10 things to know before getting a pet hamster

A Syrian golden hamster emerging from its cage.
Mary Swift / Shutterstock

Hamsters are one of the most popular pets in the United States. Here’s what you need to know before buying a hamster for yourself or your family.

Hamsters are arguably the cutest members of the rodent family. These little creatures are known for their fluffy fur and ability to cram a ton of food into their cheeks.

Native to Asia and Europe, the first hamster was captured for domestication in the 1930s. It quickly became popular in the pet trade, and many other breeds of hamsters have been domesticated since then. Hamsters still exist in the wild and prefer warm, dry conditions.

If you’re considering adding a hamster to your family, here are 10 common questions and answers about how to care for them.

What are the different types of hamsters?

There are 20 different species of hamsters in the world, but only five are domesticated. The most popular domesticated species is the Syrian hamster, also known as the golden hamster or teddy bear.

The other four domesticated species are dwarf hamsters. These include Campbell’s Russian hamster, Winter White hamster, Roborovskii’s hamster and Chinese hamster.

Syrian hamsters are the largest of these species and are usually about five to nine inches long. Dwarf hamsters can be between two and five inches long when fully grown.

Check out this book if you want to learn more about hamster breeds and which one is right for you.

The Hamster Handbook

This book is an excellent start-to-finish guide to selecting and caring for hamsters.

How long do hamsters live?

A light colored hamster looks curiously at the camera from inside a metal cage.

Shamek / Shutterstock

It may come as a surprise to some people to learn that hamsters have relatively short lifespans. The five species of pet hamsters typically only live for two to three years. Syrian hamsters can live up to four years, but this is rare.

You can ensure the longest possible life for your pet by keeping it healthy and happy. Make sure he has plenty of room to run around, a varied diet, and lots of toys to keep him physically stimulated.

You should also be careful when handling your hamster – apart from their delicate bodies, hamsters can catch certain human diseases. A mild cold on your part can mean serious illness for a hamster.

In addition to a healthy diet, mental stimulation, and basic health practices, you can help keep your pet healthy by adding a multivitamin supplement to their water.

Do hamsters make good pets for children?

Although hamsters are popular pets for children, you should consider your child’s age and temperament before choosing a hamster as a pet. Hamsters are delicate little creatures. Young children generally lack the motor skills necessary to gently handle a hamster, which puts the hamster at risk of being squeezed or falling. Typically, by around age 8, children have enough fine motor skills to handle a hamster gently enough.

Also, because hamsters are nocturnal, their schedules don’t mesh well with those of young children. Young children go to bed early and sleep when a hamster is awake and full of energy. Waking hamsters up to handle them in the middle of the day can result in a bit of growling (and even a nip or two) from the hamster.

Overall, hamsters are not great pets for young children unless an adult always supervises them when handling the animal. If you have a young child who really wants one of these pets but isn’t old enough to be nice to them, consider getting them a hamster toy until they’re ready to take on the responsibility. of a real one. It might seem like kind of a flippant suggestion, but if you read reviews of the toy, you’ll find plenty describing how they bought the fluffy toy specifically for kids who loved hamsters but were too young to handle a real one in any way. security.

chippy the hamster

Kiddo not old enough to take care of a real hamster? This plush hamster is soft, adorable, and they can pet and squeeze it all they want!

How should I house my hamster?

A hamster cage is sitting on a table and a close up of a hamster wheel in the cage


Hamsters are curious and active creatures. They need a secure habitat with plenty of room to explore.

Fish tanks are popular habitats for hamsters, but there are also many wire cages available. Make sure you get one with limited space between the wires so that you escape, the artist doesn’t find a way to squeeze through.

This two-tier hamster cage has a deep plastic bottom for digging and plenty of room for toys on the top tier. Whatever habitat you use, your hamster should have room for toys, a food dish, a water dish, an exercise wheel, a hiding place, and plenty of bedding to burrow into.

Fairy Tale Hamster Cage

This upstairs party cage offers plenty of space for your hamster.

What type of bedding should I use?

A hamster sits in a pile of white bedding


Burrowing is a natural part of hamster behavior, so they need thick, soft bedding spread around their habitat. Hamsters also like to chew on their litter and carry it in their cheeks, which means it’s important to have litter that they can safely ingest.

