STARTER LIST ESSENTIALS
SUMMARY OF BASIC MUST-HAVES
WHAT TO AVOID
If you are not going to set up with the
correct requirements, please consider another type of pet.
REMEMBER: JUST BECAUSE A PET SHOP SELLS IT,
DOESN'T MEAN IT'S OK!
Take your tape measure with when you go shopping, and the BASIC CARE SHEET to refer to:
Decide what kind of hamster you are going to get, or take note of the type you already have.
When you're ready, please consider adopting rather than supporting the trade of live animals via pet shops.
(See our ADOPTIONS page on Facebook)
ONLY KEEP ONE HAMSTER PER HABITAT!
OUR HAMSTERS IN SA ARE ALL SOLITARY & TERRITORIAL
AS THEY APPROACH ADULTHOOD
THE HAMSTER (CAUTIONS)
DON'T get the hamster until you have the basic essentials
(if you're getting a new one or for the first time).
DON'T get the incorrect size items for your chosen species.
DON'T start until you have taken everything into account.
DON'T support the trade of live animals from pet shops
and back-yard breeders.
DON'T get more than one hamster per habitat! If you want three hamsters, you will need three habitats.
ABSOLUTE MINIMUM UNBROKEN FLOOR SPACE
5000cm2 or larger (e.g. 1m x 50cm)
Length x Width, in cm, at the base = cm2
SHELVES & LEVELS DO NOT COUNT!
(an additional low shelf is convenient to keep food & water clean).
These sizes are still difficult to get in SA, so do purchase a purpose-built habitat or build your own, look for a 2nd hand 120x45cm fish tank or reptile cage, or make your own CLEAR bin cage setup.
(Lids/roofs of bins, fish tanks & reptile enclosures need to be modified)
AVOID UNDERSIZED CAGES
DON'T get anything smaller than the minimum recommended.
CAGES SOLD IN PET SHOPS ARE TRAVEL CAGES ... it is CRUEL to keep the hamster living in one permanently.
DON'T get a tall cage with lots of levels...they are dangerous.
DON'T get a round/oval cage - your hamster will feel insecure.
DON'T get a modular cage setup - even the main part is too small.
DON'T build a bin cage setup out of black or solid colour containers (your hamster cannot live in a dark hole).
NOTE: JOINING TWO UNDERSIZED CAGES/BINS TOGETHER VIA STANDARD HAMSTER TUBES DOES NOT EQUATE TO THE RECOMMENDED SIZE.
ABSOLUTE MINIMUM SIZE
The larger the better for either species!
DWARF: 21cm - 30cm (8.3 - 11.8”)
SYRIAN/TEDDY BEAR: 27cm - 35cm (11 - 14")
Get a solid wheel
Flying Saucer Wheels can be used but most found are too small: Dwarfs: Min. 26cm (9.8") and Syrians: Min 35cm (14")
WHEELS TO AVOID
DON'T get anything smaller than the minimum sizes. Your hamster's spine and hips will suffer irreversible damage over time.
DON'T get a any wheel with framework or bars across the opening.
DON'T get a wheel with rungs or mesh.
The only safe bedding substrate is clean PAPER-BASED bedding.
Safe brands available in SA are from:
Hyggelig Hamster Haven, Robyn's Hamster Supplies, Budwud's, Keri's Custom Cabins, Holistic Hamster,
Kaytee Clean & Cozy Natural.
WE RECOMMEND FREEZING SUBSTRATES FOR 24-48 HOURS BEFORE OPENING THE BAG to kill anything that may hatch and cause infestation.
If you have a large freezer, storing the substrates in there will ensure safety.
BEDDING TO AVOID
DON'T get PINE SHAVINGS!!!! Even kiln-dried shavings are toxic.
DON'T use corncob, any pellet beddings, sawdust.
DON'T get SCENTED or medicated bedding.
All of these will cause various health issues.
A roll of 1-ply toilet paper is all you need because it's the safest!
Nothing else. It's cheap too!
Alternatively, there are some ready stripped paper nestings available.
NESTING TO AVOID
DON'T ever use fluffy ("Cotton Snuggle Stuff") or cotton wool.
DON'T use wool, fabric, fleece, toy stuffing, wood/paper wool, etc.
DON'T use 2-ply toilet paper or facial tissues (dusty when shredded).
