Last Updated: April 9, 2021
Adopting a new pet is always exciting. When it comes to cats and dogs, most people know what to purchase to keep their animals happy and healthy. However, hamsters can be a bit more complicated. Unless you’ve owned a hamster before, it can be challenging to figure out what the animal actually needs, versus what’s simply an advertising gimmick.
Luckily for you, we’ve put together this complete supply list. This includes all the essential things your pet needs to stay alive, like food, as well as enrichment items that will keep your hamster happy.
1. A Cage
Your hamster’s cage is basically the most important thing you will purchase for your new pet. It’s where all of the other stuff will go and where your hamster will spend the bulk of their time, so it’s important to get it right!
Don’t let the cages at the pet stores fool you – hamsters actually need quite a bit of room. The average hamster in the wild will roam about 5 miles every night. Obviously, a 5-mile-long cage isn’t going to work in captivity, but it does give you some idea of the amount of room these hamsters have evolved to thrive in.
For a Syrian hamster, you need a cage that is at least 24” x 12”. That is the minimum. More is always better. A bigger cage gives your hamster more room to roam, allows you to add more accessories, and limits how often you’ll need to change the bedding. It’s a win-win situation.
Most “starter hamster” cages are much too small. These may be suitable for a baby hamster, but most will outgrow these cages in a month or less. Just purchase a bigger cage to start, like this one.
2. Bedding Material
This is the stuff that goes at the bottom of the hamster cage. It will need to be changed every few weeks as it gets dirty, so you don’t want to choose something too expensive. However, you probably don’t want to get something super cheap either, as it likely won’t be suitable for your hamster.
There are a lot of different beddings that you can choose from. If you’re shopping at a pet store, you’ll likely find that they carry plenty of different options as well. In most cases, your best bet is going to be aspen shavings, as these are easy to find, inexpensive, and safe for hamsters. You don’t want to choose anything heavily scented, like pine, as these can overpower your hamster’s very sensitive sense of smell.
If you have one hamster, a single bag will last you for months, so don’t feel the need to stock up. You’ll need to spot-clean the bedding every day, but it’ll only need completely changed every week or two.
3. Nesting Material
You’ll also need some sort of nesting material for your hamster to burrow into. These will need to be placed in their sleeping area, which will usually be some sort of hiding place.
Once again, if you’re at a pet store, you’ll see plenty of stuff that is marketed to work as nesting material. However, luckily for you, you don’t really need to buy any of this. Instead, paper towels and toilet paper work perfectly well as long as it is unscented. You don’t want to use anything with scents, as it can overwhelm your hamster’s sense of smell.
4. A Hideout
You’ll need somewhere for your hamster to sleep and hide when they get scared. This is the place where you will put the nesting material. Hamsters are very small and generally love to hide. While you technically only need one hideout, more is usually better. It allows the hamster the opportunity to choose which hiding spot they like best and ensures there is always one close by when they get scared.
Preferably, the hideout needs to be wooden. This is for a few different reasons. Firstly, hamsters will chew on everything, including their hideout. This will help wear down its teeth, which never stop growing. Secondly, plastic and similar materials will cause condensation to build up on the walls, which can make things humid and uncomfortable on the inside. A wet hamster is never good.
Plastic also doesn’t hold a hamster’s scent very well. Hamsters use their sense of smell to explore their surroundings, so this can make it difficult for them to find their hideout once they leave. Wood holds a scent much better.
Once you have a hideout, stuff it full of your nesting material. The hamster will use it to build their nest.
For an example of a good hideout, try this one.
5. Food Bowl and Water Bottle
Often, a food and water bowl will come with the hamster cage when you purchase it. This isn’t always true though. Sometimes, you’ll need to purchase them separately.
In the wild, hamsters are foragers, so you can simply spread their food around their cage instead of using a bowl. This will provide them with some mental stimulation since they’ll need to actually look for their food.
If you do choose to use a bowl, get one that won’t tip over. It should look more like a dog bowl than a human bowl. You just don’t want the bowl tipping over when the hamster tries to get the food out of it. Ceramic bowls are pretty heavy, so they tend to stay put a bit better than other types of bowls.
The water bottle should be large enough for the hamster’s water needs. The average hamster only needs a little bit of water, so the average water bottle will hold enough for up to a week at a time.
