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10 Things Your Hamster Needs For a Long and Happy Life

Updated on November 10, 2018
poppyr profile image

Poppy has been keeping hamsters for nearly four years and enjoys helping other pet owners.

Hamsters are affordable and cute animals that make for appropriate pets for children and often impulse buys for adults. Despite its small size, however, your new pet won't be happy just sitting in a small box all the time.

Just like other animals, it needs stimuli, a variety of food, and toys to keep it happy. If your hamster has a lot of space and plenty of things to keep it busy, you will have a healthy and happy little furball who might even live much longer than you expect it to!

Source

If You Just Bought Your Hamster

First of all, it's good to remember that hamsters have different personalities. Some hamsters are happy to settle into a new place and will start playing with new toys or building nests right away. Other hamsters, however, can be incredibly shy. In a worst-case scenario, your hamster might be terrified of humans (through no fault of your own) and simply want to stay in its house all the time.

It is important to know your hamster's personality as soon as you can. If you have just bought your hamster, let it settle into its new home - don't touch it or try to play with it for at least a couple of days, and ideally one week. The new smells and sounds around it can startle or frighten the little guy. Just quietly give it fresh food and drink every day and don't disturb it until it's ready to be held and tamed.

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You may have seen the hamster in the pet store living with little more than a water bottle, some food, and some bedding in a tiny cage. This is not an ideal environment for a hamster, which needs to be able to run, explore, burrow, and hide its food. Here are essential items you need for your cute new friend to ensure that it lives a long, happy, and healthy life with you.

1. A Big Cage

Every hamster needs a hamster cage. There is no way around it.

Types of Cages
The two main types of hamster cage are:

  • Tank style: a plastic aquarium with a lid
  • Bar style: a cage with bars

I personally prefer the bar style as it has much more ventilation for the hamster. My hamsters seemed happier once they were inside a cage with bars. One downside of this type of cage, however, is that the hamster can chew on the bars which can make an irritating sound. At the same time, bar nibbling can tell you when your hamster wants to leave the cage and explore.

A cage that has wide space and multiple floors is ideal for your fluffy little friend. I cannot recommend more the cage I use for both my hamsters, which is the IRIS Hamster Cage. The three floors mean that the hamster can run up and down through the cage to its heart's content, get enough exercise on the sizeable wheel included, and sleep in the house.

What's great about the IRIS cage is that it includes a water bottle, food bowl, house, and wheel, so it is a reasonable price for all those things. I've used this cage for my last three hamsters; the bars are chew proof, the cage itself is light and easy to carry, and my hamsters can get plenty of exercise and have different areas of the cage for their toilet, sleeping area, and food stashes.

How to Clean a Hamster Cage
If you notice any damp patches or particularly gross bits (Hemingway likes to pee all over the top floor of his cage for some reason), clean them up immediately. You should also do a deep clean of your hamster's home once a week, where you throw away most old bedding, wipe clean any toys and houses, and refill it with clean bedding. Use warm water or, for particularly bad patches, soapy water. Avoid bleach or other potentially harmful chemicals.

One mistake many hamster owners make is completely replacing the bedding. Be sure to save a handful or two of the older bedding so that it has your hamster's smell on it. If you don't, your hamster won't recognise its home when you put it back and believe it's in a different place, which can make it nervous. A hamster feels safe where its own smell is, and ensuring it knows its home will keep it happy and at peace of mind.

Two IRIS Hamster Cages in blue and pink
Two IRIS Hamster Cages in blue and pink | Source

2. Appropriate Bedding

A hamster won't be happy just in a plastic cage; you have to give it bedding as well. Wooden shavings are a good start, as is shredded plain paper and kitchen towels (good for absorbing urine).

Wooden shavings are excellent for burrowing and therefore my preferred type of bedding. Aspen shavings are the safest. Be sure to use a generous amount of bedding as a sort of 'carpet' in the bottom floor of your hamster's cage so they can get to burrowing and building nests right away.

3. A Variety of Food

Hamsters eat seeds, nuts, vegetables, and fruit. They also enjoy the odd insect from time to time, although this may depend on the hamster's taste. Once I offered a cockroach to my female hamster, Zelda, and she looked at me like I'd just insulted her whole family. The male hamster, Hemingway, happily took the roach and gobbled it all down.

