The Turmoils of the Only Child

While it is true hamsters experience less turmoil when housed alone, there is something to be said for rodent camaraderie.

A litter can be caged together until weaned and then absolutely must be separated by gender, as brother and sister will mate, shamelessly, with each other. Adults should never be housed together, and regardless of age, never different breeds. Bitter, bloody turf wars will take place daily, involving issues such as the rationing of food and the exact latitude and longitude of pee corner.

With all of this in mind, I have found they thrive when given the opportunity to hob-nob and network with each other. I often place occupied cages directly next to each other, with only cage bars between them.

My most recent line-up involved 2 girls, (Judy and Olive), and 1 boy, (Bruce). Bruce absolutely cherished being the only male. It was as if he was John Ritter in Three’s Company. Bruce took every opportunity to gossip and impress the ladies with flirtatious acrobatics. They didn’t seem to mind his efforts.

Bruce grew old and contracted a skin disease, which I suspect originated from an escape culminating in a 24 hour camp-out behind the fridge.  His ailment caused him to shed his lustrous black fur. He looked feeble and frightening, but was undaunted. He was not weakened spiritually and continued to exercise every opportunity to take center stage. I truly believe the ladies’ presence kept him alive, and happy right up to the end.



After Bruce was laid to rest, the ladies were not quite the same. He had been the bulk of their entertainment. Shortly thereafter, Judy passed. She was the same age as Bruce so I was not surprised, but perhaps her broken heart hastened her exit.

Significantly younger, Olive remains the only hamster in the neighborhood. Although I feed her the same and give her just as many hugs and TV time as I always have, her spirit seems to have dulled a bit. She is now an only child…imaginary friends can only sustain for so long.


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Furry and Festive

Since 2006, I have issued the annual “Hamster Christmas Card”.  It was the personalized kind, where one added in a photo and a friendly greeting.  These types of cards have traditionally been used to showcase a growing family, or feature everyone who works at your dentist office.  My cards starred my current hamster line-up.

Initially, these creeped out the recipients.  Apparently they had never received a Hamster Christmas Card before.  Was I onto something new and groundbreaking?  Like I always say, hamsters just don’t get enough face time, (with the exception of the KIA car commericals).

Most people I know DO NOT think outside the box.  In fact, they don’t think outside the box inside another box, inside a Ziploc, wrapped in wax paper.   Were they complaining because they got too many Hamster Christmas Cards?  Were they overwhelmed?  Was this idea somehow worse than the cards illustrating Santa parked on a toilet or Rudolph gabbing on a cell phone?  Nevertheless, I sent them to family and friends, distributed them among co-workers, sprinkled a few around the common areas of my workplace.  This activity met with curious looks and mild irritation by those who cited, “bad experiences with rodents”.  Remember the box-box-Ziploc-wax paper situation?  I digress.

As the 2007 holiday season approached, I revisited the Hamster Christmas Card scenario, this time, with the current hamster roster.  Ditto 2008, 2009, etcetera, etcetera.  To my pleasant surprise, recipients seemed to look forward to each year’s card, complaining bitterly if theirs got lost in the mail.  I was thrilled.  There was hope for civilization after all.

Hamster and Wise Man

Hamster and Wise Man

But all things must come to an end.  In the last year or two, I have noticed a waning interest in my greeting cards.  Most people don’t even send standard Christmas cards anymore.  Had my Season’s Greetings become an annual nuisance?

Now is the time to design and order cards for Christmas 2013, but perhaps I will refrain to see if anyone notices.  Seven years was a good run.  Maybe those cards still out there on rarely serviced bulletin boards and refrigerator doors, might be worth money someday, when I become famous – or infamous.

As I blog about this, I am allowing you to implement my idea.  Keep in mind, hamster compliance is minimal.  They love being photographed, swigging egg-nog, and cramming their cheek pouches full of savory tinsel, but getting the perfect shot is a struggle.  But being different is worth it.

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My Invention

Hamsterfinder 3000

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Charm School or The Hamster Whisperer

Bonding through idle gossip

Bonding through idle gossip

Socializing is critical if you desire a friendly pet.  It does not take a great deal of time or finely honed inter-personal skills.   Pick them up and talk to them a little, at least twice a day if even if for just a minute.  They will become accustomed to you, your scent, and your loud booming people voice.  It is an easy way to monitor their health and learn their personality.  Once they understand who you are and grasp that you mean no harm, they will be less likely to bite.  They may even begin to look forward to your daily chats, preparing talking points as their way of contributing to the conversation.

If they are still in the biting phase, allow them to climb into something, like a dish.  Remove the dish from the cage, with the hamster inside, and visit with them from the security of that enclosure.  Offer them a treat.  Hamsters, like people, respond favorably to a bribe.

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Boys, Girls, and Sharpies

Determining Gender

It is a struggle to determine the gender of babies.  I suspect they deliberately attempt to conceal this for their own amusement.  Before their fur coat has fully grown in, I have been tempted to mark the top of their heads with a Sharpie pen, just to keep track.

Determine the gender of babies as soon as possible, as shortly after weaning, brothers and sisters must be separated, otherwise they mate with one another.

As they mature, their gender becomes very obvious, and sometimes frighteningly so.

