Hamsters: The Complete Guide To Caring For Hamsters

Hamsters make adorable pet rodents. That’s an indisputable fact. Not only can you cuddle them when you want to but also they are low maintenance as compared to larger pet animals.

However, in order to keep your hamster healthy and comfortable in your home, you should be equipped with some things that are required when caring for pet hamsters. This article is your complete guide to caring for your adorable furball.

How Do Hamsters Appear?

One of the first differences that you will notice between hamsters and their other rodent counterparts is the difference in the lengths of their tails. Hamsters have naturally shorter tails than other rodents.

While the largest hamster species in the world can grow to be around fourteen inches long, on average, hamsters are about two to four inches long. Hamsters are characterized by their tiny ears, stubby little limbs, and their short tails.

Hamster sliding

Hamsters are generally known to have smooth fur coats, which vary in length depending on their breed and species. Some common colors on hamsters are grey, honey, white, black, red, yellow, and a combination of two or more colors. 

The sharp incisors of hamsters are one of their most noticeable characteristics; they have an upper and lower set that grow continuously throughout their lives and must be worn down on a regular basis.

Hamsters are extremely adaptable, yet their bones are brittle. Rapid temperature swings and draughts, as well as excessive heat and cold, make them very vulnerable.

All in all, hamsters are small and delicate creatures that look extremely cute but need to be handled with soft touches and affection.

What is a Hamster’s Natural Habitat?

The fact is most hamsters that we bring home today have never lived in the wild for a few generations prior to theirs.

Two Hamsters in natural habitat

Now widely domesticated animals, hamsters were originally wild rodents that were typically found in the middle eastern deserts and cities and sparingly in Europe. Even today, countries like Syria, China, Greece, and a few other countries have wild hamsters.

It was only in the years following 1930 that mankind began domesticating hamsters and making them their pets. Before this, hamsters lived in wild and dry areas. Their fur coats shielded them from the extreme variations of temperatures that occurred in the deserts.

What are Some Salient Aspects of Hamster’s Behaviour?

Hamsters can only be the ideal pet for you if you learn to decode their behavior. Without understanding a few characteristics of their behavior, you simply won’t be able to provide them with the type of care they need to stay healthy.

Therefore, we have compiled a few behavioral pointers that you can acquaint yourself with to help your hamster live the good life it deserves.

Feeding behavior

One of the more peculiar behavioral traits of hamsters is that they store food in their expandable cheek pouches.

Hamster eating and playing

This is, of course, the result of evolution as prey species in the wild. In their natural habitats, hamsters would venture out to look for food and to safeguard their meals for the foreseeable future, and they would hoard any food items and store them in their cheeks to carry back to their burrows or underground hidey holes!

Even domesticated hamsters today will hoard food in their mouths to eat at a later point in time. As pets, hamsters will often overeat this food and become obese. Therefore, it is your responsibility to keep an eye out for such hoarding behavior while feeding your pet hamsters.

Social behavior

Hamsters are not particularly social and friendly when it comes to interacting with other animals or even members of their own species. In fact, some breeds will even get aggressive and possessive about their territory.

Hamster playing

Therefore, it is generally advisable to keep your pet hamsters in isolated enclosures.

Having said that, dwarf hamsters can, at times, be trained to share their space with another dwarf hamster. Their main manner of communicating is by the use of bodily gestures and biological scents.

Hamsters have specific sleep patterns.

Hamsters are known to be animals that are most active during sunsets and sunrises. This is known as crepuscular sleeping behavior.

Sometimes, hamsters can also be nocturnal creatures. In the wild, hamsters also often hibernate to save on food resources and to preserve themselves.

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Now domesticated hamsters don’t really hibernate, but they do spend the better part of the day napping peacefully.

Hamsters dig burrows

All hamsters dig well. Regardless of their being a domestic animal or a wild one, creating burrows that they can access from multiple spots, and be comfortable in, are innate skills for them.

In the wild, these burrows are used to store essential food and as a secure space to rest in. Hamsters make use of all their limbs along with their snouts to dig the ground. The burrow defends against predators and buffers harsh environmental temperatures in the wild. 

What Food Should you Provide Your Pet Hamster?

Before we tell you what you should be feeding your hamster, it is vital for you to understand that hamsters are omnivorous creatures in their natural element. This means that they feast on both insects and plants or vegetables.

