Hamster Husbandry and Diet
All hamsters need secure cages that are made from sturdy materials. A hamster can chew a hole through a plastic shoebox within about 30 minutes so make sure that the container you use to hold the hamster during cage cleaning is equally secure. There are many commercially available hamster cages that have plastic tunnels and attachments that allow you to build very extensive habitats. Always be sure to properly latch any doors or lids as hamsters are notorious for finding these openings and escaping into houses. It can be very difficult to locate escaped hamsters. If you have pet dogs, cats, or ferrets in the house, your hamster may end up seriously injured or even killed if they escape from the habitat and encounter your other pets.
Recycled paper bedding or non-toxic wood shaving work well for the bottom of the cage. Avoid colored or scented bedding as well as cedar shavings and pine shavings. Shredded paper towels may also work.
An exercise wheel or dish is an essential part of a hamster cage. The dish works great for the smallest dwarf hamsters while the larger Syrian hamsters do better with a wheel. Hamsters enjoy exploring. Paper towel tubes, cereal boxes, and small pieces of cardboard will be investigated and played with before being shredded. There are many types of durable plastic toys that hamsters will carry around. Some even allow a treat like a sunflower seed to be hidden inside. A cleaned plastic pill bottle can be turned into a simple toy--place a seed in the bottom, stuff some tissue paper into the bottle, and hide it in the hamster cage. After the treat is gone, many hamsters will carry around the pill bottle and play with it. Some may even use it to hoard leftover food.
Oxbow's Healthy Handfuls is an excellent staple diet for all hamsters. As a general rule, this diet should be available at all times. Small cubes of timothy hay (such as Zoomed's Grassland Tortoise Diet [yes, the tortoise diet!] or Oxbow's Hay Treats) may also be available at all times. Nuts and seeds should only be offered as treats or as incentives to explore toys (as described above). Sunflower seeds can be offered as treats, no more than one or two seeds a day for Syrian hamsters or one per week for miniature hamsters. They should not be a main part of the diet. Smooth nuts like hazel nuts, almonds, and Brazil nuts are enjoyed. Walnuts, pecans, and wrinkled nuts should be offered sparingly. Corn, dried beans, and other grains and seeds are often found in hamster diets but again should only be offered in small amounts. These nuts and seeds are not balanced and can lead to obesity and trace mineral deficiencies if a hamster eats too many of them.
Green leafy vegetables, green beans, hibiscus flowers, or leafy branches from hibiscus bushes or mulberry trees are welcome treats. Avoid dried fruits, fresh fruits, and sugary vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes as these can cause diarrhea and lead to diabetes.
Fresh water should be available at all times. If you have more than one hamster in a cage, it is important to have water bottles at different ends of the cage so that the dominant hamster does not bully the other hamsters and keep them away from the water. It's also a good idea to keep food scattered around for the same reason. (Many hamsters cannot live together once they are adults. Please check the article on introducing hamsters to each other in order to make sure your hamster is a social!)