Syrian Hamster Care Sheet

Maria Zayas, DVM
By Maria Zayas, DVM on May 22, 2023
Cozy Syrian hamster

In This Article


Small and cuddly, hamsters were discovered in Syria during the early 1800s. Syrian hamsters once had a wide natural range, stretching from the Middle East to the Steppes in Russia. Today, hamsters are considered endangered in their native environments due to habitat loss. Pet hamsters are common household companions suitable for many families, including beginner pet parents, and children.

Hamsters are usually nocturnal but can adjust to their pet parent’s schedule over time. Hamsters often spend nights eating and running on their exercise wheel, so they may not be the best companions for light sleepers. 

Handling Your Hamster

When socialized properly, hamsters are friendly animals and usually tolerant of gentle handling. Pet parents should allow newly homed hamsters time to adjust to their surroundings to ensure they acclimate to their new environment.

Hamsters can be squirmy and should be held over a soft or padded surface to prevent them from injuring themselves if they jump or fall. Never squeeze a hamster too tightly or grab them by their tails. Hamsters may bite when startled, especially if they are sleeping. Children should always be supervised by an adult while handling a hamster.  

Hamster Behavior

To compensate for their weak eyesight, hamsters use whiskers and their heightened sense of smell to explore and recognize their environment. Hamsters are also avid burrowers. Adding nesting material to their enclosure can help satisfy their natural desire to build nests, bury food, and tunnel. 

Hamsters have muscular, expandable cheek pouches that they can use to store food, bedding, and other small objects. Pet parents should seek veterinary care if their hamster has swollen cheek pouches that don’t empty after a few hours. 

With some training, hamsters can be taught to use a litter box, which can help keep their habitat clean for a longer time.   

Characteristics of Syrian Hamsters

Difficulty of Care 


Average Life Span 

2–3 years with proper care 

Average Adult Size 

5–7 inches long 



Minimum Habitat Size 

24” L x 12” W x 16” H 

Supply Checklist for Syrian Hamsters

To keep a hamster happy and healthy, pet parents should have these basic supplies on hand: 

  • Appropriately sized habitat (24” L x 12” W x 16” H) 

  • High-quality hamster food 

  • Treats  

  • Bedding 

  • Nesting fluff 

  • Food bowl/water bottle 

  • Exercise wheel 

  • Exercise ball 

  • Hideaway place 

  • Toys 

  • Wood chews  

  • Mineral chews 

  • Chew tubes 

  • Dust and dust bath 

  • Small animal playpen 

Habitat for Syrian Hamsters

Choosing the Right Enclosure 

Hamsters need adequate space to roam, exercise, and rest in their enclosures. The ideal hamster habitat should measure at least 24” L x 12” W x 16” H, and the larger the better. Enclosures should be well-ventilated with a deep, solid base. Make sure all hamster cages are secured with an escape-proof lid—hamsters are escape artists!

Metal/wire-based habitats offer the best ventilation and are easy to clean. However, hamsters can escape wire enclosures if the bars aren’t spaced closely enough. For wire cages, the spaces between the cage’s bars should be ½-in apart or smaller to prevent the hamster from escaping or getting stuck in between the wires. Wire habitats should have solid, hard plastic flooring to prevent pressure sores from forming on the hamster’s feet. 

Any solid walls block air circulation, which can trap ammonia and fumes from droppings. Glass and plastic habitats are not recommended. Buildup of these irritants can irritate a hamster’s respiratory tracts, putting them at greater risk for infection.   

Recommended Products: 

Setting Up Your Habitat 

Hamsters are comfortable in average household temperatures, just make sure it temperature is never warmer than 80 F. Keep habitats in a quiet, draft-free area that’s not too close to an air conditioner or accessible to other pets, like cats and dogs. Habitats should never be kept in sunlight. 

Adult hamsters should not be housed in the same enclosure. Adult hamsters are commonly territorial and fight, so they are better housed alone. Pet parents should never keep different species of animals in the same habitat.  

Bedding for Syrian Hamsters

Pet hamsters need two types of bedding in their habitat: an absorbent substrate to line the bottom of their enclosure, and a fluffy nesting material that they can use to make a cozy burrow. 

