Before Buying a Hamster
Before buying a hamster, there are multiple things you should consider. First, it is very important to ensure you can provide a safe and comfortable home for your new pet. For housing, these furry little creatures need a clean cage and clean, dust-free bedding like dry peat or shredded paper. You will need to keep this cage and the bedding clean, so you must be willing and able to invest time in tidying and refreshing the animal’s cage each week.
Safety for a pet hamster means providing them with a calm, quiet and threat-free space of their own. It also means not having other pets that will stalk or hunt them as prey. Your beloved cat or dog can actually see the new addition to your family as potential food. This makes it very important that you protect the hamster from your other pets. Fearful, anxious or stressed hamsters get ill very easily.
Additionally, hamsters are delicate with tiny bones that easily break. So you need to ensure children in your household are old enough to take great care while handling the pet. They cannot squeeze, drop or scare it. To avoid injury to the animal, it is critical that children under the age of 8 years are supervised by an adult when handling the hamster. If you have very young children in your home, it may be better to wait until they are older before getting one of these pets.
Choosing the right type of hamster is also important. Syrian hamsters, also called goldens, are solitary and do not live well with others after the age of 10 weeks. They frequently fight and kill other hamsters in the same habitat. Siberian species, called dwarf hamsters, are more social and can live with others in the same cage if they get to know each other from a young age. If you plan on having more than one of these pets in the same household, it is important to choose Siberian hamsters over Syrians and introduce them to each other when they are still small.
One thing many people forget to consider is that hamsters play and get their exercise at night. While you are sleeping, they will be most active. Then, during the daytime and when the humans of the household are awake, your new pet will burrow into their bedding to sleep. This can make having a pet hamster frustrating for very young children who want to see the animals active and do not understand the animal’s nocturnal nature. It can also mean sleep disruption for light sleepers if the animal has a squeaky wheel in their cage.
Finally, it is critical that you ensure your household budget can cover the costs associated with your new pet before bringing one into your home. Hamsters are cheap to buy, being only $15 to $20 in most pet stores. But this low cost for the animal can be deceptive. Their first year of care is generally about $350, including the cage, toys, bedding and food. From there, you can expect to spend about $275 on food, bedding and other supplies. Hamsters only live about 2 to 3 years. But you may need costly veterinary care at some point, too.
How much does a hamster cost?
Hamsters are among the least expensive pets to buy and own. But they still come with needs that can put a dent in your budget, both for the short term and throughout their lifetime. The first year costs add up to about $350, whereas the animal’s needs run about $275 annually thereafter.
Hamster costs start with buying your new pet and meeting their immediate needs. The animal itself typically costs about $15 to $20 at a pet store. You must also buy a cage for them, toys like a wheel for exercise, bedding and feeders. Cages typically cost about $40 to $50. Wheels and other toys run $25 or more and are important for keeping the animal entertained and healthy. Bedding can consist of shredded newspaper, unscented toilet tissue or prepackaged aspen shavings that cost between $15 to $20, depending on your budget. Food costs for the first year will be about $50 to $75 and must include a teeth grinding stone to keep their teeth from growing too long.
Unfortunately, pet hamsters only live 2 to 3 years on average. This makes their lifetime costs about $625 to $875. You may also have veterinary care costs if the animal gets sick or needs a checkup. If you travel for an extended period of time, such as for family vacation, you may also need to board the pet or pay someone to care for it while you are away.
New Hamster Owner Shopping List: What to Buy
Many people think hamsters are easy to care for and have few needs. But it is actually very important that you provide a safe and comfortable home for your new pet, for the animal to live a healthy and happy life. Hamsters are easily made sick by anxiety, discomfort and stress. So the quality of their home is critical to living as long as possible.
At the same time, many people spend a lot of money upfront and needlessly on these little furballs out of excitement about all of the options on the market. You could easily spend hours exploring all of the cage accessories, treats, toys and other items specifically designed for hamsters! This is why it is important to know what your new family addition actually needs and will use. Of course, if you want to spend a lot of money on a specialized habitat with many tubes and tunnels for the animal to travel, you can certainly do that. Just bear in mind that the bigger and more intricate their habitat, the more you have to clean!
Your new hamster needs a safe habitat in which they can explore, burrow and tunnel. It needs a solid bottom that is comfortable for them to walk and sleep on, as well as one that is easy for you to clean. Choose a clear plastic home with air vents that is made specifically for hamsters or a wire cage with bars or wires that prevent escape and protect them from the reach of other pets like cats. Remember that your new pet needs plenty of room to get exercise, eat, play, sleep, nest and relieve themselves without feeling cramped. The habitat must be filled with quality bedding. Avoid cedar shavings or other cedar products because these can make them sick.
