Hamsters

Hamsters as pets

Small and entertaining to watch, hamsters make a great first pet for children as they are so easy to care for.  With regular handling become very tame and as they are most active in the evening they are ideal for people at work or children at school. These amusing little creatures were re-discovered in the deserts of North Africa in Syria during the 1930s.  They had been thought to be extinct as no one had seen a hamster in the wild for over 100 years.  They were introduced as pets to Britain in the 1940s and quickly became one of the nation's favourite pets.
  
More recently other breeds of hamster have been discovered in Russia and China and they have become just as popular thanks to their endearing characteristics.  Hamsters can be long or short haired and come in a variety of colours.  On average a pet hamster lives between 1.5 – 3 years, but if they are well-loved and looked after they can live for a little longer.

Hamster facts you need to know

In the wild hamsters live deep underground in burrows during the day and the tunnels they make can often be several feet in depth.

  • People often think that hamsters are nocturnal as they sleep most of the day but they are actually crepuscular which means that they are more active in the twilight hours of dawn and dusk.  They have developed this behaviour to avoid predators such as owls in the wild and also these hours are when their original habitat in the desert is fairly cool.
  • Don't worry that you won't see your hamster in the daytime – they will quickly adapt to coming out of their nests when they hear your voice or at feeding time.
  • Hamsters have an elongated pouch on each side of their heads which they stuff full of food to be stored in their nest or to be eaten later.  When the pouch is full they look as if their cheeks are bulging – it's surprising how much they can fit in there!
  • Hamsters have very poor eyesight and can not see more than a few inches in front of their nose.  This makes them unable to tell when they are in danger of falling because they cannot see that far.  Don't let your hamster perch on your shoulder as they can leap off and hurt themselves as they don't realise how high up they are.
  • To compensate for their poor eyesight, hamsters have excellent hearing and communicate with each other using frequencies that are beyond the range of the human ear.  They will often stop and freeze when they hear an unusual sound and then sniff the air for more information.   
  • Hamsters have a keen sense of smell and mark their territory with scent glands on their flanks (and abdomens in the case of Chinese and dwarf hamsters).  They use their sense of smell to detect the gender of other hamsters and to find food.
  • Hamsters are clean, busy little creatures who keep themselves and their cage spick and span.  They like to exercise, dig and climb so remember to provide some toys such as a wheel, tunnels and a hamster ball to keep them healthy and active.
  • View our Hamster Products section for our range of hamster cages and toys

Which breed?

There are 5 main breeds of hamster kept as pets in the UK and they come in a variety of colours and lengths of coat.  

Some types of hamsters are prone to diabetes which can affect their health and diet.  Russian Campbell Dwarf Hamsters, Chinese Hamsters, some lines of Winter White Dwarf Hamsters and Hybrid (Russian Campbell crossed with Winter White) Hamsters are all at a higher risk for diabetes.  Syrian (Golden) Hamsters and Roborovski Dwarf Hamsters are not prone to diabetes.

  • View our Hamster Health section to learn more


Syrian / Golden Hamsters

Syrian Hamsters are solitary creatures by nature and should not be kept together as they will fight.   In the wild they only meet to mate, after which the female drives the male away.  They are larger and chunkier than other breeds of hamster and are usually about 4 - 6 inches (10.2 – 15.2 cm) in length.  They make great pets for children as they are easy to handle and tame. 

  • They are sometimes called Golden Hamsters because of their original golden colour but nowadays they come in a variety of colours and patterns:  cream, white, blonde, golden, cinnamon, tortoiseshell, black, lilac, silver grey, sable, dominant spot, banded and tricolour.
  • Syrian Hamsters can be found with 4 different coat types – Short haired, Long haired, Satin and Rex. The Long haired Syrian's coat can often grow to 3 or 4 inches long and will need grooming.   Long haired Syrian's should not be given a wheel in their cage as their coat can become entangled and cause injury to the hamster.  Satin Syrians have a glossy sheen to their coat which is caused by hollow hair shafts that catch the light.  Rex Syrians have curly or wavy coats and whiskers that look as if they have been crimped.
  • View our Hamster Products section for our range of hamster grooming accessories

Campbells Russian Dwarf Hamster

Campbells Russian Dwarf Hamsters originated in the semi deserts of Central Asia, Mongolia and North Eastern China.  These hamsters are sociable and can live together in the same cage but same sex groupings are recommended.  If fighting does occur they must be separated.  They are between 3.5 – 4 inches (8 – 10 cm) in length.  Although generally good natured they are not best suited as pets for very young children because of their small size and their ability to move very quickly.