One to 2 inches of high-quality paper-based bedding or crumpled paper should be placed at the bottom of the habitat. Paper-based bedding should be used instead of wood bedding because paper is digestible and will not obstruct a hamster’s gastrointestinal tract if ingested. Cedar and unprocessed pine bedding products also have aromatic oils that can irritate a hamster’s sensitive respiratory tracts. Therefore, they should be avoided. 

Recommended Products: 

Adding nesting material to a hamster’s enclosure can help them satisfy their natural desire to build nests, hide food, and burrow. 

Recommended Products: 

Décor & Accessories for Syrian Hamster Enclosures

Hideout box: Hamsters should have at least one hiding space in their habitat for privacy. Hideout boxes made from chewable materials like hay or wood make excellent choices.  

Plastic hideouts are durable and easier to disinfect. Remove any plastic that has been chewed, as broken plastic pieces can obstruct a hamster’s gastrointestinal tract if ingested and cause serious injuries. 

Recommended Products: 

Running wheel: Daily exercise is vital to a hamster’s overall health. Most hamsters will enjoy an appropriately sized running wheel for enrichment. Ensure that the wheel’s running surface is smooth and won’t trap a hamster's feet or toes, causing injury. 

Recommended Products: 

Toys: Enrichment toys can help reduce boredom and encourage mental/physical stimulation. 

Hamsters’ upper and lower front (incisor) teeth never stop growing, so they should have plenty of safe wooden toys, mineral blocks, and other pet-safe chewable items that will wear down their teeth as they grow.

An exercise ball can help hamsters stay in shape and enjoy some time outside of their usual enclosure. 

Recommended Products: 

Cleaning & Maintenance for Syrian Hamsters

A hamster’s habitat and all of its contents should be cleaned at least once a week. You may spot-clean their bedding daily, removing any soiled material and uneaten food.

To clean a hamster’s habitat, take these steps: 

  1. Move the hamster to a pet-safe temporary enclosure and remove any old bedding or litter from the habitat. 

  1. Use a small animal habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution to wash the habitat and all accessories. Bleach solution should sit in the habitat for at least 10 minutes to ensure that the surfaces are properly disinfected. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions if using a commercial habitat cleaner, such as the Kaytee Clean Cage Small Animal Habitat Deodorizer Spray.

  1. Rinse the habitat and accessories thoroughly with water, making sure to remove any trace amounts or residual smells of the cleaning agent or bleach solution. 

  1. Allow the habitat and its contents to dry completely before placing new bedding, clean accessories, and the hamster back into the habitat.

  2. Return the hamster to his clean habitat.

Other Accessories for Syrian Hamsters

A small animal playpen can be a safe, spacious area for hamsters to play and enjoy time outside of their enclosed habitat. Hamsters must always be closely supervised when outside of their habitats. 

Recommended Products: 

Diet & Nutrition for Syrian Hamsters

Hamsters eat a diet of high-quality hamster lab blocks or pelleted food, and small amounts of grains, vegetables, fruits, hay, and treats. Hamsters are primarily nocturnal, so feeding sessions should take place at night. Hamsters should always have access to fresh, clean water. 

A nutritious and well-balanced hamster diet consists of high-quality hamster lab blocks, or a nutritionally balanced pelleted food formulated especially for hamsters. Hamsters should be fed daily, preferably at night. 

Recommended Products: 

Grains, vegetables, fruits, hay, and treats can be offered in limited quantities–no more than 10% of the hamster’s daily diet. Most fruits are hamster-safe, but hamsters should not eat fruit seeds or pits, citrus fruits, or rhubarb. While hamsters can enjoy most vegetables, do not offer them garlic, onions, unripe tomatoes, raw beans, or potatoes. 

Because fruits are naturally high in carbohydrates, excess fruits in a hamster’s diet can upset their gastrointestinal tract and cause unhealthy weight gain. Pet parents should be sure to discard any uneaten fruits and vegetables after 10 hours, as they may spoil and cause infection if eaten. 

