When it comes to getting a new hamster, there is a lot of both good and bad information out there. It can be a very daunting task finding out what is suitable, and a lot of the time things that are marketed for our rodent friends just aren’t good enough. I’ve found in the past it’s best to get advice from experienced owners that have been through it all before, care about animal welfare, and know what’s good and what you should probably avoid.
I’ve looked after my little hamster for 18 months now, and I’m definitely NOT claiming to be an expert on the matter. There are still so many ways I can improve my care, and a lot of it comes with time and experience. I’m still finding ways to improve and give my little hammy the best life possible.
I recently adopted another little hamster called Reggie, who I am completely in love with. He’s 6 months old and a lovely little sole. A neighbour was looking to rehome him after finding out their dog doesn’t like him, and I think they found looking after him too much of a hassle. I couldn’t resist taking him in!
Here are 10 things you should know before getting a hamster!
1 – When it comes to cages, the bigger the better
It’s very easy to look at a cage marketed as ‘extra large hamster cage’ and think it’s fine. But more often than not, these cages are in no way suitable for a hamster. They’re often multi-layer (which they don’t need, and doesn’t count towards floor space), way too small and they always come with silly tubes coming out which either snap off so your hamster can escape, or they get stuck in them – which Reggie did! Safe to say the cage we were given him in has gone. I like to house my hamsters in home-made bin cages. These are really simple to make and don’t cost a bomb.
2 – Don’t take pet store’s advice as Gospel
Look, these employees have sales goals, and I’m not judging them for wanting to meet them. A lot of the time they tell you what they have been told themselves – that all of these things are the best for hamsters – and they probably don’t know any better. Before I properly researched hamster care I had no idea these things weren’t right. It is not a requirement for employees to have any knowledge of animal care at all, and they’re just there to make a wage and don’t want to research in their spare time. They will recommend their ‘extra large’ cage, which we know doesn’t meet the requirements, and wood shavings for bedding even though the majority of it isn’t safe to use. Do your research beforehand and don’t take what the shop staff tell you as legit advice.
3 – Experiment with a huge range of chew toys
Having toys to chew on and play with is essential for both enrichment and wearing down their teeth. I’ve found it is best to experiment with a huge range of toys to see which ones they prefer. I’ve put toys and chews in their homes and they haven’t even touched them, so it’s easy to think “oh, my hamster doesn’t like toys, I won’t bother to provide them”. In reality, hamsters can be picky when it comes to toys, and it can sometimes take a little while to find ones they like. But don’t give up, because I can guarantee you’ll find one eventually that they’ll love.
4 – Toilet roll tubes are your new best friend
You will find yourself collecting the tube every time you change your toilet roll. My hamster absolutely loves these and quickly destroys them overnight. They also make great little tunnels for climbing through. It’s a very cheap way to provide some extra enrichment – and it counts as recycling too!
5 – Scatter feed
I’ve found scattering food around the cage instead of using a food dish is a much more natural way of feeding your hamster. It helps them use their foraging instinct and it can keep them occupied for a little while, helping with boredom. Whilst on the topic of food, once they’ve collected it and stockpiled it all in a corner, DO NOT touch or move it. Mine get really annoyed if I do this and they’ll end up moving it to another corner – usually their wee area! I think it’s to scent mark it because they think another hamster is stealing it.
6 – Try to adopt/rescue, not shop
I know it’s nice to have a little look around the pet shops and pick out your perfect little hamster, and a lot of the time people will want to get a young one so they’ll “last longer”. However, just take a little bit of time to research rodent mills and I’m sure you’ll change your mind. It’s easy to think it’s ok because you’ll give them a nice home after all that trauma, but you’re still funding and encouraging these companies to do this. I know of a few rodent rescue and rehoming centres where there are plenty of hamsters needing a loving home.
7 – Wheel size is so important
A lot of the time these smaller cages don’t provide space for a decent sized wheel – although they normally come with a small one. These wheels are absolutely not suitable for a hamster – particularly a Syrian – as running on them with cause their spine to curve and they will end up hurting their backs. Having a big wheel is essential as they will use it pretty much every night. I use the 28cm Trixie wheel which has been great so far, and it’s not terribly noisy. Also you’ll want to avoid mesh wheels as these can cause Bumblefoot.
8 – They love food!
A lot of hamsters are very food driven, and they love fresh fruit and veg. I give my hamsters fresh fruit and veg – only small pieces – every 2-3 days. Their favourites include strawberry, broccoli and carrot, and Freya is partial to a blueberry now and again! Make sure you check what’s ok and what you should avoid – here’s a list for you!
9 – Keep an eye on their fingernails
As your hamster gets older and less active, you may start to notice their fingernails can start to get really long and overgrown. It’s best to sort this as soon as possible to avoid the nails curling up into their paws and becoming painful. This will suddenly sneak up on you so keep that in mind. It’s really important to research how to do this properly, as there is an area of their nails that actually contain blood vessels and if cut can cause injury. If in doubt, make an appointment at the vets and they can sort it for you. A good way of avoiding overgrown nails is to provide a couple of pebbles in their cage in an area they’re frequently in, like under their water bottle.
10 – Hamsters are not starter pets
I don’t actually think they’re really that suitable for young children at all to be honest. A lot of people see hamsters as good ‘starter pets’ as they have short lives and are seen as ‘disposable’ and not a big commitment. Once the children are bored, it can just be replaced or gotten rid of. This is such as awful way of seeing hamsters, as they absolutely are a big commitment, as any living thing is. Unfortunately this is how I acquired both of my hamsters – the owners got fed up of them as their child wasn’t interested anymore and the parents ended up taking care of them. I find it weird how hamsters are seen as good animals for kids, as they are asleep for the vast majority of the day, and don’t get up until 9/10 in the evening when the kids will likely be going to bed. I really don’t understand the logic behind this.
There you have it – 10 things to know before getting a hamster. Do you have any hamster owning tips? Leave some in the comments!
Until next time.