Where should I buy a hamster?

This is a tricky subject. We strongly advocate getting your hamster from a breeder, but there are many people out there who only breed hamsters for the sake of profit--with little knowledge on genetics or proper husbandry. If you choose to adopt from a breeder, we suggest asking for a pedigree or asking questions about coloring and care and listening for specific and accurate terminology. We have a short registry of breeders which we recommend coming soon!


A great option is looking for hamsters that need homes in your local shelter. Thankfully, there aren't usually very many in our California shelters! However, there are usually plenty of people selling their pets on craigslist--usually in tiny cages with poor diets. If you are so inclined, taking in a hamster like this and showing them the love and care they deserve is an excellent alternative to going through a breeder.


Pet stores should be your last option, in our opinion. Years ago, the horrors of puppy mills and their cruel care were highlighted, but may people do not realize that pet stores get their small animals from mills too. In these rodent mills, many animals--such as mice, rats, and guinea pigs--are bred rather carelessly and given the most minimum of basic needs with little to no human interaction. Hamsters raised this way often have health issues from poor breeding, shortening their lifespan and making life difficult for them. Just like the effect that occurred when people stopped buying puppies from pet stores--which resulted in the closing of many mills--we can do the same by not purchasing rodents from stores that support the same care of their small animals.

What kind of hamster is the best pet?
This depends on what your ideal pet is. If you are looking for a hamster you can hold and cuddle, a Syrian may be right for you. Syrians are very sweet, easily tameable, and make great pets for children who are willing to invest the time in their care. They come in many beautiful colors and patterns, including the lovely long-haired variety.

If you have a very young child or are looking for a pet you enjoy by watching rather than handling, a dwarf may be right for you! That is not to say that they cannot be held or are mean, they just tend to be quicker and less apt to sit in your hand. Campbell's are the cuddliest of the dwarves, with Winter Whites following behind. Roborovskis are the smallest and fastest of the three species, but are incredibly entertaining.

What species is a “teddy bear?”  What species is a “black bear?”
A teddy bear hamster is simply a long-haired Syrian, usually chocolate or sable. Pet stores invented the name to market the animals at young children. Black bears are another pet store term, but it is used to describe solid black, short-haired Syrians.

Why are my two syrians fighting?
Syrians are solitary hamsters and need to be kept one to a cage from the age of 6 weeks. Syrian hamsters will fight and kill each other after this age, even if they are siblings or those of the opposite sex. For this reason, breeding must be left to experts.

Can my dwarf hamsters live together?
Dwarf hamsters will generally live peacefully in same sex, same species pairs or small groups.  On occasion, fighting will occur and they will need to be separated. Winter Whites are generally a more solitary variety, however.

Can they eat fruits and vegetables?
Yes! Hamsters like most fruits and vegetables. It’s best to stay away from citrus fruits and lettuce, and to avoid onions and garlic altogether. In particular, hamsters like apples, cantaloupe, broccoli, zucchini, etc. See our feeding and nutrition page for more info!

What should I feed my hamster?
Please visit our Feeding and Nutrition page for our thoughts on this topic!

What bedding should I use?
We favor Kaytee Clean and Cozy, but Carefresh and other paper based beddings are also favorites among pet owners. Just stay away from anything scented. Aspen is also popular but harder to find.  Cedar or beddings labeled "softwood" should never be used since hamsters are allergic and cannot tolerate the oils in it--it will kill them by inducing painful respiratory distress.  Pine has similar oils to a lesser extent, so should not be used unless it is kiln dried (it will say on the bag). The kiln drying process causes these oils to evaporate. 

What kind of cage should I get?
The U.S. minimum size requirement for hamsters is 360 square inches. How large is this? A 66 quart storage bin measures 364 square inches and a 20 gallon long aquarium is 390. As you may be able to imagine, it is fairly easy to find space in a home for a cage that size. This minimum is important for 2 major reasons. In the wild, hamsters run up to 8 miles every night. This instinct is simply not met by just providing a wheel. Hamsters need enough space to get out some of this energy, which translates to larger cages. Another reason they need more space is beacause frankly, they require a lot of stuff! They will need a place to nest (we suggest having a few), an appropriately sized wheel, food, water, chews, and other toys. If you need help choosing a cage, please contact us!

What toys are best?
The best toys are ones that serve a purpose. A wheel, for example, is the most important toy a hamster needs. Syrians require 8 inch wheels or larger, and dwarves require at least 6 inches. Both need a solid running surface, so no wire or mesh. Little feet can get stuck and seriously injured. We sell Wodent Wheels at every show for $10. We also recommend the Silent Spinner (12"/large size for Syrians, 6.5"/medium size for dwarves), the Flying Saucer (12"/large size for Syrians, 6.5"/medium size for dwarves), and the Comfort Wheel (small size for dwarves, large size for Syrians). We also recommend the Carolina Storm Express wheel for Syrians.

Other good toys include platforms for the cage which add extra space, such as the Ikea knuff or other homemade options. Edible chews are needed to keep the teeth trim, and we suggest Whimzees dog treats for that. They need a sand bath to keep their fur clean, and will also use it as a litter box. We suggest purchasing children's play sand from Home Depot at $5/50lbs. When you get home, spread it onto baking sheet and bake it at 350 degrees for 30-60 minutes depending on how thick the layer of sand is. Just make sure it is dry. After it is cool, scoop some into a tupperware container or glass baking dish and watch your hamster have a blast!

How do I stop the wheel from squeaking?
Use any edible oil such as crisco, olive oil, vaseline, etc.  It may need to be re-applied regularly.

Why does my hamster sleep all day?
Contrary to popular belief, hamsters are not nocturnal--they are crepuscular. Crepuscular animals are awake at dusk and dawn, meaning that they are usually awake when you are sleeping! For this reason, it is best to play with your hamster before bed or early in the morning.

Can I enter my pet store hamster in a show?
Yes! He may or may not be show quality as far as the standards go, but you can only find that out by bringing him to a show and getting the judge’s opinion.  Even if he is not show quality according to the standards, you can always enter your hamster in the pet class.

Why should I come to a hamster show?
Some people come for the fun of competition. Others come to learn more about hamsters and to talk to other hamster owners. One of the best places to get correct and useful info on hamsters is from other owners and breeders at a show!

How can I tell if my hamster is pregnant?
There is no reliable way to tell if your hamster is pregnant. It is usually best to wait through the short gestation and see if any babies are born although usually the nipples become more red and prominent within 36 hours of conception. For Syrians, the gestation is 17 days.  For dwarf hamsters, the gestation is 18-21 days.

2016 Copyright. California Hamster Association. All rights reserved.

California Hamster Association

Frequently Asked Questions

2017 Copyright. California Hamster Association. All rights reserved.