Hamster Basics

Hamsters make delightful pets, but it is important to become familiar with their types and habits before adopting one. Although clearly adorable small animals, hamsters have certain characteristics that may make them difficult for certain households. One is that they are nocturnal creatures. Not only does this make them possibly cranky and more apt to nip when awakened during the day, it also means that they will be making noise during the night by digging, exploring, scratching or running on a toy wheel. Because hamsters are prone to nipping, they are inappropriate pets for households with children under the age of 6.

Breeds of Hamsters

There are many breeds of hamsters. Not only do they have somewhat different physical characteristics and lifespans, but some dissimilarities in behavior. Most common are the Syrian hamsters, also known as golden or teddy bear hamsters. These animals are about 6 inches in length and live an average of 2 to 3 years. There are also several species of dwarf hamsters, only about 2 to 3 inches long that live only for a year or two.

Home Environment

Several things need to be taken into consideration before adopting a pet hamster. Syrian and Chinese dwarf hamsters are not as sociable as other breeds and therefore must each be kept in a solitary enclosure. Other breeds of dwarf hamsters, however, happily live in pairs. Of course, owners should always keep two hamsters of the same gender together because these rodents breed rapidly and have large litters.

Hamsters can live comfortably in a 10-gallon aquarium with a mesh cover. The larger the container, the happier the hamster(s) will be. Hamster love to explore and to sleep in cave-like surroundings. so tubes and tunnels make them happy. The complex hamster cages found in pet stores are usually costly and difficult to clean, but pleasant surroundings for hamsters can easily be improvised using empty paper towel rolls, old flower pots and small boxes.

Hamster houses should be out of direct sunlight and away from drafts. Bedding should be made of shredded paper, aspen shavings or timothy hay. Pine and cedar chips should be avoided because their fumes may be dangerous to hamsters.


Commercially prepared hamster food contains a mix of seeds, grains, cracked corn and pellets that provide the animal with a good nutritional balance. Nonetheless, the hamster's diet should be supplemented with raw fruits and vegetables, fresh grains and sunflower seeds. Occasional nuts are also a good treat, but should be given sparingly since they are high in fat content.

Foods that should never be given to hamsters include: raw kidney beans, onions, raw potato, rhubarb, chocolate, junk food or candy.


Hamsters need exercise. The wheels for sale in pet stores provide them with endless hours of necessary recreation. Pet hamsters should also be given time time out of their cages to explore and to interact with their humans. Because of hamsters' propensity to gnaw, precautions should be taken to protect them from damaging, or being injured by, household objects, most especially electrical wires.

However happily hamsters adjust to their human household, their natural curiosity will prompt them to explore. Owners should be prepared for their pets to attempt to escape and should remember that these creatures can fit through tiny spaces.

As rodents, hamsters have teeth that grow perpetually. Therefore, they need to exercise their teeth as well as their bodies. In order to satisfy their need for constant chewing, hamsters should be provided with sticks chemical-free wood and pieces of cardboard. They also require some newspaper to shred to fulfill their need to prepare nesting material.


While it is very important to deep the hamster's home environment sanitary by changed soiled bedding, removing dropping and uneaten food on a regular basis, hamsters do not require baths. If they become dangerously dirty during illness or by accident, only the affected area should be cleaned. The hamster cage should be scrubbed weekly and allowed to dry completely before bedding is replaced.

Veterinary Care

Like all pets, hamsters should be checked by a veterinarian on a regular basic. Symptoms that may indicate hamster illness include:

  • Dull eyes
  • Matted fur
  • Weight loss
  • Shaking
  • Diarrhea
  • Runny Nose
  • Common signs

Hamsters are susceptible to colds and other respiratory problems which they can, unfortunately, contract from their humans. Because hamsters are small, relatively frail animals, they should be brought to the veterinarian at the first sign of possible infection.

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