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So, you are thinking about adopting a hamster but wondering whether or not this is the right pet for you? There are many factors to consider when adopting any animal, so I have researched hamsters in order to give you the information you need to make an informed decision about whether a hamster is the right choice for you.
Hamsters make excellent pets, for the right owner. Just as some people are considered “dog-people” and some are “cat-people”, there are certain people that make ideal hamster owners. Hamsters need a low-stress living area, are most active at dawn and dusk, and can take quite a bit of time to bond with their human. If you think you can handle these basic characteristics, then you should definitely consider adding a hamster to your family!
I know that information was a bit vague and you probably have more questions, my research provided me a lot of information that I have gone into more detail about below. Jump ahead to a section if you have a specific question, or if you aren’t sure what to ask read the rest of the post. I have attempted to provide you with the information you need to learn what a hamster needs to thrive and what you can do to be a wonderful pet parent!
So is a hamster the right pet for you?
In order to get the answer to that question, we’re going to give you an in-depth description of what caring for a hamster entails. We’ll also discuss how owners interact with their hamsters so that you’ll have a better sense of what kind of relationship you’re going to have with your hamster.
First, a general outline – before we get into the nitty-gritty details of what being a hamster owner is like.
Hamsters are small and sensitive furry pets which tend to require a relatively high level of maintenance. As a responsible hamster owner, you’ll have to do the following for your pet –
- Arrange for a great cage that’s spacious and has enough hiding places.
- Clean that cage on a daily basis.
- Feed your hamster twice a day, including with a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables.
- Arrange for a safe area for your hamster to play outside the cage and then be with the little critter for at least an hour of supervised playtime outside the cage – every day.
- Provide veterinary care should your hamster need it.
As you can see, you’ll have to spend at least 1-2 hours a day caring for your hamster for the little thing to have the great quality of life he or she deserves.
What will you be getting in return?
Hamsters are super cute. Many owners derive a huge amount of pleasure just from watching their hamsters play. Some enjoy creating intricate playgrounds for their hammies.
Hamsters do interact with their owners too. You can pet your hamster and hold him or her, but you’ll need to learn how to do that without stressing the little thing (more on that later in this post). However, if you’re used to having a dog or a cat as a pet, you’ll find that hamsters don’t bond with their humans to the same extent these two types of animals do.
With that in mind, let’s go over the basics what kind of pet a hamster is and what’s involved with caring for one.
How do hamsters compare to other small house pets?
There are several other popular house pets that are similar to hamsters that a family might consider.
Rabbits vs. hamsters as pets
Rabbits are known to be wonderful house pets. They are clean and good-natured and can be litter trained. Like a hamster, a rabbit likes to chew on things, so need to be caged when they are not under direct supervision or during playtime.
Pet rabbits are larger than hamsters. Depending on the breed, rabbits can weigh from three pounds to fifteen pounds. They have a longer lifespan as well, living as long as ten years. Rabbits can be very delicate and easily injured, and usually, do not like to be held or cuddled.
Rats vs. hamsters as pets
Despite their image, domesticated rats can make great pets. Rats are usually larger than hamsters and also less fluffy and cuddly. Their bodies are usually around five to six inches long, with tails the same length as their bodies.
Pet rats are very active at night. These rodents are super smart and require a lot of exercise and attention outside of their cages. Unlike hamsters, they are very social and do best in multiples.
Gerbils vs. hamsters
Gerbils are small rodents, about four inches long with a tail the same length. They usually live two to three years and are available in a variety of colors, the most prominent being an agouti color, which is gray, yellow and black striped hairs. They are very social and do best as a same-sex pair, preferably sharing a cage with a sibling. They are not nocturnal, so are livelier for play during the day. They are easy to train and unlikely to bite unless threatened.
Guinea Pigs vs. hamsters as pets
Guinea pigs make another great option. Slightly larger than an average hamster, there are both long and short haired varieties which need to be groomed weekly. Guinea Pigs are known for the distinctive whistling sound that they make, and they are very vocal creatures.
These are social animals and do best with another guinea pig for company. They require a lot of floor space to run and play, so it is important that this is taken into consideration before choosing one (or two) as a pet. They are very easy going and easy to bond with and train.
However, like a rabbit, guinea pigs have a longer lifespan than hamsters, rats and gerbils so are a greater commitment. They can live for five to seven years.
Some Hamster Basics
There are five different types of hamsters, but golden (or Syrian) and dwarf (or Siberian) hamsters are the two most commonly found types. Each type of hamster has a typical lifespan of 2 to 3 years.
