Although hamsters are rodents, they still require special care. Just as humans care for themselves, hamsters must be housed, fed, and cleaned properly. They also require interaction with humans; yet if their owner is not around, toys or other playthings must be provided. The following guides are designed to assist you in the care of your hamsters. They are tips that I have learned after caring for hamsters, yet you may alter them to your own discretion.
Hamsters are solitary animals; although siblings may be housed together during the first ten weeks of their lives, they will soon become territorial and fight with one another. In addition, if a male is housed with a female there is the possibility that the female will produce babies, since hamsters are sexually mature at six weeks of age. Therefore, it is best if you keep your hamster in his or her own home. The best type of housing is either an aquarium (at least 10 gallons) or a metal cage whose bars are close enough together so that your hamster cannot squeeze through the bars. If you place your hamster in an aquarium, make sure that you purchase a lid that fits snugly onto the top of it. Some pet shops also sell cage clips to assure extra protection against a hamster escaping. To provide a nesting area as well as a material to absorb the hamster smell and excrements, you will need to purchase pet bedding. For my hamsters, I use a pet bedding called CareFresh. It is environmentally friendly, recycled, and biodegradable. It is also very absorbent.
Once you have established a secure housing facility, it is necessary to purchase food, a food dish, and a water bottle. Hamsters' food and water must be refreshed on a daily basis. Some of my hamsters enjoy sitting in their food bowls as they eat their food. Therefore, depending on your hamster's personality, you may consider purchasing a food bowl that is large enough for the hamster to sit in. The bowl must also be heavy enough so that the hamster cannot tip it. I feed my hamsters a variety of seed blends by Kaytee. Feed your hamster about 2 tablespoons of food daily. Hamsters also enjoy eating fresh fruits and vegetables (don't feed them too many carrots, though; they then suffer from diarrhea). Often times at pet shops you may see vitamins that are either added to the hamster's food or water. However, if you feed your hamster a nutritious diet, these vitamins are not necessary. Because hamsters eat a high protein diet, a constant supply of water is mandatory. Often times hamsters chew through soft plastic water bottles. To prevent this from occurring, purchase a hard plastic water bottle or a water bottle that is held by a bottle guard.
Because you cannot be with your hamster 24 hours a day, it is important that your hamster has toys so that he or she may amuse him- or herself. First, a wheel is the typical hamster toy. Hamsters love to run around and can amuse themselves for hours at a time while you are away. However, hamsters should not be allowed to run around in their wheels constantly. They become exhausted and dehydrated. Therefore, place the wheel in the cage during the day when you are away, but remove the wheel when you go to bed at night. Your hamster will be able to rest and you will not be bothered by the constant spinning of the wheel. Hamsters also love to burrow not only beneath their bedding but through tunnels as well. Companies who sell plastic cages for hamsters (which the hamsters chew through and then escape) also manufacture tunnels that can be connected to cages. However, these tunnels may be placed in your hamster's aquarium or metal cage. Hamsters also enjoy sleeping in nests. I have purchased nesting houses by a company called Small Animal Kingdom (what's great is there are coupons on the sides of the boxes so that you can buy more great toys from the company!). I also place Kleenex inside the hamsters' homes so they have a nice, cozy place to sleep. Hamsters should also be giving chewing blocks. Their teeth continuously grow; if your hamster does not have something to chew on in order to file down his teeth, the teeth will grown into his gums. This is very painful for the hamster as you can imagine. You can also give treat sticks (also made by Kaytee) to your hamster so he can file his teeth.
Surprisingly, hamsters are very clean creatures. They organize their cages so that they have one area to sleep, another to perform bodily functions, and yet another to eat. The bedding inside the aquarium or cage should be changed once or twice a week. This involves dumping out the old bedding, and exchanging it with fresh bedding. The toys (e.g. the wheel, tunnels) should be washed in warm, soapy water once a week. The hamsters entire aquarium or cage should be cleaned twice a month. The bedding is emptied and the aquarium or cage is cleaned with warm, soapy water using a washcloth or scrubbing brush. It must then be thoroughly rinsed and dried and fresh bedding may be placed inside. At this time you can also clean the toys. Hamsters themselves do not require baths; in the wild, they bathe themselves in sand. I have tried to introduce my hamsters to chinchilla bath sand, but they do not seem to like it. It is important, if you have a teddybear (longhair hamster) that you brush his hair with a soft bristled brush. Pet shops sell brushes specifically made for hamsters.
If your hamster ever seems ill to you, take him or her to an emergency clinic right away. I once had a hamster die from congenital meningitis because she had appeared ill, yet I did not take her to the veterinarian clinic right away. I am not saying that your hamster is going to contract a fatal disease; I am saying to monitor your hamster carefully for any sudden changes in behavior. Since not all animal hospitals specialize in exotic animal care, call your local animal hospitals and ask them if they can provide emergency care for your hamster in the case that a situation arises. I took one of my hamster to East Brunswick Animal Hospital; the doctor was very understanding and took excellent care of my hamster. So, if your hamster is listless, shows a loss of appetite, is immobile and generally appears to be ill, bring him or her to a veterinarian.