Lots of people decide to make their first pet a hamster — it works for so many reasons. They’re funny, cute, good with kids, and relatively easy to care for. But that doesn’t mean you won’t put in the work. Between cage cleaning, feeding, exercise, and hand training, you may find yourself overwhelmed those first few weeks. Don’t look for the return button. Instead, think through the easy steps you can follow to tackle your new endeavor. Here’s how to take care of a hamster.
Well, yes and no. You will put much less time (and money) into taking care of your small pet than you will a large dog. But you still need to attend him every day. Your standard care instructions include daily feeding, water change, and handling. That’s right, you need to bond with your hamster so he gets used to you and keep that going by playing with him every day.
Your hamster will love cuddles, provided you start early and consistently pet him. Remember, hamsters, like other mammals, use their sense of smell, and you can begin by standing near his cage and talking to him if he’s skittish. These animals become aggressive if left untamed, so frequent handling needs to be your priority.
Do get a hand-raised animal
Holding your tiny rodent every day won’t do much good if he already has aggressive tendencies. Look for a respectable breeder who has carefully raised him for the first eight weeks of his life. Then, you’ll work on your own training. The key here is baby steps. Let him get used to your smell, then your voice, then a gentle stroke. Eventually, you’ll be able to hold and play with your little guy outside the cage.
Don’t leave your hamster for long periods
It can be tempting to think hamsters don’t require much daily care and therefore can be left alone. While this is true during the day while you work (they’re asleep anyway), no hamster should be unattended for a full day. However, it’s easy to get someone to drop in to feed and pet your animal for a few minutes. Unfortunately, your sitter will also need to remove any obvious waste, though the cage cleaning can wait until you get home.
Do clean his cage often
Trust us, these little critters make a big mess for their size, and you’ll need to stay diligent about cleaning the cage long after the appeal wears off (although maybe there’s no appeal to scooping poop). Pick a day that becomes a cleaning day and make sure you replace his bedding every week. A deep clean should happen monthly where you scrub the walls and rinse the cage out.
Don’t use harsh chemicals in the cleaning process
Even if you wash his belongings afterward, he’s very sensitive to smells, including bleach and other household products. You can invest in something pet safe, but regular soap works just fine (make sure it’s unscented). Some housings come apart as well to make this whole event run even more smoothly.
Do get him lots of toys
Hamsters are nocturnal, so they need something to do after you hit the hay. Try to fill his home with a variety of toys, some for chewing, others for climbing, a wheel for exercise, and a little tubing to explore. You can rotate them out or change up his tube design monthly during a cleaning to keep his brain fully engaged.
Don’t get him a hamster ball
Many hamster balls have caused injuries, so think twice before you bring one home. If you decide you need one, research thoroughly to get the right size and clean it after every use. Alternatively, invest in a pen that can give him the same opportunity to run around outside his nest every so often. Never leave a hamster unattended in either case.
Do set up a strict feeding schedule
It’s best if your hamster knows when to expect food, and a daily feeding time will help you remember to pay him a visit. It’s best to feed while he’s awake, so once at night and once in the early morning works really well. You’ll probably catch him snoozing if you attempt to give him his lunch mid-day. Meals should be a mix of pellets, veggies, and hay for staples.
Don’t give him too many treats
We love treating our pets, and they love it when we do. Too many treats can make anyone gain weight, though. Hamsters eat bugs, which they will enjoy as treats (always purchase these from the pet store since insects from outside might have diseases). If you’re a bit squeamish, stick with fresh fruit as your treat. Share an apple, pear, or banana with your four-legged friend about once per week so he doesn’t get too much sugar.
The biggest tip of all: Try to incorporate your pet into your everyday routine. That way, your responsibilities feel like a normal part of your day akin to brushing your teeth. Daily handling also cues you into any problems he might experience. You’ll be familiar with his eating and bathroom habits and therefore able to spot issues. Anytime things change drastically, it means to call the vet.
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