Keeping Hamsters

Hamsters are a good beginner pet because they are fairly easy to care for. Hamsters require a weekly cage cleaning or sometimes twice a week and no grooming. Hamsters are friendly and easily tamed. Hamsters are nocturnal creatures that may on occasion bite if bothered while sleeping.

Remember that since hamsters are nocturnal, they make noise at night, you may be able to hear them running on their wheels or rustling in the cages.

Hamsters do show some recognition and will eagerly look for treats when approached. Hamsters are mildly active, delighting you with their housekeeping and exercise wheel activity. Hamsters are hardy pets requiring few visits to the vet. Hamsters have a lifespan of about 3 – 5 years. Golden Hamsters and Black Bear Hamsters seem to be the easiest to tame.

Hamster Housing

Hamster housing can range from simple cages with wire clip-on tops and plastic bases to old open-topped aquariums with wire mesh tops to allow for ventilation and prevent escape to complicated stacking systems with many layers and lots of plastic tubes for the hamster to adventure through.

As versitile as they are, there should be minimal gaps (about 1 centimetre) as hamsters can squeeze through the smallest spaces, particularly the Dwarf Hamster.

Your hamster cage should be kept somewhere out of draughts and direct sunlight and direct heat. Always remember that you only put ONE hamster in ONE cage, this is an important rule. Doubling your hamsters up could and most possibly will end up with fighting and even death. Even if you feel your hamster looks lonely, do not do it.

The cage should ideally measure approximately 35 centimetres long x 25 centimetres wide x 23 centimetres high and this is the smallest size suitable to keep a Syrian hamster in. If you can afford a bigger cage or are quite good at DIY, all the better. Perhaps you could build a cage with 2 – 3 tiers which is good for the hamster as it has more room to move around.

The cage should be cleaned out at least twice a week. Do not use newspaper to line the cage as this can be chewed and can poison the hamster. Good quality sawdust or shavings is better recommended on the bottom of the cage, with a bunch of hay placed in one corner for bedding.

Most small rodents like to feel safe and secure while sleeping, so a small wooden box would suit a smallish cage for the hamster to curl up in. You can also make a small house for your hamster out of cardboard boxes. A small cardboard box such as a shoe box would do, and remember to cut a small doorway on one side as an entrance. The only disadvantage about cardboard boxes is that they have to replaced regularly as the little nibblers nibble away at them.

Hamster Bedding

A hamster will appreciate some bedding material with which to build a ‘nest’. Bedding material can be bought in pet shops but any fluffy cotton wool type bedding should be avoided as this can cause harm if eaten by the hamster and the fine fibres can become caught around the hamsters limb causing injury.

Do not give your hamster pieces of material or wool, etc for bedding material as this will also cause problems if eaten by the hamster as it will not dissolve in the stomach and may cause a blockage. If in doubt as to whether any bedding material is safe for your hamster – do not use it. Soft paper bedding is best as this causes no harm if eaten and is easily broken. It is not necessary to buy bedding as this can be provided much cheaper simply by taking undyed and unscented toilet paper or paper towel and tearing it into strips for your hamster.

Hay can also be used but it should be clean and not mouldy or dusty. Straw should not be used as the sharp edges can injure a hamster.

Dust-extracted shavings make good bedding for all types of hamsters.

Dwarf hamsters need beds deep enough to allow them to burrow.

You should also provide shredded paper or peat for nesting material.

You should clean your hamster cage out at least twice a week.

If you have a paper-shredder, you could also shred your unwanted paper, this makes good bedding for your hamster.

Food bowls should be sturdy, preferably stainless steel or ceramic so they do not get chewed or tipped over. Of course your hamster will need regular fresh water which is best provided by means of a ‘sipper bottle’. This should be attached to the side of the cage by a flexible wire (these usually come with the bottles if bought from a pet store).

Hamster Diet

Hamsters are omnivorous, which means they eat both vegetables and meat. Their natural foods include grains, seeds, vegetables, and insects and they will also eat corn, oats, or wheat mixed with dry dog food.

Premixed hamster food from a pet store has complete nutrition, however, some hamsters will not eat it, I do not know why – maybe some are fussier than others.

