A-Z of Hamster Care

Age

Syrian hamsters live on average 2 – 2.5 years.

 

Ball

Hamster balls are sometimes used to get them out of the cage for a while. We don’t recommend them as they provide no actual freedom, they can also be dangerous and tear out your hamsters claws, a further discussion can be seen on our hamster balls page. A playpen is a much better way of allowing your little one some time out of their cage. Also as hamsters eyesight is not very good, they are not able to see what they are about to bump into. The RSPCA believe that hamster balls are a stressful experience as it restricts the hamsters use of their senses. RSPCA advice against the use of hamster balls can be seen here.

 

Bar Chewing

This is a common reaction to boredom. Bar Biting can cause misaligned teeth and in extreme cases, the constant vibrations can cause brain damage. Often they chew the bars if there is nothing else to gnaw on, no stimulation, or their cage is too small, research shows that it is a hamsters attempt to escape it’s cage and it is sad when they make this their mission in life. If you have a cage over the recommended 100cm size, a 11″+ wheel, and plenty of things to do and they still bite the bars, then you might want to consider putting them in a tank or bin cage to stop it.

 

Bar Spacing

The bar spacing for hamsters should be 1cm, any bigger and it should be securely meshed to be on the safe side.

 

Bedding

The best bedding for hamsters is paper bedding that resembles clumps of tissue, brands such as Carefresh and Kaytee are popular, this type of bedding is good for holding up the structure of a burrow. Some owners simply choose to use plain white unscented toilet roll ripped up into small pieces. Any kind of fluffy bedding is not appropriate at all. The RSPCA “serious risk” advice against the use of fluffy bedding can be seen here.

 

The RSPCA say: “Don’t give hamsters nesting materials that separate into thin strands, e.g. cotton wool or similar ‘fluffy’ bedding products. They pose a serious risk to their health and welfare, due to the possibility of entanglement or ingestion.”

 

Breeding

Breeding is something I would discourage as it’s a complicated process that needs to be left to the experts. They have specialist care, pairings and diets. You should never breed hamsters that have been bought from pet shops.

 

Advice if your hamster has babies From Thiziri Taib

  1. take the wheel out of the cage, if mom uses it while babies are close they could get hurt.
  2. feed mom a lot of proteins: cooked eggs, fish, chicken or beef unseasoned for sure, you can also get her cottage cheese and mealworms. it’s very important that she gets her proteins as lack of energy can make her eat them!
  3.  most importantly, stay away from her and babies, don’t stress her out, don’t even clean the cage, don’t touch her or babies. if she doesn’t feel safe she’ll eat them as well. put the cage in the calmest place in the house for at least two weeks without any interaction.”

 

hamster burrow in bedding

Burrowing

It is important to provide your hamster with a deep section of the correct type of bedding so that they can make a burrow and sleep underground, just like they would in the wild. Research shows that hamsters are happiest when they are able to make a burrow, it has also been proven to completely eliminate bar biting which is a sign of a hamster trying to escape its cage. Allowing your hamster to burrow and create a chamber underground, provides them with warmth and makes them feel safe.

 

Cage / Tank

Nowadays hamster keepers are preferring to choose a Tank over a Cage as it allows them to provide a deep layer of bedding so that their hamster can make a burrow, also no bars means no bar biting. There are also cages on the market which have a deep base so that a deep layer of  bedding doesn’t get pushed out through the bars. An enclosure should meet the minimum requirements of 100cm x 50cm. Research shows that this minimum recommended cage size is for ALL species of hamsters including dwarf . Our cages page has 10 recommended cages/tanks which are 100cm +.

 

Top Tip: Some hamster keepers recommend 150cm as a minimum length and will use a glass tank or an IKEA Detolf which is 163cm long, its a glass cabinet which can be placed horizontally on the floor or put on a long stand, and used as a tank. The price varies between £40 -£60 and is a far better way to spend your money then paying the same price for a tiny cage.  For inspiration see our amazing setups page.

 

Cleaning

Do not use any bleaches or chemicals to clean the cage, make sure the products clearly state “Pet safe”. Your hamster itself does not need cleaning as they groom themselves, NEVER bath a hamster. Please look at our Sand Page for information on not making your hamster wet.

 

Exercise

See Wheel/Playpen

 

Food

Their food is mainly comprised of a hamster muesli such as Harry/Hazel hamster, but it is good to mix other dried herbs or dried vegetable bits in too. They can also be given certain fresh fruits and vegetables as an occasional treat. Click here for a good list of foods your hamster can and can not eat. If the food is not listed here, do not give them it. Treats that are fine for other animals may be harmful to your hamster and it’s best to be safe than sorry.

