For your hamster cage, you will need certain essential items no matter what design you buy. Hamsters will not be healthy or happy unless their minimum needs are met through properly equipping and maintaining their home environment. This article provides expert’s views on water bottles, nesting boxes, toys and cleaning. Discover how to create a basic hamster care accessory kit to give them a healthy, more enjoyable life.
Many people may remember their school pet hamster, with little ceramic ware bowls in – well, these days, universally hamster care discussions focus on using a drip-feed water bottle. This is probably a reflection of how far the pet care industry has come in the last 20 years and how we are more accustomed to searching for specialist products. Make sure it’s got a metal spout (it may get chewed). Replace the water as often as you can, at least daily, so it’s fresh and clean. Clean the bottle once a week – although the ASPCA recommends soap and water (1) , we also suggest you ask your vet for hamster-safe detergents – these days, they will be on the market. With a constant supply of fresh water, your hamster will avoid dangerous dehydration, but he or she also needs a nesting box.
Hamsters are nocturnal, asleep in the day and up scurrying about making a mini-racket at night. When they sleep in the day, they have a natural instinct to hide themselves away inside an enclosed space. They also need somewhere to hide the food titbits they famously stuff into their pouches. You can give them a simple small nesting box (without anything sharp on it) with an entrance, through to buying a fancy nesting product from pet stores. Ask yourself is it big enough to comfortably accommodate them, could anything sharp injure them or become sharp/detached/both through chewing? Accommodating their natural behaviour will leave them less likely to suffer stress and you can also help them by providing toys for mental stimulation.
Back to safety rules again here – is anything sharp, could it become sharp/detached/both. Also it needs to be untreated wood or non-toxic material. Gnawing toys are essential to keep their ever-growing teeth stay at a manageable length; tubes are fun and good for exercise. Hamster balls are controversial, with opinion steeply divided. Some say they’re fun and great for exercise. Others point out hamsters naturally want to hide and feel balls frighten them because they can’t behave naturally. Others claim they only run as they feel trapped and trying to escape, creating ongoing anxiety. A safe play pen can accomodate natural behaviour, with tubes and a (sterilised) sandbox to dig in . Interestingly, balls didn’t feature for exercise within 7 different care advice resources – whereas solid wheels did (1, 2, 3, 4 ,5, 6, 7, 8). Ladders are good so long as they can’t get limbs caught in them, hanging toys not recommended again in case they got caught in them. As well as toys for dental health and stimulation, hamsters require daily grooming.
Hamster Brushes and Sand
A long haired Syrian hamster needs daily brushing, with a special hamster brush from a pet store or even a soft toothbrush (1, 9). Some sources say all hamsters need daily brushing (9); all appreciate a dish of sand bought from a pet store to roll in, removing grease from their coats. Practice good handling daily to get your hamster used to this and be extremely, super-gentle, they truly are delicate little critters. Pick them up with the upmost care with both your hands as a scoop, and only handle them over a flat, soft surface – never at height in case they fall or jump. Be aware if you wake them in the daytime, they may bite – because as far as their concerned, it’s the middle of the night and you’re simply a weird and intrusive predatory ‘giant hand-thing’ looming around them. With gentle persistence, you can establish a daily grooming session to keep coats healthier and shinier.
Your ‘accessories’ starter-kit now consists of a drip-feed water bottle, nesting box, toys and a brush. You’ll also want to consider a newspaper ‘moat’ if using a wire cage for bedding materials projected by hammys through the bars. You’ll need suitable bedding and of course proper food and a decent feeder receptacle. Armed with these essentials, you give your hamster a fighting chance of health and happiness
IMPORTANT: This article is for general reading – please consult your vet if you have any concerns or questions about hamsters, as no article can be exhaustive nor definitive on health and safety.
1. ASPCA. Hamster Care The 411 [online]. Available at:
2. RSPCA. Know what your hamster needs.[online]. Available at:
3. Pet care – Hamsters .[online]. Available at:
4. The Hamster Society, Choosing a Cage [online]. Available at:
5. ASPCA Hamster Care [online]. Available at:
6. BCSPCA. Kids Hamster Care [online]. Available at:
7. National Hamster Society. Getting Started [online]. Available at:
8. EASE. The EASE Guide To Caring For Hamsters [online]. Available at:
9. RSPCA. Handle With Care – Hamsters [online]. Available at:
Choosing the right bedding to go inside hamster cages is a sometimes a life or death decision! Your hamster is in constant contact with the materials, so these need to be non-toxic and contain nothing remotely abrasive or sharp. This article gives tips for what to use in the cage, what not to use, and how to tidy and clean the cage contents. This should give you a guide for shopping for your hamster and appropriate daily and weekly cleaning duties.
