Your Very First Hamster Pet: A Guide

You want to have a cute pet to accompany you at home, but you are allergic to dog and cat? Or maybe you’re not allergic but you think dog is too scary while cat is too annoying? While many dog and cat owners will disagree with you, don’t feel bad.

Maybe you’re just not a dog person or a cat person. Maybe you’re another animal person. If you want the cuteness of cat and dog but specifically don’t want them, like everything tiny and adorable, and get attracted to chubby cheeks and slanted eyes, then maybe you’re a hamster person.

Now, after you accept the fact that you’re a hamster person, you may want to start embrace the role and raise one of your own. The problem is you have no experience with hamster whatsoever! Don’t panic – because this guide is made for first-time hamster owner. Find what preparation to do so you won’t make mistake with your first hamster.

Preparation at Home

The Breed

The first thing you should do when you decide to raise a hamster is to decide what breed you want. This is important because it affects the choice for the cage and the food supplies. There are five breeds of hamster that can be raised as pet. However, the most common – which means the most likely breeds you can find in pet shop are dwarf hamster and Syrian hamster.

Dwarf hamster, like its name, is smaller than Syrian hamster. It is also more active and has shorter lifespan. Syrian hamster is the largest hamster species – it can grow 6-7 inches tall. Syrian hamster is usually lazier than dwarf – therefore it’s easier to handle for first timer. However, it also depends on the hamster’s individuality.

You can’t keep two or three Syrian hamsters in a cage since they will fight each other to death. Dwarf hamster can be grouped, but only when they are same sex – preferably siblings. However, again it comes back to each of the hamster’s personality.

The Cage

The most important thing you have to buy for your hamster is cage, since it is where they will live. When it comes to cage, the number one thing to consider is the size. In US, the minimum size for dwarf hamster is 12×24 inches while for Syrian hamster it is 12×30. However, larger is better, especially if you plan to put a lot of toys inside.

There are three popular types of hamster cage: wire, aquarium, and modular, each have their own pros and cons:

  • Wire Cage has great circulation, is easier to clean, and has a lot of room to attach toys or facilities. However, it is prone to temperature change. Your hamster may gnaw on the bar as well. Pay attention to the gap between the bar and make sure your hamster can escape from there.
  • Aquarium looks great but it has poor circulation. It also needs a wire or mesh roof to prevent your hamster from escaping.
  • Modular looks great since it comes with different color and features. However, it can be expensive.

The bedding should be made from either hardwood like aspen or from paper material – either store-bought like Kaytee or Carefresh or DIY from tissue, toilet paper, or paper towel. Soft wood like pine can disturb hamster’s respiratory system. Other things that shouldn’t be made as bedding are cat litter, corn cob, newspaper or other printed paper, and bedding floss.

The Food

Hamster eats vegetables and fruits. You can give them fresh vegetables or fruits or you can give them store-bought hamster food. Hamster food usually contains all the nutrients your hamster needs to keep him healthy and happy.

Dwarf hamster and Syrian hamster has different diet. Dwarf hamster is prone to diabetes, therefore sugary fruit and snack intake should be limited – such as carrot, apple, and turnip. Both hamsters should never be fed anything with garlic or onion in it.

The Accessories

The cage is not complete without facilities and accessories. First, you’ll need a running wheel – since hamster is basically a ball of energy and without one they won’t have anything to channel the energy. Second, you’ll need a hamster house. Third, you’ll have to buy chew toy since hamster is rodent. Finally, buy lots of toys. Hamster loves to play!

Picking Up the Hamster

When the cage is ready, it’s time to pick up the hamster. Go to pet store or breeder you trust, and then find the one that has instant mental connection with you. Check the condition before buying. Does he seem healthy and happy? Is his fur thick and normal, without any bald patch? Are his eyes clear, without any running discharge? Is his bottom dry, without any matted poop? Does he seem active?

Once you’ve decide, take the hamster home in a container. When you arrive, don’t immediately touch it, but put a glass or deep bowl with food in the container. When the little creature climbs in, transfer the glass or bowl into the cage.

The First Days

Let the hamster explore the cage and get familiar with it before expecting it to play with you. This should take a day or two, depending on the hamster’s trust level. After that, you can start introducing yourself to him by letting them sniffing your finger.

When they are ready, it’s time for real bonding time! You can take him out from the cage and play with him. Put the hamster on your palm or on your stomach. Let him explore and play on the floor, but never let him out of your sight since they can easily slip inside small little space in your house and get stuck there.

The Routine

The required routine for hamster is not hard, but it requires discipline. The list maintaining routine of the hamsters is as follows:

  • Change water and food every day
  • Scoop out poop every day
  • Change bedding every week
  • Clean the cage surface (bar and lid) every week
  • Wash the food and water bowl every week
  • Thoroughly clean the whole cage every month
  • Scrubbing the tray every month

Feeling confident to get the energy ball yet? You should, because in the end, spending time playing with your hamster is worth battling your worry about him!

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