The following guide will take a look at how you can become a successful pet owner if you’ve recently bought your very first hamster.
These cute and curious animals live for around two years on average and there are a wide variety of breeds available, each with their own individual traits and characteristics.
As hamsters are fragile, it doesn’t take much force to hurt them; so always treat yours with the love, care and attention that they deserve. If you look after them properly, you are guaranteed to share plenty of great moments together.
In order for your hamster to adapt quickly to their surroundings, it’s important to make sure that all of the essential equipment is in place before you bring them home.
Here’s a look at some of the items you will need:
- Cage – this needs to be large enough, escape-proof, and easy to clean
- Bedding and nesting – your hamster will need a cosy nest and bedding to sleep in
- Floor covering – to help soak up any urine and to provide a comfortable surface for your pet to run on
- Food – good quality food is the preferred option (please see Food and Diet for more information)
- Food dishes – small and shallow ceramic food dishes are ideal as they won’t topple over
- Water bottle – a water bottle is a cleaner alternative to a container placed inside the cage
- Exercise wheel – hamsters love exploring and running, so purchase a decent wheel to ensure they stay active
- House – this will give your hamster a private and secure place to hide away and sleep in comfort
- Toys – stimulate their minds with a selection of toys, such as tunnels, tubes, chew toys and balls
- Exercise ball – great for using when they need more exercise or when you are cleaning their cage
These are the most essential items you need to make a happy home for your hamster. If you discover that you need other items or replacements at any stage, then you can purchase these directly from your pet supplies store.
Bringing Your Hamster Home
After buying your new furry friend, you’ll need to get them safely home from the shop.
The best way to achieve this is to follow these simple steps.
1) Get hold of a small carrier, either a cage or a shoebox and place bedding and food inside
2) Carry a water bottle with you just in case your hamster needs to rehydrate at any stage
3) Add the hamster to the carrier or get a member of staff to do it for you before you leave the shop
4) Make sure someone is with you if you are driving home, as it will be easier to stop the hamster escaping from the carrier
5) Make your journey home via the smoothest route possible, even if you are walking, so that you don’t startle the animal
6) Once you arrive home, place the carrier inside the cage and open the lid so that the hamster can come out in their own time
7) Leave your pet to explore their cage over the next couple of days without picking them up
After a few days, your hamster will become more familiar and comfortable with their surroundings. Once they sleep in the afternoon, wake up in the night and come out of their house/bed to do their activities, this is a good indication that they are ready to be handled.
Picking them up during this phase means that they are less likely to bite or act aggressive towards you, as they are more acclimatised to their new environment.
Taming and Handling Your Pet
One of the joys of owning a hamster is being able to hold and interact with them. However, in order to achieve this you need to tame them first.
It’s common for hamsters to occasionally bite, but remember that this is only the animal defending itself against danger and reacting by instinct. If your pet does bite you, remain calm and don’t shout or show any aggression towards them.
The best way to behave around them is to be gentle and clam so that they feel safe and secure with you in their presence.
You’ll need two key ingredients to successfully tame your hamster – time and patience!
Essentially, you are aiming to get to a stage where your hamster trusts you so that they don’t perceive you as a threat and you can begin handling them. Take your time and the results will pay off.
Follow these tips to successfully tame your hamster:
- Start by offering your furry friend treats, such as sunflower seeds or dried fruit, through the bars or door of their cage
- After a while, place your hand inside the cage and wait until your hamster comes over to take the treat from your fingers
- Next time, place the treat in the palm of your open hand so that they have to reach up to get it
- When you come to feed them a again, place the treat further back so they climb onto your hand
- If they are comfortable with being on your hand, try to scoop them up and bring them closer towards you
- You may need to repeat this process over the duration of a week before they are comfortable staying on your hand
- During all of the above steps, never be too forceful, always let your hamster come to you, and remember it will take time
After your hamster has been tamed, the most suitable way to hold them is by cupping your hands.
If you place one hand underneath them and the other covering their back, then this will prevent them
from jumping and injuring themselves. To be extra cautious, you should initially hold them above a soft surface or close to your lap, so again if they do fall or jump there is less risk of a major injury.
After the first few attempts, they should start to adapt to you handling and picking them up. You can then start to let them crawl over both of your hands and explore more of the world outside of their cage.
Keeping your cage clean will prevent the spread of disease and offer your hamster sufficient, suitable, and healthy living conditions.
