So you want a Hamster?

A hamster can be an enjoyable pet. However, it is not the same as having a cat or dog where it can run around freely or snooze on your lap. Playtimes require rest intervals back in its habitat after 15-20 minutes. Young children tend to become bored with this kind of pet quite quickly and parents must be prepared to take over the responsibility (cleaning, feeding and health) for the duration of the hamster’s average two-year life span. Furthermore, the correct set-up is vital to the hamster’s quality of life, so please take note of requirements and calculate your set-up costs BEFORE you buy the hamster.

IMPORTANT: Like cats and dogs, your hamster may require veterinary attention at some stage. There is a sad attitude that “it’s just a hamster”, and the owner is often reluctant to take it to an exotics vet. They most certainly do feel pain and misery! Please ensure that you will be able to afford to take your hamster to an exotics vet, if necessary, and not let it suffer.

How many Hamsters?

The breeds of hamsters that we find in SA are solitary by nature and NEED to live alone as they approach adulthood. NEVER introduce a new hamster to a current one. The fighting is often fatal! If you want more than one, you will need to get a suitable habitat for each of them. Hamsters reach sexual maturity from 4 weeks old and therefore boys and girls are to be separated at that age. Please do not consider breeding simply because you think it’ll be cute or educational for the kids to see. Responsible breeding requires a lot of careful research, genetic knowledge, experience, dedication and space!


GET THE CORRECT HABITAT! The bigger, the better the life!

It is very important to provide your hamster with the largest space you can afford! Those tiny cute cheap cages need to be avoided at all costs! They are travel cages and in no way suitable for your hamster to live in permanently. Mesh/bar-type floors and ladders in wire cages are painful and harmful to little feet and MUST be replaced or covered with something solid immediately. Flexible chopping mats make good washable coverings and are easy to cut to size. If you are getting the minimum habitat size, do consider joining two together to provide extra enrichment for the hamster.


MINIMUM CAGE SIZE requirements

Longer housing with unbroken ground floor space and a low shelf is the best and safest (e.g. fish tank or DIY bin cage with grid top), and there are quite a few good options advised on our website. Tall cages with exposed levels are not advised as they are dangerous and rarely offer the correct sized floor space. Small cages are cruel!

SYRIAN/TEDDYBEAR HAMSTERS: 100 x 50 cm (or larger) unbroken ground floor space + shelf for food.

DWARF HAMSTERS: 100 x 50cm (or larger) unbroken ground floor space + shelf for food.


Any relatively peaceful place is good, but never in direct sunlight or draughts, and preferably not too near electronic equipment. Make sure that the cage is safe from being knocked or pulled down!

To order cages, please phone one of these amazing ladies in your area (prices might change)

Cage essentials

Bowls: should be on a level above the bedding material because water gets dirty too easily and bowls are tipped and causing bedding to get wet, which is unhealthy. Bottle: a good quality BPA-free hamster or mouse bottle with a metal spout. Avoid bottles with glass parts – they can break and the shards will be harmful to the hamster.

The larger the hamster, the larger the wheel required. Mini wheels are too small. Styles with open rungs, mesh, framework and cross-bars are dangerous; causing painful bumblefoot, broken limbs and other injuries (even death).
Dwarf –18-25cm (7.5-8”)
Syrian – 27-30cm (11-12”)

Sand baths are vital for the hamster’s cleanliness and health. They roll in the sand to get rid of excess build-up of oil and dirt from their skin and fur. Without this, your hamster will be prone to mites and skin infections. They usually potty train themselves to urinate in the sand, which will prevent a smelly cage. (There are also potty training tips on the website). Any hardy container from your kitchen will do (ice cream tub, tupperware, etc.)

You do not have to use expensive commercial hamster litter/sand. Plain bentonite gravel, or sterilized Children’s Play Sand, works just as well. NEVER use powdery/dusty or scented bath sands, or sand that has silica added. See the Hamsters SA website for details.

Paper based beddings, like Carefresh and unscented Kaytee Clean & Cosy are now easily available in SA – safer, more comfortable & longer lasting. See the Hamster SA website for other safe options. AVOID PINE SHAVINGS that are unfortunately still found in most pet shops – pine is toxic to rodents and they will develop allergic reactions and respiratory infections. Never use shavings or sawdust from timber mills – certain woods have oils, phenols & dust that cause eye, skin, & lung infections. Hamsters like to burrow, so do put a decent depth of bedding in the habitat, and an even deeper section somewhere else. There are additional substrates that you can add as extra zones for enrichment within the enclosure.

Do provide a little room/house for your hamster to make a cozy nest to sleep in. The plastic houses and domes available in pet shops are not very healthy, and you only need a little cardboard box with a doorway cut out and ventilation holes punched.

Like us, hamsters like a soft, warm bed. Strip up a lot of cheap 1-ply toilet paper for your hamster to drag to his chosen sleeping place (not 2-ply or facial tissues, as these make too much dust when torn up). AVOID FLUFFY NESTING & fabric as this is incredibly dangerous – gets stuck in pouches, tangled around teeth, nails and limbs and doesn’t disintegrate, which will cause intestinal blockages if it gets ingested, resulting in illness, and even death due to infection & internal complications, and a hamster will even chew off a limb to free itself from entanglement.

