Hamsters are the best known and most popular small rodents kept as pets.
The most common and largest type of hamster is the Syrian hamster, also known as the 'golden hamster'. There are also four dwarf hamster species that are kept as pets – the winter white, the Campbell's dwarf, the Chinese and the Roborovski. Each species has different traits and needs that you'll need to be aware of.
Is a hamster the right pet for you?
Hamsters can be very rewarding pets to look after, as long as they are given the right kind of care.
If you're thinking about getting a hamster and you have young children, it's worth bearing in mind that they are nocturnal (active at night) and most hamsters won't enjoy being picked up. However, their natural behaviours are fascinating to watch and children can get involved in looking after them in lots of other ways.
Here are some things to think about before you decide to get a hamster.
How long do hamsters live?
Hamsters live for around two to three years.
Do hamsters need company?
No, hamsters do not need company, and most species are naturally solitary and will fight if kept together.
Roborovski hamsters are sometimes kept in same sex sibling pairs, but they do not need company to be happy. Unfortunately, it's easy for them to fall out, particularly if there isn't enough space or enrichment.
Don’t mix species or different sexes of hamsters. And remember, hamsters can reach sexual maturity (can breed, make and have babies) at just one month old.
What if my Roborovski hamsters fight?
If your Roborovski hamsters begin to fight, you will need to permanently separate them into different cages. Hamsters never play fight, so a fight will usually be quite serious.
We do not advise reintroducing hamsters if they have had a fight, so prevention is better. You can help prevent them fighting by providing the right size space and good enrichment.
Do hamsters bite?
Hamsters rarely bite if they are used to being handled sensitively and correctly from an early age.
When do hamsters sleep?
Hamsters are most active during the evening which can be a problem if they are kept in a bedroom.
Hamsters are naturally nocturnal so if they are disturbed during the day and become alarmed, they may bite. This is why it's always best to make sure your hamster has properly woken up before trying to handle them.
Do hamsters hibernate?
Hamsters do not naturally hibernate in the wild, but domestic hamsters can enter a state called 'torpor', which looks very similar.
It can happen if they get too cold, or if their food is in short supply. This can be very dangerous as they will not have enough fat reserves to survive without food for an extended period of time. Therefore, it's important to ensure your hamster’s home is away from draughts and in a room where the temperature is stable.
If you are worried that your hamster may have entered torpor, seek advice from your vet.
Where to get hamsters
Animal charities see thousands of unwanted hamsters given up each year, so please consider adopting one from a centre such as ours.
Breeders and pet shops
The other option is to buy one from a pet shop or a responsible breeder.
If you're planning on going to a pet shop, here are some things to bear in mind:
- Hamsters become sexually mature as young as four weeks old, so make sure that males and females have been correctly sexed and separated
- The breeder or pet shop staff should be able to show you the difference between the sexes. If they are not confident, it's best to walk away as you cannot be sure that your hamster isn't pregnant.
- Hamsters should not be rehomed before six weeks old
- They should have clean, good-sized accommodation and access to food and fresh water
How much are hamsters?
If you adopt from us, you will pay a fee of £10 per hamster. This includes the cost of having them looked over by a vet if needed.
However, we appreciate we may not always have hamsters available for adoption. So, if you choose to go to a breeder or pet shop, you will pay, on average, anywhere between £10 to £20.
What do I need to buy for my hamster?
- A suitable cage for the type of hamster you have
- Suitable bedding for nesting and burrowing
- Suitable food
- Multi chamber hide
- Water bottle or water bowl
- A playpen
- Cardboard tubes
- Toys to keep them entertained
- A carry case for trips to the vet
- Exercise wheel
- Sand bath
As well as the above, your hamster will need a constant supply of water. You may also want to consider getting pet insurance.
The ideal home for a hamster is housing no smaller than 100cm x 50cm floor space, by 50cm tall. The bigger the better as hamsters love to explore and roam.
Tanks or aquariums are ideal as they allow for deep bedding and reduce the risk of your hamster escaping through wire bars. The tank will still need a mesh lid to allow for good ventilation. The gaps between bars or mesh should be less than 1cm to prevent any escapes.