  • Campbells Russian Dwarf Hamsters are a brownish grey colour with a distinct stripe down their spine and cream /white belly.  Other colours include:  black, opal (blue grey), agouti, argente (golden / sandy), lilac fawn, champagne and albino.  The patterns and markings are mottled and platinum.  There are 4 different coat types:  short haired, satin, wavy and rex.

Winter White Russian Dwarf Hamster

Winter White Russian Dwarf Hamsters come from Kazakhstan and South West Siberia (they are also called Siberian Hamsters). They are between 3 – 4 inches (7 – 10 cm) in length.  Although generally good natured they are not best suited as pets for very young children because of their small size and their ability to move very quickly.  

  • The Winter White Russian Dwarf Hamster has a spine which curves towards the rear, giving them an oval or bullet-like shape. However, like their relative the Dwarf Campbells Russian Hamster they have the distinct darker stripe down their spine.  These hamsters are sociable and can live together in the same cage but same sex groupings are recommended.  If fighting does occur they must be separated.
  • These hamsters are normally dark grey in colour with a white belly but in their native habitats their coats turn completely white in the winter as they have evolved to camouflage themselves against the snow.  They can also come in sapphire (soft purple grey with a grey belly), imperial (white) and pearl (white ticked through with coloured hairs).  

Chinese Hamster

Chinese Hamsters originate from the deserts of Northern China and Mongolia. They are between 4 – 5 inches (10 - 12 cm).  They are longer and thinner than Russian Hamsters and look more mouse-like.  Chinese hamsters have a tail which is about an inch (2.5 cm) long and hairless.  They can be kept together in pairs but if they become aggressive they must be separated immediately.  Chinese Hamsters are generally good natured and quiet to handle but are not suited as pets for very young children due to their small size and their ability to move quickly.   

  • Chinese Hamsters are a warm grey / brown colour with a black stripe down their spine.  Another colour variety exists that is known as the White Spotted Chinese Hamster, which often is greyish white all over, with dark stripe on its back.

Roborovski's Hamster

Roborovski's Hamsters come from the Gobi Desert, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Russia and Northern China.  They are the smallest of all hamsters measuring 1.5 – 3 inches (4 – 7 cm) in length.  These hamsters are sociable and can live together in the same cage but same sex groupings are recommended.  If fighting does occur they must be separated.  They are not recommended as pets for very young children as they can be very lively and difficult to catch.

  • Roborovski's Hamsters are a greyish sandy brown with a white belly and eyebrows.  Other varieties are the Husky – a white faced Roborovski's and a white spotted version.

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Handling your hamster

When you bring your hamster home leave them for a day or two before handling so that they can get used to their new home.  

  • Hamsters have poor eyesight so before you start to handle your hamster let them get used to your voice.  Then introduce your hand so they can become used to your smell.
  • Hamsters are delicate and should be picked up very gently.  They can get very frightened by loud noises and sudden movements so be slow and steady when handling them.  Cup one hand under your hamster and one hand over them to stop them from jumping off.
  • Handle your hamster over a table or close to the floor in case they fall out of your hands.  
  • Never wake your hamster up suddenly so that you can handle them as they will become frightened and possibly nip you.
  • Handle your hamster once a day and they will soon become tame and friendly.

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Getting a New Hamster?

We have a great guide to help you make bringing your hamster home stress free and smooth with some handy tips for you to help settle your hamster in to their new life happily.  Our check list below will ensure that you have everything for your new hamster's arrival.

