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Friday, December 4, 2015


     Did you know it's illegal to own pet hamsters in Hawaii? The reason: the climate is similar to hamsters' natural desert habitat and agricultural and environmental officials have expressed concern that released or escaped hamsters could establish wild colonies and damage crops and native plants and animals.
      Hamsters make great pets, but their small size and reputation as a “starter pet” may encourage impulse acquisitions as pets for children. Even as an adult, these little guys are fun pets and being cute little buggers, they can be purchased on impulse. That's how I got Howard many years ago...I paid $0.50 for him at the flea market and ended up spending $50 buying him a cage to live in plus other accessories. It was money well spent though because he was a lot of fun. One thing...owning them is not like owning other pets.. hamsters don't live long...2.5 to 3 years, with slight variations among species.
      Remember though that hamsters are nocturnal and if you're a light sleeper, they can make a lot of noise at night! Parents often get hamsters for children who naturally want to play with them during the day, but that's not always such a good idea....hamsters suddenly from a sound sleep may bite. They are small, too, which means they have to be handled carefully and that is something that may be difficult for a child. They (hamsters, not kids) may also be startled by sudden movements and loud noises and that, and rough handling, can also cause them to bite.
      Younger children are also at greater risk for diseases that are can be passed from animals to humans because of their undeveloped immune systems. Kids under 5 are particularly vulnerable to the effects of salmonella, a type of intestinal bacteria that hamsters can carry. Although rare, hamsters have been known to carry a virus that can make young children sick. They can also cause illness in pregnant women! Hamsters can carry salmonella and it is possible for a pregnant woman to pass it on an unborn child.
      You also have to be very careful if you have more than one hamster because some are solitary and territorial and they will fight and inflict serious injuries to each other if not kept separate. A female who gives birth may kill and eat her babies if disturbed, so trying your hand at breeding them is not recommended. On the other hand, dwarf hamsters can live together if they are introduced to each other properly. But, why bother...one is enough.
     When you get a hamster it also requires the purchase of a bunch of other stuff: a cage, bedding, an exercise wheel, food dish, water bottle, food, treats and toys. Now you see why I ended up spending fifty bucks for a fifty cent hamster!
     Hamsters can entertain themselves (and you) provided they are supplied with toys and bedding that allows them to run, climb and burrow. I got Howard an exercise ball. It was a big, hollow plastic ball that I would put him in and let him run around on the floor. Be aware that hamsters are also escape artists! Howard figured out how to escape from his cage and he eventually figured out that if he wedged the ball up against something he could stretch out and twist his body in such a way that he could pop it open!  I found a roll of electrical tape was essential to tape up things like the ball at the joint, the cage latches and tube joints to keep him from escaping.
      When you bring one home it's stressful to them, so having their cage set up is important. If possible, the same type of food, bedding, and nesting materials they are used to should be used. Also, be careful of bedding material! Cedar and pine shavings are not appropriate and can cause health problems...use paper products.  One time I got the stupid idea that styrofoam might make good bedding material.  I put some in the blender to grind it up...a very bad idea.  You have no idea how much static electricity forms when you put that stuff in a blender; it would not make good bedding material anyway!
     Also, don't devil the little critter for a few days! It's recommended that you cover the cage with a light cloth for the first day or two to allow them to get acclimated. Also, don't handle them during that time, but do make sure they have fresh food and water.
      Make sure to clean their cage on a regular basis! If I didn't clean Howard's cage every few days he would attempt to do it himself by piling all the soiled bedding material up at one end of the cage, or sometimes he'd actually pack one of the cage tubes with the soiled bedding.
      Feeding is important but overfeeding can be a problem because they can get fat. About one tablespoon of pellets or seed mix once a day, supplemented by treats, is enough. One thing I quickly discovered about Howard was that he'd eat just about anything...cauliflower, apples, raisins, peppers and even onions. Another favorite treat that he went nuts over was...crickets. I'd catch one, throw it in the cage then watch him chase it down. It was enjoyable for him, fun for me, but the crickets probably didn't like it.
      Plastic feeding bowls aren't recommended...they can scratch and harbor bacteria. Be sure to place it away from their toilet area. Yes, they will only use one area for bathroom purposes. Can you blame them?
      There are several cage options, but I liked the plastic ones with lots of tubes and turrets for crawling, running and playing. The one I had allowed the addition of tubes and it eventually got quite large. They have to be kept in in a draft-free areas and you have to make sure they are never exposed to freezing temps which can kill them. If you're comfortable in the area, they should be OK, too. At the same time I had Howard, I also had Sweetpea, the cat, so it was important to make sure he didn't become prey even though I never witnessed any desire on Sweetpea's part to chase him down. But then Old 'Pea was well fed and lazy.
      Whatever happened to Howard? When he got old I think his vision went and he was very sluggish. I went away for the weekend and when I got back home I knew Howard had passed as soon as I walked in the house. The smell gave it away. Also, he was swollen up the size of a grapefruit and had a green sheen to him...pretty disgusting.   

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