Merck Manual

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Pet Owner Version

Selecting a Hamster


Katherine E. Quesenberry

, DVM, MPH, DABVP (Avian);

Thomas M. Donnelly

, BVSc, DVP, DACLAM, DABVP(ECM), The Kenneth S Warren Institute

Reviewed/Revised Aug 2020 | Modified Oct 2022

When selecting a hamster as a possible pet, start by observing its environment. Does it appear and smell clean? Does the food appear fresh and are feeding containers clean? Are there sufficient water bottles for the number of animals in the cage? Are the water containers clean and without stains or deposits of foreign matter? Do the hamsters appear healthy? Do they have bright eyes? Are they alert and curious? Hamsters are most active at night, so you may want to consider selecting your new pet late in the afternoon or during evening hours.

Gently hold the animal you are considering. Most hamsters that have been held from a young age do not bite. Be cautious of any potential pet that does tend to bite. As you are holding the hamster, look carefully at its eyes. The eyes should be clear, and the hamster should be alert. Check the ears, feet, and fur. There should be no sign of injury, the toenails should be unbroken and neatly trimmed, and the fur should be clean and without signs of mites, fleas, ringworm, or other diseases. Check the rump for any signs of problems. Avoid animals that show signs of diarrhea, bloody discharge, skin irritation, or other problems. Check for excess drooling or slobbering or any protruding teeth that could indicate a dental problem. Once you have evaluated the general health of the animal, place the hamster in a confined area where it can move around. Does the animal move normally? Do not choose an animal that limps or is reluctant to move. Ask about returns if the animal proves unhealthy after purchase.

If you do not have a cage for your hamster, consider asking the seller to hold your new pet for a day so that you can set up a proper home. Having the cage ready for your new pet will make the transition to your home less stressful for the hamster.

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