Your new hamster has been through a lot of changes in the time before becoming your pet. He will have likely been separated from his mother and siblings, moved from the breeder to the pet store or from his previous home to a shelter, with all sorts of new sounds and smells, and then from wherever you get him from, to his new home. All of this can take place within a matter of a few days or weeks. Imagine how you would feel moving house twice in that time.
Hamsters are prey animals in the wild. This means that they have ingrained instincts that would help to keep them alive in the wild. Hamsters are hunted by birds, such as owls and hawks mainly. This is something important to remember in the taming process.
Before you bring your hamster home, you should have his cage all ready for him with food, a water bottle, a solid surfaced exercise wheel and a nesting/hiding area of some type. You can also include a litter box or potty filled with either chinchilla sand (NOT dust) or sterilized children’s play sand.
When you first bring your hamster home take him directly to his new cage. Open the carry box inside the cage and place it on its side so that the hamster can come out on his own when he’s ready. Once he is out, you can remove the carry box. For the first 24-48 hours, leave your new pet to get used to his new home without trying to pick him up. You can quietly talk to him through the cage to get him used to the sound of your voice and also to let him know he’s not by himself. After a day or two of talking to him, offer him a treat or some of his mix from your hand within the cage. If he lets you, then you can gently pet his back. It is important not to bring your hand in from above him, put your hand on the floor of the cage and let him come to you.
Keep your hand as low as possible, remembering that the main predator of hamsters is a bird. Movement above will frighten an already nervous pet, and to an animal with fairly poor eyesight, your hand coming in from above them can look much like a bird’s claw. Approaching lower, along with letting the hamster come to you, will reduce the likelihood of being bitten. Hamsters will only bite if afraid or hurt/sick. If your hamster does bite, try your best not to jerk your hand away suddenly. Yes, it will hurt a little, but jerking your hand away will only scare him more. If he bites or seems overly nervous, then stop what you are doing, leave him alone for a while and try again later. Use your voice to calm him without touching him.
Once he is comfortable being petted and having your hand in his cage, he will likely start walking across your hand or even sitting in it. At this point, you can try slowly lifting him. If he doesn’t step into your hand, you can gently scoop him up from underneath in your cupped hands. Either sit on the floor or on something soft like a bed so that he doesn’t get hurt if he jumps. Let him walk from hand to hand and walk over you. Offer him treats or food from his mix by hand.
A few key points to remember for taming your hamster:
- Wash your hands with a mild, scent-free soap before handling or petting your hamster. If he smells food, he may bite, thinking you are a treat.
- Do not try picking your hamster up from above. Your hand resembles a claw to an animal whose primary hunters are birds.
- Talk to your hamster often. Your voice can be calming, and he’ll learn to recognize it.
- Let your hamster determine the speed of taming. Some are more nervous than others.
By going slowly and being gentle and reassuring, you will soon have a friendly pet who can’t wait to play with you.
Bathing and Grooming Hamsters
Sometimes a hamster’s nails will get too long, causing them to snag or get caught on things.
Nails can be trimmed using human nail clippers or guillotine-style clippers commonly found in pet stores. Some people find one easier than the other. It is mostly down to preference. Be sure not to cut the nail too short, or it may bleed. Because hamsters are so small, it can be difficult to cut their nails yourself. If you don’t feel that you will be able to do it without hurting your hamster, then a veterinarian can do it for you.
Hamsters are very clean animals, and you will see them grooming themselves and each other quite often.
Unless directed by a veterinarian, hamsters should NEVER be gotten wet. They can catch a chill very easily, which can turn into pneumonia, becoming fatal very quickly. Bathing in water also removes oils from their fur that keeps it in good condition. If your hamster has gotten into something he shouldn’t have, you can use a damp face cloth to wipe the fur, making sure to dry him off after.
Hamsters do enjoy digging and rolling in a sand bath. Placing a dish of chinchilla sand (NOT dust) or sterilized, silica-free, children’s play sand in their cage will allow them to do this safely. It also helps keep the fur grease-free.