Illness

There are several illnesses and diseases that a hamster can get, and I won’t be able to go into detail here. If you suspect something is unusual or your hamsters behaviour has drastically changed, head straight for the vets. Some concerning problems that are worth reading about are Pyometra, Influenza, Wet Tail, Diarrhoea, Cysts and Tumours, Cushings, Broken bones, UTI, Respiratory infections, Heat Stroke and Dehydration.

 

Nails

Their nails need to be kept short, and if they are starting to curve round they need to be trimmed. Be careful to only cut the white tip and not the blood vessels further up the nail. If you do not feel confident, most vets offer this service.

 

Playpen

A playpen is a good way of letting your hamster explore and interact with you. It is a secure set up outside of a cage where the hamster can roam more freely. This is done using a ball pit, empty paddling pool or a wire fence. Do not let your hamster run around unsupervised as they are crafty, and don’t let them wander around with no limits. It takes one bite of a wire for it to end devastatingly. There are many Hamster Play Pens available on Amazon but you can build a far better bigger space yourself making your own walls using a cardboard box, check out the video below:

 

Sand

Hamsters need to clean themselves, leave this job to your hamster pleased do not ever wet a hamster. Please provide them with SAND not dust (dust can cause a respiratory infection). Children’s play sand is even recommended, it’s cheap, lasts long and is already treated. You can also get reptile sand that has no calcium in it or Chinchilla sand (Not Chinchilla dust).  It can be put in a small cardboard box, ceramic bowl or potty to make an area called the Sand Bath. They sometimes like to use it as a toilet, and this is perfectly safe. Ensure to replace it regularly.

 

Sleep

Most hamsters are crepuscular, active from dusk until dawn. However many hamsters are nocturnal, and only wake up later in the evening until the early hours.

 

Substrate

Substrate is a wide term used to describe the various substances that can be placed in the enclosure to represent the ground for a hamster to walk on and various types can be used for burrowing. Some people just use the bedding material to line the entire floor of the cage, therefore bedding material such as Carefresh, Kaytee, Fitch etc, is substrate. Owners often use various different substrates to give their hamster a variety of textures along with the typical bedding material.

 

Sadly, pet shops often recommend Sawdust as being suitable however Sawdust is NOT suitable for hamsters as it produces a dust that can cause breathing problems and irritate your hamsters eyes. For this type of texture Aspen is the only safe wood-based bedding for hamsters because it doesn’t produce this type of dust.

 

Please take a look at the below video for a wide range of substrates that can be used in the enclosure. Some people take pride in providing a natural looking environment, with paths, bridges and sectioned areas. These enclosures can look like a work of art and it’s rewarding to see a hamster happily living in this environment, this hobby is referred to as Hamsterscaping.

Taming

You must be patient when taming a hamster, as they need to get used to their surroundings. Do not tame them until they are settled for a couple weeks after bringing them home. Be sure to move slowly and speak gently. Don’t start off by grabbing them, as this can scare them. One good method to begin taming is to get a large plastic box and fill it with substrate and toys, and when your hamster is at the door allow them to walk into a ball, carry case or toilet roll tube. Once they are inside you can slowly transfer them from that into the plastic box. Offer them a small treat. Once you have done this over a few days they will start to learn you are not a threat and may wander on your hand or allow you to lift them. The main thing to remember is that they may nip if you smell of food, they are curious or scared, but you must not shout at them or snatch your hand away quickly. Just put them back in their cage and try again tomorrow.

 

 

Toys

Hamsters enjoy chewing on things and there is a wide range of toys on the market. You can buy chews, hammocks, shelves, ladders, wooden toys, wheels, see saws, toilet/kitchen roll tubes, tunnels and alfalfa products. Avoid Edible Toys, these are not safe, they contain honey which encourages your hamster to eat them but the sawdust has then been known to cause fatal stomach blockages.

 

Water

Hamsters need water, and it is commonly given through a water bottle. Water should be changed daily to ensure it is fresh and free from contamination. Thoroughly clean the bottle at least once a week with a bottle brush to prevent algae from building up. A more unpopular method is the water bowl, which needs to be changed twice daily, once in the morning and again at night to stop it getting soiled. Water bowls are not recommended but may be used as a last resort for hamsters that are cage climbers. If a water bowl is used, it should be a ceramic one to prevent the hamster from tipping it over.

 

Weight

A fully grown Syrian usually weighs between 150 – 200g. It is possible to have a healthy hammy over or under these measurements, but get them checked at the vets to make sure.

 

Wheel

Syrians need a wheel of at least 11″ (28cm) to prevent their backs arching which causes incurable spinal problems Dwarfs need 8″ (20 cm). The most popular wheels are the Trixie wheel, the Karlie Wonderland, and Wodent Wheel. They must not have a wire wheel, as their little legs can get caught between the bars potentially breaking limbs and it can also cause bumblefoot.

Thanks Dani Grego for compiling this list. The historical version of Dani’s site can be found here:

HamsterWelfare.com has made some edits and updates to Dani’s original work

 

Further Resources