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:
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:
All animals need special care and the environment of your hamster cage needs to be carefully checked. There are many plants and ordinary everyday products that can seriously poison hamsters. This article gives some top tips on household hazards, plants and poisons to eliminate from the hamster cage and other hamster care environments. This can give you a checklist as a starter checklist for keeping your hamster safe.
Another Word About Chewing Hazards
All rodents chew and hamsters will chew anything as they like to keep their ever growing teeth in check. All electrical wires must be moved right out of the way for this reason. Chewing toys and gnaw blocks must be made of materials which are not treated with chemicals nor contain any toxic components. Also don’t give anything that could create sharp parts through chewing as these can seriously injure both outside of the body and in. This point can’t be emphasised enough, although there are of course, other household dangers that deserve special attention.
Household Hazards & Poison
If you allow your hamster out of its cage, make sure its play area is enclosed so it can’t escape – they can get into the oddest spaces and you may have a job getting them out again unharmed. Other pets may also show a menacing interest, even if they’re only ‘playing’ this can be extremely frightening and dangerous. Make sure there are no medications, plants or household products such as cleaners that they could reach. Don’t smoke tobacco near your hamster as pets do suffer from secondary smoke.
Some Common Dangerous Human Medicines, Foods, Household & Garden Plants
Most advice on human medicines that harm pets is based on responses in cats and dogs, but to be on the safe side, the list includes (1):
- Non-steroidal-anit-inflammatories, or NSAIDs as they’re known, often given to control pain in humans
- Methylphenidate (often prescribed for ADHD in humans)
- Fluorouracil (prescribed for skin cancers in humans)
- Isoniazid (used for respiratory conditions such as TB)
- Pseudoephedrine (found in decongestant remedies)
- Vitamin D derivatives
- Baclofen (a muscle relaxant drug for humans)
Human food and garden plants can be harmful, here is just a snapshot of some more common ones (1, 2). This list is simply some of the more common ones in the home or garden –there are more (references given below):
- Almond pits
- Apple seeds
- Avocado – for hamsters (and other rodents) this can be fatal if ingested
- Autumn crocuses
- Buttercups – the yellow flowers in the garden
- Cherry pits and cherry laurel
- Chocolate Coffee, Caffeine
- Christmas rose
- Common privet
- Daffodil (or jonquil)
- Deadly nightshade
- Easter lily
- English ivy Evergreens
- Grapes & Raisins – known to have especially harmed pets with kidney problems
- Horse chestnuts
- Milk – is known to cause digestive upsets in many animals
- Mistletoe Mushrooms
- Nightshade plants varieties
- Onions, Garlic, Chives – are known to harm cats and dogs in higher quantities, we suggest avoidance for hamsters
- Peach pits
- Poison ivy / oak
- Rubber plants
- Salt – can cause extreme thirst and passing too much urine – one common source is chips (UK: crisps). Simply do not feed salty foods from any source.
- Sweet pea plants
- Wisteria yews
- Yeast Dough – because it can rise inside the hamster, causing pain even intestinal rupture
- Xylitol – for most animals, this sweetener is harmful if ingested
IF YOU SUSPECT YOUR HAMSTER HAS EATEN SOMETHING HARMFUL OR IS HARMED IN ANY WAY, TAKE IT TO THE VETS IMMEDIATELY, DO NOT TRY TO DIAGNOSE BY USING THIS ARTICLE. This list does not contain every substance or situation dangerous to hamsters – please research carefully for local plants, food specialities, products and drugs and ask your vet for advice.
References – useful resources on things that poison hamsters/other pets:
1. ASPCA. Top 10 Human Medications That Poison Our Pets [online]. Available from:
2. ASPCA. People Foods To Avoid Feeding Your Pets [online]. Available from:
3. The Hamster Society. Husbandry – List of Poisonous Plants [onine]. Available from: