Big, fluffy cheeks, round black eyes, tiny pink hands – it’s hard to simply “walk past” the hamster tanks when you’re at the pet store. Hamsters are quiet pets that are easy to care for. It’s a joy to watch them nibble on sunflower seeds and store extra food in their cheek pouches.
But are you ready to take home a hammy of your very own? Scroll through this complete guide to find out everything you need to know before adding this tiny rodent to your family.
Is A Hamster Right For You?
Hamsters can be skittish and bitey when they first come home and when they’re not handled daily. They’re not suitable for families with children under 10 years old. They’re nocturnal, making them great companions for night owls.
You can keep a hamster happy on a relatively small budget in a small living space. They’re perfect for apartments and great for people who work long hours during the day.
Hamsters can be cuddly, playful and sociable. However, they’re not as affectionate as a pet rat. You may also be interested in learning about the differences between hamsters and gerbils to see which is a better match for you.
Types Of Hamsters:
Roborovski (Robo) Dwarf Hamsters are quick and fast. They’re the smallest pet hamsters available, growing to just 3 inches long. They can be difficult to handle as they’re excellent escape artists. Like most breeds, they’ll live 2-3 years.
Winter White/Siberian/Russian Dwarf Hamsters are easier to handle than robo hamsters. They’re just slightly larger, at 3.1 inches when fully grown. They’re grey-brown in the summer, and in the winter, their fur turns winter white.
Syrian/Short Haired/Golden Hamsters are larger than dwarf hamsters, growing up to 5 to 7 inches in length. They’re not as quick and skittish as the smaller types of hamsters and are known to be more cuddly and easier to hold.
Long-haired or teddy bear hamsters are a variety of Syrian hamster.
Where To Get A Hamster?
The easiest way to get a hamster is at your local pet store. If you’re over 18, you can be in and out of the store in 20 minutes. Most are kept in tanks with many other hamsters. They’re not handled often and typically not well socialized, but can be tamed in a few weeks after you bring them home. Pet stores typically do not keep hamsters in optimal conditions, and some can be downright cruel. However, it might be your only option.
You might also be able to find a reputable hamster breeder near you. A good breeder selectively breeds for the best temperaments. A professional breeder may even show their hamsters in competitions. Good breeders are scarce.
Small animal rescues are a great way to give a home to a hammy in need. Rescued hamsters are typically well-handled and socialized. Look on PetFinder to see if there are any available rescue hamsters near you.
You might also be able to find hamsters on Craigslist or your local Facebook buy/sell/trade groups. Meeting someone in person who you have only met online can be risky; so always take a friend with you! You might meet a great breeder with optimal living conditions, or someone who lets their pets mate for a quick buck if you are thinking of breeding your hamster.
Will One Hammy Get Lonely?
Hamsters can be sociable and enjoy living with others but have been known to fight to the death. If you’re going to get two, get a pair that has already lived together. Make sure they’re the same sex, so you will not end up with an unwanted pregnancy.
A female’s anus and genital opening are close together, and she may have visible nipples. A male’s anus and genital opening are farther apart, and if mature, testes may be apparent. It’s not unusual for pet store workers to get the sex wrong, especially when it comes to baby hamsters.
If you think about letting your hammies have babies, be sure to read My Hamster Horror Story And What You Can Learn From It? by Michelle, one of our contributors. You may quickly change your mind unless you want to be a hamster breeder and are ready for a lot of time and devotion.
What A Hamster Needs To Be Happy?
Scientific research shows that hamsters have good moods and bad moods. They can be optimistic or pessimistic depending on their living environment.
Even if you choose a dwarf hamster, err on the side of large when choosing a cage. Since hamsters are so cheap, you can use most of your budget for housing.
Avoid aquariums, tanks, and plastic cages, as they will not be well ventilated. As the cage gets soiled, ammonia builds up within the cage and can make your hamster sick. Wire cages are a good option. Cages with wire floors can hurt their feet; look for a solid, plastic base.
Hamsters are happiest when they have large piles of woodchips to burrow in. Hammocks, exercise wheels, ladders, tunnels and other toys will keep your hammy entertained.
Chew sticks are essential, as their teeth continue to grow for their entire lives, and will quickly become overgrown if they do not wear them down.
What To Feed Your Hamster?
You’ll notice that small animal food comes in two forms: pellets and seed mixes. Hamsters tend to pick and choose from seed mixes, so they may not get a balanced diet. Pellets are less delicious, though nutritionally balanced.
Sunflower seeds are a hamster’s favorite, but they’re high in fat and should be fed as a treat.
You should supplement their diet with fresh foods, making up to 10% of their diet. Fruit and vegetables work well, but many, particularly apples and carrots, contain natural sugars that can give your hamster diabetes if too many are fed.
Almonds, citrus, onions, garlic and the green parts of tomatoes are dangerous and should never be offered.
Cleaning Up And Avoiding Odor Issues:
Hamsters like being in a clean cage. However, their urine has a strong scent and causes ammonia to build up quickly. They typically urinate in corners of their cage. You can get a special litterbox designed to fit in the corner of the cage – they’ll use it if it smells like their urine. They do not have much control over where they poop, though.
Paper fiber based bedding is the best way to line your cage. Aspen chips are also safe for your hamster to burrow in.
Spot clean your cage each day. Then, remove all bedding and wash out the cage with a gentle, small animal safe disinfectant once a week and replace all bedding.
Taming Your Hamster To Be Held Without Biting:
When you first bring your hamster home, give them a few days to settle in. Do not touch them during this period. Only put your hand in the cage for light cleaning and feeding.
After about a week, you can start to offer your hamster yummy treats by hand. Sunflower seeds are great for bonding. After a few days of hand feeding, place the treat in your open palm and see if they step into your hand to eat.
Hamsters are grumpiest during the day and upon waking. Gently pet your hammy with a finger, taking caution if they shudder or avoid your touch.
While they are still getting used to handling, you can remove your hamster from the cage by lowering a cup filled with treats and a small amount of bedding. If your hamster does not mind being touched, you can try scooping them up with a cupped hand.
Your hamster can safely spend time outside the cage in an exercise ball. This should always be supervised and spend no more than 20 minutes, inside the ball, at a time. You can also let your hamster run around in a playpen, either store-bought or made with a circle of boxes or other sturdy household objects.
Things To Do With Your Hamster:
Over the first few months, get comfortable with handling your hamster and letting them play in their ball. As time passes, you can start finding their hidden talents.
All animals – yes, all animals – respond well to positive reinforcement training. Your hammy can learn to navigate an obstacle course or tiny agility equipment. You can teach your hamster to follow a target stick, or even use a clicker as you would when training a dog.
When it comes down to it, hamsters are simple, low-maintenance animals. They need less than an hour of attention each afternoon and are happy to burrow in their dens for most of the day.
Have you ever had a hamster? Tell us all about it in the comments – let future hammy owners know just what they’re in for!
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