You have to give your hamsters a variety of things, not just the same old seed mix every day. At the same time, it's important to keep the diet reasonably consistent as a sudden change can stress them out. Here are some foods I recommend giving to your hamster.

  • Start with a simple seed mix as the sort of 'base' of their diet. Give them a little of this each day.
  • A dried vegetable mix which is both healthy and a favourite of my hamsters. The small, dried bits fit into their pouches and there is enough variety in the mix to keep things interesting.
  • The odd fresh vegetable or fruit. Be sure to look up what is safe for hamsters to eat - for example, small bits of banana, cucumber, lettuce, and carrot are fine, but lemon, large quantities of tomato, onion, and even potato can be toxic. If you feed your hamster fresh vegetables, be sure to clear away the remains the same day or the day after to avoid it rotting in their cage.
  • Sunflower seeds. Only give these as a rare treat as they are high in fat and can make your hamster put on weight. I didn't know this at first and Hemingway loves them, and at one point he was almost obese. Poor chap.
  • Cheese, in small quantities (a few small pieces per week), is also a yummy treat most hamsters love. Cheese, cooked egg white, and plain boiled chicken are also excellent choices for a pregnant hamster.

Zelda enjoying a piece of cheese
Zelda enjoying a piece of cheese | Source

4. A Water Bottle

Hamsters shouldn't be drinking water from a dish as there's a chance their fur can get wet, which is dangerous for them. Instead, a water bottle is essential for a hamster.

Come cages include water bottles, but if not, you can get them cheaply from most pet stores. For a tank type cage, get one that hangs from the top. For a bar cage, get one that can be attached to the bars. Arrange it so the hamster can drink from it standing either on two legs or four; obviously, if it's too high, the little guy won't be able to reach it.

Source

5. Things to Chew

A hamster's teeth grow constantly, and it's not enough for them to be able to nibble food. Hamsters may chew on its cage bars, but this isn't ideal.

Instead, a wooden toy or block in their cage will keep their teeth busy. Another recommendation is hard sticks from outside, but I'm reluctant to use them in case my hamsters accidentally swallow small parts. I use a wooden block that can be attached to the bars of a cage.

Having things to chew on will stop them nibbling the bars of their cage. The noise can be annoying, even if the hamster does look very cute when it's eager to come out and play.

A hamster chewing the bars of her cage
A hamster chewing the bars of her cage | Source

6. A Sand Bath

I only just recently started giving my hamsters a small bath with sand in it, and they absolutely love it! There's nothing cuter than seeing them climb into the bowl to roll around in the sand.

Some people choose to buy the larger plastic items, but I find these take up too much space. I recommend using a small bowl from your own kitchen (ideally plastic, though ceramic works too) that you won't miss and filling it up a couple of centimeters deep with the sand. Be sure to change it every few days as the hamsters tend to use it as a toilet as well.

7. Tissue Paper

Hamsters like to make nests to sleep in. They have bedding, but they will also need tissue paper to make their nest soft and cosy. My hamsters go crazy when I pop a few pieces of tissue into their cage. It's affordable and your hamsters will love it.

It's very sweet to see them ripping up the tissue paper themselves and building their nest with it. If you put some tissue into their home, come back a few hours later and it'll probably be gone. Don't forget this essential step; with a comfortable bed, a hamster will sleep better, giving it a longer and healthier life.

Zelda wrapped up in tissue paper
Zelda wrapped up in tissue paper | Source

8. A Large Wheel

As mentioned before, hamsters need a lot of exercise. They may seem lathargic and lazy during the day, but that's because they're nocturnal. Come sunset, you'll see the little guy scurrying around the cage and full of energy.

A wheel is an essential item in any hamster cage. During busy times when you can't let your hamster run all over you or around a playpen, it will need space to run. The recommended cage earlier in this article had a wheel included, but you can also buy them separately.

One important aspect of a hamster wheel is that it must be large enough so that your hamster's back isn't bent while he's using it. This can do more damage than good, such as causing spine problems. This is a bigger issue if you have a larger breed of hamster.

A silent wheel is best if your hamster lives in your room as you don't want the rattling or the squeaking keeping you awake at night.

9. A Hamster Ball

Despite a wheel and a large cage providing plenty of room for your hamster to run around, a ball is also an excellent idea. This is because that when you do a deep clean of your hamster's cage (which should be every week), your hamster is kept occupied.