What To Put in
Hamsters chew all sorts of things and the lining of their cheeks (their little pouches) is a delicate membrane that is easily injured. They also have delicate eyes, skin and gastro-intestinal systems, so never introduce any type of bedding that is potentially toxic, abrasive or in any way could develop into a sharp piece, no matter how small. You can try putting a clean layer of sawdust on the floor of the cage (1, 5) and clean white kitchen paper for bedding (1, 5). Or use timothy hay, aspen shavings, shredded paper, pelleted bedding (2,3,4) and/or hamster-specific recycled bedding (3). These should be fine but be aware other materials are very dangerous.
What Not To Put In
Cedar or pine chips or shavings can create poisonous fumes (2, 4) and newspaper or other paper printed inks can also be a poison to hamsters (1, 4, and 5). Don’t use synthetic fluffy, other fluffy, fabric or wool bedding, including cotton wool as it can become lodged in their cheek pouches (4) or cause blockages if eaten which can be fatal (5, 6). Stick to the list of recommended substances unless otherwise directed by your vet for safety and develop good cage hygiene habits to ensure better health.
You will need to tidy the cage daily – this means removing soiled and wet bedding materials and any pieces of discarded food, otherwise it will rot in there. You can also use this time to check for any sharp pieces, although hopefully these won’t ever happen as you’ve already red the Safer Cages Tips. Place your hamster into a safe enclosed area for weekly cleaning, while you empty and wash down the hutch with hamster-safe disinfectant from a pet store or your vet. You may want to retain a little old bedding to mix it, to make your hamster feel at home when she/he gets back to his spring-cleaned cage with otherwise unfamiliar smells all around her/him.
Clean safe materials in the cage are a must – you risk hamster injury or worse by trying different materials. Creating a safe place to put hammy in while you clean is essential, one way to do this is to double up a daily exercise play pen as the cleaning-time enclosure. With a checklist of some known good hamster care ideas and some known harmful materials, you should be equipped to make a cosy home and start your hamster cage cleaning routine.
Jonathon & Jo Boyd
1. RSPCA. Pet care – Hamsters. [online]. Available from:
2. ASPCA. Hamster Care [online]. Available from:
3. Hamster Care The 411 [online]. Available from:
4. EASE. The EASE Guide To caring For Hamsters [online]. Available from:
5. PDSA. Golden Hamsters – A Suitable Environment [online]. Available from:
6. National Hamster Society. Getting Started [online]. Available at:
Once you’ve chosen a hamster cage, you still need some tips on considerations to stop your hamster becoming ill, injured or even dying accidentally. Hamsters are tiny, delicate little souls who have often come to harm or died through inappropriate keeping. This article explains whether to keep one or two, safety for exercise wheels, and the dangers of chewing.
One Hamster Or Two?
The general consensus seems to a be Syrian hamster especially must live alone in their own cage (1, 2, 3, 4) and all the larger breeds too. This is because hamsters fight each other – although some experts advocate the ‘dwarf’ hamster species enjoying living in pairs (2) but they may still fight (5). Even so DO NOT put boys and girls in together, even if they’re related – they will breed, leaving you with greater care issues and many new hammies to home. Sexing hamsters is difficult – from experience of a seemingly endless ‘supply’ of gerbils from parents we swore were all boys or girls – ask you vet. Having decided how many and using the ‘Hamriettas’ from the ‘Hamrys’, move onto how they’ll exercise.
Wild hamsters run 11 – 12 kilometres daily. Domestic hamsters also need to have at least an exercise wheel (plus a bigger safe play pen are to run in daily outside the cage is also great). DON’T BUY old fashioned wheels with rungs – these have been known to cause horrific injury. Only choose solid wheels, where no little hamster body parts can get trapped. Don’t waste your money – before you buy ask your vet about size – your hamster simply won’t be able to exercise properly in it if it’s too small or too big. Think you’ve found a solid, correctly sized wheel? Move onto considerations of chewing.
Chewing Their Way To Danger
One basic of hamster care is, like many small pets, they are fanatical chewers. They do it to keep their teeth in check apart from anything else – rodent’s teeth constantly grow and chewing wears them down to comfortable lengths. If small pieces become detached through chewing – say splinters, or slivers of plastic- they can cause injury in a number of ways. They may injure the eyes, nose, tail or other body part by ‘poking in’; or the hamster’s pouches and/or insides if swallowed and cause poisoning if they’re made of materials toxic to hamsters. Check anything going near your hammy is incredibly robust, made of untreated wood, non–toxic plastic, etc, and of course IS NOT ELECTRONIC IN ANY WAY – no matter what someone trying to sell you any gadget says! It’s better to hesitate and not give them any toys you’re unsure of until you’ve checked with your vet.
IMPORTANT : Please read this as a general introduction to the topics only – it can’t replace a vets advice- their needs absolutely vary by breed, age, temperament, health status, etc.
1. RSPCA. Pet care – Hamsters [online] available from:
2. ASPCA. Hamster Care [online] available from:
3. ASPCA. Hamster Care The 411 [online] available from:
4. National Hamster Society. Getting started [online] available from:
5. California Hamster Association. FAQs [online] available from: