Basic care supplies for setting up a hamster include:
The average cost of a basic set-up (plus hamster) is $65-$100
Selecting a Cage
The cage you choose for your hamster should offer enough space for him to move about freely when all of his "baggage" has been placed inside. There are usually three main options:
1. Open Metal/Wire Cages - These cages usually have a plastic base, with a wire cage that fits on top. They come in one, two, or three story, and include a plastic wheel and plastic food dish. Good Aspects: These cages offer good air circulation, they're usually well made and more difficult to escape. Most have a way to lock the door by sliding the top piece under the next wire of the cage. These cages are fairly easy to clean; just remove the wire part and dump the bottom, clean with bleach as needed. Bad Aspects: Hamsters like to chew, and the plastic wheel and dish that come with this set-up will quickly be chewed and need to be replaced. Because of the open wire cage set-up, you need to be more careful of where you place the cage. Anything within paw reach will get chewed. A cold draft can make a hamster sick, and with wide open sides, this cage is sure to let in a draft if there is one. Hamsters may kick bedding out over the edges. Small hamsters (especially baby dwarf hamsters) may be able to escape between the bars.
2. Plastic/Tube Cages - CritterTrail cages offer a plastic and wire cage with additional add-on tubes and accessories to increase the space your hamster has available. Good Aspects: These cages offer the ability to customize, change, and expand your cage. Tunnels can be added to create an entire maze, or a series of cages can be interconnected to offer more space. Many Crittertrail homes come with a wheel, a food dish and a water bottle (all plastic). Bad Aspects: Crittertrails do need to be assembled (they don't come set-up). The tunnels are a hassle to clean, needing to be removed from the cage, pulled apart and scrubbed about once a month. Some hamsters get too fat to use the tunnels and can get stuck. Again, plastic parts will be chewed and need to be replaced. Hamsters may kick bedding out from the main cage part that has wire. Small hamsters (especially baby dwarf hamsters) may be able to escape between the bars.
3. Glass Aquarium - A glass aquarium with a screen lid is great for display in a pet store, where it is cleaned daily, but requires more thought when considering it as a permanent cage at home. Good Aspects: This is the easiest cage to clean. Dump it out, wash with bleach water, rinse and dry. Your hamster will never outgrow a ten gallon (or larger) aquarium. This set-up offers protection from nosy other pets (cats for example can watch but not touch). Hamsters will not be able to kick bedding out of a glass aquarium set-up. Bad Aspects: This cage offers no air circulation at all, which means it needs more frequent cleanings to assure your hamster doesn't get sick. Some hamsters will climb on top of the water bottle to push the lid up and escape; cage locks may be needed.
Believe it or not, the type of bedding you use can drastically change the lifespan of your hamster. There are many options to consider.
1. Pine Bedding - This is the "standard" type of bedding. Good Aspects: Pine bedding is cheap. A two week supply is less than $3 at PetNorth. This is the type of bedding we use in all of our rodent and small animal cages. It's easy to clean and doesn't have a strong odor. Pine bedding is biodegradable. Bad Aspects: Pine bedding doesn't absorb odors very well and will not help to keep your cage from getting smelly. You need to change pine bedding at least once a week (for an average sized cage with one hamster resident).
2. Aspen Bedding - A better option Good Aspects: Aspen bedding does not have any natural oils that could harm your hamster. It is a safer option (especially when using a glass cage) than pine. It masks odors slightly better than pine. It's easy to clean and is biodegradable. Bad Aspects: Aspen bedding is a little more expensive than pine. Aspen bedding may mask the odor a little better than pine, but it still needs to be changed weekly.
3. CareFresh - A good choice for longer-lasting odor control. Good Aspects: CareFresh is the best option for odor control. If you forget to clean your cage one week, this bedding will absorb the odor and waste longer than other bedding options. This bedding also has much better absorbency, so you can scoop out your hamster's preferred pee-corner without having to change the entire cage. CareFresh is made from chemical-free non-toxic material and can be composted or flushed (by the handful). Bad Aspects: Carefresh bedding is more expensive than other bedding choices.
A Note About Cedar:Never use cedar bedding! Cedar has natural oils (what makes it smell the way it does) that cause hamsters to get upper respiratory infections (sniffling, runny nose, goopy eyes, trouble breathing), and will kill them. Cedar bedding is a death sentence to a hamster.
