- Life Span: 1-3 years
- Average Weight: 3-5 ounces
- Female: Sow
- Male: Boar
- Young: Pups
- Sexual Maturity: Male 6-8 weeks, Female 4 weeks
- Diet: Omnivorous
There are many types of hamsters, and the most popular one is the six-inch Syrian hamster, sometimes referred to as the teddy bear hamster or golden hamster. Other dwarf species like the Roborovsky hamster, Siberian hamster, and Chinese hamster are much smaller at around two to three inches.
Though hamsters are cute and loved by many, they require a certain amount of care so that they can live healthy and happy lives. It is very easy to neglect their needs. For instance, they are nocturnal creatures meaning they are active during the night and sleep during the day. This does not fit with the schedule of a young child who may want to play during the day. Hamsters can get irritated if they are woken up, and often bite their owners. Because of this, we do not recommend getting a hamster as a pet in a family with young children.
Syrian hamsters are solitary and become aggressive if other hamsters are nearby. Dwarf hamsters, conversely, are social and must live in pairs. Do not put a male and female hamster together because they reproduce quickly and frequently, resulting in large litters.
Syrian hamsters should live in a ten-gallon aquarium with wire mesh top or in a wire cage. Dwarf hamsters can live in cages made for mice. Make sure not to place the cage in direct sunlight or drafts; see our guide on ideal hamster cage locations to learn more. Make sure the cage is lined with safe bedding. Avoid using cedar or pine chips, as the aromatic oils they contain have been proven to harm small pets such as a hamster. Read our hamster cage bedding guide for more information.
Since hamsters are high active creatures, they require lots of stimulation in their cage like a hamster wheel or hamster toys. They also crawl, burrow, hide, and sleep in enclosed spaces. Make sure to put in cardboard tubes, boxes or egg cartons with an entrance hole cut out, and shredded pieces of paper towels or napkins for them to use as nesting material.
Hamsters are ravenous creatures and they will eat pretty much everything you give them. That doesn’t mean you should do that, though, unless you want your hamster to get fat. You need to give them the proper hamster food in the form of Alfalfa based pellet mixes which contain seeds, grains like barley and oats, as well as corn. Since hamsters are omnivores, it is recommended 16-17% of their diet is protein.
Every couple of days you can give your hamster some fresh foods such as nuts, lettuce, carrots, cauliflower, spinach, and dandelion greens. Syrian hamsters can even eat small bits of apples. Do not give hamsters candy, chocolate, rhubarb, onions, potato, or raw kidney beans.
Their water bottle should be attached to the side of their cage with a drinking tube attached, and it must be filled with clean water at all times.
Care & Handling
Hamsters tend to urinate in the corners of the cage, so clean that out if it starts to get smelly. Clean up droppings, unfinished food, and wet bedding each day. Once a week, remove all the bedding, wipe the cage down, and put fresh new bedding in.
Hamsters are nibblers so expect everything you place inside the cage to have bite marks. Place unpainted, natural pieces of wood, chew toys, and dog biscuits in the cage to occupy them. They actually need to be gnawing since this keeps their teeth healthy and strong.
Before you pick up your hamster for the first time, he needs to be comfortable around you. Feed him treats until he trusts you. Then, gently pick him up and make sure he is secure in your palms. Only hold him for brief periods of time at first, slowly extending the time as he trusts you more and more.
Once you’ve established trust, you can even let him out of his cage in a small, closed off space. Make sure he doesn’t run off beneath furniture or chew on electrical wires.
Health and Veterinary Care
If your hamster starts to show signs of distress, go to the vet immediately. Common symptoms are matted fur, dull-looking eyes, shaking, runny nose, weight loss, and diarrhea. Keep in mind that hamsters are susceptible to respiratory illnesses, especially the common cold, which their caregivers can spread to them. Look for signs of “wet tail” which is caused by an intestinal disease in young hamsters. The primary symptom is fluid diarrhea.