10 Items Your Hamster Needs for a Long and Happy Life
Hamsters are affordable and cute animals. They make for appropriate pets for older children (if they know how to care for them) and are often impulse buys for adults. Despite its small size, however, your new pet won't be happy just sitting in a small box all the time.
Just like other animals, a hamster needs stimuli, a variety of food, and toys to keep it happy. If your hamster has a lot of space and plenty of things to keep it busy, you will have a healthy and happy little furball who might even live much longer than you expect it to!
If You Just Bought Your Hamster
First of all, it's good to remember that hamsters have different personalities. Some hamsters are happy to settle into a new place and will start playing with new toys or building nests right away. Other hamsters, however, can be incredibly shy. In a worst-case scenario, your hamster might be terrified of humans (through no fault of your own) and simply want to stay in its house all the time.
It is important to know your hamster's personality as soon as you can. If you have just bought your hamster, let it settle into its new home—don't touch it or try to play with it for at least a couple of days, and ideally one week. The new smells and sounds around it can startle or frighten the little guy. Just quietly give it fresh food and drink every day and don't disturb it until it's ready to be held and tamed.
How Long Have You Had Your Hamster?
You may have seen the hamster in the pet store living with little more than a water bottle, some food, and some bedding in a tiny cage. This is not an ideal environment for a hamster, which needs to be able to run, explore, burrow, and hide its food. Here are essential items you need for your cute new friend to ensure that it lives a long, happy, and healthy life with you.
1. A Big Cage
When it comes to hamster cages, bigger is always better. Every hamster needs a large home with plenty of room to run around and burrow. There is no way around it.
The two main types of hamster cage are:
- Tank style: a plastic aquarium with a lid
- Bar style: a cage with bars
I personally prefer the bar style as it has much more ventilation for the hamster. My hamsters seemed happier once they were inside a cage with bars. One downside of this type of cage, however, is that the hamster can chew on the bars which can make an irritating sound. At the same time, bar nibbling can tell you when your hamster wants to leave the cage and explore.
A cage that has wide space and multiple floors is ideal for your fluffy little friend. Be sure to get a cage that is at least 24 inches by 12 inches and at least 12 inches tall. However, the bigger the better. If you're unable to provide a larger cage for your hamster, be sure to let them out to exercise every single day.
How to Clean a Hamster Cage
If you notice any damp patches or particularly gross bits (Hemingway liked to pee all over the top floor of his cage for some reason), clean them up immediately. You should also do a deep clean of your hamster's home once a week, where you throw away most old bedding, wipe clean any toys and houses, and refill it with clean bedding. Use warm water or, for particularly bad patches, soapy water. Avoid bleach or other potentially harmful chemicals.
One mistake many hamster owners make is completely replacing the bedding. Be sure to save a handful or two of the older bedding so that it has your hamster's smell on it. If you don't, your hamster won't recognise its home when you put it back and believe it's in a different place, which can make it nervous. A hamster feels safe where its own smell is, and ensuring it knows its home will keep it happy and preserve its peace of mind.
2. Appropriate Bedding
A hamster won't be happy just in a plastic cage; you have to give it bedding as well. Wooden shavings are a good start, but can be bad for your hamster's health. Ideally, you'll want to use shredded paper (free of any ink), tissue, and kitchen towels (good for absorbing urine).
Aspen shavings are the safest type of wooden shaving bedding, but paper or tissue is the healthiest choice. Be sure to use a generous amount of bedding as a sort of 'carpet' in the bottom floor of your hamster's cage so they can get to burrowing and building nests right away.
3. A Variety of Food
Hamsters eat seeds, nuts, vegetables, and fruit. They also enjoy the odd insect from time to time, although this may depend on the hamster's taste. Once I offered a cockroach to my female hamster, Zelda, and she looked at me like I'd just insulted her whole family. The male hamster, Hemingway, happily took the roach and gobbled it all down.
You have to give your hamsters a variety of things, not just the same old seed mix every day. At the same time, it's important to keep the diet reasonably consistent as a sudden change can stress them out. Here are some foods I recommend giving to your hamster.
- Start with a simple seed mix as the sort of 'base' of their diet. Give them a little of this each day.
- A dried vegetable mix which is both healthy and a favourite of my hamsters. The small, dried bits fit into their pouches and there is enough variety in the mix to keep things interesting.
- The odd fresh vegetable or fruit. Be sure to look up what is safe for hamsters to eat—for example, small bits of banana, cucumber, lettuce, and carrot are fine, but lemon, large quantities of tomato, onion, and even potato can be toxic. If you feed your hamster fresh vegetables, be sure to clear away the remains the same day or the day after to avoid it rotting in their cage.
- Sunflower seeds. Only give these as a rare treat as they are high in fat and can make your hamster put on weight. I didn't know this at first and Hemingway loves them, and at one point he was almost obese. Poor chap.
- Cheese, in small quantities (a few small pieces per week), is also a yummy treat most hamsters love. Cheese, cooked egg white, and plain boiled chicken are also excellent choices for a pregnant hamster.
4. A Water Bottle
Hamsters shouldn't be drinking water from a dish as there's a chance their fur can get wet, which is dangerous for them. Instead, a water bottle is essential for a hamster.
Come cages include water bottles, but if not, you can get them cheaply from most pet stores. For a tank type cage, get one that hangs from the top. For a bar cage, get one that can be attached to the bars. Arrange it so the hamster can drink from it standing either on two legs or four; obviously, if it's too high, the little guy won't be able to reach it.
