How to Care for Pet Hamsters: Behavior, Diet, Housing, and More
Hamsters aren't for everyone. Let me just say that first, as a start. Hamsters should be watched with special attention when a young child is involved. Many parents choose to let their young children have hamsters because of their small size and small living arrangements. But, in reality, there are better pets for small children, such as guinea pigs. Hamsters can and will bite, but if socialized they can make very social and sweet pets. You must watch children with pet hamsters as they can bite, and the child can unintentionally hurt the hamster.
When thinking about getting a hamster, much less any pet, always do your research first, and remember to ask yourself the following:
- Who will be feeding the pet?
- Who will be cleaning the pet's enclosure?
- Who will be playing with the pet?
- Where will the pet's cage go?
- Can you afford food, bedding, treats, and possibly upgrading the enclosure?
Socializing a New Hamster
Hamsters can become very sweet balls of fur, if you take your time working with them. When you get your hamster home, leave him in his cage for at LEAST 24–48 hours—longer if you can. This time alone allows the hamster to acclimate to his new surroundings, which include his bedding, food, accessories, and layout of the cage, as well as the smells, sounds, lighting, and people outside his new cage.
Using Treats to Gain Your Pet's Trust
After a few days have passed, try to figure out your new pet's favorite foods, whether it be sunflowers, yogurt treats, raisins, or carrots. Open the cage door, and stick your hand in with the treat in front of him. Let him smell and grab at the treat; this shows him that you're not going to hurt him, but rather give him something yummy instead. Do this several times in a row, a few times a day, for several days. Eventually, the hamster will realize that you're definitely not going to hurt him, and that you may not be so bad after all.
Have your hand a the cage doors with the treat on your palm, and allow him to sniff at your hand, possibly nip and ‘taste' it. The hamster will reach onto your palm to grab the treat, and he'll probably quickly run off. Eventually you'll be able to remove your hand from the cage doors with the hamster still on it.
Eventually, your hamster will see or hear you and run to the doors of his cage (if he's even awake), wanting to be let out and socialized.
Be Careful With Young Kids
Always, watch young children with hamsters. I heard many a horror story with the child will drop the hamster, throw the hamster's ball with him inside, squeeze him, or worse. Plus, you don't want your child, or anyone else's bitten by a hamster, just as much as you don't want the child to hurt the hamster.
- Hamsters need the commercial hamster/gerbil diets. For the most part, any one of them will do.
- Provide your hamster with fresh veggies at least once a week—dark leafy greens, carrots, potatoes, and celery can be given to your hamster.
- Fruits should be fed sparingly, as they tend to have high water content, which can give the hamster diarrhea.
- Treats should not consist of more than 10% of the hamsters diet. Treats can include sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, other seeds, nuts, and dried fruits. Yogurt drops can be given to your hamster, but not in excess as the bacteria in the yogurt can cause diarrhea.
- Never feed your hamster chocolate, caffeine, or alcohol.
You can house your hamster in any one of the various hamster/ gerbil habitats made by Critter-Trail, SAM, or any other company. You can even house it in an old aquarium—no smaller than a 10-gallon tank, though.
Bedding for a hamster can include wood shavings, as long as it is NOT pine or cedar, as they both contain oils and aromas that can cause upper respiratory concerns. Aspen wood shavings is a great bedding to use. Carefresh, Total Comfort, and Soft Sorbent, are also good beddings to use.
Make sure to clean out the tank at least once a week. That means take everything out and put new bedding in the cage. If you are able to potty train your hamster, you can go two weeks without emptying all the bedding, as long as you empty the hamster potty at least every other day.
Keep hamster cages out of drafty areas and away from direct sunlight. You also want to make sure to keep other pets away from the hamster cage. If you can purchase a stand, or find a stand in your home to put the hamster's cage away from the dogs and cats in the house. This will also keep the hamster away from a young child's grasp and reach, as you should remember to only let younger children play with a pet hamster if you are able to supervise.
Hamsters are nocturnal, which means they are active mostly at night and sleep during the day. You can acclimate your hamster to your daily routines, making him more active earlier in the evening, but it won't be an overnight change.
Why Does My Hamster Stuff Food in Its Cheeks?
Hamsters have pouches in their cheeks, so don't be alarmed if you walk by your hamster's cage and notice his cheeks are abnormally large. Because hamsters are burrowing creatures in the wild, they would take large mouthfuls of food from the surface into their burrows. Having these pouches, also, help wild hamsters move substrate around. So, in captivity, your hamster will still exhibit these behaviors of taking all his food from his food bowl, cramming it all into his cheeks, and hiding it in the corner or throughout his cage. He may, also, move bedding via his pouches, moving softer bedding to make a nest in the cage.
Special Considerations for Syrian (Teddy Bear) Hamsters
Syrian hamsters, also known as teddy bear hamsters are NOT social with other hamsters. They prefer to live solitary lives versus lives with other hamsters. In the wild, they did not live together, so even in captivity, they kept that trait.
I have experienced having some hamsters tolerate each other and some hamsters not. I had three hamsters at one time, two females and a male, and when my females became pregnant, I separated them, leaving one female with the male. The male/female pairing worked off great as they never fought and always got along, but later on, when I tried putting the two females together, the one housed with the male would bully and chase the other female around.
For the most part it is NEVER a good idea to house more than one Teddy bear hamster in a cage. Meanwhile, dwarf Siberian hamsters are more social with each other and can live in small groups.
Hamsters chew... It's a known fact by many. They have to chew in order to keep their teeth filled down to a reasonable length in order to eat their food. Because hamster's teeth constantly grow throughout their life, you need to provide them with chew sticks. Never give your hamster sticks that you've found outside because you never know what pesticides have been sprayed. Even if you do not use pesticides, the wind can carry over pesticides from your neighbor.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.