How to Care for a Hamster

There are several kinds of hamsters and most live for about 2-3 years. Hamsters are nocturnal creatures, which means that they like to sleep all day. However, dwarf hamsters are crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk. To make sure that your hamster is happy and healthy, you’ll want to feed it right, help it get enough exercise/playtime, and clean its cage regularly. [1]


[Edit]Purchasing a Hamster

  1. Find a place that sells hamsters. If you want to get a furry hamster friend go to the pet store, hamster breeder (if you're looking for a specific coat color for your hamster), or animal shelter to pick one out. Try not to buy from a chain pet store as the hamsters will likely come from mill breeders and have very bad genetics. Instead, choose a rescue or local breeder. Check Craigslist, Gumtree, or Preloved.
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    • Hamsters are relatively cheap to purchase. You’ll spend far more money on their toys, cages, and healthcare. [2]
  2. Choose a healthy hamster. A healthy hamster should have clean ears, a clean and dry bottom, a small rounded stomach, no bald spots or lumps (except for the scent glands on its thighs, which many people mistake for cuts or scabs), clean bright eyes, and healthy teeth which aren't overgrown or curled upwards.
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    • If a hamster has wet fur around the rump, be especially wary; this is a sign of “wet tail” — a bacterial disease that spreads quickly through contact with other hamsters. The fur must be dry and clean. There are antibiotic treatments for wet tail, but if you just now picking out a hamster, try to find one that is healthy.[3]
  3. Think about what size hamster you want. Syrian hamsters may reach 5-7 inches (12.7-17.8 cm) in length as adults. Dwarf Campbell hamsters and Dwarf Winter White hamsters reach 3-4 inches (7.6-10.1cm). Chinese hamsters can grow to be 4-5 inches (10.1-12.7cm) long. And Roborovski hamsters barely reach 3 inches (7.6cm) in length as adults.[4]
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  4. Consider your hamster’s coloring. Syrian hamsters are mostly golden, but they can come in a variety of colors. Dwarf Campbell's hamsters are normally a grayish-brown color with a black stripe down their back and with a white stomach. Dwarf Winter White hamsters come in white, with either a purple or grayish tint. Dwarf Roborovski hamsters are a sandy brown with a white stomach. And Chinese hamsters are a dark brown with a cream stomach.[5]
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  5. Ask to hold the hamster. If the staff or breeder (depending on where you go, of course) is uncomfortable with this, then ask for him to place his hand in the hamster enclosure. Avoid buying a hamster that bites or scratches aggressively. Also do not buy one that is extremely fearful — one that darts, hides, and does not reappear. A curious hamster who sniffs but doesn't climb right into your hand is a good choice. An individual that is curious and nips gently to test your hand (just as some puppies do) is another good choice.
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[Edit]Setting Up Your Hamster's New Home

  1. Pick the right cage. Your hamster will do best in a cage larger than 600 square inches, although 450 square inches or 30 inches by 15 inches is the minimum. It should also be more than 12 inches tall so as to be able to fit an adequately sized wheel, 10-12 inches for Syrians and 8 inches for Dwarfs. A glass aquarium (as long as it meets the minimum floor space) is a great home for a hamster. The disadvantage is the lack of ventilation, so make sure the lid is a wire mesh to allow for air movement.
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    • An IKEA Detolf is an excellent choice too. Alternatively, the "cat tray with a wire top" type of hamster cage does have good natural ventilation.
    • Make sure your cage is not in direct sunlight as your hamster could overheat due to the bright rays magnifying on the aquarium glass. Unless they're second hand, aquariums can be expensive.
    • You can also purchase wire cages, which have great ventilation, just ensure that they are big enough.
    • Many people make DIY cages, which are wallet-friendly and are great to make. One of the most popular and cheapest DIY cages is the bin cage, which is made with a 105-quart bin and mesh attached to the lid.
  2. Place the cage in a safe place. Make sure there is plenty of ventilation. Don't place the cage in front of a hot window. Make sure to find a place that is quiet and free of any other household pets such as dogs and cats. This will reduce the stress of your pet hamster. At no point should you let your dogs or cats interact with your hamster.[6]
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  3. Make sure your hamster can’t escape. You’d be amazed at how clever hamsters are at escaping. Make sure all holes are sealed and that no loose or removable parts can be opened by your hamster. Be sure if you have a wire cage that your hamster can't fit through the bars or get stuck. The bar spacing of your hamster's cage should be no more than 0.7 cm apart for Dwarf hamsters and 1 cm for Syrian hamsters. It will need to be even smaller for a baby hamster. [7]
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  4. Understand your hamster’s territorial instincts. House all hamsters by themselves. They are territorial starting at about the age of 5-8 weeks and will fight often to death with another hamster if placed in the same space.
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    • Even dwarf hamsters cannot be housed together. While they live together in the wild, this is for breeding and survival purposes, neither of which are needed in captivity.
  5. Make up your hamster’s bedding. On the ground, there should be a layer of at least 6 inches of bedding. This might seem like a lot, but hamsters dig large tunnels in the wild. Many hamsters don't dig if there is too little bedding, so make sure to always add a big layer. Even if your hamster does not appear to be digging, leave the bedding inside in case your hamster really is or would like to start.
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    • Softwood shavings such as pine and cedar are just not good for hamsters, as they cause many health issues. They can cause respiratory problems and may contain harmful oils. However, aspen bedding does not contain the same harmful oils and is perfectly safe for your hamster.
    • Never use cotton bedding. This is very dangerous for your hamster because it is indigestible, and strands of the bedding can wrap around limbs and extremities cutting off circulation and potentially killing your hamster.