Now, the best way to keep your hamster on a healthy diet is to simply try and mimic the diet they would have as wild hamsters!

Hamster eating hazelnut on a dark brown. Free Photo

Now, to answer the question, ideally, you should include food items like nutritious vegetables and plants along with generous amounts of mealworms in their diets. A crucial plant that you must include in your pet hamster’s diet is premium quality timothy hay.

Being a highly fibrous plant, your hamster can eat timothy hay quite frequently as a part of its staple diet. Not only will it be helpful in keeping your hamster’s teeth trimmed, but it will also improve its digestive functions.

A bowl of freshwater is also necessary to keep your furball well hydrated at all times.

Additionally, you should also include foods like green veggies, specific fruits (some fruits can be toxic for them), commercially available hamster feed, and high-protein treats such as worms and egg pieces.

The vital thing to remember when feeding your pet hamsters is that moderation is highly important to keep it healthy. Too much of some food items can even result in obesity and consequent complications as a result.

We have a number of articles that tackle what you should avoid feeding your adorable pet hamster to keep them safe from health issues. Feel free to go through them when in doubt of whether a specific food is healthy for your hamster or not!

What Will Your Hamster Need?

It would be best to consider investing in some items that your hamster, as a domesticated pet, will need to live a comfortable and happy life. These investments will serve two purposes – your hamster will find it easy to adjust to its living areas, and you can focus on loving and caring for them.

Ideas to House Your Pet Hamster

Macro Photography of Mouse near Brown Wooden Cage

Because hamsters enjoy tunneling and exploring, always provide them with the largest possible home. Whenever investing in an enclosure for your pet hamster, you must ensure that the floor is firm.

This will keep your hamster’s limbs healthy and strong. Choosing soft or easily malleable flooring options can result in injuries and limb aches. The space that they live in should also be large enough for them to exercise or play, rest, eat, and defecate.

Because hamsters prefer to use a specific spot to relieve themselves, providing a specific rodent toilet that is easily accessible to your pet will be helpful in the long run. The bedding for your hamster’s enclosure should be crushed and crinkled paper or hardwood shavings. 

One of the more popular things that your pet hamster’s home must include is a spinning exercise wheel.

Hamsters enjoy having something to engage within their active hours. It isn’t always possible for you to play with your pet hamster, but the exercise wheel can offer the entertainment your hamster is seeking. Your hamster will also benefit from having toys that it can chew on.

Maintaining Your Pet Hamster’s Teeth

As absurd as this may seem to first-time rodent owners, hamsters can actually grow their teeth for all their lives. In the wild, their diet is such that it files their teeth and keeps them at an appropriate length.

When it does grow out, it can not only cause injury to the hamster itself but also can result in dental issues. Therefore, you will need to pay attention to the length of your pet hamster’s teeth.

One of the best ways to maintain their dental health is to feed them foods that are highly fibrous, like timothy hay. Constantly feeding on a high fiber diet allows them to source the digestive benefits of consuming fiber along with keeping their teeth length in check!

Tips to Keep Your Hamster In The Best Shape

For your pet hamster to be happy, there are some tips and guidelines that you can follow. Even though these guidelines may seem unimportant or negligible, they play a vital role in ensuring that your pet hamster lives its life healthily and is free of behavioral issues.

Avoid buying your hamster at a very young age or for a young child.

Even though hamsters seem like low-maintenance pet animal that requires minimal care and attention, caring for hamsters is actually not very easy.

Young hamsters need to be cared for meticulously and given a healthy amount of attention. None of this can be expected of a small child. Even something as simple as petting the hamster or cuddling requires you to be very attentive and delicate.

Children are not usually able to do so. Therefore, we advise you to hold off on buying your pet hamster till it is a little older and till your child is a little mature.

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Mealtime should belong to your hamster’s food dish.

It may even seem like a time-saver to simply drop some dry feed into your hamster’s enclosure.

But this does create the risk of your hamster swallowing its paper or hardwood shavings bedding which has the potential to severely harm your pet hamster’s digestive health.

Therefore, make sure to train your pet hamster to eat its meals from a dedicated dish.

Set out fresh food for your hamster every day

This is a no-brainer when caring for any pet animal. But more particularly, hamsters don’t like eating stale food.

