Caring for Pet Hamsters

Roborovski Hamster
Roborovski Hamster. Getty Images/Rowan Castle

If you are thinking about getting a pet hamster for you or a child it is important that you know how to choose one, what supplies you need, and how to feed and care for your new pet. Hamsters are typically low-maintenance pets but proper care is essential to keeping it happy and healthy.

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Choosing a Pet Hamster

Happy hamster
Selecting a healthy hamster will get your pet care off to a good start. GK Hart & Vikki Hart/Getty Images

Hamsters are popular pets for children and adults alike. They are small rodents that typically live about two years and are usually best if housed alone. Hamsters come in a variety of colors and breeds and different breeds are known for distinctive traits.

  • Chinese HamstersThese small hamsters are not as common as other kinds of hamsters. Many people often mistake them for dwarf hamsters but they are not true dwarfs. They only grow to be 4 inches long.
  • Dwarf HamstersThere are several varieties of dwarf hamsters, such as Roborovskis and Russians, and they're similar to Chinese hamsters but much more commonly found in pet stores.
  • Syrian Hamsters - Syrian hamsters come in several color variations and go by different names, such as goldens, panda, and teddy bears. They are much larger than dwarf and Chinese hamsters and are the most commonly seen type of hamster.

Choose a Healthy Hamster

Dwarf hamster
Healthy hamsters will have bright, open eyes and dry bottoms. jade_c/Getty Images

Not every hamster in the pet store is in optimal health. Moving from a breeder or supplier to a store can be a stressful period for baby hamsters, and they will often get sick from it. Choose an active hamster and one that doesn't look like it has a wet rear end or watery eyes. Both eyes should be open and ideally the hamster will be eating or running around the cage. If a cage seems to have a few sick hamsters, it is probably best to avoid buying any hamster from that group since ​hamster diseases are very contagious.

Choosing a hamster that is easy to tame is another factor to consider. Young hamsters will be easier to train and hand tame than older hamsters who may have had bad experiences or have never had human interaction.

Hamster Cages and Supplies

A fully equipped hamster cage
Hamsters need food, water, shelter, and fun. Cultura RM/Adrianko/Getty Images

There are many hamster cage options available both online and at pet stores but some cages are definitely better than others. Several cages may look cool but aren't very functional and are extremely difficult to clean. Cages with colorful tubes are a good example of this but fish tanks aren't good options for hamsters either since they lack proper ventilation. You may also have to take into consideration that smaller hamster breeds have different cage needs than the larger Syrian varieties since cage wire spacing can determine whether or not a hamster is able to escape. Choose a cage that has good ventilation, is easy to clean, has space for a hamster to run and explore, and won't allow your hamster to escape.

Inside the hamster cage you'll need to provide soft and absorbent bedding, a water bottle, an exercise wheel, chew toys, a house, and food dish. Keep in mind that hamsters like and need to chew on items so wood, cardboard, plastic, and other items that are able to be chewed may not last very long inside the enclosure.

Feeding Hamsters

Hamster eating
Hamsters love to store food in their cheek pouches. Masaaki Toyoura/Taxi Japan/Getty Images 

Most people assume that a store-bought bag of hamster seed is what is best for a hamster but they actually need a variety of proteins, fruits, and vegetables to keep them healthy and happy. Hamsters may pick and choose what they want to eat from seed mixtures and therefore will not receive a balanced diet. But if you offer a pelleted diet instead of a seed mixture and supplement it with a variety of other safe foods you will be providing your hamster with everything it needs to thrive.

Hand Taming Hamsters

Hamster biting cage bars
Hamsters have teeth that can do some damage. retales botijero/Getty Images

Hamsters can be tamed to be very sweet little pets but for anyone who has ever been bitten by one, they know hamster bites definitely aren't fun. Young hamsters are typically easier to hand tame but you can start teaching your hamster not to bite by making sure you don't startle it. Try not to wake it up and instead entice it to climb onto your hand on its own using a tasty treat. This will gain its trust over time and allow you to pet and hold your hamster while avoid being bitten. Hamsters are not aggressive pets but if they are scared or startled they may bite.

Toys for Hamsters

Hamster in pink exercise wheel
Hamsters need exercise and exercise wheels enable them to run without having a lot of space. Muriel de Seze / Getty Images

Hamsters need to be active and have enrichment so they don't get bored and overweight. They also need chew toys to keep their teeth neat and trim. There are a variety of hamster toys that are designed to be chewed so your hamster's teeth can be properly cared for and an exercise wheel will allow a hamster to run as much as they want. Special balls can also be purchased to allow a hamster to run around safely outside its cage and cute houses and other climbable options exist to provide your hamster with ample exercise.

Breeding Hamsters

A hamster mother with her babies
Hamsters can have very large litters. jade_c/Getty Images

Hamster breeding is not something the casual hamster owner should do. It is best left to hamster breeders who are breeding for specific qualities and temperaments but accidents do happen. Many unsuspecting new hamster owners find themselves with a pregnant hamster after purchasing it from a pet store. Extra food and a quiet nesting area inside the cage need to be provided to a pregnant hamster.