Hamsters are perfect first pets for youngsters; they are lovable, small, and best of all, they are easy and inexpensive to keep. With proper attention and care, hamsters can live up to five years.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Easy
Things you need
- hamster exercise ball
- pine shavings or recycled paper bedding
- hamster food
- hamster exercise wheel
- fresh fruit
- wire cage, heavy-duty plastic rodent cage or aquarium with screen lid
- small water bottle for rodents
- fresh vegetables
Look for the right hamster to buy. An ideal hamster is between 4 and 7 weeks old; hamsters are easier to tame when they're young. There are two types of hamster: the golden hamster and the Siberian or dwarf hamster. The golden hamster is available in a variety of colors and fur variations, while the smaller dwarf hamster comes in only a few colors. However, the big difference between the two is that dwarf hamsters do not tame well, while golden hamsters can become gentle, reliable pets.
When you bring home your hamster and supplies, place the cage in a location away from drafts, and out of direct sunlight. Pick a spot in the house where you will frequently visit your hamster.
Cover the cage floor with a 2 inch layer of bedding. Pine wood shavings are best, because they are absorbent and nontoxic.
Keep a filled, clean water bottle attached to the cage at a height where the spout is reachable by the hamster, but doesn't touch the bedding. if the bedding gets wet it can rot and cause your hamster to get sick. Wash and refill daily.
Provide plenty of chew toys. Hamsters love the cardboard tubes found inside rolls of toilet paper and paper towels. Attach hamster wood chews to the side of the cage.
Make a box for your hamster to sleep in. Cut a 2-inch doorway into a small, closed cardboard box. Place the box in a far corner of the cage. The hamster will fill the box with bedding and chewed-up pieces of cardboard from the toilet paper tubes and will use the box as a bedroom. He will not urinate in the box, so you can use it for many months before replacing it.
Feed your hamster a commercially prepared hamster-food mix once or twice a day. Supply a small amount of fresh fruits and vegetables year-round. When you introduce new foods, initially feed small portions so his system can get used to them.
Exercise your hamster by putting an exercise wheel in her cage. Let her exercise outside her cage inside a specially designed plastic hamster ball, available at pet stores. Close the doors to your bedroom, take her out of his cage, and let her run around in the hamster ball.
Wash your hamster's cage at least once a week. Remove the hamster to a safe location and dip the cage in water that has a few drops of household disinfectant added to it. Wipe out any debris, dry the inside and add clean bedding before replacing the hamster.
Remove any uneaten fruits and vegetables after two days. Fresh foods that turn moldy can make your hamster sick.
Don't bathe your hamster. Hamsters clean themselves. If you think your hamster smells bad, the odor is probably coming from dirty bedding. Clean the hamster cage more often.
Take your hamster with you or find someone to take care of him if you are going on vacation for more than three days.
Tips and warnings
- Choose a young hamster not only for cuteness, but for sociability. Choose a hamster that relaxes in your hand, washes himself and seems plump, bright-eyed, alert and curious about you. Choose only one hamster.
- Hamsters are active at night. The best time to clean the cage or exercise your hamster is in the evening or morning, rather than at midday when hamsters prefer to rest undisturbed.
- Tame your young hamster by handling daily and rewarding calm behavior with vegetable treats.
- If your hamster's wheel is keeping you up at night, remove the wheel at bedtime, and replace when you wake up.
- Children as young as three can be good hamster owners, but must be closely supervised when handling and have an adult to help with cleaning and care. A mature ten year old could be ready to care for a hamster solo.
- Introduce your hamster to people and situations gently; a scared hamster can give a painful bite.
- When you put your hamster in a plastic exercise ball, keep the ball away from stairs. A fall downstairs can result in serious injury.
- When choosing a place for your hamster cage, make it out of reach of other household pets who may be a threat to your hamster.
- Keep hamster bedding warm and dry--moisture can cause fatal infections.
- Do not give in to temptation and buy two hamsters to live together--even if they are littermates they will either breed immediately (and you'll have twenty hamsters) or fight, often to the death.
- Hamsters can catch the human cold virus, so avoid contact if you are sick, and keep your hamster away from people with colds.
- Consult a veterinarian promptly if your hamster needs medical care; a sick hamster can die quickly.
- While a hamster can live to five years, even well-cared for hamsters may live shorter lives. Make the best of the time you have together.
- Hamsters are escape artists! If your hamster escapes, lure him back with food and the exercise wheel at night.