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If you’ve ever seen a cute little hamster stuffing its cheeks with food or running around in a hamster wheel, you know how adorable they are. You may be considering getting one as a pet, either for yourself or for your child. If you’re wondering if hamsters are easy to care for, we’ve done all of the research to help you make the decision about whether or not a hamster is the right pet for you.
Hamsters are not difficult to care for, but they do have specific requirements and will need attention. You will need to be able to provide your hamster with the following:
- Appropriate housing, including a cage that is big enough
- The right type of bedding
- Clean water and a healthy diet
- A safe environment, including protection from predators
- Equipment for exercise and accessories for hiding and playing
- Necessary medical care
As you can see, hamsters’ needs aren’t elaborate, but they do need the correct care to thrive. Read on to find out more about the specific needs of hamsters and to determine if you’re ready to have one for a pet.
Let’s take a closer look at the specific things you need to provide in order for your hamster to thrive in his new home:
Cages And Housing
While hamsters are very small animals, they still need plenty of room to run around. Most hamster cages sold in pet stores are too small for hamsters. Hamsters need a cage that is at least 450 square inches. If the area is not listed on the cage you are considering, just multiply the length times the width to figure it out.
Good hamster cages can also be improvised. A 40-gallon fish tank makes an excellent home for a hamster. A cage intended for a rabbit may also be a great option, as long as you check the bar space and make sure it’s not too wide. Hamsters are notorious escape artists and can flatten their bodies to squeeze through some pretty narrow spaces, so make sure the bars are no more than half an inch apart.
Not all bedding that is marketed for hamsters is safe. You should avoid any type of softwood shavings, such as pine and cedar. These can cause an allergic reaction, asthma, or respiratory illness in hamsters. Corn cobb bedding should also be avoided, as it easily grows fungus when wet and is hard and uncomfortable for your hamster. Lastly, avoid any type of scented bedding, which can also irritate a hamster’s respiratory tract.
The best bedding to use for hamsters is paper-based. There are a lot of brands that make this type of bedding. Any one of them is fine as long as it’s unscented. Hardwood shavings such as aspen are also good for hamsters. These will not cause the respiratory issues that softwood shavings do. Paper granules are okay for hamster bedding, although they aren’t good for burrowing, which hamsters love to do.
Sand and coconut fibers are good for sections of your hamster’s cage but not for allover bedding. Hamsters like to play in the sand, so putting it in a small section of the cage is fine. You can buy sand made for chinchillas or you can use play sand. If you use play sand, you should sterilize it by baking it at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes.
Clean Water And A Healthy Diet
Hamsters are omnivores. They can eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, and even some meat. Though you can buy seed and grain mixtures in the pet food aisle, that alone will not provide your hamster with adequate nutrition. Hamsters need a diet that is 17 to 19 percent protein, 4 to 7 percent fat, and 6 to 15 percent fiber.
You will likely have to mix at least two prepackaged products together to get the correct combination. In general, seed mixtures tend to be lower in protein, so you can mix it with a portion of higher-protein pellet food. Make sure you add in some fresh vegetables, fruits, and occasionally small amounts of meat to give your hamster the variety it needs.
Vegetables that are safe for hamsters include carrots, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cauliflower, and broccoli. Hamsters can eat fruit such as seedless grapes, cantaloupe, apples, and blueberries. Even some processed people-food like pasta and hard cheeses can be enjoyed in moderation by your hamster.
Most of your hamster’s diet should be the seed/pellet mixture with small amounts of other foods as a treat. Introduce new foods to your hamster slowly, one at a time, so that you can see if it is having a bad reaction.
Your hamster will need fresh water daily. You can use a water bottle that attaches to a cage or a small dish inside the cage. Regardless of which you choose, the water should be changed and the bottle or dish cleaned every day.
A Safe Environment
You will need to keep your hamster away from other pets. Hamsters are prey animals and are easily frightened, so make sure the family cat or dog can’t reach the hamster cage. Not only will that frighten the hamster, but hamsters are notorious for escaping their cages. You should ensure that other pets won’t be able to get to your hamster if it happens to escape.
Equipment For Exercise And Play
Hamsters are very playful animals. They are nocturnal, so make sure you put the cage somewhere you won’t be bothered by their nighttime digging and playing. Hamsters need a lot of exercise. It is a good idea to take them out of their cage for 15 to 20 minutes every evening or early in the morning so they can run around. An exercise ball is great for this.
There are a lot of fun accessories, such as tubes, wheels, and little houses that you can buy to enhance your hamster’s environment. It isn’t necessary to spend a lot of money, but you will need to provide them with a stimulating environment so they don’t get bored.
Necessary Medical Care
Not all vets will treat hamsters, so you may have to do some searching to find an exotic animal vet. Hamsters need regular checkups and may need treatment for any health issues that arise. Caring for your hamster properly will go a long way towards keeping it healthy.
What Type Of Hamster Is The Easiest To Care For?
Syrian hamsters are the most common type and are usually docile and easy to care for. Dwarf and Chinese hamsters are smaller and tend to be faster, which can make them harder to handle.
Ultimately, the decision is up to you. Each breed of hamster has its own unique characteristics, so pick the one that best suits your wants.
How Often Should You Play With Your Hamster?
Ideally, you should play with your hamster daily, for about 15 to 20 minutes at a time. You may need to work up to this by starting with shorter sessions.
You may need to get your hamster used to being held. Hold them gently and pet them by stroking softly down their back. If your hamster seems upset, squeaks, or bites, put it down and try again later. Your hamster will want to sleep during the day, so plan to play with it later in the evening.
Are Male Or Female Hamsters Friendlier?
Male hamsters tend to be more docile and friendlier than female hamsters. However, both male and female hamsters are territorial and will fight if kept with other hamsters. Sometimes Chinese and Dwarf hamsters can be kept together if they are socialized with each other at a young age, but you will still need to watch them in case they start fighting.
If you need help figuring out what gender your hamster is, take a look at our article on How To Sex Hamsters.
What Is The Monthly Cost Of Caring For A Hamster?
The upfront cost of a hamster will include the hamster itself, a cage, and accessories. On average, you can expect to spend between $80 and $120 upfront. Monthly expenses will vary but include food, bedding, and miscellaneous items such as toys.
Expect to spend around $3 to $5 per month on hamster food. This includes treats such as fresh fruits and vegetables and a seed/pellet mixture. Hamsters are tiny, so they don’t eat much.
Assuming you change your hamster’s cage weekly, you can expect to spend about $5 per month on bedding. You can save on bedding by buying it in bulk, which will reduce your monthly cost.
This cost of miscellaneous items will vary widely. You can make your hamster toys from cardboard and empty toilet paper tubes or you can buy higher-priced items from pet stores. As long as your pet is getting lots of playtime and love, it won’t care.
For more ideas, check out these 11 Inexpensive Hamster Toys.
Hamsters can be great pets if you’re willing to spend a little time and effort getting to know their needs. When they’re well-cared for, they are a lot of fun and a great addition to the family!