Saving money owning a hamster

Potential owners of hamsters can often be surprised how such a small animal is able to quickly rack up such a big bill at the pet store. Pet stores sell aisles full of all manner of cages, food and toys for hamsters that if restraint is not practiced, can lead to impulse purchases of all those adorable little accessories that the package will tell you every happy and healthy hamster must have.

Even in the best of cases, the total cost over the life span of your hamster overwhelms the initial hamster purchase price tag of $7.99 or so. But the good news is that you don’t have to buy all of those expensive things at the pet store. There are many low-cost options for some of the so-called necessary purchases that can often serve your pet just as well or better than the pricey varieties at the store.

Initial purchase

The initial expense of the hamster itself is usually not a big issue for potential owners. In fact there are probably many parents who were talked into getting a hamster because it was free or nearly so. In some stores, hamsters can cost up to twenty dollars for some varieties, but many pet stores often sell them at a loss to lure shoppers to spend money on more profitable items like cages and treats. Nevertheless it is still possible to save on even this small purchase.

Very often there are local hobby breeders that advertise their animals for a fairly low price; and many give them away free. And a free animal seems like a great idea but it should be kept in perspective with the additional costs and responsibilities of pet ownership.

Cage

Choosing a habitat for a hamster is where its owner can really get into trouble if they make impulse purchases. It is important to have a safe, secure and stimulating cage for a rodent, so some thought and care should go into this purchase. The pet stores sell so many interesting varieties and configurations of hamster habitats that it can be very tempting to go crazy. The costs if one were to buy one of the deluxe cages plus a moderate number of the options and attachments could surge up to two hundred dollars.

But again, there are low cost alternatives. People list used cages often on Ebay, Craigslist, and in the classifieds. It isn’t uncommon to run across them at garage sales. In addition, depending on the type of hamster, there are cheaper alternatives even if you buy the cage new.

A pair of dwarf hamsters or a single Syrian can live comfortably in a 10 gallon aquarium. Also, many of the hard-plastic, storage bins that are often sold in discount stores can house hamsters with greater amounts of room, as long as care is taken that there is plenty of ventilation, that they aren’t shallow enough for the hamster to escape, and that there isn’t anything for the hamster to be able to get a hold of to begin to chew its way out.

Upkeep: Food, bedding and supplies

Again, if commercial pet food and supplies are purchased on a regular basis the costs can add up quickly. Quality food and treats, though important to choose, is more expensive, and vitamin drops which most owners use cost about five dollars per vial. Bedding can cost about ten dollars a bag and food nearly ten dollars for certain varieties. How often the hamster’s cage is refreshed can determine how quickly these costs add up.

Toys and other miscellaneous expenses can also add up. But choosing quality and safe toys needn’t break the bank, and fortunately some of the things that they like the best aren’t even things that you need to buy at the store.

An exercise wheel generally costs between ten and fifteen dollars. But since a good exercise wheel is probably the most important thing for your hamster’s health and happiness, it shouldn’t be somewhere that you skimp. The difference between a few dollars won’t seem like much when you provide your pet with a safe, quiet and enjoyable place to satisfy their strong urges to run. There are ways to choose a good wheel that will be a good compromise between quality and price.

Low cost options for many of these items can save much of the expense. Food can be mixed at home using nuts and grains, and toys like toilet paper rolls can serve to increase the amount of stimulation in a cage. Rather than purchasing a commercial ‘hamster house,’ it is just as good to use a small box with an opening. Used cages, wheels and toys can often be picked up at garage sales or on sites like craigslist. And additional good news is that a sand box can be one of your hamster’s favorite places to play and can help save on bedding because it serves as a litter box that you can replace frequently rather than the whole cage full of bedding.

Veterinary care

Many owners draw the line at small rodents when it comes to spending on vet bills. Sadly, few pay for their surgeries or other exams. But that doesn’t mean your hamster can’t have medical attention. Online forums present the opportunity for owners to ask questions about whether the symptom they are noticing is a serious problem rather than take the hamster to the vet right away. It may be that something over the counter could suffice. And if the hamster is a particularly loved pet or the owners have means, the vet is always an option for a hamster.

It would be wise to call around to check for different charges for initial vet visits. One of the problems that hamster owners typically have questions about is their hamsters’ teeth and how to deal with the issues with their continual growth, occasional overgrowth, and sometimes breakage. Information is available about that online, and knowledgeable hamster experts there most likely will tell you that the problem is common and nothing to worry about, which will soothe your worries a great deal for free.

Summary

The following is an estimate, considering the above factors, of what a hamster owner might be expected to spend over an average life of a hamster (which varies a bit by species). These represent ranges, so it is likely that you will fall somewhere in the middle depending on which you choose:

• High-cost option:                                                                   Initial purchase: $5-$20 – Cage: $50-$200 – Upkeep: $20 per month for two years = $480 – Vet care: $400 – TOTAL: $935-$1000

• Low cost option:
Initial purchase: $0-$5 – Cage: $10-$15 – Upkeep: $5 per month for two years = $120 – Vet care: $0 – TOTAL: $130-$150

Hamsters are like anybody else: some things like good food and safe housing are essential to your health and happiness and the rest is fairly optional. But most owners tend to spend anywhere from a few hundred dollars to over a thousand depending on how creative and frugal they can be, even without skimping on things that are important. But it is obvious that this small creature can possibly come with a large price tag, so choose whether to get one as a pet wisely, especially if you are the type of pet owner that might tend to splurge. But all in all, hamsters can be much less expensive than other pets, so even their relatively steep price tag might make them a good choice for many pet owners.