Ginger Clarke is an experienced keeper, talented writer, and great friend of the hamster community. She has written a wonderful, comprehensive guide for new hamster owners. Please support her work by visiting and learning through her guide!
Your questions, answered.
Learn more about what to feed and what not to feed your hamster.
You'll want to know what to expect when bringing home your new pet.
Syrian hamsters need to housed alone, and this original article explains why.
Timeless information on how to assess breeders to find your ideal pet.
Useful information from our found about cohabitating dwarf hamsters.
First and foremost, we advocate for adoption. A great option is looking for hamsters that need homes in your local shelter. If your shelter doesn't have any hamsters or doesn't have the species you're hoping for, there are usually plenty of people selling their pets on resale sites like Craigslist, Facebook, LetGo, OfferUp, and others. They usually are living in tiny cages with poor diets too! If you are so inclined, taking in one of these hamsters and showing them the love and care they deserve is an excellent alternative to going through a breeder.
The second option is working with an ethical breeder. This can be tricky, as truly ethical breeders are few and far between. Before adopting from a breeder, take a look at our article, "What Is An Ethical Breeder?" and our Breeder Listings. This will help you ensure that you are adopting from a professional and not contributing to the cycle of abuse hamsters often undergo.
Pet stores should not be an option, in our opinion. Years ago, the horrors of puppy mills and their cruel care were highlighted, but may people do not realize that pet stores get their small animals from mills too. In these rodent mills, many species are bred carelessly, given the minimum of basic needs, and receive little to no human interaction. Hamsters raised this way often have health issues from poor breeding, shortening their lifespan further.
When puppy mills were exposed, people stopped buying puppies from pet stores. This resulted in the closing of many mills; a victory for animal lovers! We can help assure a similar victory for hamsters by reducing the demand for pet stores to stock hamsters from rodent mills. Thank you for looking to more ethical options for adoption!
This depends on what your ideal pet is. If you are looking for a hamster you can hold and cuddle, a Syrian hamster may be right for you. Syrian hams are very sweet, easily tameable, and make great pets for older children who are willing to invest the time in their care. They come in many beautiful colors and patterns, including the lovely long-haired variety.
If you have a very young child or are looking for a pet you can enjoy by watching rather than handling, a dwarf may be right for you! That is not to say that they cannot be held, but they tend to be quicker and less apt to sit in your hand. Campbell's are the cuddliest of the dwarves, with Winter Whites following behind. Roborovskis are the smallest and fastest of the three species, but are incredibly entertaining.
A teddy bear hamster is simply a long-haired Syrian, usually chocolate or sable. Pet stores invented the name to market the animals at young children. Black bears are another pet store term, but it is used to describe black, short-haired Syrians.
Some other pet store monikers include
Syrian hamsters are solitary. They need to be kept one to a cage from the age of 6 weeks on. Syrian hamsters will fight and kill each other after this age, even if they are siblings or those of the opposite sex. They are extremely territorial. Remember: Syrians are solitary!
It's a common misconception that dwarf hamsters are universally social. There is a theory that states dwarf hamsters can be kept together successfully if they are siblings/family and you have two of everything (wheel, house, food bowl, etc.) While this is good practice, there are many things that contribute to dwarf hamster fighting.
It can be extremely complicated and dangerous to cohabitate dwarf hamsters, and the keeper needs to be keenly aware of their animals and know when to separate. For this reason, we don't recommend cohabitating dwarf hamsters, except for experienced keepers. Here are some quick guidelines.
A great source of wisdom on this topic exists in the Dwarf Hamsters Are Social article from our founder.
Hamsters, in general, need a higher protein diet than pet stores provide. They also do very well with supplements of fresh fruits and veggies!
See our feeding and nutrition page for more info!
We favor Kaytee Clean and Cozy, but Carefresh and other paper based beddings are favorites among pet owners too. Aspen bedding is also popular because it is inexpensive and safe. Just stay away from anything scented!
Cedar, pine, or beddings labeled "softwood" should never be used since hamsters cannot tolerate the oils in it--it will slowly kill them by inducing painful respiratory distress.
We use and recommend Kaytee Clean and Cozy.
The U.S. minimum size requirement for hamsters is 450 square inches. How large is this? The largest IKEA Samla bin, which the minimum is based on, is about 26" x 18," or 468 square inches. This was rounded to 450 inches to get our minimum. The best kind of cage is one that fits your home and lifestyle, while also meeting this minimum.
Check out our appropriate cage list to find the best cage for your home.
The best toys are ones that serve a purpose. A wheel, for example, is the most important toy a hamster needs. Syrians require 9 inch wheels or larger (12" recommended), and dwarves require at least 6 inches (8" recommended). Both need a solid running surface, so no wire or mesh. Little feet can get stuck and seriously injured in wire and mesh wheels! See our safe wheel list to find the right wheel for your hamster!
Other good toys include platforms for the cage which add extra space, such as the IKEA Flyt, IKEA Variera shelf insert, or plastic magazine holders.
Edible chews are needed to keep the teeth trim. We suggest Whimzees dog treats.
They need a sand bath to keep their fur clean, and will also use it as a litter box. We suggest purchasing children's play sand from Home Depot at $5/50lbs. When you get home, spread it onto baking sheet and bake it at 400 degrees for 30-60 minutes, depending on how thick the layer of sand is. Just make sure it is dry. After it is cool, scoop some into a tupperware container or glass baking dish and watch your hamster have a blast!
For more ideas and links, check out our Fave Products!
Use any non-toxic oil such as crisco, olive oil, vaseline, etc. on any parts that rub. It may need to be re-applied regularly.
Contrary to popular belief, hamsters are not nocturnal--they are crepuscular. Crepuscular animals are awake at dusk and dawn, meaning that they are usually awake when you are sleeping! For this reason, it is best to play with your hamster before bed or early in the morning.
Hamsters are susceptible to a variety of illnesses. Respiratory infections are among the most common, and they require veterinary intervention. Female hamsters are also susceptible to pyometra, an infection of the uterus. Again, veterinary care is required in those cases.
Hamsters of all species are extremely susceptible to cancers of all kinds, and it's the leading cause of natural death for rodents.
Here are some things to look for.
If you notice any combination of these symptoms, please seek veterinary care for your hamster. See our veterinary listings for more help.
There is no reliable way to tell if your hamster is pregnant. It is usually best to wait through the short gestation, treating the female as though she is pregnant, and see if any babies are born. Mama hamsters do tend to become more pear-shaped late in gestation.
For Syrians, the gestation is 17 days. For dwarf hamsters, the gestation is 18-21 days.
If you suspect your hamster may be pregnant, take a look at this excellent article by our friends at the Ontario Hamster Club. It is an excellent guide.