11401 NE 195th St. Bothell, WA  98011

(425) 486-9000 PHONE  (425) 486-9002 fax


Hamsters are generally active, inquisitive pets. With proper care, they typically reach 2-3 years of age, though some individuals may live longer. They are naturally nocturnal animals.

Caging and Substrate

Hamsters enjoy their space. Large cages with multiple levels and solid plastic flooring are ideal to give them plenty of room to explore and play. The cage should be kept in an area of the house that does not get above 80 degrees; room temperature (70 F) is ideal.   Drafts should be avoided, as should extended exposure to direct sunlight. 1-2 inches of soft bedding that they can dig in, such as CareFresh or Yesterday’s News, should be used as substrate. The bedding should be changed entirely at least once a week, with wet spots or other messy spots being cleaned daily. Wood shavings and corn cob beddings should be avoided, as they are dustier and can cause significant irritation to your hamster’s sinuses and airways. Hamsters love to burrow into hay, and we recommend providing several inches’ worth of hay in a corner of their cage for enrichment purposes.

Hamsters should be provided a few hiding places where they can sleep undisturbed. A variety of toys are available on the market. Items to chew on as well as move around and play with will help keep your hamster entertained and happy when you’re not around. Many hamsters enjoy running in plastic wheels or balls.


The basis of a good hamster diet is a high quality complete pelleted feed. Oxbow’s Healthy Handfuls brand is an excellent pellet choice that we recommend for your pet. In addition, hamsters can be given limited amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as grains and the occasional starch such as pasta or rice. Seeds should be given only as a special treat, as hamsters tend to pick out only their favorite items and can develop dietary imbalances. Commercially available rodent treats (Oxbow brand) can be given a few times a week, but should not be a frequent part of the diet. Avoid yogurt treats, as these are high in sugars. Foods that are high in sugars, fats, and/or salts should be avoided as they can contribute to health problems, including heart disease and obesity.

Fresh water should also be available to your hamster at all times. A hanging bottle on the side of the cage is easiest to keep clean. The water should be replaced daily, and the bottle should be run through the dish washer. Check the bottle daily to make sure the ball stopper hasn’t gotten stuck in the opening – a stuck ball will prevent the hamster from being able to drink.


Hamsters typically do not enjoy having roommates – they are perfectly happy being kept as solitary animals. Unless they have been specifically raised in a colony/family situation, they will often fight other hamsters. Regular gentle handling will help keep your hamster tame.

Common Medical issues

Hamsters, like most small exotic pets, are a prey species. They will always do their best to hide any signs of illness as a way to keep predators from knowing that they are vulnerable. The slightest change in your hamster’s normal behavior or routine could be important, so make sure to call your veterinarian if you suspect anything abnormal is going on.


Wet tail is a diarrhea syndrome that can be caused by a variety of bacterial and parasitic infections. Diarrhea is an EMERGENCY in a hamster, and always warrants prompt veterinary attention. Hamsters can become very dehydrated quickly without aggressive treatment for this condition.

Respiratory disease

Sniffles, sneezes and coughs could all be signs that your hamster is developing a respiratory condition. If you notice any of these signs or any discharge from your hamster’s nose or eyes, please call your veterinarian right away.

Obesity and Heart Disease

Hamsters are prone to weight problems, which can also contribute to heart disease, as in humans. Good diet and plenty of space to exercise in and companions to exercise with can help keep them in good shape and reduce the risk.


Hamsters can have a number of parasites, both internal and on their skin and fur. Some of these are capable of being transmitted to humans, in particular the rat tape worm Hymenolepis and some species of mites. Your hamster should have a fecal exam performed yearly for intestinal parasites, and should be checked out by your veterinarian if you notice any hair loss or itching and scratching.

Incisor injuries

Hamster incisors grow continuously throughout their lives. If the incisors are damaged (which is usually caused by chewing on cage bars), this can result in serious oral trauma. Incisors that begin growing abnormally may need to be trimmed on a regular basis or removed, depending on the severity of the damage and the speed of tooth growth.


March 30, 2015

Content of this Care Sheet Courtesy of:

The Center for Bird and Exotic Animal Medicine 

11401 NE 195th St. Bothell, WA  98011

(425) 486-9000 PHONE  (425) 486-9002 fax