Recommended Products: 

Water should be changed daily and offered in a shallow, chew-resistant bowl or water bottle. Pet parents should regularly clean and thoroughly rinse their little one’s water bowl or bottle to prevent bacteria from forming. Bowls should not be too deep, as the hamster may slip into them and become stuck. Make sure that the bowl is sturdy enough to not be knocked over either. 

Recommended Products: 

Do not allow hamsters to consume chocolate, caffeine, or alcohol. These ingredients are toxic and can cause death or serious illness. Sugar and high-fat treats should also be avoided because due to creating  gastrointestinal upset. 

Grooming & Care for Syrian Hamsters

Hamsters groom themselves frequently and rarely need baths from pet parents. In the case of sick or elderly hamsters that may need assistance, pet parents can spot-clean their little ones by using a damp washcloth or unscented baby wipes, as needed. 

Some hamsters enjoy taking weekly dust/sand baths to remove oil and dirt from their fur. Pet parents can add a shallow dish of bathing sand, like Tiny Friends Farm Small Animal Bathing Sand, to their hamster’s habitat for them to roll around in. When selecting a dust, make sure that the product is suitable for hamsters. The dust bath should not be left in a hamster's habitat for more than 12 hours at a time. 

Gently brushing a long-haired Syrian hamster’s coat once a week can help eliminate debris and tangled fur from developing. Pairing a treat with brushing may help a hamster accept brushing more easily. 

Recommended Products: 

Hamster urine typically looks cloudy or milky. If a hamster’s urine looks bloody or is foul-smelling, the pet should be examined by a veterinarian. Female hamsters usually pass a creamy, white discharge after ovulation. Consult a veterinarian if you see any vaginal bleeding or significant changes in the appearance of a hamster’s discharge. 

Nail Care: Most hamsters do not need their nails trimmed. If the hamster’s nails begin to curl, or if they start leaving scratches on themselves during self-grooming, contact your veterinarian to schedule a nail trim. 

Dental Care: Hamsters’ front (incisor) teeth grow continuously, so pet parents should provide them with safe wooden toys, mineral blocks, or other chewable items to help keep their teeth at a manageable length. The enamel of a hamster’s incisor teeth naturally darkens and yellows as they age. 

Consult a veterinarian if a hamster’s teeth seem too long, if they are drooling excessively, or if they are dropping food when they eat. 

Veterinary Care for Syrian Hamsters

Annual Care

Your hamster needs to be seen by a veterinarian once annually for a wellness exam. Be sure to transport them in a secure carrier or take their entire enclosure. If transporting just your hamster, take pictures of their enclosure and all the products you use as your veterinarian will want to assess their setup as part of the examination process.

Signs of a Healthy Hamster

  • Alert, curious disposition

  • Clean hair coat with no hair loss

  • Clear, shiny eyes

  • Clean nares

  • Clean ears

  • Nails and teeth that are not overgrown

When to Call a Vet?

  • Weight loss

  • Wet, fecal stained hair around rectum

  • Wounds or trauma

  • Lumps

  • Coughing, wheezing, sneezing, nasal discharge, or other respiratory difficulties

  • Diarrhea

  • Anorexia

  • Drooling

  • Overgrown teeth

Common Illnesses in Syrian Hamsters

Syrian Hamster FAQs

Is a Syrian hamster a good pet?

Syrian hamsters make great pets. They do not require a lot of space or care but are incredibly cute, curious and fun to interact with.

Are Syrian hamsters friendly?

Syrian hamsters are friendly little pets though you do have to be careful if they are stressed or startled as they can nip under those circumstances.

Are Syrian hamsters okay alone?

Yes, in fact unlike several other common rodent pets, they prefer to be alone.

Are Syrian hamsters hard to take care of?

Syrian hamsters are easy pets to care for. They have minimal space or care requirements and once their enclosure has been designed their daily care needs are very basic.

Featured Image:

Maria Zayas, DVM


Maria Zayas, DVM


Dr. Zayas has practiced small animal and exotic medicine all over the United States and currently lives in Colorado with her 3 dogs, 1 cat,...

Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?

Get Instant Vet Help Via Chat or Video. Connect with a Vet. Chewy Health