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Syrian Hamster Care Sheet

Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.

Overview 

Mesocricetus auratus

Syrian hamsters are clean and captivating companion animals who are best kept individually and make great pets when they are socialized properly. When housed together, they tend to fight. They are members of the rodent family, which also includes gerbilsrats and mice.  Syrian hamsters are larger than dwarf hamsters (see Dwarf Hamster Care Sheet), and while they share some similarities, they each have differences that make them unique.

Table of Contents

Typical Syrian hamster appearance and behavior

  • Syrian hamsters were originally called golden hamsters because they had short, reddish-gold fur
  • Today, Syrian hamsters come with coats in a variety of colors and lengths and are typically divided into short-haired and teddy bear categories
  • They have poor eyesight but an exceptional sense of smell
  • Hamsters are typically nocturnal, which means they're more active at night, but they can adjust to your schedule so they're more awake during the day
  • With gentle daily handling, hamsters bond to their pet parents and can be cuddly companions
  • Hamsters may run in their wheels at night, so they might not be the best pet for light sleepers
  • They love to chew and should be provided with safe wooden toys, mineral blocks or other chewable items to gnaw on to keep their continuously growing incisor teeth worn down
  • Their incisor teeth naturally become yellow as they age due to deposits of iron pigments
  • Hamsters have large, muscular outpouchings called cheek pouches Inside their mouth on both sides of their face. They store food, bedding and other small objects in these pouches, which can become so filled that the cheek pouch swelling stretches from the sides of their face all the way back to their shoulder
  • Their scent glands, located bilaterally on their flanks (hips), are flat and often produce a greasy to waxy yellow secretion that males may use for territorial marking; females also have scent glands, but they are less prominent, and the secretions are associated with the estrous cycle
  • Their urine normally looks cloudy 
  • Hamsters can be trained to use a litter box, which can help keep their habitat cleaner
  • Female hamsters normally pass a thick, creamy, white discharge after they ovulate
  • If housed in a cool area that has limited food available, they will hibernate
  • When startled (especially if they are sleeping), they may bite
  • They like to burrow and hide food
  • Never squeeze a hamster’s body when you are holding them, as you may inflict injury, and hold hamsters over soft surfaces in case they jump so they don’t get injured if they fall

Characteristics

Care difficulty Beginner
Average lifespan 2–3 years with proper care
Average adult size 5–7 inches long
Diet Omnivorous
Minimum habitat size 24” L x 12” W x 16” H

Habitat

Habitat size

Provide the largest habitat possible so your hamster can hide, burrow, exercise and play. Metal, wire-based habitats have better ventilation, but their bars be narrow enough to prevent escape. Glass or plastic habitats may be used but are harder to keep properly ventilated; bedding in tanks may require more frequent changing to prevent an ammonia smell accumulating from droppings. All habitats should have a securely attached lid to prevent escape. At minimum, your habitat should be 12” W x 12” D x 24” H. Habitats should be placed off the floor in a place where they can’t tip or fall over and away from potentially predatory or overly inquisitive pets, such as cats and dogs.

Building your hamster's habitat

Hamsters acclimate well to average household temperatures, not to exceed 80°F; be cautious of extreme temperature changes. The habitat should never be in direct sunlight or in a drafty area.

  • Bedding:  Use 1–2” of high-quality, commercially available, paper-based bedding or crumpled paper. Paper-based bedding is preferred over wood shavings of any kind; it is digestible (in case your hamster eats it) and produces less dust, so it’s less prone to irritate their respiratory tract. Wood shavings can cause gastrointestinal (GI) tract obstruction if ingested. Nesting material provides additional enrichment, allowing hamsters to bury themselves and build nests
  • Décor:
    • Many hamsters enjoy a hiding place within their habitats. Commercially available wood and hay-based habitats are available for them to hide in and chew on; hard plastic hideaways are easy to disinfect but should be removed if hamsters chew on them to prevent ingestion of plastic pieces 
    • Provide an appropriately sized running wheel for exercise; ensure the wheel has a smooth running surface to prevent hamsters from catching and injuring their toes and feet
    • Hamsters appreciate a variety of toys and tubes to help keep them mentally and physically stimulated
  • Additional accessories:
    • An exercise ball and small animal playpen provide additional opportunities for your pet to get the exercise they need

Cleaning your pet’s habitat

  • Spot clean the habitat of soiled bedding and discarded food daily
  • At least once a week, thoroughly clean and disinfect the habitat and its contents with a small animal habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution, emptying and replacing all bedding; rinse off any cleaner or bleach residue completely, allow the habitat and décor to dry fully and return your hamster to their habitat.

What do hamsters eat?

