Getting a Pet Hamster

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on July 23, 2023
4 min read

Hamsters are common pets. They can be quite fun and they do not need much room due to their size. Before you get one as a pet, there are some things you should know.

There are two main species of hamsters kept as pets: Syrian (Golden) hamsters and Siberian (Dwarf) hamsters. Syrian hamsters are solitary by nature. You shouldn’t put them together after they reach 10 weeks old. If you do they may fight each other to death. Dwarf hamsters, on the other hand, can live with others if they’re introduced at a young age.

Hamsters and children. Hamsters are cute and children easily fall in love with them. But they are also delicate. A child may drop the hamster, squeeze it, or scare it. When a hamster gets scared or awakened suddenly they may bite. Because of that children under eight years old should handle hamsters only with adult supervision.

Hamster diet. Hamsters generally eat grains, seeds, vegetables, and small amounts of fruits like apples (don't feed them grapes or rhubarb). You can feed your pet hamster combinations of rat blocks (rodent chow) and seed mix or hamster pellets. Use a seed mix that contains a mixture of seeds, pellets, grain, and dried vegetables. Don’t forget to provide clean fresh drinking water for your pet hamster. Hamsters eat vegetables like romaine lettuce, kale, carrots, and spinach.

Never feed your hamster uncooked beans, onions, garlic, almonds, candy, chocolate, or junk food.

Do hamsters get sick? Pet hamsters are prone to illnesses like amyloidosis (kidney disease) and congestive heart failure. These conditions can be fatal to them. Both amyloidosis and congestive heart failure have no cure. Hamsters are also susceptible to other types of bacteria causing diarrhea and dehydration. You should be gentle when handling a sick hamster and take care since some of the bacteria strains can spread to people.

Hamster housing. Pet hamsters should be kept in a clean cage with adequate space. Provide them with dust-extracted bedding. Hamsters — especially dwarf hamsters — have a tendency to burrow. To allow this in a cage make their bed deep enough. Shredded paper or dry peat is good for hamster nesting. Avoid using bedding that could cause health problems when eaten.

Don’t use bedding that could wrap around their body or limbs to prevent accidents. Place the hamster’s cage away from direct sunlight or a heat source. Remember to clean the cage regularly.

Socialization in hamsters. Hamsters are social animals within themselves and with people. They use body language to communicate with each other and will also try to communicate with you. Hamsters can also send messages to others by emitting chemicals using scent glands. Their strong sense of smell helps them identify each other.

Training a hamster. Hamsters are trainable. This can help you in your efforts to keep the cage clean. Litter train your pet hamster to keep everything neat. They have a habit of hoarding food in their bedding. Litter training may help in making the cleaning process easier.

You should always observe your hamsters closely. While doing so you can notice when they start acting differently. This can be an indication of illness and you might have to call a vet. If your hamster is sick you should only give them medication recommended to them by the vet. Never give them human or another animal’s medicine as they are dangerous to hamsters.

As mentioned earlier, hamsters get frightened easily. Things like sudden movements and loud noises can cause them distress. Maintain calmness in your house or around the hamsters and try not to stress them. A stressed hamster is more likely to get ill.

A hamster’s teeth don’t stop growing. You should provide your hamster with enough material to gnaw on. This will prevent their teeth from overgrowing. It also helps in keeping them sharp. If the teeth are left to continue growing they will eventually start causing pain and other health issues. If they overgrow, take your hamster to the vet. A hamster with dental issues may stop eating.

Prepare your home. It is important that you make sure your home is safe and conducive for a pet hamster. Hamster-proof electrical cords because they like to chew. Hamsters are quite small in size and other home animals may see them as prey. Your dog or cat may want to chase or eat them. Take all the necessary precautions to protect your hamster from other companion animals at home.