April 2, 2011 3:33 PM   Subscribe

Thinking about adopting a hamster. I would love to hear people's experience about proper care...

...including proper hamster living arrangements, how smelly it gets if (read: when) I get a little bit lazy in cleanup, best sleeping environment, any experience with Cat:Hamster proximity (our cat is quite chill). Anything I might need to know that I'm not thinking about. Thanks all.
posted by Kensational to Pets & Animals (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Even if you're awesome at changing their bedding, put as thick a layer of newspaper as you can get away with under the shavings. Pee and dust turn into rock under there but with thick newspaper, it stays a lot cleaner. Anyhow, they're not too smelly unless you're really REALLY lazy to the point that, lets face it, you're probably not too uptight about funny smells.

If you change bedding and find you're almost out, give them scrap cardboard and paper towels - put the little bastards to work making their own. Regardless, always give them you paper towel tubes, they love having chewable hiding places.

Most cats and some dogs love hamsters. Unfortunately it usually isn't the cute-on-YouTube kind. Experimenting can be fraught with danger. We once proudly showed a new chick (ok, not a hamster but still) to a Shihtzu puppy and, I kid you not, the puppy went omnomnom on it. The chick was okay once we pulled it out of the dogs mouth.

Anyhow, good low maintenance pets. Ours had long, seemingly happy lives in a cage on our coffee table.
posted by codswallop at 3:50 PM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Cage. Wheel, food, water. Super low maintenance.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:03 PM on April 2, 2011

Do NOT use pine or cedar bedding. You don't want any kind of bedding that will give off fumes. Can't remember what we used to use but I know aspen bedding is one type that is recommended.

And yesyesyes to lining the cage with a a thick layer of newspaper. We would even sprinkle baking soda between the pages.

Hamsters are adorable. The main thing I do not like about them is their short shelf life....
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:14 PM on April 2, 2011

A large plastic ball you can place them in to roll around the floor can be fun - a track might be better than free-rolling as they could get stuck.
posted by episodic at 4:16 PM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't use the wheels that are made of wire; they can hurt your ham's feet.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 4:16 PM on April 2, 2011

We had a dwarf hamster - so cute and tiny, but she was STRONG! We kept her in a glass aquarium with a lid made of metal mesh - even though there were locks to secure the lid to the aquarium, Ashley (our sweet hamster) could pop the lid off. At night I had to stack a couple hardcover books on each corner to keep her from breaking out.

Hamsters are very low maintenance. Every few of days I would put Ashley in her plastic ball and let her run around the house while I scooped out the bedding using a small plastic dustpan like a shovel - it only took a minute to do.
posted by kbar1 at 4:21 PM on April 2, 2011

Hamsters are awesome. I would definitely get a ball and give him some cat-free round the house time.

Give him a dark place to hang out. Some broccoli occasionally. TP tubes and wood to gnaw on.

If you get a solid plastic wheel (good for the feet) he will pee in it. I washed my guy's wheel every day or two, and changed bedding about every two weeks.
posted by freshwater at 4:49 PM on April 2, 2011

kbar1's comment about escapes reminds me that mine chewed his way out of a plastic cage at one point. I think it was one of those connecty-tube ones that seemed super fun when I was a kid. I don't know if there's an ideal type to get, especially if aquariums are also escapable, but that's a thought to keep in mind.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:00 PM on April 2, 2011

Be sure to keep bedding/ clothes/ stuffed animals away from the side of the cage. Perhaps we had peculiar hamsters but I know my sister's teddy bear lost an ear and the hamsters had a very cosy bed after the bear spent some time near their cage.
posted by peppermind at 5:22 PM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

We've had three hamsters in our family.

Be aware that hamsters are nocturnal. One of ours drove us so nuts with his night-time running on the wheel that we moved him to the basement. I accidentally contributed to the demise of our last one by putting him in his wheel early one morning (he would happily roll around the house for an hour or two and magically end up back in our son's room), but I didn't screw the lid on correctly. He got out of the ball and ended up the victim of one of our cats, who deposited his little body on our daughter's bed. Good morning!

The hamster in the middle learned to open the draw-bridge style door to his cage by climbing up on it and letting his weight force open the latch, so the cage had to be reinforced with velcro tape.

We weren't able to cuddle or really play with any of ours. They were bitey.