Therefore, if it so happens that your hamster has some leftovers from its previous meal, simply clear that out and set aside a fresh serving of food.

Doing so will ensure that your hamster stays well-fed with a nutritious diet!

Include variety in your pet hamster’s diet every alternate day

A simple rule to make sure that your hamster stays interested in eating the food you prepare for it while sourcing all the necessary nutrition from its diet is to introduce some variety to its diet.

Including fresh produce such as green veggies, fruits, and mealworms every alternate day in small quantities to keep its diet well-balanced and, at the same time, delicious enough for your pet hamster to enjoy!

Clean your hamster’s living space

Another staple rule to follow when it comes to taking care of your hamster’s living space is to change its bedding every month or so to keep it free of germs and odor.

You can clean out its enclosure every week to make sure items like leftover food don’t rot in your pet hamster’s living space and create health issues for it.

Take a step back in grooming your pet hamster.

Much like cats, hamsters, too, keep themselves utterly clean. Therefore, bathing, combing, using perfumed dry shampoos, and other things are unnecessary in caring for your hamster.

Visit your veterinary practitioner at least once a year.

If your hamster needs urgent medical attention, you should, of course, rush to your vet.

However, even if your hamster is doing well and has no immediate health concerns, visiting your veterinary expert at least once a year can help keep your hamster healthy by ruling out any festering or hidden health issues.

Ensure that your pet hamster gets its dose of daily exercise

Staying active is extremely important for your hamster to maintain its overall health. Extended periods of inactivity can result in obesity and chronic issues with joints and muscles.

Therefore, fitting your pet hamster’s enclosure with an exercise wheel or a spinning ball to keep it entertained and active can go a long way in keeping your hamster healthier for longer.

Your pet hamster’s bed should be as natural as possible.

One essential practice is to make sure your pet hamster’s bedding is made of natural material.

Using material like timothy hay, oat hay, orchard grass, and so on will not only ensure your pet lives in a space that is as natural as possible but also ensures that it never falls short of fibrous food to munch on.

If you don’t want to be using hay to make your hamster’s bedding, you can also use items like crushed and torn paper or hardwood shavings,

Invest in chew toys for your pet hamster

Your pet hamster will have a natural urge to chew. This is an evolutionary instinct that helps them keep their teeth trimmed and at a healthy length.

Rather than continuously feeding it food, which comes with its own share of health issues, you can simply invest in chew toys specifically created for hamsters. These are safe and long-lasting and will keep your hamster’s urge to chew on things satisfied.

Hamster Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

Breeding your pet hamsters or making sure that their sexual health stays optimal, knowing certain facts about its reproduction, lifespan, and how to take care of the baby hamsters is vital. A lack of knowledge about this can lead to mistakes that seem negligible but can prove to be fatal.

Person Holding Small Hamsters in hands

Because hamster mums can become pregnant again within 24 hours of giving birth, it’s best to separate the parents as soon as the puppies are born unless you’re breeding them.

Hamsters can become sterile at the age of 12 to 14 months, and if they haven’t been bred before then, breeding a female hamster later in life, after the age of 12 months, can be harmful to her health because it can negatively affect her skeletal structure and reproductive health.

Pet hamsters, whether bred or not, can have a nice, lengthy life cycle with proper care, appropriate feeding, and veterinary care as needed.

Breeding hamsters is only for people who are willing to take the task seriously, as it takes large amounts of money and time and, most importantly, meticulous effort.

When baby hamsters are born, they don’t usually have any fur. Their skin is absolutely pink, and because they are completely deaf and blind, their sole source of support is their mother. These babies are called pups.

Hamster pups can only start growing teeth and fur after a week of being in their mother’s care. After another week, it will begin to learn to walk. At two weeks of age, hamster puppies can be weaned, and this is a suitable time to start handling pups who will be kept as pets.

The fact that pet parents mating their pet hamsters for the first time aren’t aware of is that if you don’t separate the hamster puppies from their mother after four weeks of age, the mother will perceive them as hostile elements and turn against them.

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Hamsters become adolescents at about four to six weeks of age, which is when they reach sexual maturity. Because they live only for a short number of years, their adolescence arrives quite early compared to other animals.

Despite this, you should not even consider breeding your male pet hamster before he reaches the age of fourteen weeks and your female pet hamster before the age of ten weeks. Breeding them earlier than this can result in stillbirths or defective births, which could prove fatal to the parents.