There are many types of hamster food available on the market today. When selecting a diet for your hamster, keep in mind their natural dietary needs. In the wild, your hamster would be eating seeds, berries, fruits, vegetables, and grains with the occasional bug or grub thrown in. Check the ingredients before selecting a food. We feed Kaytee Forti-Diet Hamster Food.
When selecting a food dish, there are two things to keep in mind, size and material. Your hamster should be able to eat everything you give him within 24-hours, so he can get fresh food daily. If your dish is too big, you may end up over-feeding, which could lead to obesity and related health problems. A dish too small could leave him hungry and trying to eat things he shouldn't (like his house for example).
Material is also important to consider. A plastic dish will get chewed, and plastic is not good for your hamster's digestive system. A chewed plastic bowl is harder to sanitize. A ceramic dish is preferred because it is easier to clean, can't be chewed, and is heavier, and therefor harder to tip over and make a mess of.
A water bottle is essential, and surprisingly, comes in a wide variety of options.
Inside or out? There are water bottles that are meant to clip or hang from the outside of a cage. These are good options if you are trying to conserve space in your cage, or don't want to have to open the cage to refill the water (which should be done daily). If you are using a glass aquarium as a cage, this option isn't available, as you can only use a water bottle that hangs inside the cage. Water bottles that are kept inside the cage do need to be washed more often than those hanging on the outside because hamsters will climb on them if given the opportunity, and do tend to urinate (pee) on them.
Refill Options: You can get a standard water bottle that will have to be removed from the cage to be filled, or you can now get water bottles that have a rubber top; just open it and pour in fresh water!
Material: Water bottles come in two varieties; glass or plastic. Glass is chew-proof, but breakable if dropped. Plastic can be chewed, but won't break as easily if dropped.
Choosing a house for your hamster is one of the most personal choices you'll make (next to giving your hamster a name). The basic choices include:
1. Plastic Igloo Good Aspects: These come in several colors and sizes. You can buy a small igloo for a single hamster or a larger igloo if housing multiple hamsters together. Igloos are opaque, so you can see your hamster inside, while he still feels secure and hidden. The shape of the igloo offers a climbing place in addition to a hiding space. Bad Aspects: These igloos are made of plastic, and will get chewed up. Because they are round, they don't always fit well in cages that are almost exclusively rectangular. Some cage doors are not big enough to easily allow an igloo to be removed for cleaning. Cleaning can be difficult due to the odd shape of the roof of the igloo.
2. Wooden House Good Aspects: These are safe to be chewed, and actually function as a Chew to help with hamster teeth. Wooden houses usually have more than one opening, offering your hamster more exercise options. The rectangle shape fits nicely in the corner of most cages. Wooden houses are easy to clean with hot water and a scrub brush. A five minute soak in vinegar water will remove any lasting odors. Bad Aspects: A wooden house will get chewed on and may need to be replaced eventually. It can be difficult to see your hamster in a wooden house.
3. Cardboard Boxes and Toilet Paper Tubes Good Aspects: These are often free and easy to find. You don't have to clean them, just throw them out when you clean the cage. Toilet paper tubes fit in any cage. Bad Aspects: Cardboard is processed and does have chemicals in it. It's not good for your hamster to eat. This option usually gets chewed up or soiled quickly. Your hamster may see these as chew toys and not hiding places, defeating the purpose of using them. Some hamsters get too fat to fit into a toilet paper tube.
Every hamster needs a wheel. It will be the only form of real exercise available in the cage. Without one, your hamster will either get depressed and obese, or go cage crazy. There are a few basic choices when selecting a wheel for your hamster. Keep in mind your hamster's hair style when selecting!
1. Metal Wheel: These are usually made in two pieces; the stand and the wheel. The axle in the middle of the running wheel may run all the way across, or may just stick out enough to hold the wheel in place. Good Aspects: These wheels can't be chewed. The mesh variety offers secure footing, preventing slipping and falling between bars. There are several colors to choose from. Some can be hung on the side of a metal cage to save floor space. Due to the open spaces on the wheel, urine builds up slower, so you don't have to clean the wheel as often. Bad Aspects: You should never give this kind of wheel to a hamster with very long fur, as their fur can get snagged where the wheel and axle meet and they can be scalped, or even break their backs! Metal wheels squeak. The paint, though not toxic, will eventually flake off at which point you will need to replace it before rust starts to show up where the paint is missing.
