Hamster Care and Advice ThreadWatch this thread
*disclaimer: Neither BurstingBubbles or CoolCavy are professional experts in this area, this information is based on our own experiences of having hamsters and doing our own research. Please make sure that if you have any medical concerns with your hamster that you see a registered vet as soon as possible*
Firstly, people think that hamsters are an 'easy' pet to have - and whilst they may not require quite as much attention as pets such as dogs may, they still require time and love.
Again, whilst they may not typically cost as much money as some other pets, don't think that just because they typically don't cost much to buy, that there won't be cost involved in caring for them. Make sure that you have enough money aside for ongoing costs of food, bedding, and any vet care if needed.
So here's some advice from us. Please let us know if you have any questions or advice that should be added!
Syrian hamsters must always be kept alone (unless breeding), past around 8 weeks - otherwise they will likely attack and kill each other. Dwarf hamsters are often kept in pairs or small groups, but are often said to also be best kept alone if possible, as they can also become territorial and harm/kill each other - especially if you have a shelf in an enclosure.
Hamsters are born completely hairless and blind, they begin to sexually mature between 4 and 6 weeks of age.
Common issues in hamsters include:
- 'Sticky eye', these is where sleep boogers stick the eyelid of the hamster shut and they can't open it. This is easily rectified, simply hold a damp, warm (not hot) cloth to the affected eye and the eyelid should open. Do not attempt to pull the eyelid open as you may rip it
- Tumours. It is very important to regularly check your hamster for lumps and bumps as these may unfortunately be tumours. Hamsters are very prone to tumours unfortunately so it pays to be vigilant.
- Abscesses. Equally it is important to not assume that all lumps and bumps are tumorous, only a vet can tell you for sure. This is done by a biopsy. Abscesses are fairly common, especially in the cheek pouches, this can be caused by a build up of debris in the cheek pouches.
- Teeth issues. As hamster teeth grow constantly if these are not worn down appropriately they can overgrow and cause misalignment issues. If this affects the front teeth this can be managed by filing by a vet however prevention is far better than letting them get to this stage. Hamster teeth are meant to be yellow so don't panic when you see they aren't white!
- Skin issues. As hamsters age they do naturally thin out in their fur, however some fur loss can be a sign of problems such as mites or ringworm. Hamsters like people can also suffer from certain allergies.
- Diarrhea. As already mentioned, hamsters are prone to diarrhea due to their delicate digestive tracts. Avoid overfeeding certain foods and keep an eye out for wet tail.
- Respiratory issues. Hamsters can be prone to respiratory problems. This is mainly caused by using inappropriate bedding. Hamsters can also catch colds from humans so it is important to avoid handling your hamster if you are sick.
It is a good idea to have a hamster carrier not only for when you are cleaning their cage but also as a carrier for if you need to take them to the vet.
Similarly it is advisable to get your hamster registered at a vet so they have all your details already there in an emergency. Having things like your hamster's weight and age on record also helps if the vet needs to prescribe medication.
I personally have a large fish tank (120cm by 80cm by 50 cm) with a lid with chicken wire mesh at the top.
Enclosures need plenty of space for a large enough wheel (for a full grow Syrian hamster, these need to be at least 11-12 inches, to ensure that the hamster does not bend and harm its back when running). Saucer wheels are also okay to use, but again these need to be large enough (11-12 inches/30cm) when the hamster is fully grown. Most pet stores unfortunately do not sell large enough wheels and most cages that they sell do not have room for a big enough wheel. In the wild, hamsters can run for up to 6 miles a night, so please make sure that they have access to a wheel at all times, so that they can burn that energy off whenever they like.
Enclosures also need space for plenty of bedding too. Ideally, hamsters need at least 6 inches of bedding depth to burrow, keep warm, and feel safe. The best bedding for this is paper based bedding e.g. Carefresh. Do not use wood chippings for the main substrate of bedding (the dust from this can cause irritation to eyes and lungs), and do not use cotton wool based bedding (even the type that says 'safe' on it!) as hamsters can ingest this and it can lead to blockages in their digestive system which can lead to death.
If you have many hamsters a good recommendation is to buy tea bag paper bedding. These come in massive bales and you can get it relatively cheap (compared to brands such as carefresh) from pet suppliers It is also completely safe as it is a paper based bedding.
In the enclosure, you should have multiple safe places for your hamster to hide in. For example a house, tunnels, and other covered areas. Unless there is an emergency, never lift up the hiding place/house where your hamster is - this can be very distressing and cause your hamster to feel unsafe there.
There are wooden mazes you can buy on etsy, these provide a structure that you hamster can burrow around and cache their food in.
It is advisable to varnish any wooden houses, toys and wheels with a hamster safe varnish such as Plastikote. This is to protect the surface from hamster urine seeping into it.
You should also have space for a sand bath. You can use play sand or reptile sand. Play sand should be dried in the oven before using. Please also check the calcium content in certain brands of sands, too much calcium is not ideal and can make the sand dusty which some people report makes their hamsters sneeze.
Make sure that your enclosure has plenty of ventilation, especially in summer months.
Dark vegetables such as broccoli should be given sparely to avoid bloating your hamster, similarly vegetables like kale which are high in calcium should also be given in moderation.
Hamsters can also have nuts and seeds such as hazelnuts, flax seeds and sunflower seeds. These are a valuable source of fats and vitamins.
Please see the packets of dry food for how much to feed your hamster. Hamsters are often good at storing food if they have too much of it. A food store is good and hamsters often feel safer knowing that they have backup food if needed - a considerably large food store may show that you are providing too much food. Try not to give too much fresh food each day, otherwise the hamster may store this and the fresh food may rot.
