Dwarf Hamster Care Guide

Table of Contents

Quick checklist

Here’s a quick checklist of all the basics of what you’ll need before adopting a hamster. This is only the bare basics:

  • 775sqin+ enclosure with a secure lid
  • Enough paper bedding for a compacted 8-10 inches across the entire base of enclosure except where the wheel is
  • Species-appriopriate seed mix (Bunny Nature HamsterDream Expert, Robin’s Gourmet, Chubby Hamster Cheeks)
  • Calcium free reptile sand
  • 8-10inch wheel (bigger dwarf hamsters will need minimum 10inches)
  • Water dish/bowl (bottles should only be supplementary)
  • Platforms/stilts to hold sand, hides, wheel
  • Lots of hides/tunnels
  • Seed sprays
  • A room for the enclosure that will stay over 65F
  • Hamster will be solitary, regardless of species1Read here about about why domestic hamsters should live in solitude regardless of species.

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Considerations before getting a hamster

While hamsters are delightful beings who can provide companionship and bring color into our lives, they are a serious commitment. It is critical to recognize the dedication and costs that come with their care.

Beyond providing them with the basic necessities for a good life, a caregiver’s primary goal should be to have the hamster’s best interest at heart. This means respecting their boundaries, allowing hamsters to bond with humans at their own pace, and but not limited to, continuous education and improvement about their care.

With proper care and respect given to your hamster, the relationship you will develop with them is highly rewarding!

Getting an enclosure

Width x Length: 775in2 unbroken floor space – the bare minimum

Why isn’t 450in2 enough?

All species of hamsters need a minimum of 5000 cm2 (775 in2) of unbroken floor space as established by the (German) Veterinary Association for Animal Welfare (TVT) based on studies.

Just as with humans, hamsters are individuals with unique desires and personalities. Not all hamsters will be satisfied with the bare minimum and observing for signs of stress is required. In actuality, the minimum is really 775 in2 plus whatever more floor space is needed to keep your hamster content!

Height: 20in minimum

The height of the enclosure needs to be tall enough to fit a 10in wheel while still maintaining deep bedding. Ideally, there is 10in of bedding across the entire base. If the wheel is too large, you can have less bedding just where the wheel is.

Some examples of acceptable enclosures

  • Standard 75 gallon tank (confirm it meets min sq in)
  • Pawhut Hexagonal
  • Pawhut Rectangle
  • Niteangel Bigger World (M or L)
  • Niteangel Vista (M or L)
  • DIY (see acceptable materials section)
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A note on freezing

It is highly recommended to freeze all hamster items such as food, bedding, sprays, toys, etc for 72 hours before placing them into their enclosure. This is to prevent an outbreak of mites, weevils or other insects that may have gotten into the supplies during shipment or packaging. It’s uncommon, but if an insect infestation occurs, you will have to take the hamster to the vet and throw out all their bedding/bake their toys and start all over.

Enclosure essentials for a Dwarf hamster

8in+ of compacted paper bedding

Generally in the US, paper and aspen bedding are the only two safe options available.

Why paper? Most aspen bedding except for the Niteangel mini shavings are unable to hold a borrow on its own and therefore must be mixed with paper bedding.

While 8 inches is the bare minimum, more is always better.

Why compacted? Hamsters have intricate tunnels in the wild. In order for bedding to be able to hold a borrow, it must be compacted.

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8-10in wheel

A properly sized wheel is one of the most important things a hamster needs2See more about wheels by reading Hamster Wheel at hamsterwelfare.com.. The general rule of thumb is that the wheel needs to be large enough that the hamster’s back is straight while using it. Undersized wheels will cause severe spinal issues. For Dwarfs, the minimum diameter of the wheel is 8-10 inches.

Note: If the size of your wheel falls below the minimum, it’s better to not have one at all while you wait for the upgrade (which should be ordered asap!)

hamsterwelfare.com

Sand Bath: ~50in2

Hamsters bathe in sand, not water. Dwarfs should have about 50in2 of sand that is a couple of inches deep. This is also where hamsters will most often go to the bathroom. With a proper sandbath, you will not have to worry as much about spot cleaning.

