Your Guide to Hamster Care

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Have you ever seen a hamster at the pet shop and been so charmed by the little fellas that you open your heart and your home to a new furry friend? Well, congratulations on finding a new animal companion. No matter what pet you chose, it’s always important to be an informed pet owner. Here’s a handy guide to help you prepare for your hamster care.

Before Bringing Home Your Pet Hamster

Before Bringing Home Your Pet Hamster

Is a Hamster a Right Fit?

You should never get a pet on a whim. If you’re in the very first stages of wanting a hamster, you should first compare reality against your expectations, making sure you aren’t overlooking a similar pet that might better suit you (like rats and mice, guinea pigs, gerbils, chinchillas, hedgehogs — so many options!).

  • A hamster is great if you have a small space, like a studio apartment,  but as a nocturnal rodent, they’re active at night. Consider this. Perhaps, you don’t want them housed too close to your bed.
  • They don’t like too much hubbub or noisiness, nor sudden movements when approaching or handling. Hamsters enjoy calm, familiar environments and gentle interactions.
  • It actually isn’t the best starter pet for young children, even though it might seem the perfect little size. A hamster is relatively friendly and easy to handle with practice but requires a measured, minimal approach. They’re not fond of overhandling or even too much bonding time. There are sturdier rodents to choose from, who are more docile and sociable.
  • Hamsters can be a little nip-happy if they’re unhappy, and they’re independent and zippy. They won’t really play with you in the traditional sense, but you can train them a bit, and they enjoy stimulating “games,” which allows them to investigate and tunnel. They’re tons of fun to watch.
  • A hamster pet will not live very long. Though precise lifespans are species-dependent, you’re looking at only 2-3 years. Hamsters aren’t especially prone to sickness, but they are sensitive to stress. Any bad signs (irregular eating, lethargy, diarrhea, skin problems) will require speedy intervention.

Home Prep and Considering Hamster Habitats

Another thing to consider is that hamsters always need supervision when they’re out of their dedicated habitat. That out-of-cage time should be often, once a day or a few times a week. 

When you let them out, the area should be totally hamster-proofed for their safety and happiness. 

  • Nothing and nowhere they might escape into or under or through. 
  • Nothing inappropriate to eat or chew on. 
  • Nothing they could burrow under for hiding purposes, as you want eyes on them constantly. 
  • Nothing to startle or hurt them.

Playpens, big boxes, or other safe little spaces work wonders for outside-the-cage time. But what about where your hamster lives most of the time? 

  • You’ll need a habitat that is escape-proof and can’t be chewed through. It should have a solid bottom and fill it with a couple of inches of unscented bedding, cellulose, or plant-based paper. You can potty train them to use a litter box, but they tend to use the bathroom in the same place anyway. So make sure there’s a distinct space between areas for potty, eating and drinking, and sleeping.
  • Wire cages, plastic enclosures, or certain glass tanks are all options. The right size is crucial. Because small pets fit in small spaces, we tend to minimize how much room they need to be comfortable.
  • For dwarf hamster care, experts recommend a habitat at least 2 feet wide by a 1 foot deep and 1 foot high. But the largest type of hamster is the popular Syrian (also known as a teddy bear, golden, or fancy hamster), and it needs bigger dimensions than that.
  • If you have the room and the means to go bigger, you’re unlikely to go too big — the more space your little pet has, the better off they’ll feel. Imagine how happy they would be to live in their very own multi-level mansion, filled with everything they love!
  • Always note that you will need adequate space in the habitat for food bowls (heavy enough not to be tipped) water bottles, plush toys, and a hamster wheel.

How to Adopt Your Hamster

Even though you can just walk into a pet store and buy a hamster, you should still think of it with the same gravity as adopting it. You aren’t making a random purchase. You’re taking a tiny life in your hands.

If you’re looking for a quick and convenient way to bring a hamster into your home, you can look at PetSmart hamsters.. Read up on their different species beforehand to get an idea of temperament and sociability, then just clarify with a store associate before making your final decision.

