Quick and Ultimate Guide for Hamsters for Beginners (2021)

Time to read 11 minutes

Before buying a hamster

Before buying a hamster, consider the following: 

Which breed of hamster should I buy? 

The smallest breed of hamsters is the Roborovski; they are small, fast, and timid — they should be watched rather than handled. The Roborovski breed of hamsters is the smallest hamster breed. The larger Syrian, Winter White, and Chinese breeds are pretty comfortable with being handled if socialized carefully. It’s essential that you consider what you want from your hamster before buying one.

Do you have room for two hamsters?

The breed of hamster you choose will also determine how many you keep. Some species are happy to be held in same-sex groups or pairs, whereas it’s advised that you must keep the Syrian hamster alone as once they are adults, they will fight. 

Is a hamster a suitable pet for you? 

Hamsters are nocturnal, so they are asleep during the day and active during the late evening and at night. They can come out and be handled at other times if they are awake, but it’s best not to wake them up to handle them as this will disturb their natural sleep pattern. 

Best hamster breed for child – Best hamsters for beginners

At 5-7″ long, Syrian hamsters are considered the largest breed of hamsters. Syrian hamsters are also, undoubtedly, the best hamster breed child and for beginners.

Can you provide a cage big enough for a hamster? 

A Syrian hamster can travel up to five or six miles a night in the wild, so they need ample space to run around. In addition, they require a cage full of enrichment items to keep him entertained.

Can you afford a hamster? 

Hamsters don’t require vaccinations or any major veterinary checks, but you should have money available or insurance in place should your hamster need veterinary assistance. 

You should also allow money for buys some of the items necessary for a happy, healthy hamster. You’ll need to buy a suitable cage, which can cost up to $200, hamster food, bedding, sand baths, and any new enrichment items you will need to buy regularly to keep him stimulated. 

Housing your hamster

Hamsters are very energetic — in the wild, they can cover more than five miles in a night — so it’s vital that they have lots of space to explore, which is packed full of interesting enrichment. 

If using a cage, ensure that it’s wire constructed as hamsters love to chew. Beware of the ‘hamster starter kits’ often sold in pet shops

The cages sold as part of these kits are rarely big enough for a hamster to live in. 

Ensure that your hamster’s living environment has several levels for him to explore and move between. 

How big should a hamster cage be?

Syrian hamsters can live in either a very large hamster cage or a large aquarium with a suitable mesh roof. 

Hamsters like to climb and roam large areas, so providing your hamster with lots of different platforms will increase the amount of space he has to explore and help to keep him active. 

We recommend that the cage be at least 80cm wide by 50cm high and at least 35cm high for a single Syrian hamster or a pair of dwarf hamsters. 

Dwarf hamsters (like the Chinese, Winter White, Campbell, and Roborovski) may live comfortably in a converted plastic box with sections cut out and replaced with mesh for ventilation. 

An aquarium with a mesh roof can also work well. Again, there should be plenty of different platforms to increase your hamster’s amount of space to move around in. 

What should I add to my hamster’s environment to make it more enjoyable? Hamster Enrichment tips

Hamster enrichment set up for a hamster is key — try to add, move around and change the items in your hamster’s environment every week to ensure that it is an exciting place for your hamster to live. 

Hamster enrichment tips for beginners

HAMSTER ENRICHMENT TIPS FOR BEGINNERS
  1. Use a small, clean plastic takeaway tub filled with organic soil to create a digging pit for your hamster. He would naturally do digging and burrowing in the wild, and the sand will help keep his coat clean too. 
  2. Remember to include a few houses or hides for your hamster to build a nest inside and sleep in. 
  3. Hamsters also love tunnels and tubes (in the wild, they live in a maze of underground tunnels and nesting areas) — you can buy enrichment items like this from your local pet shop.
  4. In addition, you can even use items from around the house, such as empty toilet rolls or cereal boxes, as an enrichment toy for your hamster
  5. Plastic children’s toys (with no small parts) can also be ideal — use your imagination! 
  6. If you buy a hamster wheel, make sure that it is large enough for your hamster to use comfortably and easily. Choose a solid plastic wheel as hamsters can get their feet caught in the metal or mesh ones. Solid plastic wheels are the best running wheels for hamsters!
  7. You could also try hiding treats in small plant pots or boxes. 
  8. If you’re feeling extra creative and imaginative, you could even make a maze out of cardboard pieces.
  9. Hamsters also love to gnaw and chew — fruit tree branches and twigs can fulfill this need.