Safe sand options:

  • Calcium-free reptile sand
  • Children’s play sand (baked and sifted) (note the one I bought at the Middletown Home Depot was very dusty, do not recommend)
  • Caribsea Supernatural Moonlight or Sunset Gold (also available at Petco – remove biomagnet clarifier)
  • Niteangel Desert Sand

Platforms/stilts

All heavy objects such as sandbaths and wheels must be on platforms/stilts. You can DIY with poplar or birch wood available at Home Depot and Lowes. They can also be purchased at Niteangel.

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Water dish(es) in accessible areas

A shallow, sturdy dish (or two) with fresh water is all you need. Make sure to wash it frequently (not just refill) and it’s in an easily accessible area.

Water bottles are acceptables but should always be accompanied with a water dish in case the bottle gets stuck. Furthermore, you will need a pipe cleaner to wash the bottle whereas a dish is much easier to clean.

Safe hides

Niteangel is a popular brand available on Amazon. All their items in the hamster category are safe!

Some examples of safe hides are:

Safe enrichment

Some examples of safe enrichment are:

  • Sprays
  • Chew toys
    • Plain whimzees (no added calcium or clove oil)
    • Willow or apple sticks
  • Foraging toys
  • Cork bark rounds, flats
    • Cheaper on Etsy
    • Zoo Med on Amazon/Petco
  • Branches
  • DIY tunnels with cardboard/paper-based products
  • Grass/woven tunnels (see safe materials list)

Textures

Textures below can be placed in boxes (ie cardboard boxes), bowls or dishes to serve as additional enrichment.

Diet

Most pet stores in the US do not sell appropriate diets for hamsters. They typically either are not species-appropriate (ie. Mazuri rat blocks) or lack enrichment (ie. Higgins Sunburst seed mix). The recommended food options in the US are as follows (from highest to lowest recommended):

  1. Chubby Hamster Cheeks (Etsy)
  2. Robin’s Gourmet (Etsy)
  3. Bunny Nature Dream Expert, Dwarf version (add 30g of mealworms to each bag for hamsters under 18m old)

Enclosure location

It is important that your hamster feels safe. Their enclosure should have the following:

  • Cats/dogs are restricted entry
  • Kept above 65F at all times
  • Aim to have lighting mimic the natural cycle of light. Keep room bright during the day, dark at night.

Vet care

Keep a list of exotic vets in your area, including which of them have overnight exotic vets, in case of an emergency. 

In theory, all animals should be taken to the vet for an annual visit. However in the case of hamsters, one must weigh the stress of a trip to the vet against the benefits. For this reason, some opt to monitor/exam hamsters at home. You can do so by observing for bodily changes/injuries and weighing them with a gram scale once a week.

Connecticut exotic vets

  • Bolton Veterinary Hospital
    • 222 Boston Turnpike, Bolton, CT 06043
    • (860) 646-6134
    • Has exotic vet overnight *on some days*
  • Pieper Veterinary Hospital
    • 730 Randolph Rd, Middletown, CT 06457
    • (860) 347-8387
    • Exotic department is open Wed-Saturday
    • No overnight exotic doctor, but staff are trained to treat exotics

Cleaning your enclosure

  • Never a full clean unless medically necessary (ie. bug infestation)
  • Spot cleaning only
  • Use sifter for cleaning sandbath
  • If necessary blacklight can be purchased to find damp areas in bedding

Creating enriching playpens

Not all hamsters will enjoy playpens, in fact introducing them to a playpen too quickly can be stressful. However for some hamsters, it can be a great option.

  • Playpens must be “busy” – meaning they must have lots of hides/toys rather than be a vast empty space.
  • They can be created using safe wood walls, plexiglass, plastic grids, inflatable tubs, etc
  • With supervision only, a blanket on the floor can be used to provide traction.
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Footnotes
  • 1
    Read here about about why domestic hamsters should live in solitude regardless of species.
  • 2
    See more about wheels by reading Hamster Wheel at hamsterwelfare.com.