Check List

  • Hamster cage
  • Nest box
  • Bedding / nesting material
  • Substrate / flooring material
  • Hamster food
  • Feeding bowl
  • Water bottle
  • Hamster hygiene products
  • Mineral stone
  • Exercise wheel
  • Tubes, wooden toys and hamster balls
  • Gnawing sticks / treats
  • Grooming brushes
  • View our Hamster Products section for our wide range of hamster cages, nest boxes, bedding, food and toys
  • Visit our Hamster Housing section to learn more about hamster cages, nesting, bedding, toys and exercise
  • Visit our Hamster Feeding section to find out about what foods your hamster likes to eat

Settling in your hamster

Once you have brought your hamster home it's best to leave them alone for a day or so to settle in.  Your hamster needs this quiet time to adjust to their new surroundings and calm down after travelling.

  • Let your hamster get accustomed to your hand by placing it in their cage.  Your hamster may come over and sniff or rub against it.  Try stroking your hamster very slowly and gently.  Avoid making any sudden movements.
  • Hamsters are delicate and should be picked up very gently.  They can get very frightened by loud noises and sudden movements so remember to be slow and careful when you move your hand.  Cup one hand under your hamster and one hand over them to stop them from jumping off.
  • Handle your hamster over a table or close to the floor in case they fall out of your hands.  Sitting on the floor is a good idea as if your hamster does try to jump they will fall into your lap.
  • Never wake your hamster up suddenly so that you can handle them as they will become frightened and possibly nip you.
  • Handle your hamster once a day and they will soon become tame and friendly.

Feeding your Hamster

  • What do hamsters eat?
  • Diabetes
  • Nuggets and muesli
  • Treats
  • Water
  • Greens
  • Root Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Grass and Hay
  • Dangerous Foods

Your hamster will need a balanced diet to keep them happy and healthy and we have a useful guide to help you choose the best food available for your hamster.

What do hamsters eat?

Hamsters in the wild are omnivores – just like us - which means that they need both meat and vegetables in their diet. Hamsters also have an elongated pouch on each side of their heads which they stuff full of food to be stored and eaten later.  In the wild hamsters live on a diet of seeds, nuts, berries, worms, grubs, grasses, green leaves and insects.  

  • You can feed your hamster a handful of hamster muesli or nuggets daily.   
  • You can also offer very small amounts of hay, greens, fruit, vegetables, seeds or the occasional meal worm.  Do not feed your hamster too much fresh food as this can cause tummy upsets and diarrhea.
  • Feed your hamster at the same time each day and you will soon find that they come out to welcome you.  
  • Hamsters will store food in their cheek pouches and put it in a hiding place (which is often in their nest) to eat later.  Remove any food that is no longer fresh each day and clean out the hidden food once a week.
  • Food should be placed in heavy ceramic or plastic shallow bowls that will not tip over.   
  • Always introduce new foods to your hamster gradually over a period of 10 days.
  • View our Hamster Products section for a selection of nutritious nuggets, muesli and treats

Diabetes

Some types of hamsters are prone to diabetes and foods that are high in sugar should not be fed such as fruit (see our fruit section below) and honey based treats.  Russian Campbell Dwarf Hamsters, Chinese Hamsters, some lines of Winter White Dwarf Hamsters and Hybrid (Russian Campbell crossed with Winter White) Hamsters are all at a higher risk for diabetes.  Syrian (Golden) Hamsters and Roborovski Dwarf Hamsters are not prone to diabetes.

  • View our Hamster Health section to learn more
  • Call Vet Clinic at Petstop for a consultation
     

Nuggets and Muesli

Dry hamster nuggets and muesli will provide all the minerals, vitamins, fibre and nutrients required and are also clean and hygienic. These dry foods contain a mixture of pumpkin seeds, millet, grass pellets, maize, flaked oats, peas, toasted soya and wheat flakes, sunflower seeds and meal worms.  Some also contain chicken and rice nuggets.   Dried foods also help to keep your hamster's teeth trim.

