Looking after your hamster


Congratulations on acquiring your new hamster

Hamsters are rodents with continuously growing incisor teeth. They have expandable cheek pouches for storing food and the name ‘hamster’ comes from the German word ‘hanstern’ meaning to hoard.

Well-kept hamsters can live for two to three years. They have poor eyesight but good hearing and a keen sense of smell.  In the wild, hamsters inhabit arid parts of the world where they live in underground burrows and have strong nest building instincts.

They are nocturnal, sleeping underground during the hot day and foraging for food during the cooler night. Hamsters are used to large open spaces and amazingly, they can travel up to 11 to 21 kilometres at night!


Which hamster?

There are many different species of hamster. Syrian hamsters are most commonly kept as pets. They are solitary, territorial creatures and cannot be kept with other hamsters as they will fight and can cause serious harm or even death.

Dwarf hamsters such as the Winter White Russian or Campbell’s are more sociable and can be kept in pairs or small groups of the same sex, age and species. Any introductions need to be made when the hamsters are young (before about 10 weeks) and very gradually to prevent fighting. Due to their size, dwarf hamsters are harder to handle and more likely to nip and do not make the ideal first or children’s pet hamster.


Hamsters are escape artists, so any housing must be secure. When hamsters are restricted to cages, it is important to remember how they are in the wild and how far they travel. The more space that you can provide for your hamster, the better.


The cage or tank should be placed in a warm, well ventilated room away from drafts and direct sunlight or heat. If hamsters get too cold, they can go into a deep sleep (hibernate). They have sensitive hearing and need to be kept away from constant noise.


As hamsters like to burrow, a deep bed of dust extracted shavings is ideal for the main bed. Shavings sometimes get caught in the coat of long-haired hamsters, so dust-extracted sawdust is better. A separate nesting area should be provided in a cardboard or plastic box where the hamster can burrow out of sight to sleep and hoard food. Avoid fluffy bedding such as cotton wool, as it can wrap around limbs or cause impactions in the stomach if swallowed.



Hamsters can be difficult to handle and do not make good pets for young children under eight years old. Hamsters can inflict nasty bites and children should always have adult supervision when handling hamsters, as the risk of injury not only to the child but also to the hamster is high.


Handling tips for ensuring the safety of you and your hamster include:

  • Do not handle your new hamster for the first two to three days
  • Never try to handle a sleeping hamster
  • Talk quietly and gently to your hamster so that it gets to know the sound of your voice
  • Take the whole lid off when lifting your hamster
  • Hold your hand as a closed fist to allow your hamster to get used to your presence and scent
  • Use two hands to gently scoop your hamster up
  • Hold the hamster over a low flat surface and do not drop it

If your hamster bites you and is holding on to your finger, be brave and gently lower the hamster on to a flat surface where it will let go. Do not try to pull it off .


Health concerns

It is important to check your hamster daily for signs of good health. In the evening, hamsters should be alert, bright, active and interested in food. There should be no discharge from their eyes, ears or mouth or under their tails. They should have quiet, regular breathing.

Their coats should be glossy with no bald patches or sores although hamsters have scent glands on their flanks so these areas maybe darker with a little hair loss. There should be no lumps or bumps and their nails and teeth shouldn’t be overgrown.

Small Furries Health Information

Find out more

To assist owners in understanding more about a health conditions that are specific to small furies we have put together a range of information sheets to talk you through some of the more common health concerns seen and treated by our General Practice Vets.