My family is growing. We’ll be getting a new member next week. Namely, a hamster, earnestly requested by my younger daughter, will be the surprise Christmas present next week.
I’m scared. I don’t do pets. We had a goldfish for a while, but beyond that the only animals in our home have been my wild children. Yet, seven-year-olds are only seven once. So, with an opening heart, I’m attempting to embrace with her this new experience by learning how to own and care for a hamster in a way that is healthy, happy and as green as possible. Here’s what I’ve gathered so far:
1. Creating a home: To create a comfortable home for a pet hamster, choose a roomy enough cage, at least the size of a 10 gallon aquarium tank. In fact, a tank can make a good cage as long as it is well ventilated (securely fastened fine mesh wire at the top of the tank should do the trick.) Those plastic cages readily available at pet stores are not the best choice. They can be hard to keep clean.
Once you’ve selected a cage, line the bottom with plain paper and place on top of it shredded white paper and/or some dry timothy hay for burrowing and perhaps nest-building for these creatures that typically live underground. Because these guys enjoy hiding out, a cardboard box, like a tissue box or oatmeal container might be fun to include in the cage. In addition to hiding in them, hamsters are likely to nibble them. And they can be easily replaced during cleaning.
Since hamsters are nocturnal, it is probably best to keep the cage in a room that is quiet, not overly bright and not drafty.
Next: Cleaning, Feeding, and Playing with Hamsters
2. Cleaning the cage: To minimize odor and keep your hamster and family healthy, be sure to clean the cage regularly. Regularly has been defined differently by my sources: the guy at the pet store said to change the bedding every one to two weeks. Other sources suggest changing and disinfecting the cage twice weekly. Because of my dread of pet odor, I lean towards changing bedding at least once a week, along with daily clean-up of the hamster’s bathroom, water bottle and sipping tube to prevent build-up of algae and bacteria. To disinfect the cage, white vinegar is a great non-toxic choice. Traditional commercial cleaners can prove to be harmful to your pet. Also, another tidbit is that a squeaky hamster wheel can be quieted with a non-toxic dab of vegetable oil or shortening.
3. Feeding and care: Food and water should always be available to hamsters. Anchor a water bottle with a metal sipping tube on an inside wall of the cage. A bowl of food (large enough for the hamster to sit in — I heard some of them like to do this), should also always be available within the cage. To maintain a measure of cleanliness, keep food and water on one side of the cage. Hamsters will likely find another area in the cage in which to do its business.
A hamster’s diet should primarily consist of a mixture of seed and grain, rounded out by select vegetables and fruits such as spinach, dandelion greens, carrots or a slice of apple. Commercial hamster foods contain a good blend of ingredients, and organic varieties are available, such as 8 in 1 Ecotrition Organic Hamster & Gerbil Food, which already contains fruits and vegetables.
4. Toys: There are plenty of balls, tubes, slides and the like available to amuse and keep your hamster happy. These animals need to exercise, as they’re naturally on the move in the wild as they gather food. Know, however, that toys need to be cleaned and many of the plastic tubes can contain areas that are hard to reach.
In addition to the popular hamster wheel or ball, it is safe for your hamster to play with and chew on cardboard toilet and paper towel rolls. Additionally, hamster chewable toys, similar to a dog’s gnawing bone, help keep their teeth healthy. A number of toys are available that are made from recycled materials.
Do you have any tips for keeping hamster care happy, simple and green?