Taming Ideas
By Linda Price
Question: How do I tame my hamster?

Answer: Most people focus on the animal itself when they talk about taming.  That’s not always the whole story, though.

I had an interesting experience this week.  We help adopt abandoned hamsters (as well as other rodents) at the annual Pet Expo in Southern California.  Each adoption includes a signed contract and adoption fee.  In return, they receive the animal(s), a sample of aspen bedding, a sample of lab block food, and some care sheets.  Most owners are happy with their animals.  This week, though, I got a call from a very angry mother.  It has been almost two months since she adopted a dwarf hamster, and she claimed it had become a nasty beast.  So I went to pick it up.

During our discussion and by observing the cage set up, I found three things which probably contributed to the change in this hamster.  (I actually had this hamster at my house for a month before its adoption and knew its temperament then.)

1. It had been on cedar shavings.  The mother complained that the eye was sometimes closed, and I noticed some missing fur around the eye.  I had seen these symptoms before from cedar shavings.  In this case the hamster had been switched from aspen, the least irritating wood shaving, to cedar, the most irritating wood shaving on the market.  With cedar, the skin often gets red and irritated as well as itchy.  This is bound to make any hamster irritable and cranky.

2. The hamster was having to walk and sleep on a wire cage bottom.  She had purchased an expensive cage and assumed they knew what they were doing with the wire cage bottom.  This poor hamster had a little nest in one little corner and wire everywhere she walked.  With each step, she had to watch her footing or fall through.  I did not see open sores on her feet and shins as I have seen from wire wheels, but clearly not being able to walk anywhere within the cage without hurting her feet would irritate any hamster.

3. The mother was giving her toilet paper to make a nest.  Each night she removed the toilet paper and gave her new toilet paper.  Each night the hamster had to re-make her nest.  I suspect this was stressful and irritating to the poor hamster – especially since she had to do it while walking on wire.  The mother did say the hamster put a lot of work into building her nest every night.  She claimed that she removed it since it smelled.

So taming an irritable and cranky hamster may involve more than the hamster itself.  It can involve the environment in which the hamster lives.  This hamster was and is again a very friendly hamster.  When put in an improper environment, though, she became a "nasty beast."  Evaluate the environment your hamster is in.  Try to think like a hamster and eliminate any irritants or stressors.  This will aid in creating a friendly and well-adjusted hamster.
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