The humble hamster has been a favorite pet for many generations, and it continues to be extremely popular today! With their adorable faces and small stature, it’s no wonder these furry little critters are so well-loved by their owners. But not everyone knows how to make the most of having a hamster as a pet.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Hamster Care Basics
- 8 Tips from Hamster Owners
- 1. Don’t take the risk of housing hamsters together
- 2. Choose the right type of hamster
- 3. Choose a tank-style enclosure
- 4. Steer clear of hamster balls
- 5. Properly clean the enclosure
- 6. Don’t force interaction with a hamster right away
- 7. Bond with your hamster in a playpen
- 8. Don’t count on cuddling your pet hamster
Whether you’re considering getting a hamster of your own or you already have your little friend, these top 10 tips from expert hamster owners will give you all the information you need to make sure your hamster is happy and healthy.
Hamster Care Basics
First, let’s look at the basics of owning and caring for a hamster. These are the first things you’ll need to take care of if you’re thinking about adopting a hamster as a pet.
Hamsters are solitary animals
Unlike many other small animals, hamsters are highly territorial and prefer to have their enclosures to themselves. For that reason, it’s best to keep just one hamster in a cage at a time.
You might worry that your hamster will get lonely with so much alone time. But according to hamster experts, they prefer to be alone and don’t suffer from loneliness.
More importantly, hamsters often fight and injure each other if kept in pairs. Dwarf hamsters can sometimes get along in pairs, but it’s important that they’re from the same litter. You’ll also need to watch out for signs of fighting. It’s almost always better to avoid housing them together, so we strongly recommend doing so.
Adopt from a rescue or ethical breeder
If you’re considering adopting a hamster, you might be planning to take a trip to the pet store to find your new friend. However, we recommend searching hamster rescues or finding an ethical breeder as your first choice.
Chain pet stores often buy their animals from unethical breeders, and the hamsters can come from bad situations. This can mean they’re harder to tame and more prone to health issues.
Different hamster breeds have different needs
If you’ve never owned a hamster, you might think they’re all pretty much the same. But there are actually five different kinds of hamsters, and it’s important to know their different personalities, needs, and preferences.
Choose the right hamster habitat and bedding
While some hamsters can be kept in cages, dwarf hamsters are often small enough to squeeze through the bars of a traditional cage.
If you have or plan on getting a smaller hamster, it’s safest to choose a glass tank with a mesh top that can prevent escapes. Make sure that your tank has enough floor space for your hamster to run around and explore.
A hamster home should have a minimum of 450 square inches of horizontal floor space. Additionally, it should allow for at least six inches in depth of bedding.
It’s also important to provide a layer of hamster-safe bedding. Hamsters love to dig down and tunnel around in their bedding, so the more you can accommodate, the better.
The best types of bedding for hamsters are aspen shavings (stay away from other types of shaved-wood bedding) and shredded paper.
Provide fresh hamster food and water daily
It’s important to feed your hamster healthy hamster food that provides all of the nutrition a hamster needs, as well as fresh water.
You should generally fill up a hamster’s food each day, rather than providing a great deal of food at once. This can help prevent over-hoarding and overeating.
The typical hamster eats about one tablespoon of food per day, but the amount can depend on the nutritional value of the food and what it contains. Look for a hamster food that contains between 15% and 20% protein. Many hamster mixes that you’ll find at the pet store don’t contain the right mix of macronutrients, so you may have to buy online.
We love the Higgins Sunburst seed mix for hamsters. Many hamster owners provide a seed mix in conjunction with a pellet or “lab block” food. We recommend the Teklak 2018 formulation or Kaytee Forti-Diet Pro Health Mouse, Rat, and Hamster Food.
Some hamsters prefer to drink out of a shallow bowl of water, but we recommend also providing a water bottle. Bowls quickly get filled with litter, which can prevent your hamster from drinking enough water.
Give your hamster a wheel, some toys, and hideouts
Hamsters need plenty of activities to keep them happy and busy during their active nights. We recommend providing different types of toys, including tubes and tunnels, hammocks, hideouts, chew toys, and exercise wheels.
Ensure that the wheel you provide is solid, rather than made up of wire bars or grating. It’s also important to check that the wheel is large enough to fit your hamster without its back bending.
Keep your hamster somewhere safe and quiet
Hamsters are nocturnal, which means they need a quiet environment to sleep during the day. At the same time, you won’t want to keep your hamsters in a bedroom as they can be quite noisy at night.
Find a place that’s tucked out of the way, away from the commotion of everyday life, where your hamster can get the rest it needs to thrive.
8 Tips Hamster Owner Tips
With the basics of caring for hamsters out of the way, let’s look at some of the more detailed advice that hamster owners themselves have given. These are the top 8 hamster care tips we were able to gather from real hamster owners and experts.
1. Don’t take the risk of housing hamsters together
Even hamster species that live together in the wild will likely fight, which can result in the death of one of the hamsters.
In their natural habitat, some hamster species, such as Roborovski (“robo”) hamsters live in loose colonies. However, they do not inhabit a small space together and only truly interact for mating purposes.
Even though some sources state that hamsters can or should live in pairs to avoid getting lonely, this isn’t the case. Hamsters are naturally solitary animals, and they don’t get lonely if kept alone.
