USEFUL KNOWLEDGE

TRANSPORTING YOUR HAMSTER

A very important item every hamster owner should have is a portable travel pod or cage.
Travel cages are extremely useful for a variety of situations such as vet visits, emergencies, as a holding area during cage cleaning or when moving house. 
Sometimes cardboard boxes are used to transport hamsters. However a hamster can easily chew through the cardboard and escape. This is not very safe, especially for a situation where the hamster needs to be contained for a significant length of time.

Plastic travel pods like the ones pictured can be bought in many pet supply shops.

Hamster owners who started out with a tiny plastic pet shop cage, and have since upgraded to a larger enclosure, can re-purpose the small cage as a travel pod. Small cages like this are awful as full-time enclosures, and we don’t recommend buying them; but if you already have one and remove the accessories they can make good transport cages.

Hamsters can get very stressed out when being put into a new environment, and a travel pod is no exception.

One of the best ways to calm your hamster is to add substrate from their main enclosure to the travel pod before putting them in. The old bedding will have your hamster’s familiar scent on it and this will help them feel comfortable and secure. It’s important to pack travel pods quite full with bedding as this will help prevent the hamster from sliding around during transport.

If your travel cage has space to securely mount a water bottle then it’s best to do so. If not, then a slice of cucumber or apple can help hydrate your hamster on short journeys. Make sure to include some seed mix too in case they get hungry, and for longer trips include a few chews or treats to keep your hamster occupied.

As with all enclosures, keep your hamster’s travel pod out of direct sunlight at all times. Cars can become very hot, especially in summer, so try to keep the travel cage in a cooler, shaded area. Adding hides or other large items is not advised in a travel cage. Movement can cause them to slide about, and your hamster might get injured from an object falling on them. If you’d like to add some shelter for your hamster, small cardboard tubes or boxes work best, as they are light and won’t cause any harm.

Moving house with a hamster.

Moving house can be stressful even if you don’t have any pets. With hamsters, you need to be a little more prepared. Try to travel during the day when your hamster will naturally spend most of it’s time asleep.


Get the hamster used to being in the travel pod for a few weeks before you travel. They need to learn that the carrier is a safe place. Before the move, put your hamster in the carrier for short periods of time. This will help them learn that whenever they go into the carrier, they will always be returned to their cage again.

Depending on the size and style of their main enclosure, transporting may be difficult. Some large enclosures can still fit in a car or removal van intact, and can be setup immediately in the new location. Others can be taken apart and re-assembled reasonably quickly, meaning your hamster can stay in the travel pod during this time.

However, some enclosures can be awkward to transport and take a long time to setup. If you think it will take more than a few hours to get the enclosure ready in your new home then it’d be best to have a storage bin available to house your hamster in the meantime. Try to be as prepared as possible so your hamster spends only as long as necessary in a temporary setup. Again, some old bedding should also be brought alongside the enclosure to help your hamster settle in.

If you’re moving to a different country, it would be best to travel by boat. If flying is your only option, contact the airline to see if they will allow your hamster to stay with you on board rather than going in the hold. This way you can keep a close eye on them. If you can travel by boat you may be told you need to book a kennel, but from experiences we’ve heard about, the crew will allow your hamster to stay with you as the kennels are for larger pets. It’s a lot easier and more comfortable for yourself and the hamster this way.

SEASONAL CARE

Summer

Hamsters should ideally be kept at temperatures between 15°C and 25°C.
The Irish summer is generally not very harsh, and luckily, (for our hamsters!), it is rare for even summer temperatures to exceed 25°C. However, it should be kept in mind that inside temperatures can often become much warmer than outdoors. Heat can also build up in our houses during the day, so when our hamsters wake up in the evening it can still be very warm.

Most hamsters are from semi-desert climates, aren’t they used to extreme heat? It is true that wild hamsters live in and around deserts. However, their key to survival here is their deep burrow systems. Tunnels extending deep into the ground are significantly cooler than out in the open. A hamster can spend the hot daytime hidden underground, and only emerge towards night time when temperatures begin to drop. This is another reason why deep substrate is crucial in a hamster’s enclosure, as this is how they naturally regulate their temperature.

Tips for keeping your hamster cool in the summer:
Keep ceramics (mugs, tiles, etc.) in your fridge for an hour (or more). When your hamster wakes up, place one in their enclosure until it gets to room temperature, then you can replace it with another.

Keep air circulating in your home by keeping doors and windows open, but do not leave a barred enclosure directly in a draught. If it’s very humid, get the fan out. It will help keep air moving which helps cool the room. Warm air rises, so move your hamster’s enclosure onto the floor, and, if possible, to the ground floor or basement of your house.

Close the curtains and pull the blinds down to keep the sun rays out. This will help prevent heat building up in the house. Never leave a hamster’s cage in direct sunlight, especially glass enclosures. The glass will amplify the heat, and so inside the enclosure will become significantly hotter than the surrounding room temperature.

Keep water bowls and bottles full. Make sure your hamsters always have enough water to stay hydrated. Ensure water bottles are not jammed or blocked. Cool water is enough, it’s not recommended to give ice cubes or ice water as this may be too cold for the hamster.

Every few days, it might be nice to feed your hamster baby food pouches (pictured). Keep them in the fridge so they’re nice and cool for dinner time. Syrians can have more of the fruit flavoured pouches than dwarves, as dwarves are prone to diabetes.
IMPORTANT: Not all baby foods are safe for hamsters. Always check ingredient lists to ensure they only contain safe foods for your hamster. Keep portions very small. The size of your hamster’s ear is a good reference.

