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All types of hamsters make good pets. They are very easy to look after and everything you need can bought at any pet shop. A wide selection of cages are available, from the simple plastic tray and wire top to the totally enclosed plastic type complete with tubes. Syrian hamsters must be kept singly whereas the Russian and Chinese hamsters will live together with others of their own species. If you intend keeping the 'Dwarf' varieties in a wire top cage the bars must not be more than 6 mm apart (especially for young dwarfs or Roborovski) as these animals can get through very small gaps. Glass or plastic aquariums can also be used. When buying caging for multiple dwarfs it is best to look for a home without separate compartments, as separate areas can lead to territorial behaviour.
There are many different types of substrate (sometimes called bedding) 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. The substrate needs to be at least 3cm deep over the base of the cage, this is so it will absorb your hamsters urine, plus provide stimulation for the hamster of digging into it. In addition to a substrate, a hamster sand 'bath' can be used. 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! By cleaning out the bath/toilet regularly (if it is used occasionally as a toilet) you can prolong time between full cage cleans. For more sand bath options please see our toys and accessories section on plastic toys
For a more indepth look at the different substrate options, please see the article Substrate Review.
*please note: The National Hamster Council does not currently endorse any make of bedding, these names are for example only.
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A handful of nesting should be provided for the hamster to nest in, it does not matter whether this is in some form of hamster nesting area or left in a corner of the cage. The hamster will use this to make a soft nest to sleep in and to hide away in. There are many different forms of nesting available to buy, or things that can be used as nesting.
It is recommended that a water bottle be used to give your hamster access to water, with the spout fitted to the cage at the right height for your hamster to reach. (A dish containing water is easily fouled and hamsters may become wet which can lead to illness). When traveling waterbottles tend to leak and it is best to remove them, you should then give your hamster a piece of vegetable to eat as a water source. Vegetables are used in show pens to profide water for the hamster, green vegitables like broccoli tend to be the favorites used. Water bottles come in many sizes. For hamsters either the 'hamster' or 'mouse' sizes often work best.
Most cages bottles are easily attached the to wire of the cage, or to a mesh panel on the tub. Some moulded cages have special holes added to allow water bottles to be attached, however a few of them (and of the tank cages) do require something other than wire to be used. Most can be stuck to the side of the cage by the use of stick on velcro which is applied to the side of the home and the bottle. For more information please visit our Water Bottle Review.
A hamster that is fed a well-balanced diet is usually a healthy hamster. Having acquired a hamster it is up to you to feed it a diet that gives a little variety and keeps your pet healthy. Ask, when you buy, what the hamster has been fed on as, although hamsters like a variety of foods, introducing too many new foods at one time can cause tummy upsets. ALWAYS introduce greens and any new foods gradually and in very small amounts if you are not sure what your hamster has been fed before. Hamsters are omnivores and will eat meats. Cooked unseasoned chicken is often a favorite and provides the hamster with additional protein. Many dwarf hamsters appreciate being given dried or live mealworm as a treat, some syrians will also like them.
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. Different breeders/exhibitors feed in different ways, some give lots of mix every few days/weekly (amount changing depending on the duration between feeds), some give small amounts of mix daily. All have happy healthy hamsters, so pick the method that suits both you and your hamster. The general rule is though to give what a hamster will eat through before the next lot of food comes. Though they do hoard food you do want them to eat through a decent amount of the mix to get a balanced diet, rather than living off of only their favorite bits! That can lead to malnutrition, even though they are well fed!
As a treat, more hard dry biscuits can be given, such as "all in one" dry cat rings, along side traditional wooden chews for your hamster it can be beneficial to offer a dog biscuit bone (e.g. Biscrok* Bonio*) or cat biscuits. The meaty taste is often appealing to the hamster and so provides something useful for the animal to chew on to wear down their ever-growing teeth. For more infomation on chews for hamsters, see our Chews section in our article on Toys and Accessories, or the article on Managing Bar Chewers.
Hamsters are hoarders - they store their food behind or under their beds so greens and soft foods must only be given in moderation, otherwise any uneaten will spoil.
As hamsters put their food into their cheek pouches "sticky" and "sharp" foods should be avoided. Chocolate (which can melt when pouched) and cornflakes (which can scratch the pouches) are two such foods.
To help your hamster grow strong bones and teeth some milky foods can be given. Some will enjoy milk on its own, others a little runny porridge, a few rice krispies with milk or even bread and milk, all without sugar of course. Any of these should be removed before the milk sours, if uneaten.
All species of hamster may be fed as above, but dwarf hamsters (Russians, Chinese etc) will appreciate the smaller type of seed - millet (either seed or sprays), budgie seed, foreign finch seed - in addition. Dried mealworms are also often loved by dwarf hamsters (some syrians do love these too!). Care should be taken to avoid feeding any treat with added sugar (e.g commercial honey sticks) to Campbells or Hybrids due to the increamed risk of Diabetes. Some manufacturers make specialist dwarf hamster mixs (Supa Hamster Dwarf*, XtraVital Dwarf*) containing small seeds and meal worm.
Carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, sprouts, broad beans, peas, runner beans, apple, bean sprouts, sweet corn, cooked potato and cucumber can all be given in small quantities. A slice of apple OR the core, OR a small floret of cauliflower, OR a small sprout, OR two broad beans would be enough at any one time. You will soon discover what your hamster enjoys and how much your hamster can eat without any tummy upset.
A very special treat would be a raisin or sultana. These are greatly enjoyed, as is lettuce but too much lettuce is not good for the hamster as its too high in water.
Hamsters really enjoy dandelions and groundsel but you have to be especially careful about these - picked by the roadside they could have been sprayed or covered with car fumes etc. so unless you can be certain that they are really SAFE to eat don't give them to your hamster.
All greens should be fresh and washed.
Most hamsters do not smell if they are cleaned regularly, say once a week or fortnightly. As they normally use one corner of the cage to wet in the substrate in this corner can be changed more often if you wish. When cleaning, the substrate and old food should be thrown away and the cage base washed and dried. You can use a cleaning spray to assist in cleaning like Johnsons Clean n Safe, but water and a good scrub works well too!
Place fresh substrate in the cage, along with new nesting if necessary. Rinse the water bottle and fill with fresh water. Then give your hamster its helping of food. Different breeders feed in different ways, some give lots of food every few days/weekly (amount changing depending on the duration between feeds) some give small amounts daily. If you choose a daily feeding schedule then more could be added to help boost their store at this point. In addition to a substrate, a hamster sand 'bath' can be used. 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! By cleaning out the bath/toilet regularly (if it is used occasionally as a toilet) you can prolong time between full cage cleans.
When choosing a hamster check that it is bright eyed and holds its ears erect. It should be free from open or healing cuts and should not bite when picked up. Ideally, a hamster should be between four and eight weeks old when bought and you should be able to handle it. At this age they may be fast, like kittens or puppies, so care must be taken in the first few days. Always handle only a few inches above a secure surface in case the young animal should be scared and jump.
For the address of your nearest breeder please contact your regions club (club website links)