A ball allows your hamster to explore the room without the risk of it squeezing into small spaces or getting lost. Ideally, the ball should be larger than seven inches (to avoid similar back problems that can occur with an insufficiently sized wheel) and have very small grooves in it so the hamster doesn't get its feet caught in the gaps.

I have been using the Kaytee Run-About Exercise Ball for years and it has always performed well. The lid is the twist type and easy to use.

Some things to remember when using a hamster ball:

  • Don't let your hamster run around in the ball longer than 20-30 mins. Exercise can dehydrate a hamster, just like humans.
  • Do not spin the ball or drop it from a height.
  • If your hamster scratches the inside of the ball as if it's trying to burrow or sits in the same spot grooming itself, it means it's had enough and wants to be let out.

10. Cardboard Tubes

Another affordable item for any hamster is a cardboard tube that comes from toilet rolls and kitchen paper. Hamsters love to crawl through these tiny spaces and might even chew up the cardboard to play with. This is a simple yet effective addition to your hamster's cage that will stimulate its mind and give it something to do.

Source

Although hamsters can and have survived with very basic amenities, you would probably want your fluffy new friend to be as happy and as healthy as possible. A hamster with plenty to do, lots of space to run around, and a healthy diet with the odd treat is much more likely to be friendlier towards you as well. Give your hamster the best possible life with these essential items and toys.

© 2018 Poppy

Comments

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    • poppyr profile imageAUTHOR

      Poppy 

      7 days ago from Tokyo, Japan

      Thank you, Liz. I hope it will help people help their hamsters be happier and live longer.

    • poppyr profile imageAUTHOR

      Poppy 

      7 days ago from Tokyo, Japan

      That’s so funny that she kept escaping! What a mischievous little girl. What a relief she never got hurt or squashed while she was out. Yes, you have to be careful with wet fruit and veg as it can cause diarrhea. Thank you for the cute story.

    • poppyr profile imageAUTHOR

      Poppy 

      7 days ago from Tokyo, Japan

      I’m sure your hamster was happy with you when you were a child, though :) thank you so much for commenting!

    • Ellison Hartley profile image

      Ellison Hartley 

      7 days ago from Maryland, USA

      This is really informative! I never knew many of these things. I have a Guinea Pig named Ivy, and had hampsters as a kid but not as an adult. As a kid I just thought about feeding it and holding it, there is a lot more to it. You know your stuff!

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      7 days ago from UK

      Great advice here for hamster owners and prospective owners.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      7 days ago from USA

      Your photos are adorable and your advice is sound. I haven't had hamsters in years. I had one in college who was a master at escaping her aquarium even though it had a metal top on it with "latches." I even put books on top and somehow she'd get out. It befuddled me.

      She would always end up in my closet climbing my sweaters, peering at me sweetly. The exercise ball you referred to helped a lot.

      I'd often give her empty tissue boxes and oatmeal boxes in her aquarium as well as toilet paper rolls to keep her interested, plus hamster snacks, fruits and seeds. I do recall having to limit the wetter fruits and vegetables because of the incidence of wet tail. Her name was Hannah Jayne.

    • poppyr profile imageAUTHOR

      Poppy 

      7 days ago from Tokyo, Japan

      Hi there! Thanks for your article. I’m glad you enjoyed it and that you learned something new. Hopefully hamster owners will as well.

    • carolynkaye profile image

      carolynkaye 

      7 days ago from USA

      This is a very informative article. I learned a lot of about hamsters that I didn't know. Very cute pictures too. Thanks for sharing!

    • poppyr profile imageAUTHOR

      Poppy 

      7 days ago from Tokyo, Japan

      Hi Louise! Thank you for commenting. Hamsters are super easy to take care of and such sweet little things. If you don’t want to commit two years to one, you could buy an older one from a pet store. Before I got Zelda and Hemingway, I got an older hamster and he was actually free because he was already a year and a half old. I named him Shakespeare and he was the sweetest thing, really cute and affectionate. Had him for about seven months before he passed away. They may be small but they are lovely little animals.

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 

      7 days ago from Norfolk, England

      I love hamsters. They are such cute little creatures. I used to have a hamster years ago. Had him quite a while too. I shall have to consider getting another one.

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