Toys and Entertainment for Hamsters
Hamsters live most of their lives in a cage. They would spend hours upon hours digging, tunneling, foraging for food and running miles in the wild. In order to keep them from getting bored and depressed, you need to provide them with things to do in their cage.
Hamsters should always be provided with an exercise wheel. In the wild, hamsters travel several miles during the night. The only time a hamster’s wheel should ever be taken out of the cage is due to injury, illness or having pups.
When choosing a wheel, do not choose one of the metal ones with rungs. The spacing between allows their paws to fall through and can cause them to break a leg.
The best type of wheel to use is a solid surface wheel with one open side. Wodent Wheels are actually enclosed except for the holes that allow them to get into the wheel and have a solid running surface. These appear to be one of the safest, but one of the most expensive also. Other wheels, such as the silent spinner or the comfort wheel, have a solid running surface and are open on just one side. Each of these comes with a stand or can be attached to the bars of a cage. If you must use a metal wheel for chewing reasons, the ones with the mesh-type running surface are the safest as they generally don’t allow the paws to fall through and get caught.
Cardboard for Hamsters
Hamsters’ teeth grow constantly. They need to have a variety of things to chew on to keep their teeth from getting overgrown.
Some hamsters like to shred cardboard. Cardboard tubes from paper towels or toilet rolls give them something to run through and also chew and use in their nests. If you use toilet roll tubes, make sure that nobody in the house has been sick or you risk making your gerbils sick.
Empty cardboard boxes from food items are also fun toys for hamsters. They can hide in them, run through them and chew them.
Wooden Toys for Hamsters
Again great for keeping their teeth trimmed, wooden chew toys are something many hamsters enjoy. You can either purchase these from a pet store or make them yourself. If you make them yourself, be sure that the wood is untreated so that it’s safe for them to chew. Hanging bird toys are also something they enjoy playing with and chewing.
Plastic Toys for Hamsters
Plastic toys and houses work well for hamsters as long as they don’t eat the plastic. If your hamster is a chewer and chooses to chew on his plastic toys, you may want to take them out and use something else. Plastic toys are also washable if soiled.
Flower Pots for Hamsters
Terracotta flower pots make a cool place to lay in the summer and can also provide hiding places. They are washable if soiled also. Hamsters don’t usually chew them, but keep an eye on them for this and remove the pot if it’s being chewed.
Hamster Sand Boxes
Hamsters enjoy digging. Rolling in the sand also keeps their coats from looking greasy. Place some chinchilla sand, NOT dust, in a container and let your hamster have fun digging. He may also use it as a litter box if you leave it in the cage all the time. Sterilized children’s play sand can also be used.
Playpens for Hamsters
Small animal playpens are available in pet stores, or you could make one of your own. These are designed to allow your hamster free roaming time in a safer environment. Keep in mind hamsters can and do climb, and they can get out of an open-topped playpen. The safest way to keep from losing your hamster is to place the playpen in a room with the door closed. If he does get out, you need only search a single room rather than an entire house. Always supervise your hamster in a playpen.
Setting up a playpen on a disposable table cloth from the dollar store makes clean up after easy and will protect the carpet.
Hamster Run About Balls
These clear plastic balls available from the pet store can be an excellent tool in allowing your pet to get some exercise and spend time outside of his cage in a safe environment. Some points to remember in order to keep your pet safe while in his ball:
- Always choose a ball in the correct size. Syrian hamsters are generally the ‘middle’ sized one and dwarf the ‘small’ size available in pet stores.
- One animal per ball.
- Tape the lid onto the ball using masking tape or duct tape. The lids of run-about balls have been known to come off, or in the case of balls that screw together in the middle, come apart.
- Make sure that your pet can’t get into any trouble while in his ball. For example, don’t let him run around at the top of a staircase! If you have other pets, make sure that they can’t get to your pet while he’s in his ball, some dogs will pick up the ball and run off with it, which can’t be a pleasant experience for the animal inside the ball.
- Never leave your pet in his ball for more than half an hour at a time without putting him back into his cage for some food or a drink, 30 minutes is the maximum, but 15-20 minutes is best. You can allow your pet to run in his ball for as long as he wants as long as he gets that 5-minute break every 15-20 minutes.