They are all incredibly dangerous.
Yes, your hamster will need a sand bath and/or potty!
Kid's Play Sands (sterilised),
PLAIN Bentonite gravel (fine clumping cat litter),
Reptile Sand (plain only),
Reptile Resort Chinchilla Bath Sand (import grade only).
POTTIES/CONTAINERS: You do not need to get a commercial potty/ bath. There are many cheaper/better easy options,
e.g. plastic lunchbox, thick glass/ceramic dish, cake tin, etc.
IMPORT GRADE ONLY
SAND/LITTER TO AVOID
DON'T get scented sands, coloured sands, silica litter.
DON'T use beach sand or garden/potting sand.
DON'T use sawdust/wood litter, or pellet bedding.
DON'T get ordinary cat litter, nor those with added silica or scent.
DON'T get play sand that has silica (e.g. BounceKing, Mambo's).
DON'T get Bath Dust and Reptile Sand with calcium/meds/lime.
Don't get a commercial potty/bath that is too small for your hamster.
The hamster will need enough space to pee and dig/roll in.
ONLY the top quality DRY FOODS foods are acceptable
*** HYGGELIG HAMSTER FOOD (voted best food mix in SA)***
The following will need added ingredients to improve variety & balance for health, e,g. mix with Oliver's Burrow or Versele-Laga Snack Range (Protein, Cereal, Nutties):
Oliver's Burrow Hamster Mix.
Witte Molen PUUR (Hamster or Dwarf Hamster).
Versele-Laga Nature (heavily pelleted; not popular).
Burgess Hamster-Gerbil-&-Mouse (pellets only; not popular).
A decent variety of FRESH VEG, FRUIT, & PROTEINS are also vital for your hamster's nutrition, and should be easy enough from your own fridge/freezer.
Note: Dwarf hamsters may only have fruit & high-sugar veg
as occasional treats.
FOOD TO AVOID
DON'T get cheap or UNHEALTHY DRY FOOD MIXES!
DON'T buy Pet shops' own mixes (usually unbranded).
DON'T use Bird Seed as a sole mix.
Cheap commercial mixes lack sufficient variety for nutrition & balance.
Many contain sugar, artificial colouring, preservatives, & hay pellets.
Your hamster's health & growth WILL suffer!
Note that the Versele-Laga "Snack" range is not a complete diet and is purely additional to give variety to the mediocre good brands.
You cannot improve a poor quality food with it.
Not all FRESH VEG, FRUIT, & PROTEINS are safe.
PLEASE FREEZE FOOD FOR 24-48 HOURS BEFORE OPENING THE BAG to kill anything that may hatch from seeds and cause infestation.
Dry foods will stay fresh for longer if you store the bulk of it in the fridge.
WATER BOTTLE & BOWL
Bowls are more natural for spinal posture, but should also be used as a back-up even if you have a bottle.
BOTTLE: The spout must be steel with a flow ball-bearing:
175ml (small) MPet Glass Drinking Bottle (glass)
177ml/6oz (small) Living World Eco Water Bottle (glass)
177ml/6oz Kaytee Chewproof Water Bottle (glass)
80ml/Mouse DeLuxe water bottle (aclyric)
You will also need to get a WATER BOTTLE STAND,
or make an easy one yourself (see DIY STUFF page).
BOWL: Bowls should be placed on a shelf or platform in order to keep substrates from being kicked in.
A small, sturdy, ceramic or THICK glass, straight-sided bowl is best.
WATER BOTTLES & BOWLS TO AVOID
DON'T get a soft or plastic water bottle, especially if it's not BPA-free.
DON'T get a thin glass bottle nor one that has a glass spout.
DON'T get a bottle that does not have a flow ball-bearing in the spout.
Your hamster must not be able to tilt, chew, or chip it, nor fit into it.
DON'T use a thin glass bowl.
DON'T use a bowl-shape with a base much smaller than the top.
DON'T use a very large/wide/deep bowl unless you place a large sterilized stone/rock in the middle.
Preferably DON'T use a plastic hamster bowl (they can be chewed, and also scratch easily, resulting in a bacterial playground!)
You do not have to buy specific hamster food bowls.
Any strong, small-ish, bowls with smooth edges, about 2.5cm deep.