Should I buy a hamster ball? 

From experience, the exercise balls often used for hamsters are not a great idea. Rather than finding them a fun form of exercise, your hamster is much more likely to find them very stressful. 

If you have already bought a hamster ball, why not remove the lid and convert it into a nest instead? He will find this much more enjoyable. 

What bedding should I use for my hamsters? 

Chopped-up or shredded paper is the ideal bedding for your hamster. The soft paper should be added to the nesting areas too. 

Dust-extracted shavings are also good to use for bedding; you must always check that any shavings are labeled as dust-extracted because regular shavings can be pretty dusty and can cause breathing problems and parasites infestations.

Your hamster’s cage should be spot-cleaned every day and thoroughly cleaned out every week using a mild pet-friendly disinfectant — remember to clean all the toys too.

About the hamster

These adorable little rodents are very popular pets, especially in households with small children. Male hamsters tend to be more laid-back and docile than females, who tend to be more energetic, so you may want to remember this when choosing your pet.

Hamsters are clever little animals that are nocturnal (most active during the evening and through the night). Hamsters generally have a life expectancy of one to three years. 

The different breeds of hamsters all have slightly different characteristics, and some are more receptive to handling than others. Breeds include:

The Syrian Hamster

This is the breed you’re probably most likely to imagine when you think about hamsters. This is the largest breed of hamster, which is available in a variety of colors. Syrian hamsters make fantastic pets, but they are solitary animals and need to be kept alone, or they will fight.

The Campbell’s Russian Dwarf Hamster

This breed of hamster is sociable and will live in pairs or groups of the same sex. They are smaller than the Syrian hamster and grow to be around 8cm long. The Campbell’s Russian Dwarf hamster comes in a variety of colors. 

The Winter White Russian Dwarf Hamster

This hamster grows to be similar to the Campbell’s Russian dwarf (around 8cm), and the two are often confused. The Winter White is grey with a black stripe down its back. They can molt their coat turning white (used for camouflage in the wild).

The Chinese Hamster

These hamsters have a more slender appearance than the Russian and have a longer tail, making them good climbers. They are very quick, so they are not the easiest breed of hamster to handle. Pairs of males will live happily together, but females can be less tolerant of each other and may need to live alone. They come in a variety of colors, from brown to grey.

The Roborovski hamster

This hamster is the smallest and quickest of the dwarf hamsters, growing to be just 7cm long. Their tail is almost non-existent. They are good-natured, sociable, and are usually happy to live in same-sex groups (although it can be different to determine their sex, so it may be more practical to have just one). They are generally a sandy color with a white stomach.

Tips on feeding your hamster

Hamsters are omnivores and require a varied diet. Imagination is key when feeding your hamster. 

Scatter-feeding your hamster will encourage him to hunt for his food; this gives him exercise and mimics the foraging characteristics a hamster would show in the wild.

There are a lot of nutritionally complete hamster foods on the market, so try to choose one for your hamster that is not full of colorants and is the best you can afford. In addition to a good quality complete food, you can add more food items to your hamster’s diet to make it more varied and interesting. For example:

You should introduce any new foods in small amounts and gradually to avoid any stomach upsets.

What treats can I feed to my hamster? 

Healthy treats that you can feed to your hamster include: 

  • Broccoli 
  • Pasta (cooked or uncooked)
  • Boiled egg
  • Curly kale
  • Plantain
  • Dandelion leaves
  • Grapes
  • Sweet potato
  • Apple (or another fruit tree) wood to gnaw on.

Hamsters will hoard uneaten food in their bedding, so make sure you are feeding the correct amount and remove any uneaten food at the end of the day. A small handful of food scattered around the cage once a day should be enough for your hamster.

Caring for your hamster

Do hamsters need annual vaccinations? 

No, hamsters don’t need annual vaccinations, but you should take your hamster to the vet for regular health check-ups, as well as conducting your checks at home.

Do older hamsters need special care?

As your hamster ages, its nails may become longer and can become painful. Add plenty of enrichment items to your hamster’s environment that will help to keep his nails short. If you are worried about the length of your hamster’s nails, visit your vet for advice. 

How often should a hamster’s cage be cleaned out? 

Your hamster’s environment should be spot cleaned every day to remove feces and uneaten food. You should thoroughly clean out the cage once a week. 