[Edit]Providing Food and Water

  1. Feed the hamster every day. Hamsters need a pelleted food, rather than muesli or seed mix, to prevent selective feeding and ensure your hamster gets all the nutrients it requires. Provide your hamster with enough food each day to fill both cheeks, approximately 15g (1/2oz) for a Syrian hamster or 8g (1/4oz) for a Dwarf hamster. Make sure you provide fresh food in their bowl every day.
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    • If you want to change your hamster's food, wait a few weeks after taking it home; then gradually introduce the food over a period of ten days. Your hamster is a hoarder, so it'll keep private stashes. Removing these stashes can be very stressful, so if you are worried about the quality of their stored food, remove it and replace it with fresh food exactly where your hamster had it.[8]
    • Choose an earthenware or metal dish for their food. This is the best type of feeding bowl as your hamster will simply chew through a plastic one.[9]
  2. Have water ready and available at all times. Your hamster won't drink much water at all, but when it does get thirsty, it is important that water is available. Do not put it in a dish, as the bowl can get dirty very easily, and your hamster may get wet and die. Instead, use a water bottle or dispenser. Change it every day if possible to keep the water fresh, or once every 3 days maximum. The water bottle can be cleaned by placing uncooked rice and a little water in the bottle and then shaking it vigorously. The rice will dislodge any algae build-up. Remember to remove all the uncooked rice before returning the water bottle back to the cage.
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  3. Use fortified pellets or block-type food. Seed mixtures allow the hamster to be picky and to select the tastier, less healthy items. Offer the pellets or blocks as the main or staple diet, and offer the seed mixture as a supplement. Make sure the hamster has ingested a good ration of pellets or blocks before offering the seed mixture.[10]
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  4. Spread the food around the cage and hide it in toys and tunnels. Make your hamster search for it. If you place it in a bowl, your hamster may become overweight and less interested in physical activity.
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  5. Avoid “human” foods. This includes things such as candy, pasta, raw meat/fish, sugar, and desserts. Hamsters can develop diabetes. Foods that you might not consider high in sugar content will be too sugary for your hamster. This can be damaging to their health.[11]
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  6. Give it treats. Regularly feed treats twice or three times a week. Hamster favorites include carrots, cucumber, apples, bananas, peppers, lettuce, celery, kale, collard and dandelion greens, and a bounty of other vegetables and fruits. Some of these foods can also be used in a hamster's daily diet. Hamster treats are also available at all pet stores, like yogurt chips, hamster chocolate drops, or blocks of wood that the hamster likes to chew on. Some veggies and fruits are NOT safe to feed to your hamsters. Onions, almonds, beans, potatoes, fruits with seeds, avocados, chives, eggplants, scallions, spices, leeks, garlic, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and citrus fruits are big no-nos.[12]
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  7. Give your hamster a chew stick. These come in many different sizes, colors, and flavors. Since your hamster’s teeth grow constantly, it'll need to slowly grind them down. Chew sticks are good for this. Keep trying new ones until you find one your hamster enjoys. Some hamsters will shun all chew sticks. If this is the case, you can expect your hamster to chew on other things in its habitat like the bars of its cage.
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[Edit]Acclimating Your Hamster