Whatever type of habitat and bedding you choose, remember that you will need to remove food and other debris daily. You will also need to deep clean using bleach solution or habitat cleaner weekly. So the home must be easy to access, take apart and refresh.
Within the habitat and besides bedding like aspen shavings, you need to provide some comforts for your new pet. Hamsters like to have some fluffy material for nesting. They also like little shelters and tunnels. A hamster wheel or hamster ball gives them a means of exercising and having fun. Like other pets, they also need chew toys and treats, particularly those designed to strengthen their bite and keep their incisor teeth from growing too long.
For the hamster’s diet, you need to provide a water bottle with a spout specifically designed for their tiny mouths. They also need a small food bowl that is easy and comfortable for them to access. At least 90% of the hamster diet consists of hamster pellets. Otherwise, they can enjoy limited treats of grains, fruits, vegetables and Timothy hay to make up the remaining 10%.
Below are the basic items you need to welcome your new pet hamster into your home:
- Hamster habitat – A clear small animal habitat or cage with closely-spaced bars to keep the animal safe, comfortable and secure
- Aspen shavings or other bedding and nesting fluff – Your hamster needs comfortable, non-toxic shavings or other bedding in which to nest, burrow and explore
- Hideaway hut – The hideaway provides your hamster with a quiet place where they feel safe and secure
- Exercise wheel or ball – Not just for the pet owners’ viewing pleasure, these items provide much-needed exercise and exploration for your hamster
- Food bowl – A hamster-sized food bowl makes it easy for your pet to access their food
- Water bottle with spout – This specially-designed small animal water bottle mounts to the side of their cage and provides easy access to water
- Quality hamster food – It is important to ensure at least 90% of what your hamster eats is quality, nutrient-rich hamster food.
- Hamster treats – Treats include food toppings, safe fruits and vegetables that your hamster can eat, as well as a teeth grinder stone that keeps their incisors sharp and appropriately sized
- Timothy hay – A treat that aids in digestion and provides much-needed dietary fiber
- Critter potty and litter – Much like a cat’s litter box, this setup provides your hamster with a designated potty area and helps keep their cage clean
- Habitat cleaner – This cleaning solution is specially designed for small animal cages and habitats
Many pet stores sell all-inclusive habitat starter kits to make setting up for your new hamster easier. Most of these kits are small and only suited for very young hamsters, however. You will need to provide a bigger habitat as they grown.
Ongoing Needs: What You Need to Care for Your Hamster
Many of the items you provide to initially create your new hamster’s home are also the things you must replace on an ongoing basis. A suitable habitat, the “cage” itself, and associated durable items can last throughout your hamster’s lifespan. But you will need to replace their food, water, bedding, nesting materials, litter, treats, cleaning solution and chew toys regularly.
Items you need to provide on an ongoing basis for your hamster include:
- Aspen shavings or other bedding and nesting fluff – These shavings, bedding and fluffs get unsanitary quickly. They can also begin to smell badly and promote illness if you do not replace them on at least a weekly basis. You can buy bedding like shavings in bulk, such as in 16 lb. bags, making weekly habitat cleaning and bedding replacement easy.
- Quality hamster food – Because quality hamster food is important for your hamster’s health and makes up at least 90% of their diet, you must supply this food for them on a daily basis. Here is our article on the best hamster food.
- Hamster treats – As for any pet, treats provide diversity in the diet and help your hamster get essential nutrients. It is important to reward your pet on an ongoing basis not just for good health, but to also enrich their quality of life. But remember, only up to 10% of your hamster’s diet should consist of these treats.
- Timothy hay – This treat helps maintain healthy digestion and is an important part of your hamster’s diet. Its use should only make up part of their diet, within their 10% treat allowance.
- Critter litter – While the critter potty is hard plastic and can last the animal’s lifetime, you will need to replace their potty litter on a weekly basis or more frequently, if needed.
- Habitat cleaner – Habitat cleaner is an alternative to 3% bleach solution you can use to clean your hamster’s habitat on a weekly basis. You will also need to use it to clean the hamster ball or other durable items like food dishes and the critter potty. For this reason, it is an item you need on an ongoing basis.
- Teeth grinding stone – A teeth grinding stone is essential for keeping your hamster’s incisors sharp and of limited length. A hamster’s incisors, the cutting teeth, keep growing throughout their lives. Without this stone or another chew toy designed for the same purpose, their teeth will grow too long. When that happens, you must visit your local vet to have the hamster’s teeth shaved down. Providing a teeth grinding stone is more economical and healthier for the animal on an ongoing basis.
