22 Feb 2007

Hamster love (and an ode* to mine own escape artist)

a ball of wild abandon
What is it about this picture that makes me want to gently take up this little thing in my hands, curl it into a ball and squeeze it to my heart?

Its shiny little eyes and wild matted hair fill me with admiration, because even though we have tried to domesticate this creature for countless generations, it has never lost it’s wild spirit or desire for freedom. Almost every hamster I have ever known has spent countless hours planning and scheming the Great Escape, and most succeed. I only once ever had a hamster as a pet, when I was small and didn’t know any better, and it was the grumpiest and angriest creature I have ever cared for. All night long he would throw things around in his cage in fit or rage, chew at the plastic base relentlessly and rattle at the door, until finally one day his cage dropped off the table, split apart and released him to his freedom… sadly he ran towards freedom straight into the path of my stone blind cat Leila. My mother and brother discovered his toyed with, bloody body lying limply on the floor when they returned home a few hours later. He had come so close… and fought bravely for his life, but with the determination of a man who was also fighting for freedom.

Knowing what I know now, I would never have kept a hamster in captivity. And if for some reason I have to look after someone else’s hamster for a while while they are away, I would do a lot of things differently to make its captive life a lot more enjoyable…

In the wild, hamsters live solitary hermit lives in their little burrows and only get together socially when they want to get it on. So they really don’t like to have to share their space with another hamster. Seeds for breakfast lunch and supper make for a boring diet – they also find roots, plants and invertebrates super tasty.

Hamsters in the wild live in desert regions, and understanding their natural habitat can go a long way in understanding what makes your hamster most comfortable. They are used to sleeping through very hot days and foraging for food at night when its cooler. So let them get their full cycle of sleep during the day. They don’t want to be woken up rudely to perform for friends or be forced to sleep in a noisy room. They like and need to expend a lot of energy at night, foraging and running around. Did you know that in the wild, hamsters run around for several miles (an incredible feat for such a small, short-legged creature) each and every night in the hunt for food? This is why its crucial to supply a hamster wheel – without the ability to run around they simply go mad with frustration or sink into depression. The best kind of wheel to use is the solid plastic clip on type as the ladder type with rungs causes a lot of injuries — long-haired hamsters get caught in them all the time. Run-about balls are fun (if you don’t have curious cats) but shouldn’t be used as a primary source of exercise as they don’t cater for the amount of running around a hamster needs to do or allow it to take breaks etc.

Syrian hamsters naturally hibernate when the temperature drops. They might appear to be dead but they’re often not. Many hamsters have been buried alive because their owners think they are dead.

Another amazing fact about hamsters is that they absolutely LOVE to burrow in the sand. Sometimes they burrow several meters. This is why they often scratch up the sawdust and newspaper you lay down in the cage – they really want to be able to dig deeply and love to completely cover themselves in sand as much as a piggy loves to roll around in the mud. It makes them endlessly happy. Creating a large habitat for a hamster with plants, a varied diet, some crunchy live treats, a wheel and a deep sandpit to burrow in is probably the ultimate solution for your captive creature. Hiding nuts and seeds under the sand for them to discover is fun for them too.

* Ode: In this case, an unlyric non-poem with simplified stanza forms.


  • nathan
    February 23, 2007 Reply

    What? First of all, Begorah was the one I was talking about and I don’t know about the Raoul thing but I certainly didn’t name him that…

    Anyway, girls can’t be trusted with hamster naming.

  • Nykki
    February 23, 2007 Reply

    Well I’m glad that you think that “Ryan” was the “only pet worth having, the apple of my youthic life icona” because his name was Rauol, and if I’m not mistaken you stole him from me and named him that ridiculous name. I probably had something picked out like “fluffy” or “kitty”.

  • nathan
    February 22, 2007 Reply

    Once I had a hamster get stuck in a little plastic Huggie drink barrel and had to surgically remove it using scissors. No, that happened twice.

    And once I left my hamsters, Ryan and Begorah, visit Bob’s hamsters in their half assed, duct taped excuse for a cage that he had his in and mine set to work escaping the whole lot.

    Ryan was an ill-tempered brute of a bully, and Begorah was the only pet I’ve ever had worth having, the apple of my youthic life icona, and together with Bob’s halfwitted bunch they would need to brave a yard with an active mower, a small creek, forest wildlife and a 2 lane highway if they wanted to see freedom…

  • Ms. Wakame
    February 22, 2007 Reply

    Hahaha! Cait you sicko! Man thats just great. Seriously though, how preoccupied must you be with your lit in life to run straight into a blind cat.

    Niq that last hamster of yours sounded VERY happy. Usually they dont live past 3, but to live several years is an amazing feat!

  • Cait
    February 22, 2007 Reply

    Our kids had several hamsters over the years. They were little escape artists. But they always went to the same exact place when they escaped, a corner of the entry hall closet. Fortunately, none of the cats every got one.

    I know it was a childhood tragedy for you, but I have to confess when you got to the part about how it managed to run into your blind cat, I laughed. Not such good survival instincts, huh?

  • Niqkita
    February 22, 2007 Reply

    I had quite a few hamsters, especially before I discovered rats. The first few were miserable little captives who died within weeks of coming home from the five & dime store. By the time I was 10 I knew better than to pester them constantly and had a teddy bear hamster named Solomon who lived to be nearly 3, he was always sweet and never seemed unhappy with his lot in life. I didn’t have another til I was much older and by the time I found the little version like the one in the picture I had a much better idea what to do with them. So my last hamster was a little Siberian who lived alone in a tank nearly filled with dirt that he was free to burrow in endlessly. I never handled him, just let him live his little life which he did joyously for several years; digging, eating and sleeping, he was one content little beastie.

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