No more hamsters here EVER, but I still pass the cage at Petsmart and think they're cute.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:05 PM on April 2, 2011

Shoot, wrecked my story up there by calling a ball a wheel in the first reference. Substitute and carry on...
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:06 PM on April 2, 2011

I have had multiple cats that were expert at breaking into small animal cages when I was a kid. My mother was a science teacher and classroom pets came home over the holidays. So make sure your cage is cat-proof! An aquarium with a wire mesh lid is not enough of a deterrent for an inspired cat - you need some sort of latch or strap. I've got friends whose cat managed to break into a lizard cage which was only a few inches below the shelf above it tucked into a bookcase. Don't assume your cat's mellowness will continue with something so supremely tempting in front of it.
posted by leslies at 6:06 PM on April 2, 2011

I adopted a one-eyed rescue hamster about a year ago, and he's a happy little pirate. Here's what I have learned.

Keeping them busy: you want a solid wheel like a Comfort Wheel or a Silent Spinner - the former is good for the bigger Syrians, the latter for all of the dwarfs and younger Syrians. If their spine isn't straight, the wheel is too small. Chew toys are important to keep their teeth worn down. They like to dig, so give them plenty of bedding - avoid pine and cedar. The recycled-paper kinds are nice. Avoid the synthetic kind that looks like what goes into a stuffed toy - they'll die of internal blockages if they ingest it. Floor space is more important than height, for a cage - even with two eyes hams have lousy depth perception.

The most important thing about cleanliness: you can toilet train them. Hamsters will choose one corner of the cage to pee in. I bought a little plastic thing (I think called a Little John - you can see it in my video) that goes into that corner, which catches the smelly pee and can be removed to clean as often as you wish. Keep up with that and it'll hardly smell at all. To start out you may have to anoint it with a bit of dirty bedding, but once they get into the habit you're good to go.
posted by cmyk at 6:46 PM on April 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Hamsters like fresh fruit and vegetables. Don't just feed them hamster pellets or whatever.

Handle it OFTEN, or you'll end up with a bitey mean critter. Although some are just bitey and mean by nature, it seems.

In case you're not fully committed to a hamster, gerbils are usually more sociable and friendly, and are ok living in pairs to keep each other company. I liked my gerbils more than I ever liked my hamsters.

Also, the Habitrail-style cages (with all the connecting tubes and whatnot) are a pain in the ass to keep clean. I would suggest instead a large aquarium with lots of toys and homemade hidey-holes made from small boxes. Once a box gets chewed up, or wet and smelly, you can easily replace it with something new and different to give Hammie some variety.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:12 PM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Looks like you have all good advice above, the one thing I would add is that those plastic tube mazes are really hard to clean poop out of. Hamsters love toilet paper tubes for sitting in and nibbling and when they look like they've had enough wear, you can just throw out the tube and put another in.
Most aren't naturally sociable with people so you will need to handle early and often if you want a nice one who will sit in your pocket. Like once a day at least.

The cage starts to smell after a week or two depending on how big it is and how thick your bedding is. But it's not an awful smell like cat pee or anything.

If you get a wheel that creaks even a little bit you will regret it forever so don't cheap out and make sure to get a truly silent wheel.
posted by rmless at 10:05 PM on April 2, 2011

Hamsters are the best. I've had... I don't know, at least a dozen hamsters in my life. (They all lived to the ripe old age of 4 or 5. I am old.)

Hamsters will designate and use a potty area, which makes clean-up easier than it is for other rodents. Twice a week you can just scoop out the potty area, replace with fresh shavings, and bingo. Also do this with the food larders (the stored food can get moldy.) Change all the shavings every other week or so.

Get the best food you can find, and supplement it with fresh fruits and vegetables. Also, hamsters are omnivorous. This means that they will eat small snacks of meat (cooked lean chicken is a good choice) as well as mealworms. Feed meat snacks sporadically, and in very tiny amounts. Many kids love the gross-out factor!

Never just reach into the cage from above. That's what predators do. You will freak out your hamster, and maybe get bitten. Always lay your hand down in the cage flat, palm up. Probably your hamster will come check you out. If not, you can sort of move your hand towards the hamster horizontally and scoop them up that way.

Get the youngest hamster you can find. Older pet store hamsters haven't been socialized well, and may be cranky. You can also adopt hamsters from local shelters - true - but be sure to ask if the hamster is friendly. It is difficult (though not impossible) to rehabilitate an unfriendly hamster, and probably not a task for the new hamster owner.

I always chose female hamsters when I had the choice. Males have giant testicles, which I always found somewhat unnerving. Also, there was more funky odor.
posted by ErikaB at 10:38 PM on April 2, 2011

Avoid the urge to get a Habitrail. They're cute as hell, but good lord do they collect hamster pee. They basically become hamster sewers and are a huge pain to clean.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:37 AM on April 3, 2011

I always found the safest way to remove a hamster from the cage is stick a paper towel tube in-they would climb up in it and I could then remove ham and tube together.

