When you are setting up a new enclosure for a hamster, one of the first things that you reach for is a water bottle. For as long back as I can remember, I have kept and seen others keep hamsters with a water bottle in place. But do hamsters need a water bottle, or would they be OK with a bowl?
Hamsters do not need a water bottle to drink out of, instead, they can drink out of a water dish or bowl. Drinking out of water dishes is more akin to how hamsters would drink in the wild, like, for example when they drink from puddles or drink water droplets that have fallen onto leaves or grass.
You may now be tempted to use a water bowl instead of a water bottle, but there are some things that you need to consider and there are pros and cons to both. Let’s start with water bottles.
Using water bottles in your hamster’s cage
Water bottles (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned) are always the first recommendation from any pet store, and many cages already have a water bottle in them.
On the face of it, water bottles seem to be more hygienic, because bedding, food and other things can’t get into them, unlike a water dish. But, it is still possible for bacteria to build up inside them.
Water bottles therefore need to be cleaned out thoroughly, especially inside the spout where many hamster owners forget about. It is also the most difficult part to keep clean.
Water bottles need to be positioned correctly
If a water bottle isn’t positioned correctly, your hamster may have to get into an awkward position to have a drink.
A water bottle should be positioned 2-3 inches above the bedding or substrate to ensure your hamster doesn’t have to stretch and strain.
When choosing a water bottle, you should also take note of the angle on the spout. If the spout is too vertical then this can put pressure on a hamster’s neck and spine.
Ideally, the spout should be as horizontal as possible to encourage your hamster to drink in a natural position with their head and neck bent downwards.
The spout itself should also be one that is designed for hamsters and you should refrain from using water bottles that have been designed for use by other animals such as guinea pigs or rabbits.
Water bottles are easy to forget about
Hamsters don’t tend to drink very much (about a teaspoon a day), so many hamster owners tend to forget about a water bottle because it looks full all the time, especially if the bottle is large.
The main problem here is that the hamster doesn’t get fresh water as often as it should.
Water bottles may stop working without the owner realizing. Problems can occur with the ball bearing getting stuck which prevents the water from passing through the spout.
The ball bearing can also become loose causing water to leak from the bottle into the cage.
Hot weather can also cause the spout to expand which again, can cause the bottle to leak, leaving your hamster without water and a soggy cage.
We change Richmond’s water on a daily basis so that he always has fresh water. I’ll always check the ball bearing inside too and I do this by running my finger under the spout to check that it’s working correctly.
One good thing about water bottles is that they can be useful to monitor how much your hamster consumes which will allow you to spot any changes in their health.
To do this draw a line on the water bottle with a marker pen and check the level in a day or two.
Now let’s turn our attention to water dishes so that you can see if they’re right for you and your hamster.
Water dishes are an excellent alternative
The one good thing about water dishes is that they are very easy to clean. They also enable your hamster to drink in a more natural position.
Though it is easy for water dishes to become soiled and contaminated with bedding, food, and whatever else, you can get around this problem quite easily by keeping the water dish on a platform.
It’s important that if you do use a water dish, that you choose one that isn’t too small or too large.
If the water dish is too small, your hamster may struggle to drink out of it. On the other hand, if it is too large, then your hamster may attempt to climb into it.
If your hamster does climb into it, this can be an issue because water can strip your hamster’s fur of its natural oils because they break down very easily in water.
Another issue with large water dishes is that it is possible for hamsters to drown, although this is extremely rare.
The greatest risk is to hamsters that are under five weeks old or frail hamsters because either will struggle to get out of the dish..
One thing that I would say about water dishes is that they’re not really suitable for hot climates as the water in them will have a tendency to evaporate.
When choosing a water dish you may want to look for a ceramic dish that won’t get knocked over easily. Candle holders, like these on Amazon (#CommissionsEarned), that are made out of glass also make good water dishes for your hamster.
If you’re still undecided whether to get a water dish or keep using a water bottle then leave a water bottle in the cage but also have a water dish on the platform. That way you can have the best of both worlds and see which your hamster prefers.
How Much Water Does A Hamster Need?
It would be easy to assume that hamsters do not need very much water at all, owing to their tiny size. But this might not be the case, and you should always make sure that your pet has access to fresh, clean water.
This is even more important since these are nocturnal animals. If you are sleeping while they are awake and don’t notice that they need a drink, there is a chance that your hamster will become dehydrated.
As a general rule, a hamster’s water needs will be based on their weight. They will typically need 10ml of water for every 100g of weight each day. This rule applies to all species. But this is certainly not set in stone.
If your hamster is very active and burning a lot of energy, they will likely need to drink more, so it is a good idea to keep an eye on theri water bottle and refill it if necessary.
Conversely, a more placid hamster, perhaps one who is a little older, might not drink as much. In this case, you will want to make sure that they are not showing any signs of dehydration and if you notice anything, speak to your vet.
How Long Can Hamsters Go Without Water?
If you are ever planning to leave your hamster for a period of time, it is vital that you have a friend or family member check in on them and change their water.
If your hamster was to finish their water supply and not have any more, they could die within days.
Hamsters are very likely to become dehydrated and would not survive much longer than a couple of days without water.
If you ever notice that your pet’s eyes are sunken, their skin is loose, is lethargic, or is struggling to breathe, this could be a sign that they need fluid, and you should have him seen immediately by a vet to avoid further complications.
In some cases, if the hamster has recently become dehydrated, you may be able to resolve the issue by offering them plenty of water at home.
However, if it is a more serious case, they may need to be put on a drip.
Tap water or bottled water?
Personally, we give our hamster tap water because the tap water in our area is very good quality and in my opinion, tastes better than bottled water and has lots of nice minerals in it.
But of course it depends on the area in which you live, but as a rule of thumb, if it is safe for humans, it is safe for hamsters to drink too.
That being said, some people err on the side of caution since most tap water has been chlorinated to make it safe for humans, but this treatment may not be suitable for hammies. In this case, you may wish to offer bottled water as an alternative. You could also use a water filter before giving any water to your pet.
Whether you give your hamster tap water or bottled water make sure that you give it to your hamster as is and don’t be tempted to add anything to it such as vitamin drops.
If your hamster diet is complete, there is no need for vitamin drops and you’ll just be fouling the water and wasting your money.
Another thing to consider is that buying bottled water can work out a lot more expensive, so you should give your hamster tap water where possible.
How often do hamsters drink water? Hamsters don’t tend to drink water very often and they only drink about a teaspoon of water per day, although they do drink more than this when it is warm.
Hamsters originate from desert or semi-desert conditions so they are designed to go for long periods without water or very little.
Because hamsters drink so little and often drink at night, you may not witness them drinking, but if you are concerned that your hamster is dehydrated, then you should contact your vet asap.
How to teach a hamster to drink from a water bottle? Most hamsters are very smart and will look around their cage for water, so they don’t usually need to be taught to drink from a water bottle.
If however you think that your hamster isn’t drinking from it’s water bottle, you can apply a tiny sliver of peanut butter to the end of the spout to encourage them to drink.
Will my hamster find the water bottle?
It is not uncommon for pet owners to be concerned that their hamster won’t be able to find the water bottle. But the good news is that these are inquisitive little creatures, and once they notice the spout, they will likely want to investigate.
Of course, you should place the bottle somewhere that the hamster is likely to see it and not in a corner behind a pile of toys; you want to make their life as easy as possible, after all.