Hamster Care Info
Difficulty Level: Easy
Lifespan: 2 - 3 Years
Behaviour: Hamsters are solitary animals that do well by themselves. They can grow territorial and aggressive towards other hamsters that may be housed in the same cage as them so it is highly advised to only keep one in a cage even if they are realted. They are generally laid back with people and can grow accustomed to being held. Hamsters are nocturnal, meaning they sleep during the day and become active at night. It's important not to disturb their natural sleep pattern, which could lead to stress and possible illness. Due to their nocturnal behavior, over-stimulation during the day will cause their sleep pattern to be interrupted. Playing with your hamster for 20-30 minutes a day will give you quality time to bond with it while not interrupting their sleep pattern, or stressing them out. Hamsters can run up to 2 miles in one night, therefore having a wheel in their cage is essential for the health of the hamster, and an easy way to let your hamster exercise like it would in the wild. This being said, if a hamster is going to stay in a bedroom, it would be advisable to get a silent wheel rather than a metal one as they may keep you up during the night. The exercise wheel should be small enough that the hamster can easily get the wheel going and can run with ease but having a wheel that is too small will discourage your hamster from using it and may cause spinal injury. If using metal wheels, make sure the bars are spaced closely enough together that the hamster will not get its foot stuck between two bars as can cause serious injury.
Housing: Bigger is always better when picking out a cage for your hamster. When choosing the size of cage, keep in mind it needs to be big enough to house more than just your hamster. You will also need room for a water bottle, a food dish, a hamster wheel, a hamster house and room for some toys and chew blocks. These items should fit comfortably in the cage and not be too crowded. Make sure the bars of the cage run horizontal and are spaced closely together since hamsters can be escape artists. Cages that come with tunnels attached can be a nice option but are harder to clean and some hamsters may become stuck. A hiding house is needed since your hamster is nocturnal and will need a place to sleep during the day, and it's also a secure safe place where they can go if they are stressed. These hides can be made of wood, plastic, ceramic, or alfalfa hay. Keep in mind that plastic houses may scratch and grow bacteria and your hamster may chew on the house and ingest plastic which is not advised. A special benefit to the wood and alfalfa hay houses are they double as a chew toy for your hamster. You have a few choices when it comes to the bedding for your hamster. Most bedding material is made from wood shavings or recycled paper such as pine or carefresh. Stay away from clumping cat litter and cedar based shavings, as these can cause intestinal blockage and respiratory irritation. The bedding should be about 1-2 inches thick to give the hamster enough room to dig around in and burrow itself. A food dish for your hamster should be either ceramic or stainless steel. Hamsters also need constant access to fresh, clean water. A water bottle attached to the side of the cage is a great alternative to a water bowl, since hamsters cannot swim and will quickly fill the water bowl with shavings or bedding, creating quite a mess. Make sure it is easily accessible to your hamster and not too high.
Maintenence: Taking care of a hamster can be fun and easy, if you keep up with it. Hamsters are very clean animals, and should not need to be bathed in water. They clean themselves on a daily basis and stay fairly fresh on their own. Your hamster's cage should be cleaned at least once a week, with spot cleanings done daily if possible. Spot cleaning is removing the soiled shavings or bedding from your hamster's cage. Hamsters may choose a favorite place in their cage to go to the bathroom most frequently in, this makes it easier to spot clean their cage every day. When cleaning their cage, you should start by discarding all the used bedding in the cage. The bedding should not be reused even if it looks clean. Wash your hamster's cage with a warm water and antibacterial soap mixture to kill the bacteria that is in the cage. Make sure to rinse all surfaces thoroughly to be sure all the soap has rinsed away. Do no use any harsh kitchen or bathroom cleaners and stay away from bleach since these chemicals are toxic to your hamster. As you are washing the cage, you can also wash the other items that are kept in the cage. Once everything is completely dry, the cage can be reassembled and put back together and new bedding should be added to the cage. Cleaning your hamster's can be a great opportunity to give your hamster some exercise. Hamster balls are a fun way to let your hamster explore and run around your house, without the danger of getting lost or injured. The hamster ball should be the same size as your hamster's exercise wheel, not too big, not too small. It's important to supervise your hamster while he is in the ball, and make sure they can't fall down the stairs or get stuck somewhere. This is an activity that should be fun and safe for your hamster so if you notice your hamster gets stressed in the exercise ball, do not use the ball again.
Nutrition: Hamsters have very high metabolisms, so they should have access to fresh food at all times. Approximately a tablespoon of pellet food in a small dish in their cage will last them a day. A staple pellet diet that is available at a pet store is a good starting point, but be sure to offer fresh fruits and vegetables on a weekly basis such as apples, broccoli, strawberries, carrots, peas, bananas and corn. Hamsters also enjoy a variety of nuts and flowers to nibble on. Peanuts, cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, and pistachio nuts are all okay to feed your hamster as a treat, but make sure they are unsalted and that you are not overfeeding them. These should be treats that are given only every once in a while, and should not be your hamster's main food source. Make sure you are not over feeding your hamster, as they like to hide their food. It may look like the food dish is empty and the hamster has eaten everything, but make sure you take a look inside your hamster's house because often you will find a food stash inside. Hamsters also like to carry food in their cheek pouches to save for later. Do not be alarmed if your hamsters cheeks look enlarged, they can carry a surprisingly large amount of food in their cheek pouches!
Health Concerns: Some common health concerns in Hamsters include Wet tail, respiratory infections, tooth overgrowth and abscesses. Wet tail is a highly contagious disease that causes extreme diarrhea. It is usually caused by stress, overcrowding and diet changes. Signs of wet tail are diarrhea, wetness on the back end of your hamster by the tail (hence the name “wet tail”), lethargy, loss of appetite, and a ruffled coat. This is a very serious illness for hamsters because they can die very fast from it. Hamsters are prone to getting dehydrated very quickly, especially when they have diarrhea. If your hamster is showing any of these signs it is very important that you get them to your veterinarian as soon as you can. Hamsters can get respiratory infections that can lead to pneumonia if left untreated. Signs of a respiratory infection include sneezing, wheezing, discharge from the eyes and nose, and labored breathing. If you hamster is exhibiting any of these signs, it may be a sign of a respiratory infection and this is something that can only be treated with antibiotics from a Veterinarian. A hamster's teeth will continue to grow throughout its life. In the wild, a hamster will grind its teeth down on wood and food to keep them at an appropriate length. If the teeth get too long, the hamster will be unable to eat properly, which can lead to many health issues. You can offer your hamster chew blocks and toys to help replicate this natural behavior. Be sure that whatever toys and chews you offer are safe for your hamster to chew on. You can purchase chews that are parasite and pesticide free for your hamster at your local pet store. An abscess is a localized infection within the tissue. It can be caused by a few things but to treat an abscess, a veterinarian should be seen so the abscess can be properly drained and the infected tissue be removed from the area. Antibiotics will also be needed to help treat the infection.