You can use a food bowl or scatter feed. A food bowl can show how much the hamster has eaten (although they may have taken it to then store it elsewhere), where as scatter feeding helps your hamster to forage for food which is a good natural behaviour.
Hamsters are rodents which means their teeth constantly grow, hard treat sticks are a good way of giving them something hard to gnaw on, just ensure any treat sticks you buy are suitable for hamsters and don't have excess 'filler' added to them.
Whimzees are also a very popular treat among hamster owners. The 'chihuahua' size for small dogs are a great size for a hamster. Most hamsters love them and they are very hard so great for them to chew on. These have very little nutritional content so should only be given occasionally.
Hamsters need constant access to fresh water. This could be through water bottles and/or bowls. I personally have put both options in my hamsters enclosure - using a mini cleaned out jam jar as the water bowl option (if the bowl is too large then the hamster may sit in it and urinate in it, leading to the hamster then drinking this, which is best to avoid). I also have a water bottle in a stand too. If you have a cage with wires or a plastic enclosure then you could have the water bottle on the outside, pointing inwards.
Depending on your enclosure size, hamsters do not need and should not be cleaned out as much as people think. Cleaning hamsters out weekly can actually be distressing for them (they like their own smell). If you have a big enough enclose, you can reduce this to 3-4 weeks - with spot checking (such as removing poos and cleaning out urine from sand) in between this. Any time you clean the enclosure, please make sure that you put at least a handful of the old bedding back in, so that your hamster knows that it is safe and smells like them.
When doing a full bedding change you may wish to use a hamster safe disinfectant such as Beaphar Deep Clean Disinfectant or Johnsons Disinfectant Spray. For stubborn urine stains white vinegar is very good at dissolving these patches.
Make sure the cage is fully dried before adding bedding and your hamster back into the enclosure.
Due to the above, hamsters may not actually be the best pet for children, as they may wake up once the child is asleep.
My hamster sometimes isn't awake until 11pm! But other days he may wake at 7pm, and he's normally asleep again in the morning - you just have the work around their sleep pattern.
- A common but dangerous health condition that hamsters get is called 'wet tail', this is often when they are stressed (most commonly when they are first brought home) and it causes diarrhoea that often collects around the hamster's bottom/anus. If you notice this, please seek care from a vet urgently - as this can be fatal.
- Keep hamsters away from any other pets - even a dog barking or a cat's smell can be very distressing, so if you can keep the hamster in a different room that the other pets don't have access to, that would be best.
- Keep your hamsters enclosure out of direct sunlight so that they can sleep and do not heat up too much.
- If you have more than one Syrian hamster it is advisable to never have one cage open when another is out. Hamsters are very fast and can quickly end up in a fight if they have the opportunity to encounter another Syrian hamster.
A popular toy with hamsters are toilet tubes, which come free when you buy your loo roll
Cardboard and wooden toys also provide a valuable chewing source for your hamster to keep their teeth at the correct length.
Hamsters benefit from different substrates being in their enclosure. For example having paper based bedding for their main sleeping area is best, but having a sand bath, small area of wood chippings, coco soil etc is great for them to explore. Having safe plants such as a spider plant (in coco soil, please avoid 'normal' soil and compost), and plant sprays such as flax and millet - which the hamster can eat. Please make sure that anything plant based is organic and not tested with pesticides.
Lots of people also let their hamsters 'free roam' when they wake up in the evening. This provides great enrichment for them as they like to sniff around and explore. This is much better for them than a ball, hamsters can easily overheat in a ball and get their feet and toes trapped.
Please make sure the area is hamster safe before letting your hamster out to free roam, this includes removing any loose cables and ensuring there are no areas where your hamster can squeeze into and escape.
You can use an enclosed pen to fence off an area or even use a bathtub with towels lining the bottom!
These areas are best when they are filled with things to explore and toys. Please keep your hamster supervised at all times and they still require a wheel even if you are letting them free roam
1. Most hamsters need at least 24-48 hours to first settle into their enclosure when you first get them. This means, apart from providing food, please stay away from them and allow them to adjust to their new environment first.
2. After 24-48 hours, begin to sit by the cage and talk to them (without picking them up etc.) so that they get used to your voice and know that you're safe.
3. Begin giving them treats that you hold pinched between your fingers and they can take. Try not to make any sudden and surprise movements during taming and even once your hamster is tame.
4. If your hamster seems fine with step 3, place a treat on your palm, closest to your hamster as possible. You may want to wear gloves if you are worried that they will bite. Hamsters bite if they are scared or may nibble if they're not used to your scent and trying to work out if you are food. A bite will likely break the skin whereas a nibble shouldn't.
5. Gradually move the treat further into your palm so that the hamster needs to come up closer to your hand
6. You could place a treat in your palm but put both hands together so that your hamster has to go on one of your hands to get the treat in another hand.
7. To get your hamster used to being picked up, once your hamster is happy with the above - very slowly raise your palm(s) off the floor slightly. Gradually increase the amount that you do this and height that you do this at. If possible, do this over a mat or rug, just in case your hamster jumps.
8. With practise, carefully turn over your hamster and reward them with a treat. Turning over your hamster for a health check once a week, e.g. to check for wet tail, is important.
wish I could pinpoint a rational reason. While I I imagine most people are not scared of hamsters, there does seem to be some cultural fear of rodents which I imagine probably contributes. I also have a fear of most non human animals maybe because it was something I learnt from my parents or because they look so different to humans. I can psychoanalyse all I want but there isn't really any way to know for sure. might just be how I am! :/