The gestation period of hamsters varies with what breed they belong to. This gestation period can be anywhere from fifteen to twenty-five days long. For example, a dwarf hamster’s gestation time is 18 to 25 days, while a Syrian hamster’s gestation period is 15 to 18 days.

When it’s time to give birth, the pregnant hamster will become agitated and start bleeding from the vulva, indicating that the body is preparing for childbirth.

The size of a hamster’s litter varies according to the species. A Syrian hamster can have anywhere from five to ten offsprings, whereas a dwarf hamster can have anywhere from four to six.

Hamster Predators and Threats

Hamsters are prey animals in their natural habitat. Therefore, by evolution, the species has gradually developed some defense mechanisms which allow them to survive in the wild.

The most widely observed ones are the act of burrowing using their limbs, teeth, and snout, sleeping in the daytime and only coming out of their burrows during dusk or dawn to avoid predators, and using their long and hard teeth to defend themselves against physical harm.

Mother hamsters also transport their young to safety by placing them in pouches in their mouths. Because this little animal is small and easy to catch, it attracts a large number of predators. They are, nevertheless, brisk and nimble.

What Eats Hamsters?

Some animals which prey on hamsters are predatory birds, snakes, and some larger predators.

As we mentioned, the hamster’s small size and prey status have led to the species developing defense mechanisms like burrowing and fighting with their teeth to defend themselves. 

What Do Hamsters Eat?

Cute Hamster Enjoying Tasty Treat

Hamsters are mainly omnivorous animals. Their natural diet is a mixture of a variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains, hay, as well as some insects like lizards and mealworms.

Selecting Your Pet Hamster

Close Up Photo of Cute Hamster

Before you bring home a pet hamster, you should know how you should select the right one for you! You must perform an examination of the hamster’s body and the environment in which it is kept by the breeder.

You can judge the health of the hamster as well as the quality of care your breeder has provided it. Generally, the better the breed cares for the hamsters, the better their pedigree and long-term health!

Next, you should also examine its behavior. Mentally and physically healthy hamsters are inquisitive creatures that want to stay active.

Now, bear in mind that they are mostly napping throughout the day and active in the dark hours of the day. Therefore, you must visit them accordingly, to get some sense of what their natural behavior is!

However, before you actually do any of that, you must first settle on the breed of the hamster you wish to bring home. This is because hamsters vary in some aspects of behavior and in terms of their shapes, sizes, and colors.

For your easy referral, we have included a list of the most popular breeds of hamsters that you can choose from!

Syrian Hamster

Syrian hamsters are adorable little furballs that make for excellent pets. Not only are they intelligent but also trainable to live comfortably in your home. Moreover, you don’t need to worry about bringing home a mate for it. Syrian hamsters prefer living by themselves.

Dwarf Hamster

The Russian dwarf hamster breed is known for its speed. They are also friendlier than Syrian hamsters and would enjoy the company of a companion hamster provided that they have been introduced and socialized to each other while they were children.

The Roborovski hamster breed and the Winter White Hamster breed belong to the dwarf hamsters’ category because of their tiny size!

Chinese Hamster

Chinese hamsters are another breed known for their agility and desire to be sociable. Much like the Dwarf hamsters, you should introduce them to their companions at a young age so as to prevent behavioral socialization issues at a later stage in their lives.

Conclusion

Hamsters can make for the perfect house pets if you know how to care for them and make them a healthy addition to your life.

Following the guidelines and points of information we have outlined in this article, you can make your pet hamster a happy little furball while enjoying the benefits of having a cuddly companion in your life!

FAQs

How long do hamsters sleep?

Hamsters sleep for about fourteen hours a day.

Why do hamsters sometimes eat their babies?

Common reasons why mother hamsters might eat their babies involve being stressed or afraid, being unable to care for the hamster puppies or unable to find food, and at times, because it can’t recognize its pups due to the presence of a foreign scent on them!

How long does a hamster live?

Most pet hamsters live to be two years of age.

How much does a hamster cost?

Depending on the breed of the pet hamster you choose, your hamster’s cost will hover around $20.

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Gulshan
Hi, I am Gulshan, a pet blogger, and author. I've been working with the local pet groups for the past five years. I have been fascinated by our pets and am here to share that wonder with you.