2. Plastic Wheel: These usually have one side enclosed with a flat rim that the hamster will run on. Good Aspects: These wheels are safe for long haired hamsters because the axle is covered. They're easy to clean and won't rust. Bad Aspects: Because they are plastic, they can and will get chewed and will need to be replaced. They need to be cleaned more often as the solid bottom traps waste in the wheel, creating a build-up of urine and feces.
3. Flying Saucer Wheel: These wheels are not upright, but look like tilted space ships. Good Aspects: Completely safe for all hair lengths, because the axle is hidden underneath the wheel. Urine and feces don't build up as quickly due to the tilt of the wheel. Easy to clean. Bad Aspects: Again, made of plastic. Some hamsters never do figure out how to run on these wheels and just use them as fancy chairs to sit on while they munch on treats.
A hamster's teeth grow continuously throughout their life. Hamsters need to have chews available at all times to keep their teeth from growing too long. Without regular access to chews, a hamster's teeth will grow too long and make it impossible for them to eat, leading to death by starvation.
There are many choices for chews for hamsters. Lava, wood, and loofa/sponge are the most common. Keep a good supply on hand so you never run out. It's fun to pick out which chews to give your hamster and with so much selection, you're sure to find something that matches your hamster's decor.
A hamster ball is not a necessity, but it is highly recommended. Hamsters love to explore and can do so safely inside a hamster ball. Many hamster owners buy a ball to put their hamster in while they clean the cage. Hamster balls are safe as long as a few rules are followed:
1. Never let your hamster go near stairs. Bouncing down a flight of stairs in a plastic ball is not only stressful, but can seriously hurt or even kill your hamster.
2. Watch the temperature. Hamster balls don't have the greatest ventilation, and a hamster can easily over-heat if left inside a ball for too long, especially on a hot day. Avoid direct sunlight.
3. Watch your step! Many hamsters are not only curious about their surroundings, but about you too. They may follow you around to see what you're doing. Be careful not to accidentally kick the hamster ball.
4. A few hamsters may be smart enough to figure out how to turn the door to open the ball and release themselves. If you have one of these smarter hamsters, a piece of tape across the door usually does the trick.
Selecting A Hamster
PetNorth offers both teddy bear and dwarf hamsters. Each one has a personality all their own. You may want to spend time getting to know several before making the big decision. When selecting a hamster, many people wonder which gender is better. Both have the potential to be very friendly or a little naughty. Just like people, they have personalities and temperaments that vary from hamster to hamster. The main thing to consider when selecting gender is how many hamsters you'd like to house in one cage. Two females can usually share a cage peacefully, a male and a female will produce a lot of babies (2-20+ babies every 18 days, each baby reaching sexual maturity at 4-5 weeks old), and two males will almost always fight, often until one is killed. If you'll only be housing a single hamster, gender is unimportant.
The average lifespan of both teddy bear and dwarf hamsters is 2-3 years. They can live longer with a good diet, regular exercise, and a clean environment. Hamsters do not require regular veterinary care, though there are veterinarians who specialize in small pets in the event that you need medical help for your hamster. Hamsters usually take care of all grooming requirements on their own. You don't need to wash them or brush them, but if you do want your hamster smelling his best, there are small-pet shampoos available. Make sure your hamster is rinsed and dried thoroughly if you do decide on a bath. Hamsters are prone to upper respiratory infections if they get too cold. This can be fatal. It's important to keep your hamster out of drafts, away from air conditioning vents, and indoors during cold weather. On the other side, make sure they don't over-heat in warmer months. Never leave your hamster outside unattended, and avoid keeping the cage in a window where direct sunlight may make the cage too hot.
Hamsters make excellent first-time pets. They don't mind being handled, they're easy to take care of, they don't take up a lot of space, and are relatively quiet. When letting children handle hamsters it is important to make sure the hamster is fully awake before attempting to pick it up. You are more likely to get bit by trying to pick up a sleeping hamster than at any other point when handling a hamster. They startle easily when they're asleep and their first reaction is to bite. Gently nudge the bedding around a sleeping hamster or softly tap the cage (don't shake or hit the cage - you don't want to give your hamster a heart attack). Once your hamster is awake and alert, it is safe to approach him.
Should you decide that a hamster is not the pet for you, please do not release it into the wild. Hamsters are an easy meal for predators, not to mention the DNR doesn't approve. If you no longer want your hamster, there are several options available. You can check with friends, family and neighbors to see if anyone might want a second-hand hamster. Sometimes PetNorth will take in hamsters from people who no longer want them. If all else fails, contact your local animal shelter or rescue to see if they have space.