  • The “long-haired” hamster is a bigger Syrian.
  • The “fancy bear” hamster is also a Syrian, but it’s the short-haired variant.
  • “Short-haired” hamster may refer to smaller dwarfs, but you can also browse the dwarfs by their different species.

How much should you expect to pay for a hamster purchased this way? Usually around $20. Expect to pay a little more for bigger species and less for smaller ones. But when considering, “How much does a hamster cost?” don’t forget to factor in the cost of the habitat and bedding, toys, food, and anything you’ll want to safely facilitate out-of-cage time.

True adoption is also an option in some cases. It takes time and careful searching in your area. It’s not always possible. When it is, though, you can help re-home a local hamster in need, usually for the same small amount of money or even less — previous owners will often re-home their hamster supplies, too!

How to Take Care of a Hamster

What to Do

  • We covered home and habitat prep above. It’s best to introduce your hamster to your home as smoothly as possible by having everything set up and ready for them.
  • For the first few days or the first week, cover the cage with a lightweight cloth. This helps the little hammy adjust without getting too overwhelmed and stressed.
  • For bonding, which at first will just be feeding and watering, you can fold back the cover and hang out. Use slow, deliberate movements and a soft voice.
  • Keep the potty area cleared and refreshed every day. Change the bedding out if and when it gets soiled, or otherwise once a week. Take everything out and wipe the cage with soap and water weekly or bi-weekly. Be sure to clean the food bowls and water bottles then as well.
  • Stimulate your hamster’s natural curiosity. Follow the guidelines above for “games” and out-of-cage time. 

Feed your little one high-quality pellet hamster food, which might be a nutritional mix of pellets, grains, and seeds. The question “What do hamsters eat?” has a different answer than “What can hamsters eat?” They need a staple in their bowl every day, but you can supplement that with acceptable fruits and vegetables, or even a bit of hay. Treat them up to 3 times a week max, with pieces smaller than the inside of a teaspoon.

Hamsters love tiny quantities of: 

  • Apple, strawberry, blueberry, and banana
  • Can hamsters eat grapes? They can eat seedless grapes, but due to high sugar content, you shouldn’t ever give them an entire grape at a time.
  • Spinach, cucumber, broccoli, and pumpkin 
  • Can hamsters eat carrots like a very miniature rabbit? Absolutely, if you prepare little pieces or slivers for them. 
  • Commercial hamster treats are popular too, and a good way to easily incorporate other favorites such as low-fat cottage cheese or yogurt. 

What Not to Do

  • Don’t do anything discouraged above, such as rough handling or overhandling, letting supervision lapse, keeping them caged up all the time, etc.
  • Don’t begin handling your new hamster immediately. It could be necessary for some transportation reasons, but once they’re at home in their habitat, let them acclimate to the scary new situation first. As you gain their trust (by being the source of food and water, and not posing any apparent threat), they’ll naturally become more comfortable and inquisitive, allowing you to pet them and carefully pick them up.
  • Don’t worry about bathing unless some sort of catastrophe happens — hamsters neither want nor require it, and getting wet flushes essential natural oils out of their coats. If your little hamster seems too unkempt, you can invest in some chinchilla sand and allow them enjoyable and effective sand baths. Additionally, long-haired Syrians may benefit from occasional brushing.
  • Don’t go overboard on fruits and vegetables and the like. It’s healthy for us to eat these things every day, but hamsters get their necessary nutrition from that specially formulated hamster food. 
  • Don’t give your hammy potato or beans (too much starch), tomatoes or oranges (too acidic and tomato leaves are toxic), almonds (toxic), chocolate (toxic), salty or sugary things like chips, candies or dessert food (can cause digestive problems, weight gain, and diabetes in dwarf species).
  • Don’t ever let them run out of freshwater! 

Takeaway

Adding a little hamster buddy to your or your child’s life is a wonderful thing. When you understand what you’re getting into, adopting and caring for a hamster shouldn’t be daunting or difficult. Just fun and fulfilling for the time you have with them. Hopefully, this guide has helped prepare you to be a mighty capable first-time hamster parent. 

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Maria A.

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