April 10, 2020
Caring for Multiple Hamsters
Happy World Hamster Day! It’s only fitting these delightful, curious companions get a day of world recognition. Not only are hamsters undeniably adorable, they each have unique personalities that far outweigh their diminutive stature. After adding a hamster to your family and falling in love with their playful charm, it may seem like a great idea to bring a second hamster home, but there are many things to consider before doing so. Though hamsters are tiny, their specialized needs can make caring for multiple hamsters a bigger job than many pet parents realize. Before committing to adding another hammy to the family, make sure you’re prepared to make the transition as seamless as possible.
Hamsters Are Not Social
If you’ve ever wondered if your hamster gets lonely, the answer is probably “no.” Though it has been shown (and anyone who has loved a hamster will tell you) hamsters can form very deep, meaningful relationships with their pet parents, they generally are not fans of other hamsters. This can come as a shock to prospective and novice hamster owners. We’ve all seen hamsters peacefully co-existing in enclosures at pet stores. Why would it be any different in your home? Multiple factors play a role, but generally it comes down to age, gender, and breed. Most hamsters housed in groups at pet stores are very young (often from the same litter) and of the same gender and have not matured enough to develop their territorial disposition. Dwarf breeds also tend to be more socially tolerant than their larger counterparts and are sometimes housed in pairs or small groups. Though all hamsters have similar characteristics, breed specifics play a definite role in how well these little animals can coexist. While not an exhaustive list of hamster breeds, let’s discuss three of the most common breeds, and their unique social preferences.
Syrians: Independent by Nature
Syrian hamsters (often referred to as Golden or Teddy Bear hamsters) are notoriously territorial. Though it’s hard to imagine our domesticated friends battling harsh weather conditions, Syrians are descendants of the wild hamster still living in the arid dunes of Syria. As a desert animal, resources like food, water, and shelter are hard to come by, so Syrian hamsters have developed a very solitary lifestyle, and will fight ferociously to protect what is theirs. Though the struggles of life in the desert have been removed for our household pets, Syrian hamsters have retained this aggressively territorial mentality. They are much, much happier as master of their own domain and should always be housed alone. Some Syrians can also exhibit stressed, territorial behavior if another Syrian hamster is even housed too close to their habitat.
Dwarf Breeds: Slightly Social
Roborovskis (or Robos) and Siberians (or Winter Whites) tend to be the most “social” of hamster breeds. They descended from wild ancestors who lived in small familial colonies and have developed a fondness for their own kind. When considering housing two dwarf hamsters together, it is essential they are housed with hamsters of the same breed. Introducing a Robo with another Robo can result in a blissfully bonded pair but housing a Robo with a Siberian would likely result in a very aggressive, not to mention dangerous, fight. When considering the introduction of a pair of dwarf hamsters, there is a much greater chance of them living together peacefully if both hamsters are of the same gender and are introduced when they are as young as possible. It is also generally easier to keep hamsters together who are from the same litter or were residing in the same enclosure when adopted.
Before introducing two dwarf hamsters that did not come from the same litter or enclosure, it is important to quarantine them for at least 1 – 2 weeks before beginning the introduction process. This will ensure that neither hamster is ill. Once you are certain your hamsters are healthy, it is important to proceed with very gradual introductions conducted on neutral ground. It is best for the two dwarf hamsters to be kept in their own separate habitats right next to each other so they can grow accustomed to one another’s scent and presence. After a couple of weeks, if your hamsters have not shown any signs of aggression while separated, you can attempt to place both hamsters into their new, large joint habitat. Before doing so, however, make sure the new habitat has been freshly cleaned, with all new bedding and freshly washed food bowls, water bottles, and hides, limiting the risk of a territorial stand-off. If either hamster acts aggressively, you may have to repeat this process multiple times. It is important to remember, however, that even when introductions are conducted correctly, there is always the potential the tiny twosome will never get along and will have to live separately for their own safety and wellbeing. Finally, whether your hamsters are bonded or not, it is important to wash your hands between holding your small friends, as the scent of another hamster on your hands can elicit an aggressive or stressed response.
Double the Fun = Double the Work
When considering the addition of another hamster, it is important to remember that these little guys need their space. This is especially true of Syrian hamsters. As mentioned, Syrians are territorial loners who don’t care to share their space with other hamsters. If you’d like to add another Syrian to the home, you will need to make sure you have space for a whole new hamster habitat complete with food bowl, water bottle/crock, wheel, hideouts/tunnels, and chews. It is often recommended that Syrian hamsters are housed on opposite sides of a room and in such a way they cannot see each other. While some Syrian hamsters can live in habitats near each other without incident, there are others who cannot even have another Syrian in the same room.
Even a tiny sibling pair of dwarf hamsters needs to have ample room to get away from each other so they don’t have any excuse to exhibit their naturally territorial inclinations. When housing multiple dwarf hamsters together, it is important they have a large enclosure with two of everything: two food dishes, two water bottles, two hideouts, two wheels, two of each chew, etc. Hamsters are much more likely to get along if they don’t have to share resources.
Multiple hamsters also mean more financial responsibilities and a greater time commitment. In addition to the cost of purchasing a new habitat and additional necessities, more hamsters will also mean more trips to the pet store to buy high-quality fortified hamster food. It also means more supplementary foods, chews, and bedding, not to mention additional vet bills. Multiple hamsters also require more time for proper habitat cleanings and individualized human-animal bonding time.
Though not the most social of animals, with the proper knowledge, dedication, and habitat setup, it is possible to peacefully parent multiple hamsters. Caring for more than one hamster is an added commitment from a space, time, and financial perspective, but if done correctly, there is nothing more rewarding than sharing your home with more than one of these adorable, tenacious little creatures.