Hamsters are tiny, adorable animals that make great pets. They are solitary, nocturnal animals that can bring a lot of pleasure and entertainment to their families.
There are approximately twenty different breeds of hamsters with the average lifespan of 1.5 to three years. They do best in wire enclosures (to ensure adequate ventilation) with plastic bottoms. These enclosures should be a minimum of 24” x 12” x 12”. It is important to provide large enough housing for a hamster to minimize boredom and unnecessary cage chewing. Providing inadequate and small housing for hamsters can lead to problematic behavior including depression and stress. Pet hamsters should always remain in temperatures between 55- and 75-degrees Fahrenheit. Hamsters are sensitive to cold temperatures or high temperatures, so it is important to keep them at a comfortable temperature.
Proper hamster housing should also include a variety of environmental enrichments. Since hamsters are nocturnal animals, hideouts are important so they can build a bed and have an area to hide during the day. Hideouts can be wood, cardboard, or grass. A hamster wheel is imperative since hamsters are active animals. It is also important to provide a variety of wood chews in a hamster’s enclosure. Hamster’s teeth are continuously growing, and proper chews can provide gnawing opportunities to help keep incisors short. Chews should be apple wood branches, untreated woodblocks, or cardboard.
The floor of a hamster’s enclosure should be covered with 3 to 4 inches of proper bedding material. Recycled paper bedding, aspen bedding, or clean, dust free grass or timothy is ideal. These materials provide hamsters with a comfortable area to hide and burrow as well as absorb smells from urine or feces. Do not use cedar or pine bedding or cat litter in your hamster’s enclosure. Improper bedding can make hamsters ill or cause impactions of their check pouches or internal organs if consumed. A hamster’s enclosure should be completely cleaned and refilled with new material at least once a week.
A hamster’s diet should consist of a high-quality pellet (NOT a seed mix) and timothy hay. Fruits and vegetables should be given in small amounts. Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cucumbers, apples, raspberries, strawberries, and cantaloupes are good, nutritious options. Apples seeds and skins, grape seeds, almonds, peanuts, garlic, onions, eggplant, and any sugary sweet (including chocolate) should be avoided. Fresh water is essential and should be offered daily. Sipper bottles are ideal; they can clip to the side of a hamster’s enclosure and help reduce spillage. Small bowls can be used if sipper bottles are unavailable
At East Bend Animal Hospital, we recommend annual exams for our hamster patients to evaluate their overall health and to examine their teeth. Since hamster’s teeth are constantly growing, and they are habitual chewers, it is imperative that their mouths be closely evaluated to ensure the teeth are wearing correctly and do not need to be filed by the veterinarian.