The fact that hamsters are small, cute, inexpensive, and easy to take care of makes them popular pets. Pet stores consider hamsters to be beginner pets because they are so easy to take care of. Hamsters are often the choice as a first pet for a child to take care of on their own. This article covers the basics for taking care of a hamster.
The Right Cage
The first thing you need for your pet hamster is a cage. There are a few things to consider when choosing a cage. First, how big is your hamster. The bigger the hamster, the bigger the cage needs to be. You will usually find cute hamster cages at pet stores that have plastic tops, bottoms, and levels inside the cage with little metal bars for walls and colorful plastic tunnels attached. These are great for dwarf hamsters, but bigger hamsters, like Syrian (teddy bear, black bear, panda bear) hamsters, can get stuck in the tunnels. A larger hamster will do well in a glass terrarium with a screened cover instead of the smaller hamster cages with tunnels. Our black bear hamster has a 30 gallon terrarium all to himself. I’m sure he’d be fine in a smaller terrarium, but I’d never stick him in one of the tiny hamster cages really meant for dwarf hamsters. You will also see cages that have plastic bottoms and little metal bars that make up the sides, top, levels inside the cage, and sometimes even the floor. These cages are not safe for hamsters or other small animals. Hamsters and other small pets can actually break their legs by their paws slipping between the little metal bars that are used for the floor and levels inside these cages. A safe cage for a hamster should not have any surface that the hamster will walk on made of little metal bars. It is fine for the walls and top of the cage to be made this way. A hamster will usually climb metal bar walls and even hang from a metal bar cage top.
Bedding and Cage Cleaning
Once you have a cage, you need to put bedding in it. The most important thing you need to know about bedding is that you can not use cedar or pine bedding for hamsters. You can read more about this in my article Best Pet Bedding for Hamsters and Guinea Pigs. I personally recommend and use aspen bedding for hamsters. It’s safe for your hamster and it works great. Make sure you keep your hamster’s cage clean and supplied with fresh bedding. A dirty cage can cause your hamster to have health problems. Normally, a once a week thorough cleaning of emptying and washing the cage, with spot cleaning of wet or soiled bedding in between does the trick. Since our hamster has such a large cage, it takes longer for the bedding to get dirty and we do a thorough cleaning every couple of weeks with spot cleaning in between.
Now it’s time to put some items in the cage. One of the most important things that a hamster must have is a wheel. In the wild, hamsters will run up to eight miles in a single night in search of food. It is a hamster’s natural instinct to run and if a hamster does not get the exercise it needs from running, it can actually become paralyzed. Hamsters also need a little hide-a-way of some sort to sleep in. You can give them a small cardboard box or you can buy a hide-a-way from a pet store. Our hamster has a plastic “igloo” hide-a-way that he absolutely loves. We also give him some paper towel to make a bed out of in his hide-a-way. Next, give your hamster some tunnels. Hamsters love to run through tunnels. If you have a Syrian (teddy bear, black bear, panda bear) hamster in a bigger cage, like we do, you can put cardboard tubes in the cage for your hamster to run through. Our hamster likes to run through a cardboard tube from his hide-a-way to his water bottle like he’s in stealth mode or something. It’s pretty funny to watch. Last, but not least, you need to give your hamster something to chew on. Hamsters’ teeth grow their entire life and they need something to chew on to wear those teeth down. I wouldn’t recommend giving your hamster any old stick or piece of wood as some woods are toxic to hamsters as are wood treatments. You can buy little chew blocks from the pet store that are safe for hamsters and your hamster will also chew on cardboard items you put in its cage.
Food, Water, and Snacks
Food and fresh water must be available to your hamster at all times. Give your hamster a water bottle meant for small pets and fill it with fresh water daily. Make sure you buy food that is specifically meant for hamsters or hamsters and other small pets to ensure that your pet is getting all of the nutrition it needs to be healthy. Snacks like carrots, celery, apples, and grapes are okay to give your hamster, but only a little bit once in a while or they can get diarrhea. You can also buy assorted snacks for your hamster from a pet store, just make sure you follow the directions as to how much and how often you should give them to your pet. Our hamster has a snack log that serves as a treat and a chew block. It is not good to feed your hamster junk food, sweets, candy, or cookies. A hamster is not suppose to eat these items and can easily become sick or even die from eating them. Do not feed your hamster chocolate, coffee beans, or caffeine of any sort as this can result in death.
Cleaning Your Hamster
Never put your hamster in water for a bath or any other reason. Hamsters can easily get pneumonia and die. Hamsters naturally clean and groom themselves all the time and usually don’t need to be cleaned. Dwarf hamsters do enjoy what’s called a dust bath. You can purchase a dust bath and the “dust” or powder for the bath at a pet store. A dwarf hamster will climb in the “bath” when it wants to. There may be times you need to clean something off of your hamster. You can safely use a damp cloth or pet wipes. There is no need to use soap or shampoo on your hamster.
By following these simple instructions, you are well on your way to knowing how to take excellent care of your pet hamster. For more information on hamsters and how to take care of them, click on the articles listed below.
How to Tame a Hamster
Hamster Mites: Signs, Symptoms and Treatment
Is Mite Spray for Birds Safe for Treating a Hamster with Mites?
Blackbear Hamsters: The Perfect Pet
Best Pet Bedding for Hamsters and Guinea Pigs