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There’s a reason hamsters make such a good first pet — actually a few. They’re funny, cute, good with kids, and relatively easy to care for. But that doesn’t mean you won’t put in a bit of work. Between cage cleaning, feeding, exercise, and hand training, you may find yourself overwhelmed those first few weeks. Don’t look for the refund button. Instead, go through these easy steps 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 checklist includes daily feeding, water change, and handling. That’s right, you need to bond with your hamster so he gets used to you and you’ll 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.
Step 1: 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.
Step 2: Don’t leave your hamster for long periods. During the day while you work, he’s mostly sleeping, so you’re good there. But no hamster should be unattended for a full day. It’s easy to get someone to drop in to feed and pet your animal for a few minutes when you head out of town.
Step 3: 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.
Step 4: 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).
Step 5: 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.
Step 6: 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.
Step 7: 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. 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.
Step 8: Don’t give him too many treats. We love treating our pets, and they love it when we do. Hamsters eat bugs, which they will enjoy on special occasions (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 his snack.
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.