Hamsters are generally nocturnal animals, although in the wild they often become active shortly before dusk. They usually sleep during the daytime, and in the wild construct deep, dark, underground burrows for this purpose. They are extremely good diggers and for such a small and fairly rotund animal, can be very active. There are several different breeds and varieties of hamster, varying in size and temperament. Typically, hamsters live for up to 2 years, although some may live for longer.
Hamsters are often a child’s first pet, principally because they are small, charming animals with a great deal of character. However, their needs are actually very complex and they can be easily injured by incautious handling.
Each hamster has their own personality and preferences, but the general principles of care are common to most species. They need a warm, safe environment and should be kept indoors rather than outdoors.
Your duty of care
Owning and caring for a hamster can be very rewarding, but it is also a big responsibility and a long-term commitment in terms of care. If you own or are responsible for a hamster, even on a temporary basis, you are required by law to care for them properly.
Read more about the Animal Welfare Act and your duty of care to your animals.
The Five Welfare Needs
It is up to you how you look after your hamster but you must take reasonable steps to ensure that you meet all their needs.
Read our expert reviewed pet care information to find out more about the needs of hamsters: Environment, Diet, Behaviour, Company, and Health and welfare.
If you are ever unsure about anything to do with the care of your hamster, you should always seek advice from a vet or other expert (for instance an animal welfare organisation).
If you are unable to care for your hamster at any time, you must make arrangements for another suitable person to look after them on your behalf. That person will also be legally responsible for your hamster’s welfare in your absence.
Clarification of terminology
There are a number of terms used in this document that can cause some confusion with regards to cage kept animals. Therefore these terms are described here for your reference and understanding.
Bedding material is used to describe the material or substrate that is used to cover the bottom of the cage.
Nesting material is used to describe the material provided in addition to bedding material, which is given to the hamsters for nest building and nesting behaviour.