Which to Chose?

Olive is on the prowl!

Olive is on the prowl!

There are pros and cons to both genders.  If you are completely new to hamsters, I would have to say a male would be the easiest to socialize.  I have found the males to be more sociable, easy-going and laid back.  The only really obvious down-side to keeping a male hamster as a pet is its genitalia.  When the weather is warmer, a male hamster’s genitalia can account for a third of the body size and weight.  It is quite vulgar and shocking to those who don’t expect it.  Never fear.  They shrink down to a normal ratio when the temperature is cooler.  If you panic and rush the swollen gonads to the nearest 24 hour veterinary clinic, they will all have a good laugh at your expense.

Females seem very focused on mating when in heat, preparing for mating season, and keeping out the riff-raff.  Females are more likely to bite; more likely to misunderstand your intentions, and less inclined to trust.  Females are also much, much stinkier than their male counterpart.  When the female is in heat, which is about 1/2 the time, they give off a strong odor I can only describe as a cross between skunk spray and that foul dime store vanilla perfume.

P.S. I have never actually written on a hamster with a Sharpie.

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You smell like cookies!

OMG! You smell like cookies!

Hamsters are very sensitive to smells. Do not wear heavy perfumes, lotions or bathe in odorous foods.  It is distressing to see a hamster wretch because you have just given yourself a manicure and still reek of acetone nail polish remover. 

If you smell strongly of food, you may get bitten.  You look suspiciously like a salami sandwich to them.

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A Doctor in the House?

What doesn't kill you, makes you stranger.

What doesn’t kill you, makes you stranger.

Veterinary services are severely inadequate for hamsters and the like.  I once rushed Beast E McSofty to the veterinary clinic at Petsmart, as he was rapidly losing weight, no longer erecting elaborate forts, and was producing questionable looking fecal matter.   Although the vet was very compassionate, he explained he only received one day of small animal training, which is customary.  He gave Beast a saline injection, for dehydration, and sent us home with antibiotics.  Beast died later in the week, but it was clear to me there were very few treatable hamster ailments.

Hamsters can perish from diarrhea, but it is easily addressed with over-the-counter drops put in their water bottle.  Watch their poops.  When they seem overly enlarged or shriveled like tiny prunes, you might have a problem. 

Diarrhea is also known as wet-tail, because they actually get a wet bottom.  I find it is a good practice, that during every visit with them, if you take a quick glance at this area, just to make certain everything jives. 

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Potty Training and Prenups

One of us is gonna have to hit the road!

It’s not you, it’s me.

Hamsters will potty train on their own.  When they are babies, they are completely oblivious as to what comes out the other end.  They run and play while peeing.  They don’t know why there is always a trail leading to them. 

As they mature, they acquire a consciousness of their waste product.  Most will select an exclusive corner of their living space they will deem the toilet.  Once they decide, they won’t deviate from this.  If they do, there may be another problem.  If they suddenly void in a different location, it may signal time to clean the cage, or perhaps someone has switched your pet with a phony look-alike?

Some will deny the poo even came from them.  They will find a random poop, shake their fist at it, and launch it through the cage bars.  I suppose this is why I often find these little presents several feet from away.

My more fastidious creatures have taken to organizing their poops; lining them up and categorizing them.

It is best to house adult hamsters separately as they are not likely to come to a consensus on where they potty is located, nor what method to implement when cataloguing the “collection”.  These disagreements will lead to violent arguments, and eventually bitter divorce. 

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A Proper Wheel or “Great Knees of Fire”

Mesh Wheel - Wise Choice

Mesh Wheel – Wise Choice

With hand and foot injuries in mind, I feel compelled to warn about the type of toys and apparatus you choose for your furry friend.  Most hamsters prefer a wheel in their cage.  Choose one that comes apart into several different pieces quickly.  I say this, as it seems to be the source of most injuries.  When you hear the tell-tale scream, you can dismantle the wheel quickly, freeing the scorned extremity. 

Hamster wheels are relatively inexpensive, so if yours is rusty or has open areas that often catch an unsuspecting paw, get rid of it, and invest in a different model.  In my early hamster years, wheels were constructed like ladder rungs.  Hamster feet would often slip through the rungs.  They would skin their knees, but continue running.  You really want to save them from this. 

Although they don’t seem very self-conscious about their knees, these wounds could be vulnerable to infection.

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First Rule of Fight Club – Hamster Style

Fight Club

Fight Club

Hamster skirmishes can be brutal.  Territory disputes and misunderstandings fuel many a violent brawl.  Ears are permanently torn, fur ripped off the spine and hands and feet bloodied. 

In one instance, I recall one of my guys ripping the fur off the other’s back.  It was a gaping hole in the coat about 1 inch by 1 inch.  The victim seemed to take the injury in stride so I applied Neosporin the injury twice a day and the fur eventually grew back.

Healing of hand and foot injuries are a little less successful.  My guys have completely freaked out when their hands and feet have been injured or caught in a toy, cage door, or booby trap.  Try to remove the hand or foot from the trap despite the screams, as hamsters generally cannot fix the problem alone.  They can die from this type of accident, and I have awoken to the aftermath the next morning. 

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