Hamsters: Not just for kids!

So You’re Thinking About Getting A Hamster...

Makes sense! Hamsters make awesome companions for people of any age. They often get regulated to a “my first pet” status, but what is better than a mini cuddle-buddy to come home to?

Hamsters have always been one of the most popular pet choices in America and we know more now than ever before about how to keep them happy and healthy.

Why You Would Want A Hamster

Have you seen a hamster? Who could resist!

A close up of a golden hamster

Not only do they have the best faces ever, but they all also have personalities to match. Hamsters do adorable things constantly like hoarding food in their cheeks and sleeping in little tunnels that they have burrowed in their cage.

Hamsters are fun to interact with and they are just as fun to watch play on their own. They are self-sufficient little buddies who love attention, being pet, and prefer solo runs on their wheel to long walks on the beach with their humans.

A Brief History Of Hamsters...

Hamsters were first discovered in the late 1700s. The first recording we have was written in The Natural History of Allepo in 1797 by a physician named Alexander Russell. Russell did not assign the animals a name then. We would name them 1839 when George Robert Waterhouse first scientifically classified them.

They were first dubbed “Golden Hamsters” as we had only discovered what we now call Syrian Hamsters. These are one the biggest hamsters in the world, ranging from four to six inches when fully grown. Their glossy golden coat and their tendency to hoard food in their cheeks and burrows brought their name together. Hamster is taken from the German word for “hoarder”.

There are over 26 hamster breeds in the wild all over Asia, Europe, and parts of the Middle East.

Wild hamsters are a prey animal that create an intricate series of underground tunnels and burrows. In the wild, they are “crepuscular” which means they are most active from twilight until dawn. Since their habitat is pitch black hamsters did not evolve with super strong eyesight and use other methods to determine the space they are in.

Hamsters have been domesticated since the 1930’s when Israel Aharoni, a zoologist, led an expedition to Syria to find hamsters in Aleppo. After finding hamsters in the wild, the first successful colony of pet hamsters was bred at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. They were then exported all over the world to zoos and universities.

Today, almost all of our Syrian Hamsters that are in captivity are descended from these original ancestors.

Finding The Right Fit

There are over 20 different hamster breeds, so you can narrow down your selection to what fits you best. These are some of the most popular breeds:

Syrian Hamsters are bigger, stockier, and live alone in their enclosures. These adorable hamsters are available in different color patterns. Some of the most popular options are:

  • Teddy Bear Hamsters are what we used to refer to as “Golden” hamsters. They are known for their super cute round ears, light coats, and bright noses.
  • Panda Bear Hamsters also have big rounded ears, but come in darker coat patterns (like panda’s!)

Dwarf Hamsters are named due to their tiny size. These hamsters also come in a variety of colors and different breeds. Some of the most popular types of dwarf hamsters are:

  • Roborvski (often called “Robo” hamsters) are the smallest hamsters. These tiny buddies can live in pairs and often prefer the companionship of their own to human interaction. These hamsters can become anxious if held or interacted with too often, making them more of an observational pet.
  • Djungarian Hamsters are another dwarf breed, with different color/markings than Robo’s. These hamsters can also be housed with others of their same size. They grow to be slightly larger than Robo hamsters.

What Do Hamsters Need?

Housing + Care Checklist

  • 20+ Gallon Tank
  • Mesh Tank Cover
  • Heavy Food Bowl
  • Water Bottle
  • Exercise Wheel
  • Toys for chewing and playing
  • Hideouts
  • Food
  • Bedding

For their food, we recommend Oxbow diets that are fortified for hamsters.

You can also supplement their diet with a little bit of fresh greens. Dark leafy greens like kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and celery, are perfect additions to a balanced diet. You can also throw in the occasional fruit piece like cherry, strawberry, or cantaloupe. Fruits are much higher in sugar than vegetables so they should be fed much more scarcely.

A gold and white hamster surrounded by broccoli

We do not recommend seed mixes for most hamsters, as seeds are very calorically dense and high in fats which will raise a hamsters cholesterol. If you do feed a seed mix, be sure that your hamster is eating all of the varieties and not just picking out their favorite snacks and leaving the healthy bits behind.

Using dust-free bedding is essential for hamsters health. Their little lungs get irritated quite quickly by any allergens and can develop lifelong respiratory problems if exposed to dust for prolonged periods of time.

Building A Hamster-Approved Home

Are you picturing your future hamster's house? There are many different ways to make your hamsters house a home.

The typical hamster's cage has always been full of bright colors, plastic tubes, and confetti bedding. This may or may not match your current design aesthetic.

