Hamsters and beating the credit crunch
A guide to economical hamster care

Hamsters are still one of the most inexpensive animals to buy and more importantly to keep. The expenses involved in having a Hamster as a pet are the initial cost of purchasing the animal, feeding and care throughout its life but primarily the cage and accessories. Having kept rodents for 20 years I have found a lot of cost busting ways of keeping animals I have listed some hints and tips below which I hope will help.

Housing

The main way to save is sourcing good sized hamster homes without having to pay the overpriced cost of cages in shops. Hamster cages are disproportionately expensive considering the animals sell for around 8 to 12 pounds, the cages can cost 30 pounds or more which is totally disproportionate to the cost of the animal. Obviously this is a large sum of money and in the current economic climate will put people off considering a hamster as a pet.

There are several ways of getting cheaper housing for hamsters. Look in the local paper for people selling fish tanks. A 24x12x12 inch tank is fantastic accommodation for a hamster, they will probably chew the sealant but that is non toxic as it has to be for the fish!. Tanks prevent them from throwing sawdust or urinating out of the cage and gives them a huge amount of space to play in. Try “Freecycle” and other internet sites for people giving tanks away. Even try the local tip as people will throw away tanks even if they are not broken. A safe lid can be easily constructed from some fine grade wire from a hardware store. If you choose the tank option you will have to buy a hanging water bottle.

If a tank is too large or inappropriate then it is possible to get cages cheaply on the internet either from internet shops or Ebay. There are regularly suitable cages available on Ebay, the only drawback is the postage, which at present (November 08) is between 7 and 8 pounds. This needs to be accounted for when considering a bid but it is still possible to get cages for 10 to 15 pounds less than in the shops. These will normally be second hand cages so its important to look at the photo carefully to make sure the previous inhabitant hasn't ruined the cage. Most are slightly nibbled and sometimes have calcification ( a hard white or yellowish deposit) in the corners. This is where the last hammy had their loo. It looks unsightly but can easily be scraped off with a knife. The cage MUST be thoroughly disinfected using a pet safe disinfectant such as Johnsons "Clean and Safe" which an owner would need to have to enable them to keep the cage properly clean in future so it is not an extra expense. It is crucial to disinfect as you wont know what illnesses the previous inhabitant had or what they died of. Pet safe cleaners can be found in most large pet shops or supermarkets.

Bedding and toys

These are the primary things to be considered when looking at the long term costs of keeping a hamster. Sawdust can be sourced from many other places than pet shops who charge more. The primary consideration when sourcing it from elsewhere is to make sure it will be clean. As I said earlier value kitchen towel makes very good bedding and is actually safer than some of the commercially available beddings. Also the inside of the loo roll is a wonderful toy and you would be doing your bit for the environment by recycling!

Other toys are a matter of personal taste, personally I think they are over priced and a lot of the time the hamster wont even play with them. Most of the cages for dwarf hamsters come with built in house and wheels which is a bonus however if you take the fish tank option you will need to provide these. It is always worth looking in car boot sales for cages and tanks but it is always important to look for ones in good condition.

I don't believe they need a “house”. For years I gave my hamsters houses and all they did was push the lid off, chew them or use them as a loo!. Also many of the houses can be quite small, even for a dwarf hamster, and this can lead to the hamster getting over heated, sweaty and sometimes poorly as a result. Obviously how someone wants to furnish their hamsters accommodation is a matter of personal taste but there are many items for sale that are an unnecessary expense.

The worst of these is the food bowl, the only real purpose for having one is to feed the hamster a consistent amount of food. However it is perfectly possible to do this by using a scoop or spoon. A hamster will normally just dig the food out of its food bowl so it is something that can be excluded from the expense of setting up their home.

I believe that it is essential for winter white and robs to have sand baths available. It keeps them in much better condition, healthier, they enjoy the bath and its a delight to watch them. Small cat dishes are ideal sand baths but a much cheaper alternative is to use a small soup or cereal bowl. It may just be me but I think many houses have cupboards with old crockery stored, a cereal or soup bowl of approx 6 inch by 2 deep is ideal. The only thing to bear in mind is how deep the bowl is. It needs to be deep enough to have about an inch deep sand but mustn't be so deep the hamster cant get in. If you are more organized than me and don't have cupboards full of stuff then charity shops or pound shops sometimes have crockery, also again try car boot sales. The sand itself needs to be chinchilla sand, the only way to get that more cheaply is shop around. If you have a hamster who doesn't wee in its sand bath the sand can be sieved and reused. The sieve needs to be fine mesh as Robs poos are tiny, but sieving will remove them and then the sand can be simply topped up.

Essentials

When buying a hamster, in my opinion these are the essentials.

Ongoing expenses are:-

I hope you find this helpful. You can beat the credit crunch and still have lovely pets.


All photos and text copyright ©Lydia Sefton/Cheshire Hamster Breeder 2009.
Please do not use without permission.