A-Z of Hamster Care

Age

Hamsters live on average 1.75 years. I.e. A year and nine months.

 

“It’s a short life so please make it a good one”

 

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 a 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 whilst in the ball they have no access to food or water and it restricts the 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 large wheel, plenty of bedding depth and they still bite the bars, you should 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. It has been proven that a hamster is happiest when they live underground in a burrow, research shows this also prevents bar biting which is a sign that your hamster is trying to escape their cage. 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.

 

Don’t give hamsters Scented Bedding “It must be like being in a lift with someone constantly spraying perfume”. Instead Spot Clean to reduce smell. Having a larger enclosure and providing more bedding so your hamster can make a burrow has proven to reduce smell.

 

Breeding

Breeding is something we 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:

  1. Take the wheel out of the cage, if mum uses it and the babies are close they could get hurt.
  2. Feed mum a lot of proteins: cooked eggs, fish, chicken or beef unseasoned for sure, you can also get her cottage cheese and meal-worms. 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 the 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 page about hamster cages has 18 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 is £75 and is a far better way to spend your money then paying a similar price for a smaller cage.  For inspiration see our amazing setups page.

Chews

Chew toys such as wooden toys, pine cones or wood are beneficial for your hamsters teeth. Avoid using edible toys which are made from compressed sawdust, they often have flavours or honey and this will encourage the hamster to eat them as it makes it seem like food. Unfortunately, ingesting sawdust can cause a fatal internal blockage.

 

Cleaning

Spot Cleaning of soiled bedding is a recommended technique that will also reduce smell. With a big enough enclosure you may not need to do a full clean for many weeks.

 

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 or make your hamster wet. Please look at our Hamster Sand Bath page for more information.

 

Enrichment

Adding interesting and stimulating items into the enclosure that simulate a natural environment will help keep your hamsters mind busy and make them feel safe. Different textures such as coco soil, beach chips and coco chips. Chew toys such as wooden toys or pine cones (see Chews). Cork logs and Hides (see Hides). Sprays such as millet, poppy heads, wheat and more (see Sprays). Also Forage such as dried flowers and dried insects (see Forage).

 

Exercise

See Wheel/Playpen

 

Food

Hamsters are omnivores and in the wild they eat both plants and meat. In addition to the seed mix you can also feed your hamsters insects and fruit.

 

The most appropriate seed mix to feed your hamster is a species specific complete mix. Syrians and dwarf hamsters have different diets naturally in the wild, so their diet in captivity should reflect that as best as possible. Species appropriate mixes from places like Getzoo, have up to 35 ingredients that are all natural, and much more beneficial for your hamster than commercial seed mixes found in pet stores. These pet store mixes are often filled with low quality ingredients, have lots of fillers like hay and corn. They do not offer enough variety or nutrients for a hamster to thrive.

 

Recommended complete mixes:
-Rodipet
-Getzoo
-Maxizoo
-Mixerama
-Bunny Nature EXPERT (not basic)

 

A list of foods your hamster can and can not eat can be seen below:

 

List of Suitable hamster food

 

Forage

Hamsters love gathering and storing their food and adding forage to the enclosure can really make your hamsters day. It is reccomend to hide and scatter feed different items of forage. There are many different types of dried herbs, dried flowers, leaves, grasses, fruit and dried insects that you can use. You can buy ready made forage mixes which contain a whole variety forage at a reasonable price. Please make sure you buy from a reputable source who know what forage is safe and not safe for hamsters.

 

Hides

Hamsters are prey animals and they like to have places to hide and feel safe. It is recommended to have at least 5/6 hides in the enclosure, multi chamber hides, cork logs and ceramic can all be used.

 

Illness

There are several illnesses and diseases that a hamster can get, a recent study by The RVC shows the most common ailments. 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. You can buy a rodent playpen or use a ball pit, empty paddling pool or you can make your own. 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, see the video below:

Sand

Hamsters need to clean themselves, leave this job to your hamster, please do not ever wet a hamster. (If a hamster gets wet they lose their ability to insulate themselves, their body will get very cold, they will start shivering and can easily die from hypothermia). 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.

 

Sprays

Sprays help create a natural looking environment and provide interesting enrichment for your hamster. When placed into the substrate Sprays will provide coverage that your hamster can travel between and this will help them feel safe. Types of safe Sprays that you can use are Amaranth, Millet, Pagima, Flax, Sorghum, Oats, Canary Grass, Sudan Grass, Wheat, Barley, Quinoa, Poppy Heads and others.

Hamster in natural looking enclosure with sprays

 

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, sectioned areas and bridges (please place moss over any gaps on the bridge). 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 allow your hamster to walk into a tub and then transfer them from the cage. 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 can contain flavours and ingredients such as honey which encourages your hamster to think they are food and eat them. Unfortunately, if ingested the sawdust can cause a fatal internal blockage.

 

Water

Hamsters always need access to water and this can be provided through either a water bottle or a small water bowl, there are pros and cons to each method:

 

Water Bottle:

  • A water bottle does not provide the same drinking experience as naturally sipping water from a bowl, it is more effort for a hamster to have to lick a metal ball to receive water.
  • The inside of the water bottle can build up bacteria and algae so ensure you thoroughly clean the bottle at least once a week with a bottle brush.
  • The water bottle must be positioned at a height so it can be used without your hamster needing to stretch to reach it.
  • You need to regularly check that the water bottle is working correctly. The ball can sometimes get stuck and a pocket of air will build up behind the ball preventing water from coming out.
  • Water needs to be changed daily.

 

Water Bowl / Water Dish:

  • A water bowl or dish provides a more natural drinking experience.
  • The water bowl needs to be small enough for your hamster to safely access with a low height but not large enough for a hamster to fall in. As can be seen in the video below Victoria Raechel uses a glass tea light candle holder.
  • The water bowl should be placed on a flat surface and possibly wedged in to prevent it tipping over.
  • The water will need to be regularly changed at least once a day to stop it getting contaminated with soiled bedding etc.

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″ (28 cm) to prevent their backs arching which causes incurable spinal problems Dwarfs need 8″ (20 cm). The most popular wheels are made by Trixie, Niteangel, Exotic Nutrition, 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. If you want to buy a hamster wheel visit our wheels page for advice on the best hamster wheels.

Thanks Dani Grego for compiling the original version of this A-Z Care Guide. HamsterWelfare.com continue to make regular updates and edits to this guide.

 

Further Resources