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How to Care for Hamsters

Updated on September 24, 2016
Litter of baby hamsters with mother
Litter of baby hamsters with mother
Hamster outdoors
Hamster outdoors

Hamster Care

Hamsters are probably one of the easiest pets to care for. They take up very little space, eat very little, and in general, are extremely friendly and sociable creatures. They are also very curious critters by nature.

All a hamster needs, is a secure home, in the form of a cage, with ample bedding/nesting material, and good healthy food. Hamster cages come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from the standard wire cages, to the rather lavish CritterTrail and HabiTrail cages. As nice as these are, they can be a bit of a mission to clean at times, but then again, they do also offer a lot of space for your pet to explore and move about.

Always ensure though, that spaces in the cage are not big enough for your pet to get trapped or injure themselves in, or big enough for them to escape, as hamsters are known to be among some of the finest escape artists known to mankind!

Toilet paper is the best nesting material that can be used, as it isn't toxic to them (provided that it has no colors or printing on it), and it also doesn't cause sticky eye infection. Never use saw shavings in your pets cage, as it causes sticky eye infection and possibly also respiratory infections, and can also become lodged in their cheek pouches and cause severe discomfort to them. Tear the paper into strips, and place them in the cage, stand back and watch your furry friend make their nest.

They will first pull all of it into their cheek pouches, in order to eliminate any scent on it from your hands. From there, they will pull it out again, and proceed to make a nest, which will have a perfectly round area right in the centre of it, and they will sleep in there, often burying themselves completely out of sight.

As mentioned earlier, refrain from ever using saw shavings in your pets cage. A sturdy piece of cardboard box works a lot better for this purpose, as it is also highly absorbent, and a lot easier to work with when cleaning the cage out. Cut it to the size of the cage on the inside, and place the toilet paper strips on top of it, before placing your pet back into the cage. Ensure that the cardboard is free from any packing tape, staples or printing if possible, as your furry critter will inevitably chew on it.

Hamsters need a lot of exercise, otherwise they are unfortunately prone to severe arthritis in their hips and back legs, so an exercise wheel will be an essential item for them. These come in various sizes and types, so once your pet grows, it is possible to replace the smaller wheel with a larger one. Hamster wheels which are too small can cause discomfort to you pet, causing them to stop using it, so always ensure that they are not cramped in the wheel when running. Their back should be as straight as possible. Also ensure that their feet are not able to be caught in it anywhere, as this can cause serious injuries to them.

The solid plastic exercise wheels are normally the safest option - and the quietest! The standard metal wheels tend to squeak a lot, and owing to the fact that your creature is highly nocturnal, you may find your sleep being severely disturbed by the squeaking of the metal wheel. A little olive oil or other edible cooking oil can be used on the inner shaft of the wheel to eliminate this noise. Only edible oils should be used, as your pet may on occasions stop to lick or nibble at it.

When it comes to feeding your furry friend, they eat almost anything. The only things your pet should never be given, are avocado, onion, and citrus fruits. They can share your breakfast cereal, oatmeal, pronutro, biltong/jerky, fruit and vegetables. Do not feed them pellets or sunflower seeds, as they are not birds. There is absolutely no nutritional value in hamster pellets, and they also smell and taste absolutely disgusting (feel free to ask me how I know this!).

Hamsters are prone to suffering from arthritis as they get older, so fish should be an important part of their diet as well, in order for them to get the necessary omega 3 oil. Do not feed them an excess of fresh fruit and vegetables at first though, because it can lead to diarrhea. Introduce them slowly into their diet. Limit their intake of white starch products though, as an excess can occasionally lead to a loss of fur in places.

As very occasional treats, they may be given a small piece of chocolate, or even a tiny serving of dairy ice cream. Speaking from experience, my own creatures love these treats. They also enjoy having a spare rib bone to chew on, as this helps to keep their teeth short. Their teeth don't ever stop growing, so having something hard to chew on is important, because if their teeth grow too long, they are unable to eat, and can end up in a lot of pain, and sometimes even starve to death because of this.

A lot of people will think it's crazy to feed them meat, but they also need a balanced diet, which should include protein. Although, keep the meaty treats to around once a week for them. They may also be given rice and potatoes, in small quantities, provided that it is cooked. They enjoy cooked beans, pasta, and even a few select types of flower petals (one of their favorites are rose petals), and grass.

Try to avoid giving them any processed foods, especially those containing MSG, tartrazine and sweeteners of any sort, as these are extremely bad for them. Just as us humans thrive on natural foodstuffs, so do our furry friends.

Hamsters enjoy climbing and burrowing, so their toys should consist of small boxes and toilet roll inners in their cages. They also like to sleep where it is as dark as possible, so do not be surprised if you find that your pet has turned their box or toilet roll inner into a nest. This is perfectly normal.

If you have a safe spot in your yard, your pet will enjoy a few minutes of sunshine at a time out on the grass, provided that there are no other large pets, such as cats or dogs in the vicinity. Also keep a sharp eye on their burrowing, as they can disappear into a mole hole in seconds if you aren't careful!

People have often asked whether hamsters bite or not. Yes, they do bite, but they generally only bite if they are teased, their sleep is disturbed, or if they are in pain in some way or another. Another way to prevent them from taking a nibble of you, is to ensure that your fingers or hands don't smell of any foodstuffs when handling them.

Hamsters are small creatures, and need to be handled very gently, as their bones are extremely fragile. Always make sure that you handle your pet when you are sitting down at ground level, or ensure that they are being held securely, but not too tightly, in order to prevent them from jumping out of your hands and risking serious injury when landing on the floor. Always supervise younger children when they are holding their pets, as they tend to squeeze them too tightly at times. This can cause internal injuries to the hamster as well as to themselves if hammy decides to bite them as a result of being hurt.

Most hamsters enjoy water, so you may bath your furry friend once a week or once every two weeks if the need arises. Ensure that a 100% natural shampoo or soap is used, with no chemical additives whatsoever (these can cause severe eczema), and that the water is lukewarm. Make sure that no soap or shampoo gets onto their face or into their eyes.

After rinsing them off, pat them down very gently with a soft towel to remove all excess water. Your pet will do the final drying off themselves, in very much the same way that a cat cleans themselves off. Do not use a hairdryer to dry them, as the heat is too intense for them to handle and can cause skin irritation - as well as cause them to make a valiant attempt at attacking the dryer!

Hamsters unfortunately only have a lifespan of around two to three years, but by following the guidelines and advice in this post, you will be able to ensure that they live as comfortably as possible in that time.


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