Exercise and Ongoing Care
As far as pets go, hamsters are fairly low maintenance. Their habitats certainly require routine upkeep. But when provided with certain essentials and a safe, clean and comfortable home, your hamster keeps himself or herself in good health, clean, exercised, entertained and happy. There is usually no need to give the hamster baths, expensive vet visits, extensive time or energy. This is why so many families consider hamsters a great “starter pet” for children and teens who want to grow into more challenging pet care and companionship, such as for dogs or cats.
Hamsters need ongoing stimulation and exercise throughout each day. Of course, being nocturnal, most of this activity takes place on their own time at night while their owners sleep. So you cannot rely solely on an exercise ball to keep your hamster healthy, entertained and stimulated. Besides a clear exercise ball that will provide 20 to 30 minutes of exploration and activity each day, also provide them with fitness options within their cage or small animal habitat. Add tunnels, a hamster wheel and other interesting structures for them to explore. These little furry creatures love exploring tubes, climbing little ladders, spinning their self-powered wheel and running through mazes. Doing so helps them stay strong and fit for a longer life, at the same time.
Like cats, hamsters provide most of their own grooming. They spend much of each day keeping themselves clean. This is why baths are not necessary. But if your hamster is a smelly little animal or has become unkempt, you can help them out. You only need to spot clean them and remove bedding stuck to their fur.
For spot cleaning, use pet-friendly wipes or a damp washcloth to wipe dirty areas on your hamster. If you use water, ensure it is lukewarm to keep them from getting too cold. But never use hot water. Keep them away from drafts until they are dry.
Dwarf hamsters enjoy giving themselves dust baths, as well. You can provide specialized small animal dust for this activity and they will instinctively roll around in it to remove moisture and oils from their fur. It is important that you never leave a dust bath in their habitat for more than 12 hours at a time, however.
If you have a Syrian long-haired hamster, you can brush its hair weekly to clean them. Use a toothbrush or small animal comb for this activity.
Hamsters’ teeth grow throughout their lives. This is why it is important to provide the animal with a teeth grinding stone on an ongoing basis. There are also a variety of animal chew sticks and toys designed for hamsters to keep their teeth from overgrowing. But if you notice problems with your hamster’s teeth, you should call your vet.
If your hamster is hairless, rub a small amount of baby oil or coconut oil into their skin to prevent dryness. They need this help when they do not have hair, since hair naturally helps their skin stay nourished by natural oils.
Hamster Habitat Cleaning
Cleaning a hamster cage is important for helping the pet stay healthy, comfortable and happy. Some cleaning tasks must be performed daily. Others are weekly or monthly. Overall, hamsters are fairly low-maintenance pets as long as you keep their habitat clean.
Below are the essential duties and timeframes for cleaning your hamster’s habitat:
- Daily – Using a small scoop, remove soiled bedding, especially from the corners where they tend to be messiest. Replace with fresh bedding. Also clean food bowls and water bottles and refill these containers.
- Weekly – Change out all of the habitat bedding material, replacing with fresh bedding. Spot clean any dirty areas using habitat cleaner.
- Monthly – Thoroughly and deeply clean your hamster habitat. This requires taking the animal out of the habitat and placing him or her into an exercise ball or other safe holding area. Take apart the habitat and remove all debris. This is easiest done in a bathtub or large basin. Wash all parts of the habitat – including tunnels, structures and toys – with warm, soapy water or habitat cleaner. Rinse well and allow it to fully dry before replenishing the bedding and food or reintroducing the hamster to the structure.
Feeding Your Hamster
A hamster eats a specialized pellet diet designed to keep these small animals healthy. But you can add some treats to your hamster’s pellet diet. It is just important to keep these treats in balance and to ensure that you only provide safe foods for them to eat. Overall, their diet should consist of 90% quality hamster pellets and only up to 10% treats and other foods. They only need 1 to 2 teaspoons of food each day. You can put this food in their food bowl and leave it in the habitat for consumption when the animal is hungry. To help you find the right food for your hamster, check out this article on the best hamster food for your hamster.