They do need to be socialized to not be bitey at first. But I loved being able to feed mine cheerios. So cute.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:55 AM on April 3, 2011

I, like SuperSquirrel, came in to see if you would consider a gerbil instead. I have owned both hamsters and gerbils, and they are both fun pets to have. I prefer gerbils, though. They are more active, busy little creatures. They stand up on their haunches like little kangaroos. Also, they are desert animals, so they do not drink much and seem not to pee much either. This helps immensely with odor.
posted by TrarNoir at 7:39 AM on April 3, 2011

If you get more than one then they often fight and can seriously hurt each other, even if it is two from the same litter. I don't like the way they smell so would probably prefer a reptile or other rodent, but when it comes to re-homing for whatever reason, it is super easy to to give hamsters away for free. The hardest pet to find a new home for is guinea pigs.
posted by meepmeow at 9:43 AM on April 3, 2011

My 60-year old mother-in-law inherited a gerbil named Clifford from her grandson a couple of years ago (I assume because the little tyke was too young to understand the concept of "gentle") and absolutely fell in love with him.

He was completely potty trained, and would climb up one of his habitrail tubes to one particular room to do his business, which she would just pop off and rinse out once a day. He lived on the kitchen counter and she would talk to him while she was doing dishes, making dinner, what have you. She really thought he was the coolest thing ever, and would give hin Froot Loops for treats.

I would highly recommend a gerbil!
posted by ValkoSipuliSuola at 11:39 AM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Good answers above. Here's a list:

- Bedding: do not use pine or cedar shavings. Aspen is okay. Paper based bedding such as CareFresh is good.
- Balls and wheels should be solid plastic. Those wee toes are delicate and easily break on wire.
- Housing: avoid the Habitrail type, as fun as they are they are difficult to clean. A glass tank with a mesh top that you can secure/lock is best. The bigger the tank you can buy the better. Small tanks (10 gallons) are okay if the hamster is going to get a lot of exercise time. They need a cubby hole where they can hide away to sleep, something solid is good.
- Food: Mazuri brand is good. Food that says it's okay for gerbils as well as hamster is ok. Avoid hamster/mice/rat food.
- Toys: paper towel and toilet paper rolls are good. There are bigger rolls you can purchase at pet stores that are heavier duty and come in a couple sizes.
- Hamsters need stuff to chew on or their teeth can be a problem. There are blocks available at pet stores that will help with this.

This site has great info. Especially check out the diet and nutrition info.

Have fun!
posted by deborah at 6:15 PM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks so much guys. (Hamster sewers! lol. Yes *I* want Froot Loops as treats too. Appreciate all.

Anyone with experience with a retro-fitted doll house?
posted by Kensational at 6:19 PM on April 3, 2011

Cute idea, but as a permanent home I don't think a dollhouse would work. If it's wooden they'd eventually gnaw out an escape route, and if plastic they could hurt themselves on the shreds. Too, you'd get stuck having to scrape all manner of gack out of every single damn corner in the thing every time you clean it out. The little devils are strong for their size, and it'd be far too easy for them to open a dollhouse door, or wriggle up a chimney, or pop a carefully-meshed window out of the wall.

If you're not feeling the traditional wire cage or aquarium, and you're a bit handy, you could look into building a bin cage instead.

Also, I think just about any hamster can learn to appreciate humans with the judicious application of yogurt drops.
posted by cmyk at 7:35 PM on April 3, 2011

If you can get a hamster that's been hand-raised, rather than one from a pet store, I'd recommend that. I've had three--one hand-raised, two pet-store. I never had a bad experience with a biter like some folks do, as all of mine were docile; however, the hand-raised one had been handled from very early on and was much more social and outgoing than the other two, who were shyer and more neurotic.
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:29 AM on April 4, 2011

I wonder...
Doll house it ain't, but at the same time, there's no real reason you couldn't take the outside of a dollhouse & attach it to the outer glass of an aquarium to make it a little more visually interesting. Or you could steal an idea from the fishtank folks & print out a sheet of some interior scene that floats your boat & then attach it to the glass behind the tank. Maybe not what you had in mind, but something to think about.
posted by Ys at 12:41 PM on April 4, 2011

No to a dollhouse. Even if it hasn't been painted, wallpapered, etc. the wood they're made with has been treated with stuff. (I have built two dollhouses.)
posted by deborah at 11:03 PM on April 4, 2011

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