Hamster Care

Hamsters are tiny, adorable creatures and unique pets to have at home. While hamster care may not be as easy for a beginner, you will discover that it is not that complicated once you get the hang of it.

At a minimum, hamsters require a large cage they can explore, at least 10 inches of bedding they can burrow in, multiple toys for entertainment, a hamster wheel, and a hideout. Hamsters also require a well-balanced diet of store-bought hamster pellets, fresh fruits, and vegetables.

Housing Requirements

A pet hamster needs a home in which to explore and feel safe. As with other small pets, placement is key to a happy hamster. Place your hamster’s home near the sounds of household members but not at the center of chaos. They will be comforted by the day-to-day noise but can be stressed out by loud noises outside their habitat.

The ideal temperature range for hamsters is 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (18 to 24 degrees Celsius). Below this range, your hamster may become too cold. Hamsters are also sensitive to heat and temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26.6 degrees Celsius). They can die from heatstroke if they get too hot.

Avoid placing their habitat in direct sunlight, as it can heat up quickly or drafty areas.

The pet’s housing should be plastic, glass, or metal. It should be escape-proof with a solid bottom. Allow sufficient room in the housing for your hamster to play and exercise. A cage that measures at least 450 square inches (2903 square cm) is ideal, but you can opt for something bigger. The bigger, the better!

As a prey species, hamsters require a hideout in their cage to retreat to feel safe.

Hamsters also need proper bedding. As a general rule, the best and healthiest bedding is aspen wood shavings or shredded unscented paper. However, this varies across individuals’ and hamsters’ preferences. Avoid corn cobs, cat litter, pine, cedar, or scented bedding containing chemicals that pose respiratory risks to your hamster. Bedding should be at least 10 inches deep so that they have enough room to burrow, but provide more if you can (preferably at least 16 inches deep) (source). This is because hamsters are naturally burrowing animals and will create multi-chamber burrows. Most hamsters won’t even try to burrow unless they are given at least 10 inches of bedding.

Hamster Diet

Hamsters need a balanced diet just like you do. A well-balanced hamster diet contains:

  • Fresh, clean, and chlorine-free water in a water bottle or water dish. You should change the water daily
  • Top-quality store-bought hamster pellets or hamster seed mix
  • Limited amounts of grains, fruits, veggies, and/or Timothy hay as treats

Avoid feeding your pet hamster sugar and high-fat treats. Also, do not feed them caffeine or alcohol since these cause severe medical conditions.

Try varying their food from time to time. For example, you can feed them small amounts of carrots, pears, berries, apples, cucumbers, broccoli, or squash. Consult with your vet about the best foods to feed your pet hamster.

Remember to provide fresh food and water. Fruits and vegetables not eaten within 24 hours should be discarded.

Hamster Behavior

Some common behavioral characteristics of hamsters include:

  • Playing during the night and resting during the day (nocturnal)
  • Chewing objects to maintain their incisors which grow continuously
  • Hamsters are easy to handle but may nip if awakened suddenly from sleep or when startled
  • Hamsters can be aggressive, especially if kept with other hamsters in a single cage. Many hamster species are solitary and cannot be housed with other hamsters.

Once you understand your hamster’s normal behavior, you can adjust accordingly to ensure they are comfortable. For starters, it is good to respect their nap time. Although you cannot force a hamster to adjust to your schedule, you can decide to compromise and give your pet hamster attention once they are awake.

Ensure your hamster has plenty of wood chew sticks or mineral chews to chew on and maintain their teeth. Hamster’s teeth are constantly growing, and therefore, they need something to chew on to wear them down and avoid medical issues.

Hamsters also require lots of toys to keep them entertained and mentally stimulated. It would be best if you also got your hamster a hamster wheel as they are very active. For more information on this, see an article I wrote on Essential Hamster Supplies.

Finally, separate your adult hamsters into different cages to avoid aggressive behavior, injuries, and stress. Most hamsters should live on their own as they are solitary animals. Hamsters like to be on their own and won’t get lonely. No playdates!

Health and Welfare

Proper hamster care equals a happy pet. However, hamsters are also susceptible to illnesses. Below are signs to look out for in your pet hamster:

  • Overgrown teeth
  • Skin lesions
  • Nasal or eye discharge
  • Lethargic
  • Distressed breathing
  • Diarrhea
  • Abnormal hair loss
  • Weight Loss

Some common health issues your pet hamster could face include:

  • Diarrhea. Symptoms include loose stool. It is often caused by unclean housing, internal parasites, stress, or poor diet.
  • Diabetes. Symptoms include lethargy and frequent urination
  • Malocclusion, evident by overgrown teeth
  • They can also get lice or mites, which cause hamsters to lose patches of hair.

If you notice any of the above, consult with a vet for the appropriate course of action. As a preventative measure, ensure you feed your hamster clean and healthy food. Also, ensure its habitat is clean.

Another problem that can occur is nails becoming overgrown. Overgrown nails are a problem for hamsters because it can make eating difficult, causes issues with walking, and overgrown nails can get caught in accessories. For more information, I wrote an article on How To Maintain Your Hamsters Nails.

For your hamster’s general welfare, it helps to show them extra love. So don’t keep them locked away 24/7 or just for amusement. Instead, take them out once in a while and play with them (carefully!). But don’t be concerned if your hamster doesn’t want to interact with you. As solitary animals, hamsters don’t get the same enrichment from interaction compared to other animals. As a result, some hamsters don’t even want to interact with humans.

Final Thoughts

Keep your vet close if this is your first time keeping a pet hamster. As a general rule, your pet hamster is part of the family and should be treated as such. Proper hamster care translates to good medical care, diet, housing needs, enrichment, and emotional care. Adult supervision is also important, especially during any interaction between pet hamsters and small kids.

For additional ideas on how to keep your hamster happy, I wrote this article on How to Make Your Hamster Happy.

Hamster cageAt least 450 square inches (2903 square cm) sized cage placed out of direct sunlight or drafty areas
Bedding materialAspen shavings or shredded unscented paper at least 10 inches deep. Preferably at least 16 inches of bedding.
FoodMostly store-bought hamster food and healthy treats in moderation. Fruits and vegetables not eaten within 24 hours should be discarded
WaterFresh, clean, and chlorine-free water in a water bottle or water dish. Hang the water bottle at a height a hamster can drink from at a natural angle. Water has to be checked and changed regularly
ToysProvide a variety of chew and exercise toys
BehaviorHouse hamsters in separate cages to avoid fights, injuries, and stress
Overview of Hamster Care