Besides specially-made hamster pellets, your hamster can eat the following foods as treats:
- Fruits – Apples (no seeds), bananas, blueberries, grapes, strawberries
- Vegetables – Broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, cucumber, kale, peas, cooked potatoes, Romaine lettuce, spinach, sweet potatoes, squash
- Grains – whole grain bread, whole wheat cooked pasta, cooked brown rice, Sugar free whole grain cereal
- Insects – Mealworms or crickets
- Nuts and seeds – Unsalted peanuts, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds
- Dairy and meats – Hard-boiled eggs, tiny pieces of cooked chicken
- Plain air-popped popcorn
- Dandelion greens
- Apple seeds
- Raw potatoes
- Raw beans
- Citrus fruits
- Sugar or sugary foods
- Salty foods
- Junk foods
If you feed your hamster peanut butter, exercise great caution. This food can get stuck in their cheek pouches and cause major problems. To feed peanut butter to them, smear only a very thin layer onto a piece of wood. This should only be an occasional snack.
How Long Will Your Hamster Live
Hamsters live very short lives. Gestation is only 20 to 22 days. Newborn pups are hairless with closed eyes, so they cannot see. Their fur starts growing at about five days of age and eyes open at about two weeks. They remain dependent on their mother until they are 3 weeks to 4 weeks old.
At only 4 weeks to 6 weeks of age, hamsters are sexually mature and can reproduce. But it is best to not comingle sexually mature males and females until the animals are 8 to 12 weeks of age, to ensure the females are at least 90 grams to 100 grams in weight before becoming pregnant. They typically cannot reproduce after about 14 months of age and only live to the age of 18 months to 36 months.
Common Health Issues For Hamsters
Hamsters live very short lives and are fragile animals. They are prone to illnesses and can easily become deathly ill from environmental triggers that cause them stress or anxiety. In fact, many hamsters get sick with diarrhea triggered by the stress of moving into a new owner’s home. This typically occurs about 3 weeks after transitioning to their new habitat. Fur loss is another common issue, typically caused by nutritional deficiencies.
Other common health issues for hamsters include:
- Parasites like mites and ringworm
- Eye proptosis
- Cheek pouch disorders
- Dental problems
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
Where to Buy Your Hamster
Most pet stores sell hamsters and all of the supplies you need to provide a safe, comfortable and healthy habitat for them. Because they are great first pets, there are generally no special requirements to purchase one.
You can also find hamsters for sale on online pet directory sites and through other local listings. Your veterinarian likely knows someone with hamsters available for sale. Other resources include hamster breeders, hamster shows and pet adoption events. Your local animal shelter may even have hamsters available for quick and easy adoption.
Keeping Pet Hamsters: Feeding, Care, Cost, and More FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Should I buy hamsters in pairs?
Hamsters make excellent solitary pets, particularly for a first-time pet owner. But it is important to know that Syrian hamsters – also called teddy bear hamsters – are notoriously antisocial. They will often fight other hamsters to the death. If you want more than one hamster at a time, it is best to choose Siberian dwarf hamsters. Introduce them to their habitat companion at a young age.
Do hamsters make good "starter" pets?
Hamsters are excellent first-time pets for young people and new pet owners of all ages. They help their owners experience the responsibilities of pet ownership without being too difficult to manage. But very young children under age 8 should be supervised when handling their hamster. These tiny exotic pets are very fragile and stress easily.
Are hamsters easy to care for?
Hamsters are among the easiest pets to care for. They are happy within a clean, comfortable and safe habitat with an exercise wheel, food, water and bedding material in which to burrow and nest. These little animals only need about 20 to 30 minutes of hamster ball exercise and socialization handling each day. The rest of their time can be spent in their habitat, exploring and exercising on their own in a hamster wheel. Their habitat only requires light daily and weekly maintenance with once-monthly deep cleaning and bedding replacement.
What diet does a hamster eat?
Hamsters are omnivores. Their daily diet consists of about two teaspoons of food, 90% of which is specially-made hamster pellets that offer well-balanced nutrition. The other 10% of their diet can consist of treats like fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts (no almonds), seeds and grains. They also need a treat designed to keep their incisor teeth from growing too long, called a teeth grinding stone. They drink fresh water from a small animal water bottle with a spout.
How long do hamsters live?
Sadly, hamsters only live very short lives of 2 years to 3 years. Because their lifespan is so limited, they go through developmental stages very quickly. Hamsters wean from their mother by 28 days and many can reproduce right away! By 14 months, females can no longer have babies.
Where can I buy a hamster?
Hamsters are available to buy through pet stores, hamster breeders, private sellers and local animal shelters. You only need to look online to find a variety of local options for buying these pets. Or, you can simply go to a national pet supply retailer to find a selection of hamsters and all of the associated pet supplies.
What is a good price to pay for a hamster?
Most hamsters cost between $15 to $20 for the animal, itself. You should expect to pay about $350 in the pet’s first year of life for all of their necessary supplies and food. In their subsequent years of life, they cost about $275 per year.
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