Three bowls, at the most, per hamster:
x1 for the dry food, and x1 or x2 for fresh food.
Metal or strong ceramic/glass is good in case your hamster is a chewer, and they're more hygienic.
NOTE: Dwarf hamsters love to get into the dry food to scratch around, and can make quite a mess. It is therefore convenient to provide a nice wide bowl (about 3 to 3.5cm deep) that they can easily fit into, but the food will be contained during this wild activity.
FOOD BOWLS TO AVOID
Preferably AVOID PLASTIC HAMSTER BOWLS as some hamsters have the tendency to chew these.
AVOID very deep bowls for food. Your hamster may find it difficult to get the bottom morsels.
AVOID bowls with rough/sharp edges (e.g. plastic bowls).
Male dwarf hamsters, in particular, risk scraping their scent gland against the edges trying to reach in to the bottom.
DON'T use thin glass bowls that can be chipped or chewed.
OTHER IMPORTANT ITEMS
Some of these you really don't have to buy....
GNAWS & TREATS: Whimzees (dog chew), hard baked treats (e.g.nibble rolls), Sekelbos Sticks, etc.
BEDROOM: A plain small cardboard box with an entrance/exit hole cut out is healthier than those plastic domes and little houses sold in pet shops. Alternatively, safe wooden houses/cabins are available online and some shops.
CARDBOARD TUBES: Empty toilet rolls (dwarf hamsters), wider postage tubes, wine bottle tubes, etc.
SMALL CARDBOARD BOXES with open fronts make good hidey and exploring places. Also useful if you don't have a shelf for food/water.
LARGE STONES & DRIFT WOOD not only provide natural enrichment, but assist in keeping nails trimmed, and can also be used as convenient barriers between different substrates.
TRAVEL CAGE: Useful for transporting your hamster in case of moving or taking to the vet. Don't buy a brand new one! Get a cheap 2nd hand cage from a charity shop, or make a small bin cage.
THINGS TO NEVER USE
These can harm your hamster or cause illness.
CALCIUM / MINERAL BLOCKS / CUTTLE-FISH BONES.
(unless you are prepared to dismantle & wash them every day)
(Also too small for Syrian hamsters).
DOG CHEWS THAT ARE NOT THE WHIMZEE BRAND.
HAMSTER SHAMPOO (dry or wet).
HAMSTER OR SMALL ANIMAL HARNESS.
DARK OR NON-TRANSPARENT EXERCISE BALL
(balls are not recommended anyway).
UNSAFE/UNSTERILISED WOOD (random branches).
DO NOT GROW UNSAFE PLANTS IN THE HABITAT.
(check shop-bought items for exposed nails and sharp edges).
Most products MADE IN CHINA!
BACK TO THE HAMSTER
Once you have all the essential gooddies, and you are ready to get the actual hamster, please check with your local animal/critter rescue organisations, shelters, and pet adoption social media groups/pages for little ones desperately looking for good homes.
Acquiring a hamster via a critter rescue organisation will generally ensure that it has been through a quarantine period to ensure that no immediate medical or pregnancy situations occur.
Furthermore, hamsters will often have received more care & human contact than if they had been in a pet shop.
BEWARE THE SHOP OR BREEDER
PLEASE try your best not to support the trade of selling live animals out of pet shops or via dubious backyard breeders.
There are many people claiming to be breeders. However, we have not come across ANY in SA who actually have decent knowledge of ethical or responsible breeding practices, nor correct set-ups for this.
All are simply "backyard breeders" or breeding mills.
Be aware that most pet shops do not separate hamsters into male and female enclosures (or they don't know how to sex these animals) and you could be surprised by a litter of pups because you unknowingly got a pregnant female.
Once you have all the Basic Essentials listed above, you may want to look at some of the other pages for further enrichment and help.
ETC. ETC. ETC.
Note that there are a few small local businesses who make wonderful, safe, hamster products.
These are extremely handy for people who cannot find correct products in smaller towns (and those provinces/cities that have not caught up with the times).
Purchases can be sent via Pudo or PostNet at way more reasonable delivery charges than what couriers charge via general online shops.
If you are ordering from general online pet shops, please know what is safe and not safe for hamsters
(like any regular pet shop, not everything is OK).
DO NOT EVER consider breeding your hamster!
There are too many risks if you do not have the necessary knowledge! It is not cute!