Many people purchase a hamster as a “starter pet”, and find their care is a little more involved than they first imagined.
Your hamster is a little living creature who will be entirely dependent on you!
The basics of hamster care include:
- Housing (and Toys)
- Food and Water
This is a VERY BASIC hamster care sheet, but will give you a place to start. If you have any questions, feel free to send me a message! I love talking about hamsters!
I recommend a cage of at least 450 square inches of unbroken floor space.
I require at least 350 square inches of unbroken floor space before I will adopt a hamster out to someone. In general, the larger a cage, the better. A hamster in the wild has access to a very large area, and this is part of what keeps them happy! But hamsters are also individuals, and they have individual preferences. The most important thing is to observe your hamster in whatever cage you choose for them, and make sure they like it! There are a few hamsters that are uncomfortable in a very large space. (These are probably the ones who would choose to stay close to home in the wild!)
There used to be very few adequate housing options available in the US, but that has changed. There really is an option for everyone, from homemade bin cages to extravagant multi-level cages!
Watch for the bottom to have a high enough tray to keep a few inches of bedding in. Don’t buy anything with wire or mesh flooring – this can hurt your hamster’s feet! And keep in mind, you may not be able to use all of the accessories that come with your cage, if you purchase one.
I believe all hamsters should have a wheel, because they love to run. Wheels for a hamster need to be big enough that your hamster’s back is not arching when running on it. It must be at least 12 inches for a full-grown Syrian. Some Syrians who are on the smaller side could possibly use an 8″ wheel. The key to having a safe wheel is to watch their back when they are running on it, and make sure it is not arching. The wheel should have a solid floor for them to run on. Wires can lead to bumble foot, which is painful for your hamster. (If you have a wire mesh floor wheel, regularly check the bottoms of your hamsters feet to make sure there are not any sores developing.)
Other toys that hamsters enjoy are houses, hide-aways, tunnels and tubes to be placed inside the cage, and a sandbox.
Hamsters prefer to be able to burrow in several inches of bedding. If you give them that much, you will have a happier hamster, and you will not have to do a full clean of their cage very often. You will just need to spot clean. But they will likely pick a well-hidden spot to sleep, and you may not see them as often. 🙂
Paper beddings with low dust and aspen is the safest bedding to use for hamsters. Never use cedar. Some hamsters are allergic to pine, so if you try it, watch closely for sneezing or skin problems! Most hamster enthusiasts like paper bedding best, but it is really important to go with one that is LOW DUST, as the dust can cause breathing problems just like a pine allergy.
Avoid fluffy bedding, and cloth. These things can wrap around limbs and cut off circulation. Give them a plain tissue or plain squares of toilet paper for nesting materials.
Food and Water
Keep fresh water available to your hamster at all times. They will not drink a lot, as they are desert creatures. My hamsters usually go through about 4 ounces in a week. Since hamsters are nocturnal, you may not see them drinking very often, and new hamster owners are often concerned that their hamster is not drinking.
A healthy hamster does not overeat, but they will stash their food away, so it is not always easy to know when to feed them! I just check their stash weekly, and fill their bowl, making sure that things aren’t getting out of hand in their cages. Some people measure the food out. Just make sure your hamsters always has a supply of food available. They should never run out.
Most hamster foods on the market do not have enough protein. Hamsters need a minimum of 16% crude protein, so you can purchase a commercial mix that has less than that in it, and add some protein in as treats. (I like mealworms, plain chicken, boiled egg, or nuts as treats.) Or you can purchase a lab block designed for rats and mice as a supplement. Most hamsters like to eat these lab blocks.
I always recommend a seed mix as a large portion of their diet, as this closely mimics what a hamster would be foraging for in the wild. This can be supplemented with fresh treats (avoid onions and anything citrus!), but be careful not to change their diet too drastically. Keep them on a treat schedule. If you give a treat daily, that’s great! But don’t forget for two weeks, then suddenly jump back in. Make changes gradually.
Hamsters love to come out and play! A hamster that is fully comfortable with you should be coming out of its cage regularly to play, explore, and snuggle. This keeps their lives interesting, and gives you a chance to observe their behavior and any changes in their health.
A hamster that is not yet tame can usually be made comfortable with humans with a few basic steps.
My favorite food is Higgins Sunburst. This has a higher protein concentration than most, at 14%. Higgins Vitagarden has an even higher amount of protein, at 15%!
Supplemented with a little extra protein or a rat and mouse lab block like Kaytee Pro Health or Mazuri Rat and Mouse food, OR a regularly high-protein treat, your hamster will have the best nutrition a pet hamster can have.
The food we use, simply because it is available in large bags and we have a lot of hamsters is Kaytee supreme. It has a minmum of 13% protein. I supplement with extra protein treats.
My favorite hamster cage is the Savic Hamster Heaven. But because we have a lot of hamsters, we use bin cages I’ve made. They are easier to work with and clean, and they are virtually escape-proof.
My favorite wheel, which we are slowly upgrading to is the Silent Runner. The only wheels I recommend against are the ones without a solid floor, ones that are too small, AND the spinners on an enclosed base. (A hamster can become trapped under it.)