By Joe Cortez
For many families, hamsters are a fun first pet to introduce children to the responsibilities of animal care. For others who don't have the time for or are not ready for a larger pet, hamsters are pleasant animals that can bring joy to the household.
However, when it comes to budgeting for an animal, how much should a new hamster owner be prepared to spend towards their pets? When planning to bring home a hamster, these are the costs to consider at all stages of your new pet’s life.
Upfront Costs: Your Hamster’s Environment
Hamsters thrive when they are in an enclosure that not only gives them a safe space, but also challenges their mind and bodies. Before bringing a hamster home, new owners will need a hamster cage, bedding, food, a food bowl, a water bottle, an exercise wheel and toys.
According to Dr. Jennifer Quammen, a veterinarian at Grants Lick Veterinary Hospital in Butler, Kentucky, new hamster owners should initially budget up to $200. These costs include a chew-proof hamster cage, a solid-surface exercise wheel, a supply of pelleted (not seed-based) food, food bowl, water bottle, bedding, nesting material, chew sticks and toys. To cut costs, simple items like unpainted wood blocks and toilet paper rolls can suffice as excellent play items for hamsters and unscented, undyed toilet paper can be used as nesting material.
Ongoing Costs: Feeding Your Hamster
With an environment settled, the next step is to keep a hamster regularly fed and happy. Similar to other animals of their size and nature, hamsters thrive when they are offered a variety of foods in their diet.
“Hamsters are omnivores in their natural environment, eating fruits, seeds and nuts,” Quammen said. “There are also pelleted foods, which are commercially available and suitable for pet hamsters.” In fact, pelleted diets should make up the bulk of a hamster’s diet. They are nutritionally balanced and hamsters can’t pick out just what they like, as they will often do with seed-based diets.
Many pet stores offer a bulk hamster mix, which contains all of the nutrients and dietary requirements a hamster needs to live. Commercial pelleted foods run between $4.99 and $8.99 per bag, and can last for four to six weeks depending on the number of hamsters in a home. In addition, hamsters also enjoy a variety of fresh foods as treats, such as small pieces of broccoli, raisins, apples, carrots and walnuts.
Annual Costs: Keeping Your Hamster Healthy
Even the smallest creatures need to see their doctor, and hamsters are no exception. Before purchasing a hamster, be sure to identify a good veterinarian that specializes in small and exotic animals, including hamsters. Examination costs will vary depending on where you live and the purpose of your visit, but you should plan to visit a veterinarian soon after purchasing your hamster and at least annually thereafter.
“I suggest an initial exam within a week of purchase and then every year if they are healthy,” Quammen said. “Major health concerns are respiratory diseases, problems with their teeth and diarrheal diseases.” A number of these conditions can be avoided with regularly scheduled veterinary visits that allow the doctor to identify problems with a hamster’s diet, environment and care before permanent damage is done.
In addition, some hamsters may need additional care between routine check-ups. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, one of the most common concerns among hamsters are their teeth. Because they never stop growing, it may become necessary to have your hamster’s teeth trimmed down by a veterinarian. Finally, certain illnesses–like some types of diarrhea or respiratory infections –require antibiotic treatment. While a veterinarian must administer some treatments, an owner can often administer oral antibiotics at home (the costs of which will vary).
Although they may be small, a hamster can add a variety of expenses to a new home, so before you decide to add a hamster to your family, make sure you are prepared to add their routine care to your household budget.