  • View our Hamster Products section for a selection of nutritious nuggets, muesli and treats

Treats

Treats in the form of mineral blocks, fruit and honey sticks are great for chewing on and help your hamster's teeth stay in good shape.  There are also forage mixes of herbs, flowers, fruit and vegetables available as healthy snacks to give as a treat.

  • View our Hamster Products section for a selection of nutritious nuggets, muesli and treats

Water

Always provide fresh clean drinking water for your hamster and check the supply each day.  Water bottles should be fitted to the cage at the right height for your hamster to reach the spout.  Water bowls are easily fouled and hamsters can become wet if they get in them which can lead to illness.

  • View our Hamster Products section for a selection of water bottles and Hamster feeding accessories

Greens

Always feed greens (and any new foods) to your hamster gradually and in very small amounts as hamsters can get stomach upsets and diarrhea from eating too many fresh greens.   Cabbage, celery, and lettuce contain too much water for their volume and can have a dangerous laxative effect on hamsters so if you are using these as food only feed a tiny amount.

  • Make sure any greens have been washed before you feed them to your hamster.
  • As hamsters are hoarders be careful to check for hidden food – greens and other fresh foods will spoil and go rotten if left so remove any uneaten food to prevent this.
  • Green leafy plants recommended include: dandelion leaves (and flowers), kale, chard, chickweed, clover, broccoli leaves, stems and florets, green beans, endive, radicchio, chicory, and spinach. 

Root Vegetables

Root vegetables can be fed - in very small amounts - such as carrot, parsnip and turnip.  Potatoes should be avoided.

Fruit

Fruit can be fed in very small amounts to hamsters but as fruit contains a high amount of sugar it may be best not to feed it to hamsters that have a high risk of diabetes.  Russian Campbell Dwarf Hamsters, Chinese Hamsters, some lines of Winter White Dwarf Hamsters and Hybrid (Russian Campbell crossed with Winter White) Hamsters are all at a higher risk for diabetes.  Syrian (Golden) Hamsters and Roborovski Dwarf Hamsters are not prone to diabetes.  

Fruits that can be fed to Syrian (Golden) Hamsters and Roborovski Dwarf Hamsters are:  apple (remove pips), pear, banana, blackberry, cherry (remove stone), peach (remove stone), plum (remove stone), raspberry and strawberry.  
Citrus fruits such as oranges, tangerines, lemons, limes and grapefruit should not be fed to hamsters as they are too acidic.
View our Hamster Health section to learn more.

Grass and Hay

Grass and hay can be fed in very small amounts to your hamster and there are a wide selection of hays and grasses available in store that come in the form of treats.  These are mixed with herbs, fruit and clover.   Alfalfa Hay and Timothy Hay are also available.  

Don't feed your hamster lawnmower clippings as these can upset your hamster's digestive system and make them ill.  Be careful when giving your hamster fresh handfuls of meadow grass as this could contain buttercups which are poisonous.  
View our Hamster Product section for a selection of nutritious hays and grasses for hamsters

Dangerous Foods

  • Never feed your hamster chocolate as it is toxic to most animals.
  • Hamsters are lactose intolerant and can not digest milk.
  • Toxic foods include:  potatoes, kidney beans, parsley, rhubarb, tomato and avocado.
  • Garlic, onion, leeks and chives are dangerous and can cause haemolytic anaemia.
  • Grapes and raisins can contribute to acute kidney failure.
  • Never feed peanut butter as it can clog up your hamster's pouches and cause infection.

Housing your Hamster

  • Dwarf hamster housing
  • Cosy and comfortable
  • Playtime
  • Cleaning

Hamsters are active little creatures and like lots of space to exercise in – so the bigger the hamster cage the better!  