  1. Leave your hamster alone to explore its new home. When first bringing your hamster home, place it in its cage, with fresh food and water, and leave it alone. Cover the hamster's cage with a light cloth so that it can explore the cage or habitat in privacy. Make sure there is enough food, water, and toys to keep the hamster occupied for a few days, as you will not go near the hamster during this initial period. If there are children, friends, or guests in the house, make sure they know not to disturb the hamster.[13]
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  2. Introduce yourself gradually. After about three days of leaving your hamster alone, you and your hamster can start to become acquainted. When approaching the cage, speak softly to alert the hamster of your presence. Your hamster may be nervous at first, but remember he or she is not used to you yet and don't be discouraged. Start the things you should do daily such as changing food and water, as well as replacing old toys and putting in new toys. Also, try to remove soiled bedding. Your hamster will start to get used to your hand being in the cage.[14]
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  3. Begin the taming process. Have short taming sessions starting on the second week of your hamster being in its new home. Most hamsters are active during the early to late evening and throughout the night. Try to learn the hamster's individual routine and do taming sessions when it is most active. A good way to tame your hamster is to put your hamster in an empty bathtub then get in yourself. Bring in a few toys for your hamster to play with whilst it's getting used to your presence. Do not force your hamster to play if it does not want to. If during the training stage your hamster bites/scratches do not punish it.[15]
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    • To tame your hamster, place your hand in the cage. Let your hamster sniff it and explore it. If the hamster nips gently and not out of aggression, pull your hand back gently, but immediately let it explore your hand again. This will help the hamster learn that the hand is nothing to bite or fear. Next, place treats in your hand; seed mixtures are good for this because as a supplement to the pellet or block-type diet, hamsters love this food. Your hamster should become used to climbing onto your hand, learning that the hand is something to climb into. Gradually move the treat up your hand, as your hamster will become more and more comfortable climbing onto it.
    • If your hamster is showing good progress, try to let your hamster climb onto your hand and offer it treats right after it has. Your hamster will see your hand as a good thing. This time, let your hamster climb onto your hand and lift the hand slowly off of the cage floor. Your hamster may be frightened at first, but speak softly and offer it treats to make it feel more comfortable. Sit on the floor during this step, as your hamster may decide to leap out of your hands and can be injured once falling from about 6-8 inches (15-20cm) off the ground.[16]
  4. Respect its sleeping cycle. Although hamsters are nocturnal animals, they do shuffle around some in the day to get food and such. Although it may seem awake, it's not in the mood to play, unless you see that it feels otherwise. Likewise, keep other people around the hamster to a minimum. It's important that the hamster only bonds with you for now, as it will have plenty of friends later. But now, it needs to know that you are its companion and you will never harm it.
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[Edit]Getting Your Hamster to Exercise

  1. Get a suitable hamster wheel. The wheels that come with the cages are generally too small and isn't good for the hamster's back. A wheel is too small if your hamster's back curves upwards. Buy one that is minimum 20cm (7.9in) for a dwarf hamster and 28cm (11in) for a Syrian. Don't be afraid to go bigger.
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    • Hamsters have a necessity for a solid wheel. If the wheel has gaps in it, it could injure the hamster.
  2. Be sure that you have lots of toys for the hamster to enjoy. Toys such as toilet paper rolls, empty tissue boxes, tubes, tunnels, nest boxes, PVC piping, and hamster chew toys are fun for your hamster. Most hamster owners simply give the hamster a wheel and a ball to enjoy. As a result, the hamster will start to have unhealthy habits such as pacing and/or chewing the bars of a wire cage, if housed in a wire cage. Your hamster needs more than just wheels and balls to occupy itself. Have enough toys so that you can rotate them and keep your hamster interested.
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  3. Set up a playpen. Your hamster will relish the chance to explore outside of their cages. Having play areas also helps when you clean the habitat and need a place to put your hamster where it can't escape. You can use a plastic storage bin in your house or a small animal playpen sold in pet stores.
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    • Make sure that there are no dangerous items that the hamster has access to (such as electrical cords which your hamster will chew on) and that the room is escape-proof.

[Edit]Cleaning Your Hamster's Home

  1. Place your hamster in a safe place. While you are cleaning their home, place your hamster in a playpen. You want to take your time while you clean and you’ll need both hands. Do not try to hold on to your hamster with one hand while you clean with the other. It won’t be good for your cleaning job or for your hamster.[17]
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  2. Clean the cage thoroughly. Use regular dish soap mixed with water. Even the tiniest trace of other types of soap (like hand-wash) can prove uncomfortable for your furry buddy. Use special hamster or rodent cleaning soap, which you can buy from most pet shops.[18]
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    • You can also use a vinegar solution to clean the hamster’s habitat.[19]
  3. Rinse the cage and let dry. Make sure that all the water has evaporated and all of the cleaning solution has been removed. Remember that hamsters have sensitive noses and the scent of vinegar or soap will be bothersome.[20]
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  4. Replace their bedding. In order to retain the hamster's scent on the bedding, mix a small amount of unspoiled bedding with new bedding. Cheap bedding can be found at most grocery stores. Another good bedding is shredded tissue; you could also use shredded paper towel. Do not use newspapers, as the hamster will lick the ink off it and this will make it extremely ill. Never use pine or cedar wood shavings, as they are unhealthy for hamsters. Aspen is fine.[21]
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[Edit]Things You'll Need

  • Hamster
  • Cage
  • Hamster toys
  • Hot water and vinegar solution to clean the cage
  • Hamster food and treats
  • Food bowl (metal bowls are best)
  • Water bottle
  • Bedding
  • Tunnels
  • Hut/house
  • Hamster bed
  • Toilet paper tubes (to chew on and to play in)
  • Hamster rugs for the cage (optional)

[Edit]Related wikiHows


[Edit]Quick Summary

  8. Merck Veterinary Manual. C.M. Cahn. S. Line. 9th Ed. John Wiley and Sons, 20

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