Hamsters need to burrow, so a minimum of 20cm of suitable 'digging' bedding should be provided to allow them to create their own tunnels and nests.
Avoid accommodation with elaborate tube systems for all hamsters. Dwarf hamsters in particular are not very agile and struggle to climb. Tube systems do not have enough ventilation and are often too narrow for Syrian hamsters to travel through comfortably. Dwarf hamsters will often struggle to use tunnels on a steep incline.
Some cages are sold with wheels included but these are not always suitable. A hamster should be able to use an exercise wheel without curving their spine or raising their head, as this can cause back problems.
Where to buy suitable hamster cages
We've put together a list of suitable sized accommodation for your hamster:
- Savic plaza hamster cage – the wheel included with this cage is too small, so must be replaced (see recommended wheels below)
- Pawhut wooden hamster cage – this cage is best set up without the shelves to allow for deeper bedding
- Ferplast cage – this cage is a good option if you have a little more budget, as it comes with the correct size wheel and the accessories are included
- Jungle pets small animal tank – this tank comes in various sizes. The correct size for your hamster is 100cm x 50cm x 50cm.
- Animal architecture bespoke large pet cage
Most of these cages do not come with accessories or a wheel, so these will need to be purchased separately.
These are direct links to the cages we'd recommend. If the item is out of stock, the recommended alternatives are often not large enough, so remember to shop around.
Can hamsters live outside?
No, it's too cold for hamsters to live outside in the UK. Hamsters will enter torpor if they get too cold, which can be very dangerous as they will not have enough fat reserves to survive without food for an extended period. If you are worried that your hamster may have gone into torpor, seek advice from your vet.
It is important to ensure that your hamster’s home is indoors away from draughts, as well as sunlight and direct heat.
How often do I need to clean my hamster's cage?
How often you clean the cage will depend on the size of the cage and if they use a specific area to toilet. Usually once or twice a month will do.
Make sure you spot clean every few days by removing soiled bedding and uneaten food regularly – this will help keep the cage clean and keep your hamster happy!
How to clean my hamster's cage
- Wait until your hamster is awake
- Remove your hamster from their cage and place them in a pet carrier or in their playpen
- Take out any toys or hides, cleaning them as needed
- Scoop out their bedding and any other material using a dustpan and brush, saving a few handfuls of their unsoiled bedding for later
- Using a pet-safe disinfectant, which you can buy in a pet shop, spray the cage
- Then wipe it all down and wash thoroughly with warm water
- Leave to air until completely dry
- Clean their food bowls and their water bottle, using warm water and a bottle brush
- Refill their home with toys, hides and plenty of deep bedding, including some of the used bedding that you saved
It’s important to keep the cage clean, but as hamsters rely on familiar smells to feel safe, make sure you put back some of the unsoiled used bedding when you do a ‘full’ clean (about a third of the bedding is ideal).
Burrowing is a natural hamster behaviour. You should give your hamster the opportunity to display this behaviour by providing lots of deep bedding.
What is the best bedding for my hamster?
Dust-extracted bedding is good for all species of hamsters. Suitable choices include paper based bedding, wood pulp bedding and hemp. Mixing different bedding types can help maintain the structure of your hamster’s burrows.
Most wood shavings or sawdust should be avoided as these can be bad for your hamster’s respiratory system and can become very smelly when urinated on (although aspen shavings can be used). Also avoid fluffy bedding, such as hamster wool, as this could wrap around your hamster’s limbs and cause stomach problems if eaten.
Hamsters can also be litter-trained, which helps to keep their cage cleaner.
Hamster exercise balls must not be used as your hamster can quickly become exhausted and won't be able to escape. They do not allow good ventilation and the hamster cannot access their food, water or a safe hiding place while they're in them. This can make it a very stressful experience.
Instead, we recommend giving them a safe, secure place to have a run around (like a hamster playpen) for when you want to let your hamster outside of their cage.