When you clean out, remove all the bedding and cage furniture, then use a mild pet-friendly disinfectant to wash any surfaces you can clean. 

Remember to wash the cage furniture too. 

Once the cage has dried thoroughly, replace all the cage furniture and add clean bedding — remember to add some new enrichment too. 

Do hamsters need company? 

Whether or not your hamster needs company depends on the breed of hamster you have. 

You should keep the Syrian hamster alone as they do not enjoy the company of other hamsters. 

The dwarf breeds (Campbell’s, Winter White, Chinese, and Roborovski hamsters) like to be kept in pairs or small groups. 

You should keep your hamsters in same-sex groups to avoid unwanted litters, ideally, be purchased at the same time and be a similar age, so they are more likely to get along well. 

Handling a hamster

How happy your hamster will be when handled depends on the breed you choose. Marie Channer, head of small animal welfare at Wood Green, sayThe Roborovski breed of hamster is very small and exceptionally fast, so they are not suitable for handling. They are more a breed of hamster meant to socialize and create a fun environment for them to live in. 

In contrast, the Syrian, Winter White, and Chinese breeds are pretty comfortable with being handled, and, if socialised regularly, they can become really bonded and happy to be handled by their owner. You must handle them carefully and allow them time to get used to you.” 

How do you pick up a hamster? 

First of all, make sure your hamster is awake, alert, and that they have chosen to wake up themselves. As hamsters are nocturnal, you should not disturb your hamster’s normal sleep pattern just to handle him; this is not good for his health. A sleepy hamster can be pretty grumpy and may bite. When handling your hamster, it’s important that: 

  • When you first bring your hamster home, allow him a couple of days to settle in before starting your handling sessions.
  • Hamsters can be pretty nervous at first, so keep your hamster handling sessions to a minimum
  • Keep your movements slow around your hamster to avoid scaring him. 

How to pick up a hamster

Firstly, it’s important to ensure that your hamster is fully aware of your presence before attempting to pick him up. 

Make sure he is fully awake, and if he is, stroke him gently along his back before gently cupping your hands beneath him — hamsters may find a hand hovering above them stressful and threatening.

Gently lift your hands towards your body so your hamster feels secure.

Once out of his cage, sit on the floor to handle your hamster and allow him to explore your lap. 

You may need to use your hands to keep him in the area you would like him to be but try not to hold him in a fixed place as he is likely to find this stressful. 

When handling the smaller dwarf breeds of hamsters, you may find using a short length of tube easier. 

Coax your hamster into the tube, then pick this up and transfer him to your lap; he might find this less stressful than being picked straight up. Remember, the smallest breed of hamster, the Roborovski, is not suitable for regular handling due to its size and speed.

Is your hamster healthy?

Your hamster should be checked over every day and thoroughly health-checked once a week to ensure that he is happy and healthy. 

Every day check that: 

  • His feces are normal, and that his urine does not have an overpowering smell, which could indicate a urine infection
  • He is eating an average amount (monitor this every day so you can pick up on any changes)
  • That he is not playing with his food or hoarding more than usual could indicate a tooth problem
  • That he is active and sleeping a normal amount. 

Every week conduct a thorough check including: 

  • His nose, ears, and eyes should be clear, bright, and clean.
  • His coat should be clear of any parasites. 
  • There should be no lumps and bumps.
  • Check that his teeth and toenails are wearing evenly.
  • Check that his nails are the right length and have not become overgrown. This is particularly important for older hamsters.

Common health issues in hamsters 

Hamsters are generally very healthy and happy creatures that do not suffer from many health issues, providing the correct diet and clean, spacious living accommodation. However, it is essential that you are aware of the problems that can arise to treat them if needed. 

Parasites 

These can occur in hamsters, mainly if they are kept in multi-pet households or if they are kept on inappropriate bedding. 

If your hamster shows any signs of parasite infestation, seek veterinary attention immediately. 

Signs include: 

  • Hair loss
  • Red, irritated skin
  • Severe dandruff
  • Small scratches all over the body
  • Visible lice. 

Wet tail

This can be caused by stress such as a change in environment or the presence of another animal in the hamster’s habitat.

 Bacteria build-up in a cage that has not been cleaned out properly may also cause wet tails in hamsters

Symptoms include: 

  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite and sudden weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Strong-smelling feces.

Tumors 

These are pretty common in elderly hamsters and can grow quickly. When you handle your hamster, check for any new lumps and bumps. If you find one, seek veterinary advice.

FAQ

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