Hamsters are mammals and belong to the rodent family. The word rodent comes from a Latin word ‘rodere’ which means ‘to gnaw’. Hamsters are nocturnal and need to have peace and quiet during the day. They are extremely good at digging, and in the wild, make underground homes (burrows) made up of lots of tunnels and chambers where they keep their food and sleep. They have big cheek pouches that can expand to carry food and bedding back to the burrow. The word hamster comes from the German word ‘hamstern’ – it means to ‘to hoard’!
They like warm temperatures, and if it becomes too cold, may go into a deep sleep called hibernation.
There are three types of hamster that are kept most often as pets. They are the Syrian (sometimes called golden), the Russian and the Chinese. They come in lots of different colours and lengths of coat.
Visit the RSPCA website to find out more.
Do take care when handling your hamster. You should pick it up very gently using both hands as a scoop and stay close over a flat surface. Hamsters move very quickly and are likely to jump if they are frightened.
Do feed you hamster a varied diet of hamster mix (from pet shops), seeds, grains, nuts and small quantities of washed fruit and vegetables. Click here for a list of fruit and veg your hamster can eat.
Do keep a supply of fresh, clean drinking water in a drip-feed bottle with a metal spout.
Do make sure your hamster's home is large and kept in a warm place, away from direct sunlight.
Do give your hamster a nest box so it can burrow out of sight to sleep and hoard food.
Do give your hamster an exercise wheel. Hamsters need plenty of exercise and will become ill without it.
Don't give hamsters food mixes meant for other animals as these might make them ill.
Don't use newspaper or cotton wool in your hamster's home. You should keep a clean layer of sawdust on the floor, with soft hay and clean white kitchen paper for bedding.
Don't keep more than one hamster in a cage. Apart from some dwarf hamsters who will live in pairs, hamsters prefer to live alone and may fight if they are together.
Don't let their home become untidy or dirty. Tidy it every day and give it a thorough clean every week.
Don't bathe your hamster. They are very good at cleaning themselves.