extremely important that everything is cleaned carefully.
When everything is nice and clean, you can start by putting new bedding and filling up the containers with food and water. Only when you have prepared the hamster’s home fully, you can place it back in its habitat.
Work towards going through this process at least once a week.
You cleaned the cage, but what about the hamster?
Hamsters tend to groom themselves, so give your little one space to do it itself. However, if the ball of fur is dirty, that means that its habitat needs cleaning.
Therefore, you will need to scrub and disinfect its home, then let it groom itself in a clean cage.
If you notice that your hamster is still dirty, then you can attempt cleaning it yourself. But, avoid getting the ball of cuteness wet, because it can become too cold and get sick.
Try giving it a dust bath using sand that is safe for hamsters. This is an option only if it is absolutely necessary. Let it roll in the special dust bath and this will remove any greasiness.
Healthy hamster, happy hamster
Hanging out with your new furry friend will give you a chance to get to know the little one and get familiar with its habits and behavior. This will make it is easier for you to notice if something is wrong and your hamster is unwell.
Maybe you could do a weekly checkup yourself and identify any health concerns sooner. In relation, start with checking its nose for any discharge, then look into its eyes and see if they are bright and clear. Continue with stroking its ears to check if they are smooth and clean. Does its fur have any bald patches or parasites? A hamster with a satin coat should always have sleek fur.
Listen to its breathing and notice if it is silent without any kind of sound. Check its weight, is it bony and bloated or is it fat enough?
Your hamster’s behavior can tell a lot about its health. From the way, they interact with you, to changes in their sleeping and eating routines. Monitor the little one with care and patience. For instance, a sick hamster might not react to you when you approach its habitat, because its natural reaction would be to open its eyes and ears to see who is coming.
Check its temperature by touching its little nose. If it is cold, then there is a chance it is sick. Place the habitat somewhere warmer, and observe the hamster’s behavior. The nose should always be dry and warm.
Additionally, you could give your hamster multivitamins as a preventative measure. There are multivitamins for hamsters and this will ensure it is getting all the nutrients it needs. Although this doesn’t guarantee that your hamster won’t get sick, it will give a little boost to its immune system.
A sign of infection would be a wet tail or a discharge around its eyes. If you notice any of these symptoms, call a veterinarian who you know is experienced with treating rodents and small animals. Ask if there is something you could give to your hamster.
Pay attention to your new friend’s activity levels. It is normal for the hamster to have a period of adaptation when it arrives in its new home, but after that, if you notice that it is not running and exploring, check it for other signs that might point to an illness. This could also mean that it is scared or simply not happy.
Overgrown teeth are another sign of health issues. If this is not resolved immediately it will impact the hamster’s food and water intake. You can prevent this from happening by ensuring that there is always gnawing material available for the little one.
Sometimes when the temperature is low in the room, your hamster may go into a false hibernation. If it looks like it is asleep or dead, just raise its body temperature gradually with a hot water bottle or a heating pad, but don’t go over ninety degrees or thirty-two degrees Celsius.
The bottom line is hamsters can get sick like any other living being. Moreover, the illnesses they get are very similar to the ones a human being can have.
Nevertheless, you need to seek advice from an experienced veterinary whenever you think your new companion looks lethargic or sick.
A little something for the end
Although they are petite, they are still a big responsibility.
Hamsters need a lot of attention, so before getting one, make sure you are completely certain and prepared to give them the necessary care they need. If your decision has already been made, then let me tell you that your life will become very entertaining with a ball of love in it.
Play with your hamster as much as you can, this will make you and your little friend so much happier. The more you play with it, the friendlier it will be.
Owning and taking care of one of these little ones can be a deeply rewarding experience. If you care for it properly and give it all your love, the hamster will have a full and happy life.