Before you bring your new hamster home…
It is always best to be prepared before you bring a pet home. No new hamster should be an impulse buy so you really ought to have all the necessary equipment set up before hand. It probably is not very comfortable for a hamster to sit in a small cardboard box for an hour while you fumble around with assembling a cage.
If you are making a home, it is even more important to have it made before you bring your hamster home. The more prepared you are, the smoother the transition from pet store to new home will be for the hamster.
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10 things your new hamster needs
So I’ve made a list for you. Your new hamster will need all of these things and there is no negotiating. They all fulfil important basics needs of any hamster.
Please be aware that some of the items I list here will be items you get from a starter cage or habitat so you may not have to buy them separately. Using these items e.g. house, wheel etc. is fine but sometimes these items are of a bad quality, particularly with cheaper cages, so I will let you know if you need to pay special attention to some starter items.
1. Cage/Habitat/DIY Home – look to this article for information on housing methods. Your new hamster will need a good sized and secure home to live in.
2. Water Bottle – more hygenic than a water bowl, your new hamster will automatically know how to use this. If it is part of a starter set, test it before you bring your hamster home as it might leak. Always choose a smaller bottle as it encourages you to change the water more regularly. Most pet shops stock the Classic Deluxe bottles at cheap prices. This is the generic red cap bottle with twin ball points. They work fine and I’ve used them many times.
3. Food Bowl – I liked having a food bowl because Coco used to sit in it and wait for his food. Some people say that a food bowl allows you to easily monitor how much your new hamster is eating and if they are selectively feeding. Whilst it can show you what your hamster didn’t stuff in his mouth last night, you will have to rummage through the area he places his food to find out what he actually eats and what he doesn’t. Choose one of the heavy ceramic bowls as plastic ones are easily tipped over. Hamsters love to sit inside their food bowl so pick one that will give your pet plenty of room to sit in. Starter cage bowls tend to be plastic.
4. Exercise Wheel – this is one important piece of kit. Possibly the most important. Your new hamster HAS to have a wheel as not only does this provide exercise for a hamster and prevent them from getting chubby but also keeps them mentally healthy. One study (Reebs & Maillet, 2003) found that even with big cages and many toys, hamsters still used their wheel. They used the wheel slightly less but still made wheel running an important part of their daily routine. Coco had a wheel routine. As soon as I shut my room light to sleep, without fail, he would start running on his wheel. This routine carried on until the day he crossed the rainbow bridge.
If you receive one with a cage, bear in mind that Syrian hamsters will quickly out grow it in most cases. Some wheels can be quite noisy so if noise bothers you, look for the silent ones. I used this Wonderland Wooden Wheel since my Savic Wheel’s spindle kept breaking from Coco’s vigorous wheel usage. This wooden one is of a great quality and makes little noise. The only noise I heard was feet hitting wood rather than wheel spinning. The 15cm is ideal for small breeds and the 20cm is a good size for a Syrian.
5. Hamster House – Mine used a hamster house for three quarters of his life and then he learnt how to make a nest and used his house as a toilet instead. The purpose of a hamster house is to provide a place to hide or sleep in peace. Undoubtedly, your new hamster will have his own idea on what a hamster house is for, but it is a necessary piece of equipment nonetheless. Even if your hamster does not use this, there might be a day when a cat gets to the cage or a dog and a hamster house will be the only place your pet can hide out of prying eyes. Practically all hamster cage sets come with a house. These are usually fine for small breeds and baby Syrians. Be wary of using these houses if your Syrian is fully grown. The starter sets usually have houses that have windows and a full grown hamster can get stuck in these windows which will result in a lot of stress. Choose a house that will comfortably fit your pet and has exits that will give your hamster plenty of room. Houses can be a hot spot for condensation if your hammy sleeps and stores food in there. Be sure to keep it clean and hygienic.
6. Hamster Food – you need to know that there are two main types of hamster foods – muesli and pellets. When you buy a hamster, it is a good idea to choose the same food they were given at the pet store. You can then buy a bag of the food you want them to be on and slowly move them over. Sudden diet changes may not be healthy for small animals so mix in 10% of the new food each day and increase it over a ten day time period. If your local pet shop is friendly, you can ask for a small sample bag of their current feed so you will not have to purchase a new bag.
7. Bedding – most people make use of wood shavings. Don’t use sawdust as that can be irritating for your new hamster’s sensitive nose. Shredded kitchen roll can be used to make a nice little nest. Hamsters love to build a nest using bedding so it’s a good idea to provide wood shavings for the bottom and some nesting material for them to use. I will write an article on this as there are several types of bedding that people have used and there are some things you should avoid.
8. Hamster Carry Case – this one is a must when picking up your new hamster. I made a mistake of not having one. When you buy a hamster, they will place your pet into a cardboard box. The problem with this is that hamsters make short work of wood so imagine how quickly they would bite out of a cardboard container. Luckily Coco was very friendly and didn’t escape. A carry case is also useful for emergency visits to the vet and also serves as a place for the hamster to stay in when you are cleaning the cage.
9. Hamster Toys – whether they be handmade or store bought, your new hamster will love toys. Toilet tube’s make quick and cheap toys. You can buy gnaw toys made from wood which will help wear down your hamster’s teeth that grow continuously. Wooden bridges serve as a good hiding place and a chew toy at the same time. Change the toys regularly to keep boredom away.
10. Bathing Sand – despite what some people say, never bath your hamster with water unless its an emergency. They are very susceptible to catching colds and pneumonia. If your hamster‘s fur is looking slightly greasy or he dirty, provide him with a bowl of chinchilla sand. Use a dish with high sides but one that your pet can easily climb in and out of. I made one using a small cardboard box, with an opening cut into it and a 6 egg carton top as a roof. This prevents sand from flying out. Hamster will know what to do when they see a sand bath, they will roll around and it is quite funny to watch. My Syrian hamster found it easier to roll around in a dish that was about twice his size with high sides for him to roll against.
This last point is an optional thing you can buy for your new hamster therefore not included in the ‘must-have’ section above.
Hamster Toilet – these have been available in the last few years. You can find toilets that have covers and some that are corner toilets. Usually they come with a little bag of litter that you can purchase separately. The little might be a bit like sand. My Campbell’s hamster liked to use his sand bath as a bathroom. I never used one with my Syrian, he always used a corner of his cage and since it was easy to clean, I didn’t bother wasting space with a toilet.
Reebs, S.G., & Maillet, D. (2003). Effect of cage enrichment on the daily use of running wheels by Syrian Hamsters. Chronobiology International. 20(1). 9-20 H