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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CU Boulder chapter.

Hamsters. These tiny animals probably bring up classic pop culture images of colorful plastic cages, balls, and wheels. “An easy beginner pet, perfect for children!” is the narrative most might subscribe to. But the reality of hamsters is that they’re high-maintenance little divas—of course, I say this out of love with my own hamster in mind. While I fully believe hamsters are great pets to have in college, they do require a little more than what pop culture would have you think. Here are some things I think everyone should have before buying a hamster.

Let’s talk about cages.

I want you to take that idea of those colorful plastic hamster cages I mentioned and throw it out completely. Not only are they way too small for hamsters, but they’re also dangerous because the tubes can cause stress to hamster spines. A quick Google search of “good hamster cage sizes” reveals a minimum required space of 500-600 square inches. Finding a good-sized cage doesn’t have to be expensive, though, and could even cost less than what you’d usually find at pet stores. For my hamster, I spent about $20 at Target on a large, clear storage bin. This storage bin method is known as a “bin cage” in the hamster owner community—and provides a cheap (but most importantly, safe and roomy) option for keeping a hamster. Especially for college, bin cages are probably the easiest and most affordable option I recommend. 

splurge on a good wheel, trust me.

While I can give you tips to save money on hamster cages, unfortunately, when it comes to wheels, splurging is probably your best bet. Hamsters are incredibly active animals, and wheels are a must-have to provide your hamster with adequate exercise. However, most of the cheap hamster wheels on the market can create a lot of noise. Because hamsters are nocturnal animals, this means that a bad wheel can keep you (and possibly your roommates) from sleeping well. For my hamster, I ended up spending the most money on his wheel, a $30 Bucatstate on Amazon. This decision ended up being the best—my dad even asked me over the summer if my hamster ever actually used his wheel just because it was so quiet at night. 

Think maximalist when it comes to decorations.

When it comes to hamsters, more is more. If a hamster ever had to take an aesthetics personality quiz, they would definitely get maximalism as their result. This means that for hamsters, clutter means fun places to explore, sleep and hide food. When choosing decorations for your hamster’s cage, wooden objects are good to have. For my hamster, I invested in a Chngeary Hamster House and Hideout and a Dnoifne Wooden Hamster Enrichment Toy on Amazon. Additionally, paper towel rolls are a great, affordable option to fill up the cage. Another tip I have is to bury paper towel rolls under the bedding to give you hamster support for their tunnels.

Hamster GIF by Oxbow Animal Health - Find & Share on GIPHY

at least six inches of bedding.

Hamsters are tunneling animals, so a lot of bedding is needed. The average minimum depth of bedding should be around six inches, with the optimal amount being above eight inches. To help with enrichment, using multiple types of bedding in a cage is a great idea. I usually like to do a mix of 80% Kaytee Clean & Cozy and 20% aspen wood chips. Sand is also extremely important for hamsters, as they use it to bathe themselves. Definitely consider including an area for hamster-safe bathing sand somewhere in the cage as well. For cleaning soiled bedding, it’s not recommended to do full cleanouts, as hamsters rely on their sense of smell to get around, and completely removing their scent from their home can cause confusion and unnecessary stress. Instead, spot clean and replace bedding as needed. 

diversify the food options.

Similar to how the dining hall food gets bland and repetitive after a while, hamsters can get bored eating the same thing every day. To help combat food boredom and ensure that your hamster gets a balanced diet, it’s a good idea to buy multiple brands of food. My favorite combination is Higgins Sunburst, Mazuri Rat and Mouse Blocks, and dried mealworms. It might feel strange to walk out of the pet store with four different bags of food for one little animal, but trust me—your hamster will thank you for it. 

When it comes to handling, every hamster has a different personality, and the requirements will change on a case-by-case basis. I highly recommend checking out videos on YouTube for hamster-taming tips before even attempting to touch your hamster. However, for the basics of what you need before buying a hamster, I hope this list was able to provide some insight. Find me on Instagram (@mackenziehornik) for more hamster content!

Mackenzie is a (now graduated!) article contributor for Her Campus at the University of Colorado Boulder. She enjoys writing about a variety of topics with a focus on Beauty, Fashion and Sex + Relationships.