What should you expect from your hamster?

Hamsters are small, cute pets that adapt well to captivity. They do not require a lot of living space and are relatively inexpensive to maintain.

With frequent, gentle handling a hamster can easily become tame. However, they are nocturnal animals and will not tolerate being held still for long. Hamsters may bite or show aggression in response to rough handling, sudden disturbances, being around other hamsters (especially female hamsters that are pregnant or lactating), or when they are ill or in pain.

To hold your hamster, care must be taken to maintain gentle control and prevent being bitten. They can be scruffed by the abundant loose skin at the nape of the neck, held in the hands (if friendly), or placed in a small container. A small cloth may help restrain the rodent without the handler being bitten.

A unique characteristic of hamsters is the presence of cheek pouches, which are used to store and transport food to the hamster's burrow. Similar to other species of rodents, hamsters have four incisor teeth, which grow throughout life. For tooth health, it is important to provide a good diet and to offer safe items in the enclosure for the hamster to chew.

What do hamsters do all day?

Syrian Golden Hamsters should be housed individually in an enclosure. Hamsters are excellent climbers and burrowers and should be provided with safe outlets for these activities. They enjoy running in exercise wheels; however, only wheels with a solid running surface should be used to prevent limb trauma. A wire wheel can be modified to provide a solid surface for running. A wheel for an adult Golden Hamster should be at least 8 in diameter. If clear plastic exercise balls are used for the hamster to explore the home safely, the covers must be secured with tape to prevent the animal's escape from the ball.

What should you feed your hamster?

Hamsters should be fed commercial pellets specifically designed for small rodents. Young hamsters begin eating solid food at 7-10 days of age, so food and water must be accessible for their smaller size. Treats may include such items as tiny bits of apple (no seeds or skin), fresh vegetables, raisins and walnuts. Drinking water should be provided via sipper tubes. The water should be changed daily to ensure that the tube is functional and not clogged with food. Water can also be obtained from carrots and other fruits and vegetables.

How can you keep your hamster healthy, happy and safe?
  • Set up a schedule for consistent time and attention each day to maintain tameness.
  • Clean the enclosure environment at least weekly to reduce odors.
  • Modify a wire wheel by weaving a paper material through the rungs to prevent leg damage.
  • Ensure that droppings are normal firm pellets. Sticky or soft droppings may indicate diarrhea, while scant, smaller droppings may indicate constipation or other gastrointestinal disease.
  • Because free-ranging hamsters spend almost all daylight hours underground, exposure to direct sunlight in captivity is not desirable.
  • House in optimum temperatures of 65-79 degrees, with young maintained between 71-75 degrees.

Housing for your pet hamster should:
  • Be made of strong metal to be escape proof, as hamsters can gnaw through wood, plastic and soft metals.
  • Include a secure lid and solid bottom flooring.
  • Offer at least 150 square inches of floor space with a cage height of at least 6-10".
  • Include nesting or box for hiding with deep litter for burrowing.
  • Provide relative humidity environment of 40-70 %.
  • Contain a nesting material such as undyed, unscented toilet tissue. The hamster will instinctively manipulate this to stimulate the burrow, and it helps the hamster control temperature.
  • Be checked to make sure the hamster has not hoarded food in a hiding place where it can spoil.

Things you must keep away from your hamster:
  • Fatty seed diets, too much fresh produce and not enough fiber, or too many treats
  • Other pets in the home (predators, i.e., dogs, cats, etc.)
  • Inappropriate handling by small children
  • Commercial wooden chew blocks, chew sticks and common household sources of wood that may be contaminated with fireproofing material
  • Commercial nesting materials (commonly called fluff) that may lead to intestinal blockages or strangulated limbs
  • Oils on cedar shavings
  • Another hamster in close confinement