Syrian hamsters are larger and less outgoing than their dwarf counterparts who are known to be more active and livelier. All hamsters like to squeeze under, into, and behind toys.
Syrian hamsters need to be in a cage by themselves as they are solitary by nature. If you do not follow this advice there is a significant change they will fight and possibly kill each other. In addition, if there are not the same sex you will likely have babies in about 3 weeks!
Hamsters senses and sensitivities
Hamsters have very poor eyesight, because of this, they rely on smell to help them know their surroundings. Typically, your hamster will only be able to see 2-3 inches in front of them. This can cause them to leap without knowing the dangers, which is why you should avoid heights when handling your hamster.
Read more: What do hamsters see and hear?
Hamsters can be very excitable and rarely handle stress well. When they get agitated, they will often bite or jump to avoid what is causing them stress. Keep this in mind when you are handling your hamster and when introducing something or someone new to his/her environment.
Hamster behavior basics
Due to a hamster’s small size, the amount of active play time they can handle with you is about 30 minutes or so. After that, your hamster will need a food, water, and bathroom break (and probably a nap!).
Hamsters are often referred to as nocturnal but are actually crepuscular (something I learned while researching another hamster related question…and one I find fascinating!). Crepuscular means an animal that appears and is active in twilight.
Your hamster is likely to stay awake all night, but he or she is going to be the most active and playful during twilight hours and will sleep most of the day. Not all hamsters will have the same sleep schedule but most follow this basic sleep pattern. Read more in our article: Are hamsters nocturnal animals?
What kind of environment would you need to give your new pet hamster?
Your hamster will need a dry, comfortable, clean place to live. The area needs to be quiet so they can rest during the day undisturbed. Make sure their cage is not near a window, door, air conditioning vent or other drafty areas.
Choose a location for your hamster’s cage that is not in bright sunlight. In addition, try to pick an area where the lighting will follow a predictable pattern, so the hamster doesn’t get stressed due to changes in the schedule.
High-frequency sounds can affect your hamster’s stress level so avoid placing him/her near a television, a computer screen, or a source of running water. Also avoid putting their cage on a wall where a TV set is mounted, even if the TV is in a different room.
Housing Conditions for your new pet hamster
A well-constructed cage with a solid floor covered with an appropriate nesting material. Plastic cages are better than metal ones, but wooden cages should not be used. A cage with stainless steel bars – or mesh sides – is better than one with solid sides. Make sure the cage has a raised lid. Go for the largest cage you can so your hamster has enough room to play and run around.
Avoid cedar and pine shavings in your hamster’s cage for bedding. Wood shavings can cause hamsters unnecessary problems including eye, skin, and respiratory irritation. Instead, opt for unscented paper-based bedding. This material should be deep enough to allow your hamster to dig and burrow as that is his/her natural instinct.
A dark nesting box large enough for your hamster to sleep, move around in, and create a larder (or place to store their food). This should be placed near the hamster’s food with an angled tube entrance to limit the amount of light entering it.
The nesting box does not need a floor as your hamster would prefer the bedding material in the cage, this also allows you the ability to lift the shelter to check on your hamster when needed.
What you’ll need to feed your hamster
Your hamster will need fresh, clean drinking water available at all times. Many people choose to use a water bottle, try to buy one with a valve-less sipper tube. You will need to change the water daily, during this time check for any leaks or blockages that might cause an issue.
Food options range from compound pellet rations to mixtures of seeds, talk to your veterinarian or pet store to see which option is right for your new hamster. Most people choose to provide food in flat dishes, if you do this do not be surprised if your hamster dumps the dish and moves the food to their larder.
It is encouraged to supplement whatever your food of choice is with small amounts of greens, cleaned root vegetables and pieces of fruit. Be sure to avoid grapes and rhubarb as these foods can be poisonous to your hamster.
Monitor your hamsters eating and drinking as a change to this behavior could be a sign your hamster is experiencing a health issue.
You’ll need to buy toys too
A hamster wheel is a wonderful addition to your hamster’s cage. It allows him/her to exercise when you don’t have the time or ability to play. The best type to purchase is a solid wheel, the wire and mesh pose possible hazards due to little paws getting stuck in the holes.
Your hamster’s incisor teeth are constantly growing so it is vital that you provide things for him/her to gnaw on. Soft wood blocks, grass balls, mineral chews and wooden chew toys with different textures and shapes can keep your hamster amused during the hours you prefer to sleep.
Make sure to have a variety of types that you rotate in and out of the cage to keep the hamster interested. When toys are out of the cage, be sure to clean them and store them properly so when you put them back in the cage, they are safe. Retire toys when they have sharp edges as these can be dangerous to your little hamster.
