How to Care for Your Hamster or Gerbil

Written by Oxbow

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July 25, 2022🞄

We know your hamster or gerbil is a cherished member of the family.  These tiny creatures have big personalities and are endlessly entertaining.  In return for the joy they bring you, we know you want to provide them with everything they need to be happy and healthy every day.  From daily enrichment and balanced nutrition to physical exercise and loads of love, we focus on every aspect of small pet care to help you create a full, healthy, and joyful life for the hamster or gerbil you love.  In this article, we’ll cover the basics of what you need to keep your pet happy and healthy.

In this article, we’ll cover the following important topics:

  • Hamster and gerbil nutrition
  • Nesting material for hamsters and gerbils
  • Housing your hamster or gerbil
  • Enriching your hamster or gerbil’s world
  • Hamster and gerbil behaviors
  • Your hamster or gerbil’s health
  • Essential hamster and gerbil supplies

What Do Hamsters and Gerbils Eat?

Hamster and Gerbil Food = 75% of Daily Nutrition

A daily recommended amount of uniform, balanced fortified food is the foundation of your hamster or gerbil’s daily nutrition and should make up approximately 75% of the daily diet.

  • Oxbow hamster and gerbil foods contain whole grain, plant-based ingredients for the health of your pet. Choose between Oxbow’s three quality lines: Essentials, Garden Select, and Simple Harvest.
  • Avoid mixes with nuts, corn, seeds, or fruit.  Hamsters and gerbils are wired to selectively feed on these tempting morsels over the healthy pellets, leading to nutritional deficiencies.

Learn more about the selective feeding habits of hamsters, gerbils, and other omnivores.

Veggies, Greens, and Fruits for your Hamster or Gerbil = 20% of Daily Nutrition

Veggies, greens, and fruits are an important part of your hamster or gerbil’s daily diet.  These fresh foods offer important vitamins and nutrients, help keep your pet hydrated, and provide enrichment to the daily routine.

Romaine, kale, parsley, apples (without seeds), strawberries, bananas, peas, and squash

Leeks, chives, and onions

Learn more about the best fruits for hamsters and gerbils.

Treats for Hamsters and Gerbils = 5% (or less) of Daily Nutrition

Treats are great for building the bond between you and your pet but should only be offered in moderation.  All Oxbow treats are designed to be as wholesome as they are delicious.

  • Small amounts of high-quality seeds (such as oats, sunflower seeds, barley, and cooked brown rice) and species-appropriate insects make great treats for hamsters and gerbils.
  • For convenient, wholesome options, choose from Oxbow’s full line of Simple Rewards treats.

Hungry for more?  Check out our comprehensive list of healthy treats and foods for hamsters and gerbils!

Nesting Material for Hamsters and Gerbils

Hamsters and gerbils are expert nesters, so it’s important to provide plenty of safe, comfortable nesting material for your pet to build with.  Good nesting options include:

  • High-quality paper bedding
  • Paper nesting disks
  • Grass hay (Many hamsters and gerbils especially enjoy Oat Hay, which often contains tasty, immature seed heads.)
  • Newspaper, paper towels, and old socks

Housing Your Hamster or Gerbil

Despite their diminutive size, hamsters and gerbils require ample space to live a healthy, happy, and enriched life.

  • While recommendations for appropriate habitat size can vary, most hamsters and gerbils will do in an appropriately designed habitat that provides between 360 – 450 sq in of living space.  If you have questions regarding the appropriate amount of living space for your specific pet, it’s always best to consult with your trusted veterinarian.
  • Choose a habitat with a solid bottom to accommodate bedding such as Oxbow’s Pure Comfort, dedicated hideouts for rest and relaxation, cardboard tubes, ropes, an exercise wheel, burrowing and nesting material, a food bowl, and two sources of fresh, clean water.
  • Set your pet’s habitat up near household activities, but away from windows and heating and cooling ducts.

Enriching Your Hamster or Gerbil’s World

All hamsters and gerbils are wired to engage in a set of core instinctual behaviors each day.  These behaviors include chewing, playing, hiding, and exploring.  Intentionally encouraging these behaviors in healthy ways is called enrichment.

  • Support all four behaviors in a variety of ways each day to support your pet’s mental and physical health.
  • Providing daily enrichment is a fun, interactive way to build your bond with your hamster or gerbil.
  • Offer a variety of natural chews, engagement accessories, places for rest and relaxation, and exercise items daily.
  • Oxbow’s Enriched Life accessories are designed to help make enrichment fun, easy, and safe!

Looking for some enrichment inspiration for your hamster or gerbil?  Check out our top 10 toys and accessories for hamsters!

Hamster and Gerbil Behaviors

In addition to being adorable, domesticated hamsters and gerbils are adventurous and curious by nature.

  • Hamsters and gerbils love to chew, so it’s essential to provide plenty of appropriate chewing options.
  • Hamsters are nocturnal and should be gently handled if picked up while sleeping.
  • Hamsters are not especially social and do just fine on their own.  Before adding a second hamster to the family, we encourage you to read our expert article on caring for multiple hamsters.
  • Gerbils are generally more social and do well in pairs.

Your Hamster or Gerbil’s Health

You should visit a qualified exotics veterinarian at least once a year for check-ups on your hamster or gerbil’s diet, behavior, and health.

  • Be prepared for your pet’s visits by making a list of any questions you may have ahead of time.
  • Many hamster and gerbil health problems are preventable with proper diet and care.

Looking for a qualified exotics veterinarian near you? Find one today!

Reasons to contact your vet right away include:

  • Abnormal stools or diarrhea
  • Wet or soiled tail
  • Blood in the urine
  • Sneezing or trouble breathing
  • Hunching in a corner of exhibiting a lack of activity
  • Overgrown front teeth
  • Bald patches in the fur
  • Lumps or sores on the body
  • Sore on the feet
  • Abnormal eating or drinking behaviors

Essential Supplies for Your Hamster or Gerbil

Every hamster or gerbil should have daily access to some basic supplies for health and happiness.  Make sure you’re stocked up on the following:

Still have questions about how to provide the best care for your hamster or gerbil? Our experts are here for you!