A well-balanced hamster diet consists of:

  • High-quality hamster lab blocks or other commercially available, nutritionally complete pelleted food for hamsters and limited amounts of grains, vegetables, fruits, treats and Timothy or other grass hay 
  • Clean, fresh water in a water bottle, changed daily; water bottles should be checked regularly to ensure water flow is patent

Things to remember when feeding your hamster:

  • Fresh food and water should always be available
  • Do not feed chocolate, caffeine, or alcohol, as these are toxic to hamsters and can cause illness or death; avoid salty, sugary and fatty treats
  • Offer food in the evenings, as hamsters are generally more active at night; feed once daily 
  • Limited amounts of grains, vegetables, fruits, treats and hay can be given daily but should not exceed 10% of their total diet
  • Vegetables and fruits not eaten within 10 hours should be discarded

Hamster care

  • Hamsters stay clean and rarely need baths but can be spot cleaned with a damp washcloth or unscented baby wipes, if needed. Some hamsters enjoy a weekly dust bath to help keep their fur clean, dry, and less oily; provide a shallow dish of commercially available rodent dust for hamsters to roll around in
  • Consult with a veterinarian if a hamster's teeth seem too long; they may need to be trimmed

Where to buy 

Hamsters are available for purchase at your local Petco location. Please call ahead to check availability.

Habitat mates

House adult hamsters separately. Different types of small animals should not be housed together.

Health 

Signs of a healthy hamster

  • Active, alert and sociable
  • Eats, drinks, and passes droppings regularly
  • Healthy fur without patches of hair loss
  • Clear eyes and nose
  • Breathing is unlabored
  • Walks normally
  • Enamel covering hamsters’ front teeth is normally yellow and does not need to be cleaned off

  Red flags 

  • Weight loss
  • Abnormal hair loss
  • Diarrhea, dirty bottom or lack of stool
  • Labored breathing or open-mouthed breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Eye or nasal discharge
  • Skin lesions, bumps or scabs
  • Itchy skin
  • Overgrown teeth
  • Decreased appetite
  • Coughing, sneezing or wheezing
  • Swollen cheek pouches that don’t empty in a few hours
  • Bloody droppings

Common hamster health issues

Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
Health Issue Diabetes Symptoms or Causes Frequent urination and lethargy Suggested Action Consult with a veterinarian
Health Issue Diarrhea Symptoms or Causes Loose stool caused by poor diet, stress, GI parasites, bacterial or viral infection, unclean housing or other illnesses Suggested Action Consult a veterinarian to determine cause and treatment
Health Issue Malocclusion/dental problems Symptoms or Causes Overgrown teeth, difficulty chewing, drooling, swelling of jaw, weight loss Suggested Action Consult a veterinarian to have teeth trimmed regularly
Health Issue Skin infection Symptoms or Causes Hair loss and/or dry, flaky, itchy skin due to external parasites (such as mites), fungal infection (ringworm) or bacterial dermatitis Suggested Action Consult a veterinarian for treatment, and remember ringworm and some species of mites are contagious to people
Health Issue Cheek pouch abscess Symptoms or Causes Swelling on the side(s) of the face that doesn’t resolve, foul mouth odor or discharge from mouth Suggested Action Consult a veterinarian

 

FAQs

  • How long does a hamster live? A hamster can live 2–3 years with proper care. 
  • What do hamsters eat? A commercially available, nutritionally complete lab block or hamster pellet, with smaller amounts of vegetables, fruit, grains, grass hay and treats. 
  • Where do hamsters come from? Syrian hamsters originate from Syria. 
  • Where do hamsters live in the wild? They live in a variety of different places, including Syria, China, Romania, Greece and Belgium, but they are endangered in many areas. 
  • Can hamsters see in the dark? Hamsters have poor vision in the dark and rely more on their whiskers to explore their surroundings. 
  • What fruits can hamsters eat? Hamsters can eat most fruits but should not eat fruit seeds or pits, citrus fruit or rhubarb. 
  • Can you give a hamster a bath? Hamsters are meticulous groomers and keep themselves very clean; in general, baths are not necessary. However, they may be spot cleaned if necessary, and some enjoy a dust bath. 

 

Additional care sheets

Notes and resources

Ask a Pet Care Center associate about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

Because all small animals are potential carriers of infectious diseases, such as lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, bacteria that causes rat bite fever and Salmonella bacteria, always wash your hands before and after handling your small animal or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of disease.

Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physicians before purchasing or caring for small animals and should consider having a pet other than a hamster.

Go to the Centers for Disease Control at cdc.gov/healthypets for more information about small animals and disease.

The information on this care sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian as appropriate.