Take a look at our top cleaning tips:
- Aim to clean your cage once a week, or once every two weeks as a minimum
- Before you begin cleaning, place your pet in an exercise ball and keep a close eye on them
- Throw away old bedding and clean the base of your cage, removing any urine stains and dirt, before leaving it to dry off
- Avoid using bleach and strong disinfectants and instead use hot soapy water as this will be less harmful
- Wash any soiled toys and accessories, as well as rinsing water bottles and food dishes
- Add new and fresh bedding, making sure you cover the full surface area of the cage
- Top up food dishes with new food and add fresh drinking water to bottles
- Place all toys and accessories back in the cage and arrange all of the items as they were before so that your pet feels at home
- Once complete, put your pet back in the cage and allow them to get used to their new bedding
- Clean your hands before you pick up your hamster so that they don’t catch any germs
- You may want to place a small handful of old bedding in the new cage so that the hamster knows by scent that this is their own territory
Failing to clean your cage on a regular basis could result in your hamster becoming ill, so make sure that you stick to a strict cleaning routine.
Integration With Other Hamsters
As hamsters are solitary creatures by nature, it’s best not to mix them in the same environment.
Two male hamsters placed in the same cage will react by instinct and this can result in them fighting to the death. Aggressive behaviour can also be displayed by mixing two females or males and females together too, so again we advise not placing more than one hamster in any cage.
If you are looking to purchase another hamster, it’s best to keep them in separate cages and avoid placing each cage right up next to each other. It’s still possible for them to fight, nip and bite through the bars if the cages are touching.
In some circumstances it’s possible for two dwarf hamsters to live happily together, however they need to have come from the same litter from the pet store. We strongly recommend asking the advisors in the store first just to double check that this can be achieved without any negative consequences.
In any instance, it’s best to assume that integration is not an option, unless the pet store advisors have told you that two hamsters can mix together.
Registering with a Vet
At the earliest stage possible, make sure you register with a local vet. A professional vet will be able to help if your new pet becomes ill or catches a disease or infection. They can also administer injections and vaccinations too.
If you don’t register then you may find it difficult to get the medical assistance you need if your hamster falls ill.
Whilst enquiring about registering it’s the perfect time to ask the vet any questions you have in mind relating to your hamster’s well-being.
Food and Diet
As mentioned earlier, the best diet for a hamster is one that’s healthy, stable and balanced. Here’s a quick look at what your furry friend will need in order to meet this criteria.
- Essential nutrients and minerals through a mixed seed or compound pellet portions
- Small portions of greens, cleaned root vegetables and fruit
- A constant supply of fresh drinking water – make sure that the bottle isn’t leaking and that your pet can access the water via the ball tip at the end
- Avoid foods that are high in sugar or water as this can potentially lead to diarrhoea
- Hard treats, such as commercial snacks, can be provided to help the development of your hamster’s teeth
Take a look at the following table to see which foods you should and shouldn’t feed your pet.
|Foods you can feed your hamster||Foods you can’t feed your hamster|
|Carrots||Lemon or lime|
Hamsters will store a lot of food in their cheek pouches, so don’t be alarmed if you notice that a large quantity of it is missing from their tray. It’s easy to tell if your pet has stored their food as they will display bulging cheeks.
Both wet and powdered food must only be provided to your pet if instructed to do so by a professional vet due to a medical or health issue. If they are consuming wet food, make sure that remaining traces are removed from their cage twice daily so that the food doesn’t degrade.
If at any stage you notice that the amount of food they normally consume has increased or decreased significantly, seek the advice of your vet immediately.
Disease and Infections
Just like other rodents, hamsters can catch illnesses, viruses and infections, so always monitor their health and look out for any of the following symptoms.
|Abscesses||Pus accumulating under the skin, sometimes forming a lump and causing leakage.|
|Wet Tail (Proliferative Ileitis )||Diarrhoea, loss of appetite, lethargy, ruffled coat, common in recently weaned hamsters.|
|Respiratory Infections||Sneezing, discharge from the eyes and nose, wheezing, difficulty breathing, loss of energy.|
|Cataracts||Milky and cloudy appearance in the eyes.|
|Tapeworm||Constipation, bloating, weight loss, poor growth, diarrhoea, dehydration.|
|Ringworm||Bald patches, crusty, flaky and red lesions forming within these patches, increased itching and scratching.|
|E. coli Infection||Signs of depression, lack of energy, watery and foul smelling diarrhoea, fluid build-up in the abdomen.|
|Mites||Irritated inflamed or red areas of the skin around the ears, face, feet and tail, scratching on the cage wires.|
|Sendai Virus Infection||Fever, weight loss, depression, loss of appetite, nasal discharge, breathing difficulties.|
In cases where you do notice that your hamster’s health has declined, be sure to get in contact with your vet at the earliest stage possible.
(Ref *7, 8, 9, 10)
Owning any pet should be a joyful and pleasurable experience, so above all else, make sure you take care of your new hamster and offer them the love they deserve.
These animals are great first pets for both children and the whole family, so providing you offer them care and sufficient living conditions, you’ll share some great memories together.
References and Resources