Hamster Care and Adoption

Your Hamster’s Home

Hamsters are excellent escape artists and can get out of most cages. A lost hamster can cause damage to your wiring or be injured or killed, so it is imperative that your cage be escape-proof.

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These small rodents are great chewers, so a wooden or plastic cage is not recommended. Cages made of wire or metal parts are the ideal caging as long as the bars are close enough to prevent a small hamster from squeezing through.

Wire cages provide the best ventilation. A 20-gallon aquarium can also be used, but it must be covered by a carefully fitted wire mesh lid. Habitrails and other similar hamster equipment often do not provide enough ventilation and can be extremely difficult to clean. It is better to choose either a cage or an aquarium for your hamster’s home.

Hamster Homes

Regardless of your choice of cage, it should be at least 22 inch by 14 inch by 8 inch and have some type of latch to fasten the lid or door. Line the cage with some newspapers and an ample supply of soft bedding, like shredded paper or aspen shavings. Do not use cedar shavings. Cedar shavings produce an overwhelming odor that can be damaging to a hamster’s respiratory system and have been known to cause other health problems. Pine shavings can also be a health risk.

An oatmeal container or small box makes a nice home and can be easily replaced if the hamster chews it. Hamsters love to curl up in a coconut shell. Cut a hole in the coconut, hollow it out, and place the shell in your hamster’s cage. If you provide your pet with soft, shredded paper, napkins or tissues, and hay, it will use these to help make its home cozy! If your hamster has made a cozy bed and the bed is clean, carefully remove it, clean the rest of cage, and then put the bed back in.

Housecleaning

Check the hamster’s cage every day to clean out any soiled bedding, and replace it with fresh, clean bedding. You should scrub out the cage with a mild cleanser once or twice a week — or more often if you have several hamsters. Make sure you have carefully dried the cage before you put the fresh bedding in, otherwise it will become moldy.

Fun

Paper towel tubes, walnut shells, chunks of unpainted wood like hardwood oak or cherrywood, and even a milkbone can be given to your hamster to serve as toys and to wear down its teeth.

It’s great to have a lot of things in the hamster’s cage, like toys buried in hay and shredded paper. Contact the MSPCA to learn more about some really fun toys you can buy for your hamster! Have fun making the cage fun for your pet!

Food & Water

Hamster food is readily available at most pet supply stores. It includes corn, pellets, oats, sunflower seeds, and other seeds. Sunflower seeds are fattening for the hamster and can also make the hamster’s coat oily, so they should only be fed in moderation.

The name “hamster” comes from the German word, “hamstern,” which means “to hoard” and these small rodents are well named. They have a pouch in each cheek that they fill with food until they appear to have a bad case of mumps. Then, they scurry around their cage until they find an appropriate place to hide their stash. (When you clean your pet’s cage, be certain to discard any rotten or moldy food hidden in the shavings.)

Food should be offered in a small, ceramic or weighted dishes. Your pet will eat about one handful of food daily and hide what it cannot eat, so do not worry about overfeeding. Hamsters enjoy treats such as fresh fruits and vegetables. You may want to put different fruits and veggies on a shish kabob stick and see what your hamster likes to eat! Because of their storing habit, be sure that all fresh food is eaten within the same day.

A gravity-flow water bottle will complete your pet’s cage furnishings and will provide your companion with free access to water. Small ceramic or weighted dishes are also very good for water. Plastic dishes can be chewed and will spill too easily. Start with both a bottle and a dish to see which one your hamster prefers. Be certain to rinse the bottle daily so algae does not form on the inside of the bottle.

Exercise

Exercise is important to the daily life of a hamster, and providing your hamster with multiple levels in his cage will give him the opportunity to climb and provide more space for him to move around. Please be aware that although WIRE exercise wheels may look entertaining for your hamster, they can also be dangerous. It is very easy for a hamster to get his leg caught in a spoke while the wheel is moving and can result in serious injury. We recommend using solid wheels instead, which provide plenty of exercise as well as safety.

Please remember that hamsters are nocturnal and will want to sleep most of the day, so they will be exercising most of the night. Their home should be placed in an area away from the hustle and bustle of family activity. A quiet corner where your pet can be seen — but, of course, not forgotten — is best. This inactivity during the day can be a disadvantage to the owner who enjoys handling his pet or watching it closely.

Handling

The best way to lift your pet is by cupping both hands around it and holding the animal facing you. Always handle your hamster on the floor or over its cage. If it happens to jump from your hands when you are standing, the fall to the floor could seriously injure the animal. If you have a young hamster that has not been handled a lot and may bite, do not give up! Put on gloves and keep picking him or her up everyday.

If you want to handle your hamster while it is sleeping, awaken it softly by saying its name and stirring the shavings. This will avoid frightening the animal and causing a negative response. People are often grouchy when awakened from a sound sleep, too, so be patient with your hamster. Make the waking experience a positive one for the animal by rewarding it with a peanut, seed, or raisin. Fearlessness is characteristic for a hamster, so be aware of your pet’s moods.

Biting is a hamster’s natural response to being startled or aggravated. In the wild, hamsters often live alone, so having only one is fine. In fact, some breeds of hamsters, like the Syrian Hamster, are extremely territorial and have to be housed separately to prevent serious fighting. Your pet will entertain itself with the toys and cage furnishings that you have provided and will not become lonely.

Tricks

Hamsters can be taught tricks using rewards. Call the animal’s name and say “stand” while holding a treat over your pet’s head. When it stands, give it the reward. If you are consistent and patient, your hamster can learn its name and several commands!

Health

Familiarize yourself with your pet’s normal behavior. If you note a change in its appearance or activity, it may be a sign of illness. Some warning signs are: diarrhea, a ruffled coat, weight loss, loss of appetite, unusual lack of activity, or a yellow discharge from the eyes or nose. Hamsters are also often prone to cheek abscesses. If you notice any of these signs, call your veterinarian. Some hamster diseases appear quickly and can result in death in a very short time. Make sure you know a veterinarian that handles hamsters. Many vets are not familiar with them.

Remember, small mammals are very susceptible to colds if left in a draft or exposed to very cold temperatures. The ideal temperature for a hamster is between 68 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature should drop to 45 or below, your hamster will go into a hibernating state in which the heart and respiratory rates decrease and the body may stiffen. Do not presume that your hamster has frozen. Put it in a warm place and it should revive. A hamster should not be left in a school where the heat is turned down during the night or in a cold room in the family’s house. Since glass windows or doors intensify the heat from sunlight, be sure to keep a glass aquarium out of the sun.

Please do not let your hamster breed. Like other pets their babies are hard to find homes for. Many hamsters are waiting for homes in local shelters. Please consider adopting a homeless hamster!