These little guys are the picture of cuteness — they’re small, furry, and curious. So you might be thinking a pet hamster is the pet for you, especially if you’re waring of the responsibility of a dog or cat.
Remember: hamsters are just as much responsibility, and you should only get a hamster if you know it’s the right pet for you.
If you are getting ready to bring a hamster into your life, here are nine tips to keep your furry friend happy and healthy.
1. Know the Basic Signs of Hamster Health
It’s hard to know what an unhealthy pet hamster looks like if you can’t recognize a healthy one.
Regardless of size, coloration, or species, healthy hamsters all have a few common traits.
They should have clean ears and clean healthy fur without any bald spots, lumps, or scabs (except for the scent glands on the thighs, which many people mistake for scabs).
Their eyes should be clean and bright, a small, rounded stomach, and healthy teeth (not overgrown or curled upwards).
They should also have a clean, dry rump. It sounds obvious, but if the fur is wet around the rump, this is a sign of “wet tail,” a bacterial disease that spreads through contact with other hamsters.
2. Know Your Hamster Breed
It’s not just for aesthetic purposes.
Knowing the breed of your hamster will tell you something about their territoriality tendencies, which will change whether you get one hamster or two.
Syrian hamsters, for example, are extremely territorial and will fight each other constantly when they reach maturity, so you should never have more than one. Dwarf hamsters, on the other hand, can cooperate in pairs if they’re littermates or mother and child.
Other breeds choose to live in groups and would do poorly on their own.
3. Choose the Right Cage
As a rule, your hamster will do best in a cage larger than 600 square inches. The minimum you can get away with is 450 square inches.
It should also be tall enough to fit an adequately-sized wheel. This will mean a 10-12-inch-tall cage for Syrians and an eight-inch-tall cage for Dwarfs.
If you can’t find a cage that meets your needs, a glass aquarium can do quite nicely as long as there’s a wire mesh lid to allow adequate ventilation. And remember, hamsters are rodents and like to gnaw, so the bottom should be solid.
Much though you may be tempted to buy bedding made of wood shavings, it’s actually a bad idea.
You should also avoid kitty litter, shredded newspaper, corn cobs, or scented bedding, as these can cause respiratory issues.
Stick to little that’s made of plant-based fibers or cellulose. For a peaceful homecoming, you can also sprinkle some bedding from your hamster’s old habitat in their new cage before you place them in it — this will give them something familiar and calming.
5. Safe Places and Escape Routes
This has two parts: placing the cage in a safe place and ensuring that the cage doesn’t have any possible escape routes.
For example, the cage shouldn’t be in front of a hot window and shouldn’t be in a place where other pets can access it. This will help keep your hamster stress-free.
Seriously, it might seem cute, but it’s not a good idea for dogs and cats to interact with your pet hamster.
But you also need to check for any possible escape routes. Hamsters are impressively clever, so if there are any holes they can slip through or any loose parts they can open, they’ll do a Houdini when you’re not looking.
6. Give Your Pet Hamster a Balanced Diet
You can give them other things mixed in, but their main diet should consist of pellets. This is for the same reason you make kids eat their vegetables first — otherwise, they’ll only pick out the parts they like.
Hamsters can consume dark, leafy greens like kale or collard greens every other day, apples, melon, and bananas once a week, and treats like raisins or alfalfa once or twice a week.
Be sparing with fruit, as it’s full of sugar and can give them diabetes if consumed too often.
Never give your hamster more than they can reasonably eat in four hours — they love to hoard. You should also scatter the food throughout the cage and hide it in toys and tunnels. If the hamster can access the food too easily, they can become overweight.
For a breakdown of water bottles, take a look at this article.
7. Choose the Right Toys
There are a few key hamster toys and accessories every hamster should have. One of the big essentials are chewing toys.
Hamsters are rodents, which means their teeth never stop growing. If they don’t have chew toys, they can have problems eating. Wood chew toys are a good choice, but make sure they’re chemical and pesticide-free so as not to hurt your little friend.
Some other key toys include hamster huts to hide in and explore.
8. Know When to Take Your Hamster to the Vet
Hamsters can get sick just as easily as humans. The difference is that they can’t tell you when they’re sick.
If your pet hamster shows any of the following, get them to the vet right away:
- A runny nose
- Sores on the feet
- Bald patches
- Loose stools or bloody urine
Hamsters can get colds just like humans. And like any pet, they can carry a lot of bacterial and viral diseases, so they should visit a vet regularly. It’s also a good way to make sure their diet and exercise are on track.
9. Get Your Hamster to Exercise
A wheel is essential to keeping your hamster healthy, and should meet a few key requirements:
- Large enough so your hamster doesn’t run with an arched back
- Silent for the sanity of everyone involved (including your hamster)
- Doesn’t have anywhere for your hamster to get stuck or injured
Fun fact: the wheels that come with cages are often too small. These should be at least 20 cm for Dwarfs and 28 cm for Syrians. When in doubt, don’t be shy about getting a bigger wheel.
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