Guide written by:
Pauline, Self-taught handyman, Leeds
Hamsters are small yet lively creatures making them very popular pets for little ones (and not-so-little ones!). However, these fluffy creatures are sensitive and require specific living conditions. From cages and equipment to bedding to food, read on for all you need to know about caring for a hamster.
- Cage type
How to care for a hamster: the basics
- Your hamster cage, whether you go for a barred, wooden or plexiglass model, should be as big as possible, well-ventilated and easy to disassemble.
- In terms of equipment, you'll need a water bottle and food bowl, as well as a wheel where your pet can tire themslves out. You might also want to provide a house, tunnels, a sand bath or a variety of other rodent accessories.
- Your choice of bedding (hemp, flax, cotton and so on) will be based on your hamster's habits and your budget.
- Your pet should be fed on a mixture of ready-mixed pellets, hay and fresh fruit and veg.
Choosing a hamster cage
Hamsters are very active animals and need a large cage to roam around in. The cage needs to measure at least 50 cm in length, 30 to 40 cm in width and about 40 cm in height. However, the larger your pet's home, the better they will feel in it.
The cage must also be well-ventilated in order to prevent unpleasant odours from building up (particularly ammonia from hamster urine). It should also be easy to take apart to facilitate cleaning.
Make sure that the cage is kept in a draught-free location away from direct sunlight. The area should also be quiet as your hamster sleeps during the day rather than at night. There are a few different types of cage to choose from.
Metal bar cages
Metal bar cages are the most traditional option as they offer a range of advantages: they offer excellent ventilation, they are easy to clean and give you more contact with your pet.
These cages are also cheap and allow you to easily attach accessories such as water bottles. Your hamster will also be able to scale the sides of the cage!
That said, don't pick a cage that is too high to avoid the risk of falls (unless there is an intermediary level). Be sure to check that the bars aren't too far apart to prevent your hamster from escaping.
One downside of this type of cage is that bedding can escape through the bars.
Wooden cages are attractive to look at and often combine several materials, such as plexiglass, metal bars or mesh, which allows you to keep an eye on your pet.
While they are affordable, wooden cages are hard to clean as the wood will eventually absorb urine.
Plexiglass cages allow you not only to see your hamster grow, but also help to keep bedding inside the cage. They also reduce noise and will stop your hamster from escaping! Expect to pay around £40 for this type of cage.
The drawback of plexiglass is that it does not offer good ventilation and can become cloudy over time.
It is also trickier to clean than other materials and you won't be able to attach any accessories directly to it.
Originally designed for reptiles, terrariums feature plexiglass sides and a barred roof. Another attractive option, terrariums allow you to look at your hamster and bedding (along with your hamster!) will not be able to escape. These cages are also quieter.
However, terrariums do come with a number of disadvantages: they are quite expensive, they do not offer very good ventilation, they are hard to clean and don't have bars to hang accessories on.
Choosing equipment for your hamster cage
Certain accessories are essential while others are less important, but still recommended to enhance your pet's well-being.
Food bowl, hay rack and water bottle
Food bowls should be made of a heavy material to stop your hamster from tipping the bowl over. A strong and easy-to-clean material such as ceramic will be ideal. A hay rack can be used to provide your hamster with hay without it mixing with the bedding and getting dirty.
Your hamster also needs regular hydration. While a water bowl is easier to drink from, a plastic or glass water bottle attached to the side of the cage cannot be tipped over and will help to keep the bedding clean.
An essential piece of equipment for your pet's well-being, wheels will allow your hamster to get regular exercise. Whether made of wood, plastic or metal, hamster wheels should be made of a solid material (and not bars) to avoid their paws slipping through.
Some models are quieter than others which is an important factor to keep in mind (considering most of your pet's activity will take place in the middle of the night!).
House and tunnels
A little house will provide your hamster with a shelter to hide in during the day. These houses come in a range of materials including plastic, wood and ceramic. Pick a model with a removable roof for easier cleaning.
You might also want to give your hamster a few tunnels or pipes. Make sure they are wide enough for your hamster: at least 6 cm for dwarf breeds and 8 cm for Syrian hamsters. An assortment of bridges and ladders will provide your hamster with a source of entertainment and help to decorate the cage.
Providing a sand-filled container will allow your hamster to rid their fur of excess sebum for a shinier coat.
Do not use regular sand. You will need to purchase a very fine grey sand usually sold as chinchilla sand.
Multiple cage levels
If your cage is high enough, you can install another level to provide your hamster with extra space. This will also help to prevent dangerous falls.
Specially designed chews or wooden blocks will help to wear down your hamster's teeth which grow continuously.
If you choose to source your own wood, be sure to avoid toxic materials. Hamsters are particularly fond of nut woods. Put any twigs in the oven for about 20 minutes before offering them to your pet in order to kill off any bacteria.
Picking the right hamster bedding
Bedding is used to make the cage comfortable and to absorb waste. It's important to pick an absorbent and non-toxic material.
Hemp bedding is popular as it is soft and won't stick to fut. It is also very absorbent. However, be careful: some hamsters are allergic to hemp.
Comfortable and dust-free, flax bedding is also absorbent but doesn't limit odours as well as other materials. It will therefore have to be changed more regularly.
Corn cob bedding
Dust-free and less likely to spread, corn cob bedding does not tend to trigger allergies as much as hemp. However, it is not very comfortable.
Choosing a hamster food
Hamsters are omnivores, meaning they can eat a little of everything. Their diet can therefore be quite varied.
Ready-mixed pellets are handy and will provide your hamster with a balanced diet. An adult hamster requires around 25 g of food per day.
Hay or alfalfa
This food source provides fibre to aid digestion Place the hay or alfalfa in a hay rack designed for small rodents and place the rack high up in the cage so your hamster has to pull down on the hay to access it.
Fruit and vegetables
Guide written by:
Pauline, Self-taught handyman, Leeds, 97 guides
With a handyman-father, I grew up with the soft sound of the sander and hammer on weekends. I am both manual and cerebral (yes, it is possible.), I learned the basics of DIY and the customization of furniture because I was passionate. The salvage mentality is a true way of life that allowed me to know how to use all the tools and products needed to give something a second life, from sander to varnish. I have two favorite activities: the transformation of old furniture and decoration tips. I am always ready to lend a helping hand to revamp a table or to restore a mirror that was intended for the trash that will become a friend’s centerpiece. I’m convinced that it’s possible to reinvent an interior by small, regular modifications, I constantly research low-cost, test ideas.