Often, hamster wheels sold along with a hamster cage are too small. Despite this fact, hamsters will continue to use the small wheels and over time it can cause damage to the spine. Therefore, these wheels should be replaced with a suitable alternative. Any wheels with spokes or mesh should also be replaced, due to the risk of feet getting caught.
A suitable wheel is one that is large enough for your hamster to run in with a straight back and without having to raise their head, but small enough that they can rotate the wheel easily. It should be upright and have a solid running surface.
Species appropriate wheel sizes include:
- Syrian: 27-32 cm
- Campbell's dwarf: 22-25cm
- winter white: 22-25cm
- Roborovski: 20-22cm
- Chinese dwarf: 25-27cm
Hamsters love to be able to explore, dig tunnels, create nests and forage for their food. Providing deep bedding material with a variety of textures will make your hamsters environment more interesting.
Including a sand bath in the hamster’s cage will allow them to keep their coat clean, as well as providing a different texture to explore. A large area of sand is particularly important for Roborovski hamsters who are naturally desert dwellers.
Wide tunnels, safe tree branches and low wooden items, such as cork logs and grapevine branches will all create an interesting space for your hamster to explore.
When choosing a play pen, make sure that it has tall sides and is fully secure so your hamster can't escape, and remember to always supervise them when they are out of their usual accommodation. If their playpen is made of wire, the bars should be vertical so your hamster cannot climb out, and narrow enough so they cannot squeeze through and escape – for dwarf hamsters the bars should be no less then 9mm wide. Reinforcing the sides with sturdy cardboard is an option if you are worried.
Hamsters are cautious by nature, so your playpen should be small at first so it doesn't cause them stress. Include toys, food, water and hides and tunnels in the playpen – this will encourage your hamster to explore and help them to feel safe. Then, as their confidence grows, and over a period of time, you can increase the size.
Always supervise your hamster in their playpen and never wake them up to put them in their playpen. Only pop them in when they're awake.
Hamsters should have an enclosed hide to sleep in. Ideally, this should be a 'multi-chamber' hide as they prefer to sleep away from the entrance to their hide.
Cardboard boxes also make good hides. Several boxes can be slotted together or connected using cardboard tubes. Cut a hole in the base of the box so that your hamster can burrow down from their hide into the substrate bedding. Filling the hide with shredded soft paper, bedding or toilet paper will make it nice and cosy.
Scatter feeding your hamster's dry food is great, as it channels their natural instinct to forage for food. You can scatter their daily food around their cage and hide some under their bedding so that they can snuffle it out. Adding sprays of seeds and safe plants will create a natural environment for foraging.
Hamsters are omnivorous like us. This means they require a diet of both plant and animal based products.
A commercial hamster mix is a good basis for your hamster’s diet. Adding small pieces of fresh food will have nutritional benefits and keep your hamster's diet interesting.
Portions of fresh food should be as small as your hamster's ear. Suitable fresh foods include most vegetables, mealworms, lean cooked meat and boiled egg. Syrian hamsters can have small pieces of fruit as an occasional treat.
A hamster’s front teeth, like those of other rodents, grow continually, so they need to gnaw to keep them in shape. Fruit tree sticks or small, hard dog biscuits in very small quantities make good hamster treats and gnawing on them helps prevent overgrown teeth.
Fresh water must be made available, either in a water bottle or small water bowl, and the water should be changed daily.
Don't worry if you see your hamster eating poo – like all rodents, they do this because it keeps their guts nice and healthy and it's completely normal.
How much should I feed my hamster?
Read your hamster's food packet carefully and follow the instructions. You'll need to be careful with your portion sizes as hamsters can quickly become obese. Avoid sugary, fatty treats, including treat or seed sticks containing molasses or honey.
If you're concerned that your hamster is putting on weight or not eating enough, it's best to speak to your vet.
Hamsters hoard food in their beds, so do not give them too many green vegetables as they rot easily. Hamsters also store food in their cheek pouches to carry food back to their hoard – always a funny sight.
