Today's fancy hamsters are descended from three Syrian Golden Hamsters taken into captivity in 1930. Dwarf hamsters are a different species, though they are still part of the same rodent family and require similar care. Two species that are common in captivity are the Dwarf Russian hamster and the Chinese hamster. All hamsters are small, easy to care for animals which explains why they continue to make popular pets. Hamsters are a popular pet for children.
These pets are primarily nocturnal, and they do not adapt to our schedule like other animals can, spending the day sleeping and the night feeding and exploring. Hamsters have a reputation for biting, but this behavior is not usually from aggression. A hamster bites most often when they are startled or awakened during the day. If you need to wake your hamster during the day, do so slowly and gently, by speaking and tapping lightly on its cage or den. It is best to wait until the hamster's ears are fully perked up and it looks alert before you put your hand in the cage. Many hamsters can be acclimated at a young age to tolerate gentle handling and enjoy time out of their cage, if you take the time. Offering it a treat before it returns to its home to encourage it to come out again the next day.
Housing Your Hamster
Most hamsters are solitary creatures and should only be kept one per enclosure. Dwarf Russian hamsters are more tolerant of their own kind than other species, if paired at a young age. Male and female pairs will breed prolifically, so same sex pairs are recommended.
Select a place in your home away from direct sunlight and drafts to set up your habitat. There are a variety of housing options on the market for hamsters: wire cages
, plastic cages
with a complex systems of tubes or a basic glass tank with a screen lid
. We recommend a 10 gallon glass tank with a metal screen lid
(secured by clips) as hamsters may chew through the plastic bottom of a wire cage or the plastic habitat. We recommend lining the tray with a few inches of small pet bedding
to absorb waste and odors. Do not use cedar chips, as they can be harmful to your pet.
Provide water in a 8 oz. hanging water bottle
. A ceramic food dish
is recommended, as plastic dishes will be chewed and possibly ingested.
No hamster habitat would be complete without an exercise wheel
. Hamsters need to be able to exercise in order to stay healthy and physically fit. Choose a wheel that is enclosed or has a crisscross pattern of wires rather than single spokes because they are safer for your pet's feet.
In the wild, hamsters live underground in a maze of tunnels. A basic wood hiding place
is vital to their health and well-being. Also provide chewable items like wooden chew toys
or cardboard tubes
in the cage. Hamsters' teeth grow constantly and need to be worn down by gnawing on wood blocks.
Feeding Your Hamster
Hamsters do best on a varied diet. Hamster food
should be used as the staple of the diet, but other things can be added to make sure the animals are receiving the optimal nutrition. Feed a basic diet of rodent blocks for the first two weeks, until your animal has adjusted to their new home. You may also offer seed mix periodically during this time.
After the first two weeks, you can offer small amounts of dried fruit and veggie mixes, along with small amounts of shelled unsalted nuts, whole wheat bread that has been left out overnight, whole grain pasta, and even fresh, hard fruits and vegetables (like carrots and apples and pears without the seeds) as treats, but they should only be offered occasionally after your pet has adjusted to its new home.
Hamsters are a low-maintenance pet, but they still need regular care. They require fresh food and water daily, preferably in bowls and bottles that have been washed frequently. The cage itself should be emptied of bedding once per week, and any wooden toys replaced if they are well-chewed. Wash the cage with a mild solution of bleach and allow it to sit for about 20 minutes before rinsing until the smell of bleach is gone. Then allow it to dry and refill it with fresh bedding.
Hamsters do not need to be groomed. Their nails stay short from digging, though if they do become too long or sharp they may need the tips trimmed by a qualified professional. They should not be bathed unless it is medically necessary. Some dwarf hamsters enjoy a dust bath
, using a dust similar to chinchillas' dust
. This can be provided a few times a week in a ceramic container specifically made for dwarf hamsters and gerbils. Remove the dust bath after the hamster is finished.
The most common problem with young rodents is wet-tail (diarrhea), a condition caused by the stress of a new environment, especially if the environment is not kept clean. For this reason, to minimize stress on the animals, we highly recommend that all young rodents be kept on the basic bland diet of rodent blocks for at least two weeks after purchase.
Wet tail is a serious ailment, and it can be fatal, even with proper treatment. Any animal who shows signs of wet-tail should be given Pedialyte and a wet-tail medication
in their water bottle, and uncooked oatmeal to eat. This will normally improve their condition within a short amount of time, but if no improvement is noted, a veterinarian should be consulted.
Small rodents are fragile animals. Your new pet may leap from your hands in fear when you are handling them or when startled. They often suffer serious injuries if they fall or are dropped. The best way to prevent this is to handle the animal over a small box or over the lap of a seated person. Any small mammal that has suffered a fall should see a vet as soon as possible, as not all injuries are externally visible.
A Few Important Notes
Check on your pet daily to be certain it is healthy. All animals should have a veterinarian check-up soon after you bring them home. If you observe any symptoms or signs that your pet may be ill, treat immediately or see a vet as soon as possible.
Be aware that rodents may not prefer to be handled like some other pets. As they mature, they often become less tolerant of being handled. Young children should be supervised by parents at all times when interacting with their pet. Not only are these animals fragile, but they can, if frightened, bite or scratch. Parents are encouraged to handle the animals first to get them used to contact and to teach children the proper way to hold or carry their pet.
New pets should never be given free access to any room until they are used to their surroundings. Hamsters can better explore from the safety of small pet exercise ball
, which allows them the freedom to go where they want without getting lost or injured. Limit "ball time" to no more than 30 minutes.
Wash your hands with warm, soapy water before and after handling any animal. This habit will help to prevent the spread of germs, and help to prevent accidental bites by washing away smells that may entice them (like if you recently handled food or treats).
When it comes to your new pet, knowledge is the best way to choose an appropriate addition to your family. Learn as much as you can about your new friend before you bring him home to ensure your pet enjoys a long, healthy life as your companion.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact our small animal department at 717-299-5691 ext. 1274 or [email protected]