As hamsters are desert-dwellers their natural habitat is sand, dirt, and lots of underground tunnels. Now you can create a beautiful desert space for your hamster indoors!

Natural bedding, like our favorite Eco-Crinkle bedding, is the perfect base layer. It is super-absorbent, completely free of any dust/irritants, and gets super fluffy once it’s out of the bag. Your hamster is going to have so much fun burrowing its way through making tunnels and exploring their new environment.

Hay is a perfect addition to their environment, providing a fun texture for them to lay on and play in. Hay is also the perfect snack for them! The coarse texture of hay (along with their other toys) help keep their front teeth from overgrowing.

You can also provide a sandy area for your hamster to bathe themselves in. Hamsters should never be bathed in water as this will disrupt the oil system on their coat and cause health problems.

Throw in a wooden branch for them to scurry around on and a few spaces for them to hide out in to complete their home.

Get creative with their habitat! An item like this coconut hideaway is technically made for birds, but because it is made with all natural coconut, wood, and rope, it creates a perfect hamster hide!

Hamster in  a coconut with a ladder

Housing Tips

Bigger is always better! The more space, the more opportunity to explore, create burrows, and hide if stressed. We recommend a 20-gallon tank minimum and you can always go bigger!

Why tanks? The glass is chew proof! Hamsters love to chew on everything and wire cages provide ample opportunity to do so. Wire cages are also easier to escape from--many times hamsters can squeeze themselves between the bars.

Remember hamsters are prey animals and while your house is a totally safe environment, those instincts have not gone away. Providing them with multiple hiding spots is key to keeping them happy!

Hamsters=hoarders. Besides adorably hoarding food in their cheeks, hamsters like to hide their food and toys away for later. You can encourage this behavior by putting treats or toys in spaces that they have to “find” them!

Hammy Behaviors

What do hamsters do all day? They sleep! What do they do all night? Run, chew, and play!

Hamsters love to run and are great at getting regular exercise. If you had a hamster growing up, you may be remembering the sound of a squeaking wheel keeping you up at night. While hamsters are still nocturnal, now we have smooth wheels that are designed to be safe and quiet. 

Chew time is all the time in a hamsters world. This is a great habit because their front teeth never stop growing. Chewing rough and coarse textures help naturally file these front teeth down so that they do not overgrow and cause injury. Keeping at least two varieties of toys available at all times is key to keep them chewing.

Handle Your Hamster Like A Pro

Take a moment to imagine life from your hamsters perspective. Everything is big, new, and scary because it is possibly coming to harm them.

When introducing yourself to your hamster, it has to be on their terms. When you first bring your hamster home leave it completely alone for at least 24 hours. This is the initial stage of them getting to know their new home, taking in the smells, sights, and sounds. Moving is stressful for any animal and giving them time to settle in will make for an easier bond later on.

When your hamster is settled and ready, start introducing yourself! This does not mean reaching in and grabbing them like a claw-game, but rather lowering your hand into their cage and letting them sniff around. Once they get comfortable with one hand, bring in your other hand to create a cradle. For the first few times let them get settled in your palms, but do not lift them.

Once they are used to your hands and feel comfy in the cradle, gently bring them out of the cage.

Hamsters are master escape artists so make sure you are in a secure location when bringing them out of their home.

With regular gentle handling, your hamster will get to know and bond with you! Hamsters that are handled correctly should not bite when you pet or hold them.

A great way to bond with your new hamster is to feed them a snack with your hand. Try to do this away from their food bowl--hamsters are often very territorial near their food and may bite out of stress.

Finding your hamsters favorite toys, treats, and textures to romp around with is part of the joy of having one!

Cleaning Their Cage

Regular cleaning is necessary for a healthy hamster. We recommend spot cleaning every other day to remove any sullied materials. Remove old food before topping up their food bowl and give the water bottle a good clean.

Too much cleaning can cause your hamster stress, so a big clean with a complete bedding change and wipedown should happen no more than once per week. When changing the bedding, keep some of the clean bedding that was already in their cage to mix with the new bedding. This way their home smells familiar.

Ready To Make The Commitment?

Hamsters are a wonderful mix of independent and friendly. They live up to three years and will do so quite happily in their enriching environment. The healthier the hamster, the longer its potential lifespan. The oldest hamster on record lived to be eight years old!

An orange hamster with his tail up

These little buddies can add so much joy to your life without a stressful time commitment. Hamsters are happy to be home while you are at work or out meeting friends. They may even sleep the whole time!

Whenever you are ready to bring your hamster home, Pets On Broadway is here to help! Our Animal Care experts can walk you through your options for their environments and answer any questions you may have.