  • Hamsters are vulnerable to extremes of temperature and should be housed indoors.  In the wild if the temperature suddenly drops below 14°C and the food supply is scarce some hamsters will hibernate to try to survive.
  • Place your hamster's cage away from direct sunlight as hamsters can't sweat like humans and succumb to heat stroke very quickly.
  • There are a variety of cages available from plastic bottomed cages with wire sides and tops to plastic rotastak housing units with tubes and tunnels.  
  • View our Hamster Products section for a selection of hamster housing

Dwarf hamster housing

Dwarf Hamsters (Campbells Russian Dwarf, Winter White Russian, Chinese and Roborovski's) require different housing to Syrian (Golden) Hamsters due to their small size as they can squeeze through the wire bars of normal cages.  

The wire bars on cages for Syrian (Golden) Hamsters are usually no more than 1.3cm apart but for a Dwarf Hamster the gap needs to be much smaller:  no more than 0.5cm.  Specialist Dwarf Hamster housing is available and Petstop has a wide range for you to choose from.

  • Dwarf Hamsters love to dig and will need a deeper layer of substrate (floor material) than their Syrian cousins.  
  • Despite their tiny size, Dwarf Hamsters are hyper-active creatures and there are exercise wheels that have been especially designed for them.  
  • View our Hamster Products section for a selection of dwarf hamster housing and accessories
  • Visit our Hamsters As Pets advice to learn more about different types of hamsters

Cosy and Comfortable

The housing should contain a nesting box as hamsters like to hide themselves away inside an enclosed space to sleep and need somewhere to hide the food titbits they stuff into their pouches. Soft, safe and cosy nesting material and bedding are available for your hamster to curl up in.

  • Never use wool or any other type of fabric for nesting material as the fibres can be ingested and become lodged in the hamster's gut.
  • The floor of the cage should be covered in a deep layer of substrate such as wood shavings.  There are also specially formulated substrates available made from recycled paper and wood pulp.  
  • Hamsters chew all sorts of things and the lining of their cheeks (their little pouches) is a delicate membrane that is easily injured. Never introduce any type of bedding that is potentially toxic, abrasive or sharp, no matter how small.
  • Visit our Hamster Products section for a wide range of nest boxes, bedding and substrates
     

Playtime

Hamsters like to burrow and tunnel in the wild so provide tubing to create an underground environment for them in their housing.  

  • They also enjoy exercise wheels in their housing which give them a healthy workout.   Studies suggest that hamsters can run distances of up to 5 miles on their exercise wheels!
  • Hamsters love to climb and some cages have multi-levels for your hamster to explore.  Be careful to make sure that the drop is not too high in case they fall.  You can add ladders, ramps and climbing frames for your hamster to play on and there are also see-saws, hamster balls and mazes to keep your hamster amused and happy.
  • Visit our Hamster Products section for a wide range of hamster exercise wheels, boredom breakers and toys

Cleaning

Your hamsters cage should be cleaned out thoroughly at least once a week using a pet-safe disinfectant.  You may need to clean your hamster's toilet area daily.  

  • There are hamster litter trays available which take advantage of your hamster's natural instinct to go to the toilet in one specific area of their home.
  • As hamsters hoard food (either in their nest or a favourite place in the cage) always throw away any fresh, uneaten food before it goes mouldy.
  • View our Hamster Products section for a range of hamster hygiene and cleaning products

Keeping your Hamster Healthy

  • General health care
  • Common health problems
  • Diabetes
  • General health care

You can tell if your hamster is feeling poorly by their behaviour.  If you notice a change in their behaviour or if they are not eating and drinking (or drinking too much) this could be a sign that they are ill.  

Teeth - Hamsters do not have dental problems very often but their teeth should be checked to make sure they are not over grown or uneven. Your hamster's bottom teeth should be longer than the top.  Your hamster will keep their teeth trim by gnawing and chewing so make sure you provide gnawing toys to help wear their teeth down.  If your hamster does suffer from overgrown teeth make an appointment with your vet to have their teeth trimmed.

Cheek Pouches – Your hamster's cheek pouches can become impacted if a large item gets stuck in there.  As this can cause infection it's advisable to make sure their cheek pouches don't always appear full.  Hamsters will spit out the contents of their pouches if they feel threatened or unhappy - people often mistake this for vomiting and think the hamster is ill.