Paper-based litter is the most popular option because it’s soft, absorbent, and will easily go through your hamster if he accidentally swallows some. Timothy hay, which is often included in hamster food, is a great addition to paper bedding.

Avoid pine and cedar bedding for hamsters (and other small mammals as well). The popularity of cedar shavings for rodents is due to the great smell of cedar masks. Unfortunately, the one thing that makes cedar and pine aromatic is very irritating to your hamster’s lungs and potentially toxic. This paper-based litter is one of the most popular options among hamster owners and a safe alternative to wood shavings.

Do hamsters need toys?

Yes! Hamsters are intelligent and energetic creatures that like to explore their surroundings. They were once wild animals, after all.

People are often surprised to learn that hamsters can run for miles every day. This is why the most important toy to include in your hamster’s cage is an exercise wheel.

Hamsters also like to spend their time exploring, digging and chewing things around them. Rope toys, ladders and hiding places are great ways to stimulate your pet. This hamster hideout is made of wood and doubles as a gnawing toy that will help keep your pet’s teeth sharp and healthy.

What do hamsters eat?

Mix of kibbles for hamsters


Hamsters are omnivores and can eat a wide variety of foods. In general, their diet should consist of dry foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, and some protein.

In addition to dry food, give your pet fresh fruits and vegetables to snack on throughout the day. Some safe options include apple slices, carrots, peas, and Timothy hay. Be sure to remove any fresh food your hamster hasn’t eaten within 24 hours of being given it so it doesn’t rot in its cage.

This dry food mix is ​​popular for its variety of ingredients and nutritional profile.

Do hamsters need friends?

Two adorable Russian dwarf hamsters enjoying peanuts.


If you’ve ever visited a pet store, you’ve probably noticed that some hamsters are housed alone while others have lots of friends in the same cage. Indeed, some breeds of hamsters prefer to live alone, while others like to have company.

For the most part, hamsters are solitary creatures that can be very territorial. Syrian hamsters should never be housed with another animal. A fight resulting in serious injury or even death will inevitably break out.

Dwarf hamsters are a little more sociable than Syrian hamsters and can be okay with a roommate. It’s best to introduce the hamsters when they’re both very young and watch them closely when you do.

If you choose to house the hamsters together, you will want to house them in a larger cage and line everything in the cage to decrease their territorial urges and fight over things. This means having several burrow spaces, two food dishes, two water bottles, two exercise wheels, etc. They are less likely to fight over the exercise wheel and other accessories if they can just use the one on the other side of the cage.

If you want to play it safe, stick to one hamster per cage. They won’t feel lonely or bored as long as they have plenty of toys and accessories to keep them occupied. This 12-piece kit is a great starting point.

How often should I clean my hamster’s cage?

There are several steps to cleaning a hamster cage. Every day, you must remove all soiled bedding and replace it with clean material. All bedding in the cage should be replaced once a week. You should also clean food bowls and water bottles daily or every other day.

At least once a month, you should perform a thorough cleaning of your hamster’s cage. This involves soaking the entire cage in hot, soapy water and scrubbing any grime from the walls or wires. This cleaning spray controls odors in their habitat with a pet-safe formula.

Are hamsters nocturnal?

Yes, hamsters are nocturnal. Pet owners are sometimes caught off guard by the fact that hamsters want to sleep all day. This is yet another reason why they don’t make the best pets for kids – they will probably sleep whenever your child wants to handle them.

To respect a hamster’s natural sleeping habits, make sure its habitat is placed in an area that won’t be too noisy during the day. You can also drape a breathable blanket or sheet over the cage or tank during the day.

Because hamsters sleep all day, they are extremely active at night. That means a lot of rushing, running, and eating when you’re trying to sleep. If you want to keep a hamster habitat in or near your bedroom, be sure to get them an exercise wheel that won’t squeak and squeak all night long. This one stays super quiet, even when your pet is running a marathon.

Hamsters are undeniably cute, but they’re not for everyone. If you think a hamster won’t fit, we’ve got some tips for finding the best pet for your family.

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