Health Topics


(By P. Alderson DVM)

Hamsters are native to the Middle East and China. They come in a few varieties, but the Teddy Bear hamster is the most common pet hamster. They are good climbers and tend to be escape artists, so keep this in mind when purchasing a cage. Their life span is very short, only about 2 years.


Hamsters are small, so they don't require much room. However, they usually spend their entire life in a cage, so purchase the largest cage your pocket book will allow.

Hamsters are solitary animals. They are best housed alone, and tend to fight when housed with other hamsters. If you insist on housing two or more hamsters together, introduce them slowly and monitor closely for fighting. Make sure the cage is large enough for "escape routes".

Hamsters need exercise. Exercise wheels are excellent for providing entertainment and exercise. A house should be provided for privacy and security, especially when they are first brought home. Houses can be purchased, or use a cardboard box. Torn Kleenex or paper towel is excellent to place in the hamsters house for bedding. Be ready to replace a cardboard box soon, as they will chew it up.

Use a solid flooring. Slatted floors can cause broken feet if they get their feet caught in the slats. In general, wood chips are adequate for the flooring on the bottom of the cage. Ensure that you clean the cage often, as urine build up can produce toxic fumes and cause pneumonia.


Hamsters have large cheek pouches that they stuff with food from the dish. The food dish is rapidly emptied and food transported to a "secret" place within the cage and eaten at leisure. This is normal behavior, so don't be too alarmed when the food dish is empty. Pellets, grain, and seed mixtures are available for hamsters. However, because vitamins and minerals are lost in stale food, it is best to buy food in small quantities frequently. Hamsters love raisins and a variety of vegetables, however, keep these in moderation as obesity is common.

Most hamsters will drink from a sipper tube. However, when you bring your hamster home, ensure that it knows how to drink from the sipper tube. Measuring the water level will ensure that it is drinking and approximately how much. Changes in drinking can indicate a sign of illness, and not drinking can result in very rapid dehydration and death. If you are placing vitamins into the water, this may cause an unfavorable flavor, and your hamster may not drink. Always provide a separate fresh water dish, or monitor drinking closely. They usually drink 8 - 12 cc per day.


Hamsters are nocturnal, thus, most of their activity is at night. You may want to remove exercise wheels before bedtime or the squeaking may keep you awake. Most people don't house them in the bedroom because they tend to chew and gnaw at night.

Hamsters will hibernate if they are cold. House them in a warm room (65 - 75 degrees F) away from drafts. If your hamster appears "dead", try warming it slowly in your hands and gently rub it to stimulate it. Often they will come back to life, especially if under 2 years of age.

Should you decide to breed hamsters, house the male and female separately. To allow mating, bring the male and female together on "neutral" territory. Often the female will fight and kill the male.

It is best to breed them when they are 70 days old, as they are more mature. Gestation is 16 days, and they usually have 4 - 10 young in a litter. The female will wean her young at 25 days.

They should be handled frequently from a young age. Hamsters that aren't handled frequently may bite if frightened.

Veterinary Care

The most common problem with hamsters results from lack of proper care. If housed and fed properly, and if the cage is kept clean, they usually live to 2 - 3 years of age uneventfully. Common ailments include pneumonia, diarrhea (wet tail), sore hock, broken limbs, and skin problems.

Most human drugs are toxic to hamsters. NEVER administer any drug without veterinary advice. Should your pet hamster become ill, please call your veterinarian for options or advice.

Hamsters can be spayed and neutered to prevent unwanted pregnancy.