Of course, you’ll also need food for your hamster. The diet you feed your hamster is very important. You don’t want to feed your hamster low-quality food, as it will affect their overall health and happiness. Hamsters usually don’t eat very much at all, so feel free to purchase more expensive food. It’ll probably last you a very long time.
A Syrian hamster only needs about 2 teaspoons a day, while a dwarf hamster will only need one.
You cannot judge the amount you feed hamsters based on when their bowl is empty. Hamsters will stash food. It’s what they do. Even if they don’t eat all the food you put in the bowl, they will take it all back to their nest and hide it. If you put in more food, they’ll just hide that too.
Hamsters should be given mostly grains. These help keep their teeth in check. You should also feed them some fresh fruits and veggies here and there, but they mostly do need those grains to stay healthy.
You’ll probably decide to purchase your hamster a food mix, which will provide a controlled, safe diet for them to eat. Look for one that is designed for hamsters and is mostly grain.
Hamsters are actually rather smart, so they will need a decent amount of mental stimulation. Usually, this is in the form of toys and tubes. Hamsters love to burrow in the wild, but this is difficult for them to do in captivity. For this reason, tubes are often a good substitute.
You can make many of your own toys at home. Many hamsters love paper towel rolls. Just fold the ends together and put a bit of food inside. Your hamster will stay entertained trying to get the food out. Empty cardboard egg cartons are another similar toy that you probably have lying around your house.
When it comes to store-bought toys, you should choose things that are made out of wood. Hamsters like to chew, and plastic isn’t particularly suitable for them to chew on. Therefore, choose wooden options instead.
8. Get an Exercise Wheel
Hamsters love to run. In the wild, they will spend most of their time running. The average hamster will run about 2-5 miles a night looking for food and water. This is fairly difficult to do in a cage, where space is confined. Often, without the ability to run, your hamster can become bored and destructive. They will have a lot of leftover energy and may eventually become overweight.
Therefore, exercise wheels are really necessary for your hamster. The best wheel is the one that your hamster uses the most, so you may need to try a few before your hamster makes their preference clear. Wheels can be a bit loud, but there are a few out there that are designed to be quiet. In the end, it depends mostly on where you keep the hamster’s cage.
Remember, hamsters are nocturnal, so they will be using the wheel mostly at night. In fact, most hamsters will spend the majority of their night on the wheel.
9. Cover Your Bases and Get an Exercise Ball Too
While your hamster will expend much of their energy on the exercise wheel, you should also consider getting an exercise ball for exploration. An exercise ball is an easy way for your hamster to explore outside of their cage without you losing track of them. This allows the hamster to roam the house with supervision.
The exercise ball also gives your hamster somewhere to be when you’re cleaning his cage. He can’t be inside, or he’ll get stressed and even try to escape.
You should choose an exercise ball that is big enough to prevent your hamster’s back from being arched. They should be able to run in their natural stance. You should never allow your hamster to stay in the cage for more than 20 minutes. There is obviously no food or water in the ball, which limits the hamster’s ability to care for their own needs. There also isn’t much air, as the air flow will be limited to the number of holes the ball has.
10. Travel Cage
You’ll probably need to travel with your hamster at some point, even if you don’t plan to. You might be moving or need to take your hamster to the vet. Either way, it is usually better to have a travel cage on hand whenever you need it. This allows you enough time to choose the best travel cage for your hamster, instead of your choices being limited to whatever the pet store carries.
The travel cage can also keep your hamster safe while you clean the main cage. Travel cages come in all shapes and sizes. Most are not designed to be a permanent or even semi-permanent home for the hamster. They’re usually rather small, so you should only keep your hamster in one for a couple of hours at the most.
11. Wooden Chews
On top of toys and a wooden hideout, you should also choose a few wooden chews for your hamster. Hamsters need to chew a lot to wear their teeth down, and many will chew just for fun. You can limit the damage done to their hideout and toys by providing chews of some sort.
Wooden chews also prevent you from needing to clip your hamster’s teeth, which can be difficult. As long as you give your hamster chew toys, they should be able to keep their teeth worn down themselves.
Featured Image: Mary Swift, Shutterstock
Kristin is passionate about helping pet parents create a fulfilling life with their pets by informing them on the latest scientific research and helping them choose the best products for their pets. She currently resides in Tennessee with four dogs, three cats, two fish, and a lizard, though she has dreams of owning chickens one-day!