Hamsters are cute little rodents that make great pets, especially for children. However, there are several things I wish I knew before getting a hamster. It would have made life a lot easier for everyone involved.

For myself, I wish they didn’t look so much like furry little mice because when one escapes and you meet it near the refrigerator at 1am that’s a recipe for wet pants or a flattened pet that needs to be replaced quickly!

Most pet hamsters are Syrian hamsters or also called golden hamsters. Their colors and markings are pretty much the same, not that they are identical, but they are easy to recognize as the same breed of hamsters. There are other breeds of hamsters that you can get as a pet, such as dwarf hamsters, but the Syrian are the most popular, and that’s what my children had and the type I know about.

Syrian hamsters reach maturity at about eight to twelve weeks old. They measure roughly six inches long. Their life expectancy is about two to three years, but some live a lot longer.

Housing

You should purchase the house and have it all set up before you bring your new hamster home. Make sure you get a house with a solid latch that the escape master hamster can not undo. They are famous for unlatching their cages and escaping. Make sure you use the correct bedding check below for the recommended bedding.

Syrian hamsters prefer to be alone. If you put two in the same cage, they will fight, and you will eventually you may be left with only one hamster. These hamsters do not even play well outside of their cage. They are very territorial and temperamental. In contrast, dwarf hamsters get along well and are social, so they can live in the same house.

I made the mistake of putting two Syrian hamsters in the same cage. The first mistake was one was a male and the other a female, and since you don’t take hamsters to the vet unless there is an obvious reason such as an injury, I had a difficult time realizing that the female was pregnant, once I did I called the vet, and she said to get another cage immediately.

Which I did, and she gave birth to 11 pups. Male hamsters have been known to kill the pups as he views them as a threat.  Thankfully, once they were weaned, our local, privately owned pet store took them off my hands.

I had moved the pregnant female to a different location in the house because the two hamsters could still smell one another, and even this caused some agitation for both hamsters.

Seeing how a child’s first pet is usually a hamster, each hamster should have their own house (cage) and, of course, be separated. Possibly each child will have their hamster in their room, so there is separation. Just remember hamsters are noisy with their little wheels and even other toys, and they are nocturnal, so they sleep all day and play all night. Make sure you get a sturdy exercise wheel. If the wheel is open, the hamster can get hurt.

Your hamster should have a large house (cage) or a two-story or higher house. This is will they will spend most of their life. The larger the house, the happier the hamster will also be round cages are not a good idea as hamsters like to explore the corners in a square cage. In addition, if a hamster can reach it, it will chew it, including mesh covers, and it will escape.

They like tubes to crawl through, an exercise wheel, and, of course, a sleeping house where they will feel safe, and you shouldn’t overstimulate them with too many toys two or three, and you can always swap them out, unless they have a favorite toy then you should leave that one at all times.

So, your hamster does not get aggressive or “sad.” Try putting a small bowl of play sand in the house. Some hamsters will use it to go to the bathroom; if yours does, you hit the jackpot!

Despite what you may have been told, the hamster needs to have the cage cleaned every day. Remove soiled bedding and droppings or clean and refill the sand bowl.

Once a week, remove all the bedding and wash the cage with a hamster safe cleaner and put all fresh bedding in the cage.

Sleep all Day and Play all Night

Hamsters sleep all day and part of the early evening, and they are awake the rest of the evening and all night until about 6 am or when the sun starts to come up. When your child gets home from school, or you get home from work, you may be eager to play with your hamster if it is still sleeping.

It will not be happy if you wake it up. Try to let it sleep until it wakes up on its own. If it’s getting close to their wake-up time, you can start waking them up by saying their name softly or gently moving their bedding a little. Never reach in and give him/her a pet. You will scare them, and you’re likely to get a bit, or you can cause them to have a heart attack and die.

Always make sure you do not put your hamster in direct sunlight. That should be common sense, but also, when they are out of their cage rolling around in their ball, make sure it is warm, and there are no drafts, you don’t want them to get sick.

House Bedding

There are two types of bedding you should NEVER use. They can cause numerous health problems such as respiratory and liver damage and bowel obstructions. Never use pine or cedar bedding.

Fluffy type bedding is not recommended either they can get their limbs tangled up in it and even break one. Aspen bedding or Care fresh bedding is recommended by vets.

Despite what you may have been told, the hamster needs to have the cage cleaned every day. Remove most of the hoarded food leave a little for a snack for them. Soiled bedding and droppings or clean and refill the sand bowl.

Once a week, remove all the bedding and wash the cage with a hamster safe cleaner and put all fresh bedding in the cage.

Diet

Your hamsters’ diet is especially essential for keeping him/her healthy. The first thing you want to address because this will need to be in the house cage) before you bring the hamster home is a water bottle.

Putting water in a bowl is not a good idea because bacteria can invade the water and make your hamster sick. Debris such as bedding, dropping, urine, sand, etc. can also end up in a water bowl.

Feeding your hamster commercial food is important because it has all the minerals and nutrients your hamster needs to remain healthy.

You may also give your hamster real food in very small amounts such as grapes, any color, apples (no seeds), carrots, cucumbers, nuts, and berry mixes (from the pet store), and they love cheerios. Just beware of the foods never to give your hamster – iceberg lettuce or chocolate! In fact, if you are not sure if you should give your hamster a specific food, start a list and call your vet and ask them.

Also, remember hamsters are very small, so only give them very small amounts and not all of their favorite treats everyday mix them up throughout the week.

Hamsters are hoarders they hoard their treats and even some of their food. When you clean the cage weekly, remove it all and give them a small number of fresh treats.

Teeth

A hamster’s teeth grow continually. If you give the hamster something hard to chew on like a piece of non-toxic wood from a pet store or once in a while, a piece of a dog bone to chew on, it will help keep the teeth a normal size and in good condition.

If the hamster is having problems eating and closing or cannot close his mouth, the vet can trim the teeth.  

Handling Your Hamster

Hamsters are not fond of being held; however, it is good for them to have human interaction. You should start the handling process by hand, feeding them a small treat. Do this a few days or week, and once they seem comfortable, gently pick them up.

To pick up your hamster, scoop him/her into your hand, so it’s just sitting on your hand(s) their little bodies are fragile, and they can hurt themselves easily. Make sure your hands are near or on the floor, so if they try to make a run for it, it’s not a big drop.

Hamsters do like to bite, and they do not like to be held for a long time (just a few minutes top) before they start looking for a good place to sink their teeth into you.

Make an area where your hamster can run and play outside his cage (great exercise) and not escape. The veterinarian recommends playing 20 minutes every day outside the cage.