5. Things to Chew
A hamster's teeth grow constantly, and it's not enough for them to be able to nibble food. Hamsters may chew on its cage bars, but this isn't ideal.
Instead, a wooden toy or block in their cage will keep their teeth busy. Another recommendation is hard sticks from outside, but I'm reluctant to use them in case my hamsters accidentally swallow small parts. I use a wooden block that can be attached to the bars of a cage.
Having things to chew on will stop them nibbling the bars of their cage. The noise can be annoying, even if the hamster does look very cute when it's eager to come out and play.
6. A Sand Bath
I only just recently started giving my hamsters a small bath with sand in it, and they absolutely love it! There's nothing cuter than seeing them climb into the bowl to roll around in the sand.
Some people choose to buy the larger plastic items, but I find these take up too much space. I recommend using a small bowl from your own kitchen (ideally plastic, though ceramic works too) that you won't miss and filling it up a couple of centimeters deep with the sand. Be sure to change it every few days as the hamsters tend to use it as a toilet as well.
7. Tissue Paper
Hamsters like to make nests to sleep in. They have bedding, but they will also need tissue paper to make their nest soft and cosy. My hamsters go crazy when I pop a few pieces of tissue into their cage. It's affordable and your hamsters will love it.
It's very sweet to see them ripping up the tissue paper themselves and building their nest with it. If you put some tissue into their home, come back a few hours later and it'll probably be gone. Don't forget this essential step; with a comfortable bed, a hamster will sleep better, giving it a longer and healthier life.
8. A Large Wheel
As mentioned before, hamsters need a lot of exercise. They may seem lathargic and lazy during the day, but that's because they're nocturnal. Come sunset, you'll see the little guy scurrying around the cage and full of energy.
A wheel is an essential item in any hamster cage. During busy times when you can't let your hamster run all over you or around a playpen, it will need space to run. The recommended cage earlier in this article had a wheel included, but you can also buy them separately.
One important aspect of a hamster wheel is that it must be large enough so that your hamster's back isn't bent while he's using it. This can do more damage than good, such as causing spine problems. This is a bigger issue if you have a larger breed of hamster.
A silent wheel is best if your hamster lives in your room as you don't want the rattling or the squeaking keeping you awake at night.
9. A Hamster Ball
Despite a wheel and a large cage providing plenty of room for your hamster to run around, a ball is also an excellent idea. This is because that when you do a deep clean of your hamster's cage (which should be every week), your hamster is kept occupied.
A ball allows your hamster to explore the room without the risk of it squeezing into small spaces or getting lost. Ideally, the ball should be larger than seven inches (to avoid similar back problems that can occur with an insufficiently sized wheel) and have very small grooves in it so the hamster doesn't get its feet caught in the gaps.
Some things to remember when using a hamster ball:
- Don't let your hamster run around in the ball longer than 20-30 mins. Exercise can dehydrate a hamster, just like humans.
- Do not spin the ball or drop it from a height.
- If your hamster scratches the inside of the ball as if it's trying to burrow or sits in the same spot grooming itself, it means it's had enough and wants to be let out.
10. Cardboard Tubes
Another affordable item for any hamster is a cardboard tube that comes from toilet rolls and kitchen paper. Hamsters love to crawl through these tiny spaces and might even chew up the cardboard to play with. This is a simple yet effective addition to your hamster's cage that will stimulate its mind and give it something to do.
Although hamsters can and have survived with very basic amenities, you would probably want your fluffy new friend to be as happy and as healthy as possible. A hamster with plenty to do, lots of space to run around, and a healthy diet with the odd treat is much more likely to be friendlier towards you as well. Give your hamster the best possible life with these essential items and toys.
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.
Questions & Answers
What type of hamster is best for a child?
A Syrian hamster is best for kids as they’re larger, easier to handle, and require less maintenance. Your child should be at least 10 years old to take care of a hamster.Helpful 61
My hamster bites his sawdust and hay (pets at home recommended it) but however many veggies or biting toys I offer him, his favourite thing to chew is still my finger and it hurts a lot. How can I stop this?
Do you think he bites because he’s frightened or because he likes the taste? Try rubbing something nasty tasting on your hand to deter him from biting and distract him with a treat. Sunflower seeds work well.Helpful 51
What type of cage is bad for a hamster and why?
Cages that are too small are a big no-no because they need space to run around. Always make sure it’s nice and spacious. You also need to make sure it’s made of sturdy material so they can’t chew their way out.Helpful 38
My hamster spent half the night chewing its bars. We have three small kids and they have been handling her a lot. Is it possible that she is stressed or do you think it’s her teeth?
Hamsters often chew the bars of their cage. There are many reasons for this.
1. She is bored. Hamsters often get bored if they don't have enough stimulation. Does she have lots of toys? Try hiding treats around her cage for her to find. 2. She wants to escape her cage. Put her in a ball or playpen for a while in the evening before the children go to bed so she gets some exercise. 3. Her cage is too small. 4. She doesn't have enough things to chew. Make sure she has plenty of wooden chew toys she can gnaw on. I also often put tissue paper in my hamster's cage to keep him busy building a nest.Helpful 36
I am getting a hamster for my 12-year-old. What kind should I get?
Get whichever hamster your child likes at the pet store! Most hamsters have similar temperaments so their species doesn't matter too much. Keep in mind Syrians are a lot bigger, but they're suitable for younger owners. I'd recommend a Syrian (but only get one.)Helpful 10
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