Hamsters favourite foods are foods native to their dry habitat, like seeds. For protein and variety, they will eat some small insects. Hamsters like vegetables, however, feed them fresh food in moderation. Hamsters like a variety in their food and it also helps to keep them healthy.

Do not feed your hamster chocolates or sweets, this is very bad for them. Feed your hamster at the same time each day or leave a constant food supply. Hamsters will not overeat but will often store food in their cheek pouches and put it in a hiding place to eat later. Remove food that is no longer fresh each day and clean out the ‘hidden’ food once a week. Put food in heavy ceramic or plastic food dishes (so they will not tip over) and clean them weekly.

Hamsters need to have fresh water constantly available. The best sort of container is a sipper/drip bottle, which can be attached to the side of the cage. A bottle with a wide neck and metal top will be easy to clean every other day. The hamster will quickly learn how to sip from it.

Hamster Exercise

Hamsters are born to run. In the wild, hamsters would travel miles every night in search of food and some hamsters in captivity have been reported to run up to 8 kilometres per night on their exercise wheels. Hamsters need lots of exercise and most pet hamsters love to use exercise wheels.
The best kind of hamster wheel has a solid surface (not rungs) that either attaches to the side of the cage or is free standing without side supports than span the wheel opening. The common wire wheel that looks like a ladder wrapped into a circle with side bars for support is not the best choice as it can cause injuries.

Although most hamsters enjoy an exercise wheel, there are a minority who do not and this should not be cause for concern. Some hamsters on the other hand can become quite addicted to their exercise wheels.

If you put your hamster into a hamster ball for exercise, you must supervise them constantly – they can get exhausted if left in too long. Hamster exercise balls are best used moderately for short periods of time.

How To Handle A Hamster

Hamsters have a bit of a reputation for biting, however, biting is mainly a result of stress or fright. Consistently calm and gentle handling, along with a little bribery (offer them a favourite food while handling) will generally overcome any timidness or nipping tendencies.

Also, a hamster that is under stress due to an improper environment, being disturbed too often or during the day, excess noise, etc. may be more prone to nipping. Work on taming and handling only after the hamster has emerged from his or her nest on his own – waking up a hamster is a fairly sure way to make him/her grumpy.

How to Pick Up a Hamster

The best way to pick up a hamster is cupped in the palm of your hand with the other hand over its back to prevent it jumping off your hand (and possibly getting injured). Especially at first, it is best to hold your hamster just above your lap or some other soft surface in case it falls or jumps. Let the hamster crawl from hand to hand and it should gradually become more comfortable with handling.

Picking up a Hamster that is not tame

If you need to pick up a hamster that is not yet tame, place a can or cup on its side in front of the hamster and gently herd the hamster into the cup, which can be used to carry the hamster. Out of curiosity many hamsters will walk right into the cup. If necessary, gloves can be worn to protect the hands if you must pick up a hamster that bites, but extra care must be taken not to be too rough or your hamster is just likely to be stressed by the experience and resist handling even more.

Hamster Proofing

If you are going to allow your hamster time outside the cage, hamster proof the room. First, make sure there is nothing your hamster can get into that you will not be able to get him out of – such as underneath the sofa, or very narrow space between furniture.

The hamster should be confined to a fairly small space with no opportunity to escape, or you may have a very hard time finding and capturing him or her. Make sure all electrical cords are out of reach and that there is nothing else that could harm the hamster including poisonous plants. At the same time, make sure anything you do not want chewed is also out of reach.

Escaping Hamsters

Occasionally, a hamster will escape. A good idea for getting your hamster back is to get a fairly deep bucket, put lots of bedding in the bottom and then put in some favourite treats or food. Then, make a ramp to the buckets edge with a piece of wood, which will allow the hamster to climb up and likely fall into the bucket, but the hamster is unable to climb up the smooth sides of the bucket to get back out, however, he/she will be comfortable and fed until you find it.

The layer of bedding in the bucket has to be generous to allow a soft landing, though. Remember, it is a good idea to make sure the cage is readily accessible and kept stocked with food and water while the hamster is out – the hamster can visit the cage to stay nourished that way (and if he/she does so it will likely be at night, so keep an eye on the cage then).