Although uneaten food should be removed, it’s important that hamsters are allowed to ‘hoard’ as removing their larder completely will be stressful for them. If a hoard has to be completely removed, replace with a similar amount of food with a little of the old unspoiled food mixed in.
How to feed my hamster
Hamsters enjoy fresh fruit and vegetables but like to bury their food. Give them tiny portions to minimise the amount left to decompose and remove uneaten food daily.
We advise scatter feeding rather than using a bowl – this encourages your hamster to carry out their natural foraging behaviour.
How to keep hamsters healthy
There are some things that are common and harmless on hamsters. For instance, it's useful to know that Syrian hamsters have scent glands on opposite sides of their flanks (between their ribs and their hips), which can look like small, dark patches. These are symmetrical, don't itch and don't change in size. These are normal and nothing to worry about.
Dwarf hamsters have their scent glands on their stomachs. These can look like little belly buttons and sometimes have a waxy, yellow deposit around them. This is also normal.
Also, the testicles of male hamsters enlarge in the spring, so two large swellings at the bottom end of your hamster are usually nothing to worry about. But, if you are at all concerned about your hamster’s health, speak to your vet.
Like all pets, hamsters have their own health issues that you will need to be aware of.
Storing food in their cheek pouches, though cute, can occasionally lead to problems.
If your hamster seems to have permanently stuffed cheeks, it could be because they've put food into their cheek pouch and can't get it out – this is also known as 'impacted cheek pouches'. Sharp pieces of food may also occasionally pierce their pouches.
Always seek advice from your vet because if either of these have caused an infection, your hamster may need antibiotics.
Diarrhoea (wet tail)
The other common problem needing veterinary help is wet tail, which is diarrhoea associated with stress, especially in newly weaned babies.
You can minimise the risk by:
- preparing the cage before you bring your hamster home and leaving them undisturbed, except for feeding, for the first two or three days
- being careful when handling your hamster when you have a cold as you can pass this on to them
- ensuring you adhere to good hygiene standards and consider wearing gloves should you need to handle your hamster or clean their accommodation
It's worth remembering that hamsters are short sighted, especially those with pink eyes, so keep a close eye on yours if you let them out of their cage. Remember, because of their poor depth perception, they can easily become injured from falling off tables or ledges.
Hamsters can get mites and ringworm, so keep an eye on their skin and be on the lookout for any itchy, red patches of missing fur. Loss of fur can also be a symptom of a hormonal disease.
If you think your hamster may have a skin condition, be sure to speak to your vet as soon as possible.
These are hard lumps of minerals that can form inside your hamster's bladder. It can cause them to:
- wee more frequently
- have discoloured wee (can be cloudy or darker than usual)
- have blood in their wee
If you spot any of the above, call your vet to get your hamster an appointment.
Regularly check your hamster for any new lumps and bumps and speak with your vet if you find anything that worries you.
Should I allow my hamsters to mate?
Hamsters become sexually mature as young as four weeks old.
A breeding pair will produce a litter every three to four weeks, with an average of eight to ten babies per litter. And, shockingly, females can become pregnant within 24 hours of giving birth.
It's strongly recommended not to breed hamsters as you will quickly become overrun! Introducing a male and female hamster when the female is not in season can also lead to serious fights.
Don't forget, there are lots of unwanted hamsters looking for homes in animal charities like ours.
How to handle your hamsters
Try to start this process with them at a young age so they become used to it.
- Start by placing your hand in their cage so they can sniff and get used to you, then gently stroke them
- Offer treats from your hand so that they start to build a positive association with you
- Pick them up by forming a cup with both hands either side of their body and scoop them up gently
- Ensure they are always held close to a surface, such as a table, your lap or their cage, as hamsters are fragile and they may get injured if they have a way to fall
If your hamster is nervous, check they are properly awake then hold your hand in the cage without trying to touch them, so that your presence and smell becomes familiar. Soon your hamster will get to know you and become easier to handle. You can encourage your hamster into a tunnel or hide and lift them in this if they are worried about hands approaching them.
Never put your hand into your hamster’s bed as they may be asleep and will be startled.
• 30 March 2023
• 30 March 2026