The National Hamster Council F.A.Q.
We list below some of the questions we have frequently been asked at Hamster Shows or Displays. If you have a question that is not included please forward it to us, so that we can include it on our page.
If you have a specific question about your hamster or about hamsters in general we will be only too happy to answer it if we can
Q. Can I keep two hamsters together?
A. You should never keep more than one Syrian (Golden) Hamster in a single cage, however big it is. In our experience Syrian hamsters will start to fight seriously from the age of about 5 to 6 weeks old. Leave any longer and serious damage or even death will result. Dwarf Hamsters (Russian or Chinese) can be kept together either in two's, pairs or colonies. Occasionally even with these hamsters fights might happen and in some cases these will result in injury and they may need separating.
Q. How long do hamsters live?
A. In general we would say about 2 years. Like humans some may die a little earlier (say 18 months) and some may go on and on and on. We have had three hamsters live until they were 3 years old and we have heard of a few living longer again. Each hamster is an individual.
Q. What should I keep my hamster in?
A. There are a wide range of suitable homes for hamsters, from more traditional cages (wire tops with plastic bases) to moulded plastic homes (one large area with only a small wire hatch at the top). The NHC recommends a minimum of 1000cm2 (useable floor space) x 19cm high for Syrian hamsters and 750cm2 (useable floor space) x 17cm high for Dwarfs. If you can afford a slightly bigger cage of the same type, so much the better.
Q. What bedding is best for my hamster?
A. What most people think of as 'bedding' is often refered to as substrate, to avoid any confusion with nesting. There are many different types of substrate that can be used to line the bottom of your hamsters home. Traditionally wood shavings are used, though there are alternatives to this which can be a big help to anyone with an allergy to them.
For an indepth look into the wide range of substrates available please visit the article Substrate Review.
Q. What nesting is safe for my hamster?
A. There are many different forms of nesting available to buy, or things that can be used as nesting that are safe for your hamster. A popular (and inexpensive) option is to simply tear up tissues or toilet paper. Do not use the wooly 'fluffy' options as these can be very dangerous for your hamster.
For more information on nesting options please visit our General Care section on Nesting.
Q. What foods are suitable for my hamster?
A. The basic and major part of the diet should be a proprietary dry hamster mix (such as Harry Hamster*, Supa Hamster* XtraVital Hamster*) which can be bought from a pet shop. This will be a mixture of seeds, crushed oats, flaked maize, sunflower seeds, locust beans, peanuts etc. with some hard dry biscuit. All these are "hard" and good for the hamster's teeth, and a small handful of this mixture should be given each day. For more information on foods and treats for hamsters please visit our General Care section on Food and Water.
Q. What can I put in for my hamster to play with?
Many "toys" can be bought for your hamster, including wooden seesaws (or plastic seesaws), tunnels, climbing blocks and ladders, but a lot you can make yourselves. Cardboard rolls can be hung on wire in the cage or just placed into the cage. Cardboard boxes can be put in for them to climb on or nest in. A wooden shelf can be put in most cages and hamsters love to climb on these to groom themselves. Nest areas can be bought, giving the hamster something to hide away in with the nesting to feel secure. There are many good options available, from wood arches to plastic huts, to full wood lodges for your hamster.
Wheels can be a good toy for a hamster as long as they are big enough. We advise using a solid plastic wheel of 8" for a syrian.
A. Bucket traps and humane mouse traps are both very good methods for capturing hamsters, though the humane mouse traps are really only suitable for dwarfs. The traps do need something tasty in them to lure the hamster in, but both methods work better than trying to chase a hamster!
For information on how to set up a bucket trap or humane mouse trap, plus lots of information on how to find a missing hamster and what to do when you find itn, please read our article How to Catch an Escaped Hamster.
A. Hamsters love to chew bars or wire in their homes. Some style of cage can help with this (such as moulded plastic cages) however some hamsters will even chew holes into the plastic of these. Glass tank style cages can help with this. Enrichment of the cage can also help, make sure there are plenty of toys, such as wheels and wooden accessories for the hamster. Many enjoy dog biscuit bones, such as Bisrok or similar dog chews. Others enjoy whole nuts, or the many various wooden chews available. For more information on what to do about bar chewing, please visit our article Managing Bar Chewers.
Q. My hamsters has two scabs on its back. What should I do?
A. Nothing. All hamsters have these. They are called 'hip spots' and they are a scent gland. Sometimes these can be very prominent and look like scabs. You may often see your hamster rubbing its side along the side of the cage, it is marking its territory.
Q. What are the dark spots/bumps on the side of my hamster?
A. They are called 'hip spots' and they are a scent gland. Sometimes these can be very prominent and look like scabs. You may often see your hamster rubbing its side along the side of the cage, it is marking its territory.
Q. My hamster has a swelling underneath by its tail. Should I take it to the Vet?
A. Not necessarily. It is most probable that you have a male hamster and it has matured. These swellings are almost certainly his testicles and in warm environment or when he has just woken up they could look like a growth. If you definitely know your hamster is a female then this could be serious, but it is advisable to check the sex of your hamster first.
Q. How do I tell the sex of my hamster?
A. If you carefully turn your hamster on to its back, you will notice between the back legs two openings. If these are very close together and almost look like one then you have a female. You may also be able to see two rows of teats. If the two openings are about 5 to 10 mm apart, your hamster is a male. On the males you may also be able to see a swelling, especially in warm weather. For more indepth detail and photos please see our page on Hamster Sexing.
Q. Do hamsters make noises?
A. Sometimes you will hear a single small squeak. We believe that the hamster is calling to another hamster in the hamstery, but a lone hamster is still know to make this noise. Also you may hear a 'terrible squealing when you put your hand in to handle a new hamster. This means that the hamster is afraid. It will not usually bite while it is making this noise. Pick up the hamster gently and cup it in your hands. It will gradually stop. It may take several days to stop it making this noise when you go into its cage but it will stop as it gets used to its cage and you. Some colours are renown for making this squealing noise, particularly YELLOW.
Q. Can I give my hamster a bath in warm water?
A .Yes you can give a hamster a bath. BUT I would only do so if they were extremely dirty or had something sticky on their fur. If the fur is just a little oily or a bit ruffled consider giving the hamster a sand 'bath'. Place chinchilla sand in a suitable container (like a rabbit food bowl) either in the cage with the hamster or in a play pen. The hamster will dig and roll in the sand helping to keep its coat (and nails) in peak condition. Some even use them as toilets! For more sand bath options please see our toys and accessories section on plastic toys.
If there is something sticky on the fur then washing may be your only option. Test the water first to make sure it is not too hot or too cold. Use a very mild shampoo (in the UK I would recommend Johnson's Baby shampoo) try to keep it away from the eyes. Then rinse and then using clean water (tested for temperature) rinse again. Then dry carefully in a towel and finish drying using a hair dryer. When using the hair dryer leave one hand between hamster and dryer to ensure that it does not get too hot. You may need to comb the fur as it dries. If the fur is not bad I would not bathe a hamster they don't usually need it.
Q. Can hamsters swim?
A. Yes. If you try to bathe a hamster you will soon find that they swim straight across the bowl and out the other side.
Q. Can I give my hamsters cheese?
A .Yes you can give a hamster cheese, I don't myself but I know several people that do. As with all new foods give a very small quantity first in case it doesn't agree with the hamster. I would only give this as a sort of treat maybe once a week. To find out more about what to feed a hamster, see our General Care page.