Beginner Hamster Care Guide
The first thing you should do for your hamster, before you’ve even bought it, is set up its new home, ready for its arrival. We recommend a minimum sized cage of 18 inches deep, 24 inches wide and 13 inches high, the 13 inches in height allows you to fit a 10 to 12 inch wheel in there. While this is the minimum size, don’t be afraid to go larger - bigger is always better and your hamster will want plenty of space to run around, climb and play. You also need to have enough space so that your hamster has areas for sleeping, keeping food and going to the bathroom.
The first day you bring home your new hamster, make sure it’s a pleasant, calm homecoming. You’ll also want to have a water bottle and a food bowl ready to go, make sure they’re heavy enough not to be tipped over, such as porcelain. Fill the habitat with treats, and toys (a wheel or tunnels for exercise and chew toys) to make it a happy hamster home.
Hamsters like to chew, gnaw and gnash. Choose a habitat with a solid bottom or go for a glass aquarium tank with a well-ventilated wire mesh top. Line the habitat with 1 to 2 inches of aspen, pine or recycled-paper. Sprinkle in a few shavings from your hamster’s old habitat and your new friend will feel at home right away. Make sure your hamster’s food isn’t in the same place as the bed.
Explore colors, tubes, accessories, and add-ons to make their habitat unique. We’ve got articles with examples of small pet toys for under certain budgets, have a look through and use them to look for products right for you and your home. Be sure to pick bedding they can burrow in, and make sure to choose the right-sized water bottle like a 6-ounce chew proof water bottle.
Placing your hamster in the right location in your house is key to having a happy, sociable pet. Put your hamster’s home near the sounds of your family, but not right in the thick of things. They’ll be comforted by your day-to-day sounds, but will be stressed out by loud noises and lots of hubbub right outside their space.
When you bring your new hamster home, everything will be new to them and it can be overwhelming. Give them the headspace to get to know their new habitat for a few days without the distractions of your home by placing a light cloth over their space. Feel free to take this cover off for bonding time though! Get them introduced to your face and voice before you start picking them up.
Like any new friendship, it takes time to get to know someone and feel comfortable with them. That said, wait a while to handle your hamster or pick them up. After a few days of giving them food and water as well as talking to them every now and then, they’ll start to trust you!
You don’t eat the same things every day, do you? Your hammie will appreciate a varied diet as much as humans do. Pellet food is a good bet for feeding your hamster rather than the mixed feed you can also get in pet stores. It stops them from picking out the most delicious morsels. Feed your hamster everyday, keeping the bowl about three-quarters full. Their diet can also include vegetables, which you can serve to your hamster every other day. Kale, collard greens, zucchini and shredded carrot are all on the menu. Only give hamsters as much fruits and vegetables as they can consume in about 4 hours' time. Don't overfeed hamsters - they like to hoard! As for water, offer it all the time. A hydrated hamster is a happy hamster.
Here’s some guidelines on feeding your hamster:
Pelleted food: refresh daily 3/4 full or 75%
Vegetables: dark leafy greens every other day or 15%
Fruits: apples, bananas, melons once a week or 5%
Treats: raisins and alfalfa hay twice a week or 5%
Water: provide clean water daily!
When keeping clean, there’s a happy medium between keeping your hamster’s home clean and comfy and creating undue stress by cleaning it too much. In general you’ll want to clean the toilet area daily. Keep bedding changes to whenever they’re actually needed such as when they are soiled or wet and wipe out their food dish weekly, as well as cleaning out their water bottle.
Place all new bedding weekly so they’re fresh, this helps you find any dirt or mess that might be below the surface of the bedding. Every other week, take soap and water and wipe down the entire habitat once it’s empty of bedding, toys, and other pieces. That extra step will keep your hammie’s space smelling good.
A great way to give your hamster exercise and get some needed bonding time is to provide ample playtime outside their habitat each week. We suggest setting up a small gated area with lots of toys and some treats so they can explore and say hi to their human family! Remember to always supervise your hamster when he or she is out of their habitat.
Pop up playpens are a great way to save on space while also being able to create a nice large environment for your hamster - it gives a great area to fill with toys and treats. Be sure to also add a box of bedding so they have a place to hide if the space gets too much for them. You can add some bedding from their cage so they feel at home straight away.
Patience, regular feeding, lots of out-of-habitat playtime, and soft talk will go a long way in helping you bond with your hamster. Make sure to always approach your pet slowly and talk to them in a conversational manner. They’ll learn to recognize your scent and voice and see you as a source of comfort. They don’t have excellent eye sight, so if you’ve just eaten then wash your hands before handling your hamster, they may smell the food and think you’re tastey - leading to nibbles. If your hamster does bite, don’t shout. They can’t relate the shouting to their behaviour and you’ll just create stress. Instead, blow on their face and say “no” in a stern voice. They won’t like the wind in their face and they’ll learn not to bite.
Unlike other small animals, hamsters and gerbils need to be picked up with both hands and cradled in cupped hands. The same goes for putting them down, but use extra caution so they don’t accidentally escape from or slip through your hands. Because these pets are naturally nocturnal, be sensitive to the time of day you are trying to handle your hammie. You wouldn’t want someone snatching you up out of your sweet dreams!
Congrats on your new pet! For more advice visit our small pet section for health advice, beginner guides and product reviews and lists.