Hamsters enjoy tunnelling. You can supply empty toilet or paper towel rolls (or larger for a Syrian) for fun and exploration. They will most likely get chewed (a healthy activity) but are easy and cheap to replace. Teeth grow constantly and it is vital that they always get grinded down by gnawing and chewing. Hamsters often chew the bars of wire cages and you need to stop this action as quickly as possible as it poses various health issues. There are a variety of chews and gnaws available from pet shops or that you can make yourself – thick cardboard, Whimzees, seed or stick gnaws, etc.

Please provide the best quality dry hamster mix that has the most variety – next to water, this of utmost importance for your hamster’s health and longevity. Burgess and Versele-Laga make excellent hamster mixes suitable for both Dwarf and Syrian hamsters. Please avoid food mixes that consist mainly of sunflower seeds, mealies and pellets. In addition, fresh veg, fruit and proteins (daily or a few times a week) is absolutely essential. See below for basic good foods to add and provide.

Basic good & bad Food List

NB: If in doubt, don’t feed it to your hamster!

NOTE: Dwarf Hamsters are prone to diabetes – No fruit, peas & mielies – high in natural sugar. FOR A MORE DETAILED LIST, PLEASE SEE THE ‘FOOD’ PAGE ON THE HAMSTERS SA WEBSITE.

Good Fresh Fruit & Veggies (EVERY 2nd or 3rd DAY)

Alfalfa, Apple (no seeds), Apricot, Asparagus, Baby Spinach, Banana, Bean Sprouts, Blackberry leaves & fruit, Blueberry, Broccoli (florets & leaves), Butternut. Carrot, Cauliflower (florets & leaves), Chard, Cherries (not the pips), Coconut, Coriander, Cos Lettuce (dark tips), Courgette/Zucchini, Cranberry, Cress. Dates, Dill, Endive, Fennel ‘leaves’ (not bulb), Fig. Green Beans. Gems, Kale, Kiwi, Loganberry, Lychee. Mange Tout, Mango, Melon, Mint leaf, Mealie kernels. Papaya, Peach (not the pip), Pear (no seeds), Peas (not for dwarfs), Peppers (red, yellow, green), Plum, Prune (not the pips), Raspberry, Rocket leaves, Sage, Spinach, Strawberry. Turnip, Water Cress, Water Melon.

Unsafe Fruit & Veggies

Fruit seeds & pips, Avocado. Cabbage, Cayenne, Chilli, Chives, Citrus Fruits, Eggplant, Garlic, Grapes, Kidney Beans, Leeks, Lettuce (particularly Iceberg), Onion, Olives, Pineapple, Potato (raw), Raisins, Rhubarb, Sultanas, Tomato.
Note: Best to pick out most dried fruit from commercial food mixes and feed fresh or baby pureed fruit instead.

Safe Proteins (2 or 3 x A WEEK)

Chicken or Turkey meat (cooked, unspiced, unsalted), Chicken Cat/Kitten Food (top quality, zero salt), Crickets (clean & specially bred), Egg (boiled/scrambled – unsalted), 3-5 Meal Worms (dried or freshly killed).

Safe Plants & Flowers

Chickweed, Clover (red, white and grass), Cornflower, Cress, Chives, Dandelion flower & leaves, Grass, Hemp, Millet, Rose petals, Sweetpea petals.

Unsafe Plants & Flowers

Acorns, Bindweed, Bluebells, Bulbs (of any sort), Buttercups, Clematis, Crocus, Deadly Nightshade, Evergreen Plants, Elder, Laurel, Oak, Ragwort

Safe Foods & Treats

Baby Food (no onion, tomato, lemon, garlic ingredients), Butternut seeds, Coconut flakes, Dog Biscuits (Plain – good for teeth), Whimzees (dog chew – no other brand).

Once a week treats

Bread (w/wheat toasted or not). Cereals (Unsweetened e.g. Cornflakes, Weetbix), Couscous, Cucumber (small piece). Nuts (shelled, fresh) – Sweet Almonds, Brazil, Cashew, Hazel, Pecan, Pistachio, Walnuts. Peanuts (in or out of shell). Pasta (cooked), Rice cakes, Sunflower seeds, Tofu (rinsed). Plain Yogurt (a daily lick of yogurt is good for babies & nursing moms).

Very occasional treats (tiny amounts)

Basil, Celery, Parsley (as a tonic), Dairy- white cheese, Fish (cooked – unsalted)

Unsafe treats & proteins
Sweets, Chocolate, Greenies (dog chews), Pork, SALT, Processed meats (ham, biltong), Liver, Pepper, Spices.



We hope you enjoy your new hamster! 

A massive thank you to Tana Pressly from Hamsters SA for compiling this info sheet for us.

Hamsters South Africa
https://tanapressly.wixsite.com/hamsters-southafrica and Facebook Group
*** Please refer to the Hamsters SA website regularly, as information is constantly updated and added ***

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