You can make your own chew toys using many different household objects. Cardboard, paper and toilet paper rolls make wonderful tunnels and chew toys. Provide plenty of variety to keep your hamster entertained and happy.
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Handling a Hamster – Are you up for that?
Anytime you plan to reach into your hamster’s cage (or poke your fingers through the bars) be sure to wash your hands. Hamsters are very small and things that barely affect you could result in serious illness to your hamster.
Since your hamster is likely to be the most active and playful at dawn and dusk, this is the ideal time to take him/her out of the cage. Make sure you provide your hamster time to be out of his/her cage to avoid boredom and unhappiness.
Once your new hamster has adjusted to its new home, typically a week or two after you adopt it, you can begin introducing yourself to him/her. Keep in mind, you should never try to handle your hamster while he/she is sleeping. Think of it as if you were the one being handled, would you want to be woken up and taken out of your safe space?
Step 1. Begin to get your hamster used to your scent by offering him/her treats from your hand. Consider using sunflower seeds, bits of raisins, or cut up pieces of other dried fruits. Start doing this through the bars of the cage.
Step 2. Once your hamster begins running over to get the treats from you, you can begin putting your hand inside the cage. Continue offering treats to your hamster but now offer it from the edge your open palm creating a need for your hamster to put his/her paws onto your hand.
Step 3. When your hamster seems comfortable doing this, move the treat to the center of your hand so he/she has to climb onto your hand to get to the treat. At first, he/she might grab the treat and scurry off, wait until he/she is comfortable enough to eat the treat while on your palm to begin picking up your hamster.
Step 4. Once your hamster appears to be ready, the best way to pick him/her up is to cup him/her in the palm of your hand. Begin by placing your hamster just above your lap or a soft surface near the floor, just in case he/she gets nervous and jumps off.
Step 5. As your hamster gets more comfortable, let him/her crawl from hand to hand and over your arms. Continue to offer your hamster treats to increase his/her enjoyment of this time with you. Eventually, your hamster will become more interested in exploring than in eating.
Do not force your hamster to progress faster than he/she seems comfortable with as this could cause bonding to take even longer. This process should move at the speed your hamster dictates, not the speed you want it to go.
If you have small children or additional pets in your home, there are precautions you need to take to make sure your hamster is safe and happy.
Small children will be fascinated with your hamster, but the fascination will most likely not be reciprocated. Your hamster is very sensitive and young children often grab or squeeze things which could be deadly to your pet.
It is best to only allow your young child to interact with the hamster while it is in the cage, preventing any accidents that could scare everyone. Older children need to be taught how to handle and interact with your hamster to ensure enjoyment for both the child and the hamster.
If you have another animal in your home, keep in mind your hamster will view him/her as a predator. Keep the other animal away from your hamster’s cage and when you have your hamster out of the cage, be sure the other animal is kept out of the room.
Health & Wellness
After adopting your hamster, it is important to take him/her to the veterinarian in order to make sure he/she is healthy and to find out the sex of your hamster. Your hamster will need a checkup every six months after this to make sure he/she is healthy.
If your hamster shows signs of being sick, be sure to take him/her to the veterinarian right away. Symptoms can include dull eyes, matted fur, weight loss, diarrhea, a runny nose, and excessive shaking.
So, do hamsters make good pets?
Now that you know all of the above, you can see why we believe hamsters can make fantastic pets – but only for some people.
A hamster could be a good pet for you if –
- You have 1-2 hours to spend every day on pet care.
- Watching the antics of a small critter is something you’d enjoy.
- There’s enough room in your home for a largish cage and for a hamster-proof play area.
- You can be available to care for your pet on a daily basis – or arrange for pet sitting when away – for several years.
A hamster is not a good pet for you if –
- You plan on this being a pet “for the children”. Hamsters are too delicate to be handled by young children, and they can also bite to protect themselves.
- Cleaning after a pet disgusts you and you won’t be able to remove pee and poo from the cage (required on a daily basis).
- You simply don’t have the time or resources to care for a hamster.
- There’s no good place for you to keep a hamster (keep in mind the cage can smell a little and the hamster may be active and even noisy when you sleep).
- This is a time of change in your life and you can’t commit to keeping a pet for 3-4 years.
If you have the time to play with your hamster in the evening, do not mind your hamster playing while you sleep, and are willing to take the time necessary to bond with your furry friend, then I think you would make an excellent hamster parent! If any of these ideas worry you, perhaps you should consider a different type of pet.