Hamster owners who have tried housing two hamsters together, even if they were from the same litter, have reported traumatic results. Hamsters who appear to get along one day can turn vicious the next, fighting, injuring, and even killing each other.
2. Choose the right type of hamster
Most beginner hamster owners should opt for a dwarf hamster, while more experienced owners may choose a Syrian or Chinese hamster.
You might think that all hamsters are pretty much created equal, and that any hamster that’s for sale at the pet shop will have the same needs and temperament as another. But in fact, there are five distinct hamster species commonly kept as pets.
One of the most important steps in adopting a hamster is understanding the difference between these five species and choosing the hamster that can meet your expectations and one that you can properly care for.
If you’re a brand-new hamster owner, most experienced hamster owners recommend choosing a dwarf species of hamster.
Although some sources recommend Syrian hamsters for beginners, Syrians are notoriously picky amongst experienced hamster parents. Female Syrians, especially, can be difficult to please, as well as relatively messy.
3. Choose a tank-style enclosure
Most commercially available cages aren’t perfectly suited to a hamster.
As mentioned above, many hamsters can escape through the bars of a cage. Furthermore, most of the cages on the market just aren’t large enough, or they don’t feature a deep enough tray for the hamsters to dig and play.
For that reason, most seasoned hamster owners recommend choosing a tank-type enclosure, such as a store-bought fish or reptile tank or even a DIY enclosure.
Staying away from cage enclosures also eliminates the risk of bar-chewing, which can lead to health problems for your hamster.
4. Steer clear of hamster balls
Hamster balls can cause undue stress on a hamster and generally don’t provide any benefits.
While we, as humans, might think it would be fun to run around in a giant transparent ball, most hamsters don’t feel the same way. Hamsters don’t understand that they’re safe in a hamster ball, and the experience can be highly stressful for them all around.
Hamster balls can also cause physical harm to your hamster, tearing out nails that get stuck and not providing enough ventilation.
5. Properly clean the enclosure
Spot clean daily, and don’t remove all of your hamster’s bedding at once when you perform a full cleaning.
You should try to remove noticeably soiled bedding, as well as droppings, on a daily basis. Wipe down soiled toys and wheels, as well as cleaning up any other messes in the enclosure.
Once per month, experienced hamster owners recommend performing a more thorough cleaning of the enclosure. However, it’s recommended to change out just a third of your hamster’s bedding at a time.
Remove a third of the bedding inside your hamster’s enclosure, and replace it with fresh bedding. Then, mix the bedding together before replacing the hamster’s toys and hideouts.
6. Don’t force bonding with a hamster right away
Give your hamster a minimum of one week to settle into their new home. Then, slowly start offering treats by hand to improve your bond.
Interacting with and trying to handle your hamster too soon can lead to a lot of distrust in your relationship. You want to make sure your hamster feels safe and secure in its environment before you attempt to touch, grab, or hand-feed it.
You can make your hamster even more comfortable by covering its enclosure in a blanket for the first week after you bring it home. Make sure that your hamster habitat is in a safe, quiet location away from noise and turmoil.
Once your hamster has settled in, you can try offering treats by holding them in between your thumb and forefinger. Make sure you only attempt this interaction when your hamster is awake, either early in the morning or late at night.
Wait for your hamster to approach and take the treat out of your fingers. Once your hamster is comfortable with this method of hand-feeding, you can try offering treats in an open palm to encourage your hamster to climb up in your hand.
When your hamster is comfortable sitting in your palm, you can then try lifting them out of the enclosure. Do so very slowly and carefully, as they’ll likely attempt to jump.
7. Bond with your hamster in a playpen
After slowly building a trusting relationship with your hamster, you can try sitting in a playpen and letting them run across your lap.
A playpen (like this one) is an excellent tool for interacting with a small pet like a hamster. Place the playpen on the floor and sit in the middle.
Place your hamster in the pen with you, and let them run and explore. Your hamster will likely run up to you and crawl in your lap, offering a great opportunity for bonding together, as well as exercise.
You can make the experience more interesting for your hamster by laying out treats, toys, and hideouts for them to find and explore.
8. Don’t count on cuddling your pet hamster
A pet hamster may never be comfortable being handled or held.
Hamsters are tiny prey animals, which means they’re hard-wired to avoid potential predators. Although your hamster will become more comfortable having you around in general, there’s no guarantee that it will ever enjoy being held or handled.
Many hamsters do grow accustomed to being handled by their owners, and even grow to enjoy it. But if you want to own a hamster as a pet, it’s important not to force cuddling upon your tiny animal and accept that it might never be comfortable.
If you want an animal that’s more amenable to pets and snuggles, consider gerbils, rabbits, or rats.
Caring for a Hamster Should Be Fun
Caring for a tiny bundle of love is a lot of responsibility, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed by all of the information available. But ultimately, owning a hamster is about having fun and caring for a special friend.
Your hamster’s well-being won’t be greatly affected by an enclosure that’s not 100% perfect or hamster food that has just slightly less protein than ideally recommended.
Hamsters make good pets largely because they are so resilient and forgiving when it comes to their owners’ level of experience and know-how. At the end of the day, if your hamster seems happy and healthy, they probably are. And that’s what matters!