If you’ve decided to add a hamster to the family, remember that you’re making a commitment that may last two years or more. You’ll be taking on the everyday care, feeding, and health issues of a living creature. So how do you keep your hamster happy and healthy?
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Hamster Cages: Choose A Happy Home
Your hamster will be spending most of his time in a cage -- so make sure the home you give your pet is big enough and full of things to do! Out of all your hamster care costs, buying a cage may be the most expensive thing you do, but it’s also the most important purchase you’ll make. Remember that Syrian hamsters should be housed solo; dwarf hamsters can live happily in pairs or in single-sex groups.
The most common kind of hamster cage is one with a plastic base and a wire top. Usually, the wire top can be unhooked from the base, making it easy to handle your hamster or clean the cage. Try to pick a cage with a deep base; a shallow base means you may be cleaning up a lot of flooring material that gets kicked out of the cage.
This kind of cage can be very affordable, but may also be a security risk. Make sure the cage doors can’t be pushed open by an industrious hamster, otherwise you’ll spend a lot of time hamster hunting! If you’re planning to raise dwarf hamsters, make sure the bars of the cage are no more than half a centimeter apart so your furry friend doesn’t squeeze through and make a break for it. Another disadvantage of the plastic base and wire top cage is the difficulty in climate control. A wire top cage can be very drafty, so you’ll need to be careful in cage placement.
You may want to consider a cage that includes solid compartments and horizontal tunnels. Although this type of cage can be more expensive and more difficult to clean, they do offer both entertainment and draft protection for your hamsters. Larger Syrian hamsters may not like the tunnels, but this type of cage would be a great choice for a dwarf breed. Offering at least one enclosed compartment gives your hamster a place to nest and feel secure. You can always add more tunnels and rooms over time!
You can house either breed of hamster -- Syrian or dwarf -- in a glass or plastic aquarium. A glass aquarium may be more difficult to clean because of the weight, but you’ll find that an aquarium is relatively affordable and completely draft-proof. Keep in mind that your aquarium will need some sort of top, both to protect the hamsters from things falling in and to keep your hamsters from making an escape. Use a wire mesh top for good ventilation and to prevent condensation from building up.
Hamster Cages: Setting Up Your Happy Home
Before you set up your happy hamster home, you’ll need to figure out where the cage is going to go. Try to keep it away from direct sunlight, heaters, and drafts; you want your hamster to live at a relatively constant temperature. Be sure to keep your hamster cage safely away from any other pets who may live in the house!
Once you’ve picked a spot, you’re ready to prepare the cage.
Place a nice, thick layer of wood shavings on the floor of the cage. Place any accessories -- tunnels, toys, rooms -- around the cage. Place your exercise wheel -- some wheels attach to the side of the cage and some are free standing. Fill the water bottle and attach it to the cage at a height your hamster can easily reach. Test the end of the spout to make sure it is delivering water. Fill the food dish with hamster mix and place it in the cage. Place a handful of nesting material in the cage or inside an enclosed room. Your hamster is ready to move in!
Be sure to clean out the cage on a weekly basis -- remove the wood shavings and replace them with fresh ones. Clear away any uneaten fresh fruits and vegetables before they rot. You may want to leave a little of the previous week’s bedding in addition to fresh, clean bedding material.
Hungry Hungry Hamsters
Just like people, hamsters have different tastes and preferences.
The basis of your hamster’s diet will be a commercial hamster mix. Ingredients may include crushed oats, barley, peanuts, sunflower seeds, maize, dog biscuit, rodent food pellets, and even dried fruits and vegetables. A hamster mix is preferable to hamster (or rodent) pellets, which meet nutritional requirements but don’t offer variety.
You can add a bit of bird seed mix to your hamster’s diet, but isn’t suitable as the only meal your hamster gets.
Augment your hamster’s diet with fresh fruits and vegetables! Don’t introduce the fresh stuff too quickly, or you may end up with a hamster who has an upset stomach. Offer a small piece of fruit or vegetable once or twice a week to see how it is tolerated. After a few weeks, you can gradually work up to a small piece of fruit or vegetable every day. Just be sure you give a small bit -- if your hamster tries to store fruits and veggies, they can become moldy.
Some fresh fruits, vegetables, and greens your hamster may like include: alfalfa, apples, basil, berries, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, dates, grapes, green beans, kiwi, mango, melon, mint, okra, parsley, pears, peas, sage, squash, clover, dandelion, marigolds, roses, and watercress. Your hamster may also enjoy an occasional treat like nuts, chicken or fish, cheese, bread, raisins or prunes, or even a taste of cake! Don’t go overboard on the sweets, though, or your hamster may become overweight.
Grooming Your Hamster
Unless you have a long-haired Syrian hamster, you probably won’t need to worry much about grooming. Hamsters clean themselves! You may want to provide a dish of sand for your hamster to roll in; this helps remove grease from their coats. Otherwise, the only grooming you’ll need to do is gently removing wood shavings from your hamster’s coat with a soft toothbrush.
What would a hamster cage be without toys? Your hamster will need a wheel for exercise or a plastic ball to run around in. Your hamster will also need something to chew on -- a hamster’s teeth constantly grow and must be gnawed down regularly. Wooden chew toys are a good choice, as long as the wood is pesticide and chemical free. Stay away from cedar and evergreen woods. Your hamster may also enjoy chewing cardboard -- just pick cardboard with very little ink. Try the cardboard core from a roll of toilet paper or paper towels.
Your hamster will make good use of wood ladders and climbing blocks, coconut shell enclosures for hiding, organic ropes to climb, and plastic tubes and tunnels. Make sure your hamster isn’t spending too much time chewing on the plastic items.