How to Care for a Pet Hamster

In the wild, hamsters tend to live on their own rather than in groups. They are not social by nature and so, apart from breeding purposes, it is best to house them on their own. Allow a minimum area of 625 sq. cm (100 sq. in.) for each hamster (which grows up to 15 cm in overall length); thus, the dimensions of their quarters should be at least 25 cm (10 in) square.

They will burrow into the floor of their cage, so provide a fairly deep layer of bedding material. Be sure that the bedding is not toxic or dangerous in any way. If eaten, unsuitable bedding can cause impaction in the intestines, and this is likely to prove fatal. A metal cage will be strong enough to withstand the onslaught from the hamster’s teeth, but over a period of time the urine is likely to attack the metal, causing bubbles of rust at first. This problem will not be encountered in a cage with a deep plastic base or in a plastic fish tank, but the claws of hamsters may scratch its sides.

Provide an exercise wheel for these active rodents, but be sure that it revolves smoothly, otherwise it will become a major source of irritation as it squeaks in the room. Hamsters tend to be nocturnal in their habits and, surprisingly, studies have shown that pregnant females are most active. They can ‘travel’ 8 km (5 miles) a day, walking on their wheel. Perhaps exercise improves muscle tone in preparation for birth, but even now little is known about the habits of hamsters in the wild.

Although diets prepared for other rodents suit hamsters well, their dietary needs are not yet fully understood. It appears that a protein level of about twenty-four percent is to be recommended, certainly during pregnancy. Interestingly, hamsters do seem to need fruits, especially apple, in their diet. Studies have suggested that hamsters fed on dried diets have smaller litters, with fewer ova actually implanting into the uterine wall. In addition, a higher incidence of cannibalism is likely in females deprived of fresh fruit. As a guide to food consumption, hamsters tend to eat about 15gm (0.5 oz) daily, and can drink up to 20 ml (0.7 fl. oz) of water, particularly when they are being fed exclusively on a dried diet. Be sure to remove any fresh food, however, before it can turn sour.