Nose - Your hamster's nose shouldn't be crusty or runny.  Hamsters can catch colds very easily so a runny nose could be a sign of a cold or respiratory infection.  Hamsters can catch colds from humans, so avoid handling your hamster if you have one.  If you are concerned that your hamster is not recovering from their cold should contact your vet.

Eyes - Your hamster's eyes should be bright and clear, with no signs of runniness, redness, swelling or soreness.  Some hamsters can develop eye infections caused by dust and bedding that they kick about in their cage.  Eye gels are available to help treat this problem and you should contact your vet for anti-inflammatory and antibiotic treatments.

Claws - Hamsters' claws can become over grown.  Long claws can impede your hamster's movement, cause pain and risk getting caught or pulled out.  If you are worried about your hamster's claws being too long contact your vet to have them trimmed.

Skin and coat - Loss of fur, inflamed skin or flakiness can be caused by allergies or mites. It is important to seek your vet's advice to rule out other illnesses in case there is an underlying cause for your hamster's poor skin and coat condition.

  • Hamsters are usually free of parasites, but occasionally they can suffer from mites.  Signs of mites are scratching, brown matter in the ears, bald patches on the coat and irritated broken skin.  
  • Our qualified staff at Petstop are licensed to sell a full range of anti-parasitic treatments, which you would normally find at your veterinary clinic.
  • Dark discolouration on the top of the hips in Syrian (Golden) Hamsters is often mistaken for a rash or injury but it is actually this type of hamster's scent glands and is perfectly normal.
  • If you have hamsters living in pairs or colonies and their skin and coat are in bad condition you should check them all over for any signs of injury caused by fighting or aggressive behaviour.  Small bites should heal well but more serious injuries will require a vet's assistance.
  • Long haired Syrian (Golden) Hamsters will need grooming once a week to keep their coat in good shape.
  • Visit our Hamster Products section for a selection of Treatments for Mites

Common health problems

Wet Tail – (Regional Enteritis, Proliferative Ileitis).  This is highly contagious and is often fatal.  It gets its name because the main symptom is diarrhea, and affected hamsters often have wet and dirty tails.

  • The symptoms are lethargy, loss of appetite, poor coat condition and very fluid diarrhea.  The diarrhea causes the hamster to become dehydrated, so their eyes may appear dull and sunken. They may sit hunched up and be irritable because of the abdominal discomfort.
  • If you think your hamster has Wet Tail you should take them to see your vet immediately.
  • Call Vet Clinic at Petstop for a consultation.


Diarrhea - Diarrhea can result from a number of infections or from changes in diet like eating too much of foods that are high in water, such as fruit and vegetables.

  • Hamsters with diarrhea can quickly become dehydrated, so it's important that they drink plenty of water. Stop feeding fresh foods, and don't offer them again until the droppings are back to normal.
  • If your hamster's diarrhea does not stop quickly or the conditions get worse you should contact your vet for treatment.
  • Call Vet Clinic at Petstop for a consultation.

Diabetes

Some types of hamsters are prone to diabetes.  Russian Campbell Dwarf Hamsters, Chinese Hamsters, some lines of Winter White Dwarf Hamsters and Hybrid (Russian Campbell crossed with Winter White) Hamsters are all at a higher risk for diabetes.  Syrian (Golden) Hamsters and Roborovski Dwarf Hamsters are not prone to diabetes.

  • Symptoms are increased thirst and drinking a lot of water, urinating more than normal, urine with a sweet or acetone (nail polish remover) smell, sudden weight loss or gain, tiredness (sleeping more than usual) and increased appetite.
  • If you think your hamster may be diabetic ask your vet for advice.  Hamsters with diabetes can be helped by changing their diet.  They should not be fed sugary foods such as fruit or given honey based treats. By limiting the sugars in the food you are putting less stress on the hamster's body.
  • Call Vet Clinic at Petstop
  • Visit our Hamster Feeding Advice section to learn more