In this feature, Lisa Hertz weighs up all the options for where to get a hamster, and gives you all the guidance you need to find a healthy, ethically-bred pet.
What is the best place to buy a hamster?
Are you thinking about adding a cute little hamster or two to your family?
The adorable hamster makes a great pet; in fact, many people get hamsters as a child’s first pet.
Everyone has seen hamsters for sale at the local pet store, alongside other small animals like mice, guinea pigs, and birds.
Are pet stores the only places to get a hamster? Are they the best place, or is somewhere else better?
Let’s look at the all the different places where you can get your new pet hamster!
Where can I buy a hamster?
Of course, most pet stores sell hamsters, but they’re not the only place to get a hamster.
You can also buy hamsters directly from hamster breeders and at hamster shows.
And did you know that you can also adopt homeless hamsters from your local animal shelter?
Many shelters and rescue groups have a wide variety of animals besides dogs and cats, including small pets like hamsters.
Let’s look at each option in more detail…
Where to get a hamster: Hamster breeders
The most reliable way to ensure that your hamster is from a reputable source and has been raised in a humane way is to buy them from a local small-scale breeder.
Hamster breeders are also a good resource if you are interested in a specific color or type of hamster that is not commonly found in pet stores.
They are also the best place to buy hamsters if you are interested in trying hamster breeding yourself!
Getting a hamster from a breeder
Now you’re probably asking, “How can I find hamster breeders near me?”
The answer is easy… many hamster breeders belong to local or regional clubs (or less formal groups) with members that breed and show hamsters in a particular geographic area.
These groups almost always have a website, which you can find with a quick internet search.
There isn’t a nationwide association for hamster breeders in the US, but most states have at least one hamster fan club who also maintain an online directory of breeders for their area.
For example, the California Hamster Organization is a well-known hamster club based in Southern California.
You can also join online forums like the Hamster Hideout Forum and connect with hamster breeders and hobbyists in your area.
In the UK, the National Hamster Council (NHC) is the main organization for hamster breeders, and it has three regional clubs that maintain lists of breeder members and organize hamster shows.
The NHC is the oldest and most famous hamster fancier organization in the world.
Finding a good hamster breeder
How do you know if your hamster breeder is reputable?
Hamster experts recommend that good breeders keep detailed records of their breeding stock.
Each hamster should be clearly identified, and their individual records should include their birth date, color, sex, show wins and medical records, as well as its mating and breeding log.
The breeding log should record all their matings and details such as number of offspring and any postnatal deaths.
Medical records should be kept on all the hamsters, noting any illnesses and treatments.
Where to get a hamster: Hamster shows
Hamster breeders often bring their hamsters to shows, both to exhibit and sell.
These are usually run by volunteers who love hamster and are dedicated and passionate about promoting them as pets and campaigning for their welfare.
Finding a hamster show near you depends whether one of these extraordinary people is operating in your area.
The UK has a well-established schedule of hamster shows that are run by the local NHC clubs.
If you can’t find a hamster show near you in the US, you can still buy hamsters from breeders at local pet expos.
Hamster breeders at pet expos
Visiting a pet expo in your area is a great way to meet local breeders and buy hamsters and pet supplies.
Most major metropolitan areas have at least one pet expo a year, usually held at convention centers.
County fairs and 4-H shows are also good places to find hamsters from local breeders, especially if you live in a rural area.
The 4-H organization has a companion animal division that includes small pets like hamsters.
Most 4-H events are run by state university extension services.
The website for your local university extension service should have a link to upcoming 4-H companion animal shows and events.
Where to get a Hamster: Hamster pet shops
Pet stores that sell hamsters are very common, and probably the majority of people will buy their hamsters from pet stores rather than from individual breeders.
What do you need to know before you buy a pet store hamster?
Whilst almost every pet store in the land talks the right talk about animal welfare, sadly not all walk the walk.
And that means some pet store hamsters still come from commercial breeding mills with low welfare standards.
The US Department of Agriculture does inspect and license large-scale commercial animal breeders, but even a licensed facility can have problems. For example, the allowable minimum cage size is very small.
In 2016, an undercover investigation of one mill which sold to large pet supermarkets found small animals living in very inhumane conditions (WARNING: link contains very distressing content).
Finding an ethical hamster store
But the good news is, we as consumers can help stamp out bad breeding practices by asking the right questions and buying from stores who really do make sure their stock has been raised humanely.
Start with small, independent pet stores in your area.
They are more likely to buy their hamsters from local breeders that they know and trust.
Some pet shop owners are also hobbyist breeders themselves.
Make sure the cages in the store are clean and well-kept, with sufficient food, water, and space.
Look for pet store hamsters with a smooth, shiny coat, bright eyes, and no discharge from the eyes, nose, or rear end.
This goes for not just the hamster you like, but for all its cage mates.
Your new hamster should be healthy and lively; visit pet stores in the late afternoon or evening to see your hamster in action, since they do sleep a lot during daylight hours!
Baby hamsters for sale at a pet store should be between 4 to 8 weeks of age, and the staff working in the store should be able to tell you exactly when the hamsters they have were born.
Where to get a hamster: Hamsters for Adoption
You don’t need to go to a pet store or a breeder to get a hamster.
Hamsters are available for adoption at many animal shelters, and giving one a forever home has lots of advantages.
You can ask the staff at the shelter about their personality, and they will probably have been vet-checked before they were listed for adoption too.
I performed a petfinder.com search for adoptable hamsters in a single US zip code came up with an impressive 59 results!
Most of the hamsters were located at small animal rescue organizations and traditional animal shelters.
Adoption fees for small pets like hamsters tend to be very reasonable, usually no more than $5.
Where to get a hamster: Can you order a hamster online?
These days, there doesn’t seem to be much you can’t order online, and some people are even asking if they can order their next pet online.
No responsible breeder will ever agree to mail a live hamster to you.
Travel via the mail would be enormously stressful for a hamster pup, and quite probably kill it.
The US Postal Service and most postal shipping companies like UPS understand this, and as such won’t ship any live mammals.
What is the best place to buy a hamster?
Hamsters are inexpensive and readily available at most pet stores.
But you can get a hamster from other places besides a pet store.
Hobbyist hamster breeders are a good choice for people interested in knowing more about their hamster’s breeding and ancestry, especially if you’d like to show your hamster or breed from them in the future.
Breeders also tend to have some interesting colors and varieties of hamsters not commonly found in pet stores.
Another great option is hamster rehoming.
There are likely to be many hamsters available for adoption at animal shelters and rescue organizations in your area.
If you do choose to buy from a pet store, go to small independent pet stores who can tell you exactly where their hamsters come from.
And never, ever, order a pet hamster online!
Where did you get your hamster?
How did you find your hamster pal?
What tips would you give someone looking for where to buy a hamster?
Please share them using the comments box below!
Price, L. “Are Hamsters from a USDA Licensed Breeder Better?” California Hamster Association.