Thank you for choosing a hamster from Poppy Bee Hamstery! This care sheet was created with advice and support from several ethical hamsteries in North America we work closely with including Strong Brew Hamstery, Cheeks and Squeaks, Happy Paws Hamstery, and Hubba-Hubba Hamstery! Many thanks for their helpful contributions!
Bonding: Building trust with your new hamster can take time and patience. Our hamsters are gently handled from the time their eyes open at two weeks, however being prey animals, they are naturally cautious. Baby hamsters are especially timid, jumpy, and likely to leap out of your hands. It is important to stay seated while handling your baby hamster, so it does not injure itself. We recommend the use of a “snuggle sack”; this is a cloth pouch used to securely hold and transport your hamster in. You can put treats inside the snuggle sack and allow them to crawl out onto your hand when they feel safe.
Many of our customers place their hamsters in a secure area like a bathtub or a playpen nightly and allow the hamster to explore safely. This is an especially good approach for younger children who may just be learning how to interact with and handle their hamster. Typically, hamsters prefer to run around and explore versus sitting still for snuggling. There are always exceptions to that rule, and we do try to selectively breed for a calm temperament. Try to read your hamster’s cues, if they are struggling to get out of your hands or squeaking and grumbling, your hamster may be stressed and need a break from handling or playtime. It is best in the beginning to keep play time short and positive. I recommend starting with 15-minutes of play time and building on this as your hamster grows to trust you and feel more comfortable.
Feeding: Hamsters thrive on a diet that provides 18-22% protein, 4-7 % fat, and 8-15% fiber. Most commercially available seed mixes unfortunately provide an inadequate protein percentage. We recommend using a base lab block diet, either Mazuri rat and mouse lab blocks (available online, or in store at Petco) or Teklad 8640 (available online). Do not use Oxbow brand hamster food, it is hay-based and provides inadequate protein. We recommend supplementing lab blocks with Higgins Sunburst Seed mix for Hamsters and Gerbils. Other appropriate seed mix brands are Harry Hamster, Higgins Vita Garden, or National Geographic. Fresh food can be offered throughout the week in small amounts to prevent molding if hoarded. Check out our safe food list on our website for ideas. I typically feed a small handful of lab blocks weekly, two tablespoons of seed mix biweekly, and a small portion (about the size of your hamster’s ear) of veggies and fruit daily, or every other day.
Bedding: I use a mixture of aspen wood shavings and unscented paper bedding for our hamsters. Either of these choices alone or combined are fine. Some brands may be better than others, but I have found every hamster owner ends up with their favorite. The bedding types to avoid are cedar, pine, soft-wooded shavings, cotton, or fluffy bedding, or scented or “deodorized” paper bedding.
Cage Cleaning: I typically spot clean all my hamster cages weekly. Your hamster will hopefully choose one corner of his enclosure as a “bathroom”, scoop up the soiled bedding and replace with fresh. If you are using a sand bath in your hamster’s enclosure, they will likely use this as a bathroom. In this case, I recommend emptying and refilling the sand bath every two weeks, or more often if necessary. Full cage cleans can be stressful and disorienting for hamsters since they mostly rely on scent to navigate their surroundings. If you can, preserve their nest and surrounding bedding.
I typically use a mild, residue and scent free disinfectant to wash my cages. A 50/50 water and vinegar solution is also a good option for cleaning. Make sure to rinse and dry well after using any cleaning agent. A “Detolf” cage may only need a deep clean every two months, a Prevue 528 cage or a 40-gallon breeder tank will likely need a full cage clean out every month.
Environment: In the wild, hamsters can shield themselves from extreme temperatures in underground burrows. Domesticated hamsters do not have this ability and do best at temperatures between 65- and 75-degrees Fahrenheit. Keep your hamster in a warm room away from direct sunlight and drafts, provide deep bedding to burrow in. If your home is very warm during the summer season, consider providing a chilled ceramic tile or hideout.
Health Checks: Hamsters are prey animals, and generally tend to hide symptoms. It is important to regularly assess your hamster’s health. You can keep track of your hamster's weight using a kitchen scale. Sudden weight gain or loss (post adolescence) can be worrisome. Check teeth by gently scuffing your hamster by the folds on their neck and shoulders while resting their back on your palm. Teeth should be yellow with the lower teeth longer than the top.
Females will emit a musky odor when in heat, but they should not have bloody discharge. Male hamsters should not have red or inflamed testes. Fur should be well-groomed, and eyes should be bright and clear (occasionally hamsters get bedding dust stuck in their eyes, or “eye boogers”, and this is typically not worrisome and will be resolved with self-grooming).
We use Stahl Exotic Animal Veterinary Services in Fairfax, Va. Occasionally we use Pender Veterinary Centre in Fairfax, Va for emergency care. Vet visits are expensive, typically anywhere from $80 to $120 for just the primary examination, not including treatment or medication. Please consider setting aside a fund for vet care, our usual recommendation is to set aside $5 every week.
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