Signs of heatstroke in hamsters:
Hamsters can develop organ failure due to heatstroke which can result in death.
Once heatstroke sets in your hamster may appear lifeless and floppy, with little to no movement. If this is the case you need to seek vet care immediately. Try to cool the hamster down by placing them in a colder area, or applying a small amount of water to their stomach and legs with a sponge.

Early signs of heatstroke include: 
Heavy or rapid breathing
Drooling
Bright red gums (or even blue)
Rapid heart rate
Less urination

How to check the temperature of your hamster’s enclosure:
If you haven’t already, buy a thermometer like the one pictured.
Place it on your hamster’s enclosure (out of their reach) and check it often in summer and winter.

Take a screenshot:

Winter

Now that you know how to keep your hamster cool during the summer, it’s time to learn how to keep them warm during the winter. As we said before, Irish summers don’t pose as much of a threat as it would in other countries. But Irish winters can be harsh enough to have an effect on our little ones. The most important thing to remember is to do your best to keep the temperature in their room at about 20 degrees during the winter, this ensures its warm enough and not borderline where it could get dangerous.

Tips for keeping your hamster cool in the summer:
If possible, keep blinds and curtains closed in the room your hamster is in. This will form a barrier between your cold window and the air in the room, helping it stay warmer.

Provide them with more bedding and make sure it’s super compact. This helps their body heat stay in the nest. Hay is a good insulator, so try to mix some meadow hay in to the bedding before compacting.

Feed them more sunflower seeds, this helps them gain healthy weight that they can use to stay warm.

Make sure your hamsters enclosure isn’t caught by draughts.

If you can, add a small heater to the room that you can leave on low for an hour or two before going to bed. Always make sure you turn it off as constant heat over night can be dangerous for you and your house as well as your hamster. Halogen heaters should never be left unattended for too long which is why an hour before bed is the best time to use them. This will make sure there is enough heat in the room through the cold night and your blinds and curtains being closed will help keep the heat in.

If possible. move the enclosure to a warmer room or against an internal wall rather than an external wall, or at the very least, move it away from the external wall. Walls can be quite cold so try to create as much distance as possible.

Put towels/blankets under or around the cage to provide more insulation. Make sure your hamster can’t chew through them though.

Adding a hemp mat flooring to the enclosure will help keep the heat in. It will form a barrier between your hamster and the enclosure floor which may get cold.

Multi-chamber hides provide more protection from draughts so if you don’t have one, find one! They’re a great investment not just for winter, but your hamster will thank you for the permanent addition as they replicate how they burrow in the wild.

During winter, it’s important to keep an eye on your hamster and be vigilant about keeping them warm. When hamsters get too cold, they may enter a state called Torpor. This is very dangerous for hamsters and occurs when they are too cold to regulate their bodies as usual. For more information on Torpor, click here.

REMEMBER: HAMSTERS DO NOT HIBERNATE.

Tink showing off her hemp flooring in her “hospital” enclosure.

ANTHROPOMORPHISM

What is Anthropomorphism?
Anthropomorphism can be defined as the attribution of human characteristics or behaviour to an animal, or object.
It’s when we project our own thoughts, emotions, and experiences onto our hamster in different situations. This applies not only to hamsters, but other pets too.

Why is it bad?
Humans and animals have very different emotions, thoughts, and body language. For example, humans smile when they are happy. But for chimpanzees, a smile is seen as an aggressive facial expression. In a similar way, animals also display body language that humans can misinterpret. We lick our lips when we think of tasty food, and while dogs do the same, they can also lick their lips to signal nervousness or anxiety.

Some people see a hamster running in an exercise ball. They see it as a hamster having fun because, as humans, we think it’d be fun to be running around in a ball (anyone ever play bubble soccer?!). But hamsters don’t think like we do, they see the world differently. They are prey animals, it’s in their nature to be alert and they need to be able to hide as soon as danger approaches. Being in an exercise ball is very scary for them because they cannot hide. They are being put into a situation where they cannot willingly control their movements. So just because a human might think that it is fun, does not mean it’s appropriate to project our feelings onto the hamster.

Another example is letting your dog or cat near your hamster’s cage. You may know your cat is a gentle animal and wouldn’t hurt any living thing. You may know your dog has never bitten anyone before or even chased a squirrel, so you know they are no danger to your hamster. So, you allow them to approach your hamster’s cage. But just because you aren’t scared of your dog or cat, does not mean your hamster isn’t.
Even the presence of another pet in the same room as your hamster can make them incredibly scared and stressed. They do not think like you do. They do not know your dog is not going to hurt them, or that your cat just likes to sleep on the cage and would never be able to reach them inside.
A hamster smells a predator, it senses shapes, shadows, loud noises and movement outside the cage. As a hamster, this is very stressful and scary. In the wild, this fear of predators is how they stay alive. It’s in their nature. So, it isn’t fair to project our sense of calm onto our hamster in this situation and to presume they feel the same as we do. They don’t.

Climbing the cage bars, it’s fun right? As humans, climbing walls are great fun and good exercise, so this is the same for our hamsters? No. Hamsters aren’t natural climbers and so this is a stress or boredom behaviour due to a poor cage environment.

Empathy

Rather than anthropomorphising our hamsters, and presuming they feel the same as we do about situations, we should be empathising with them. Empathy means we understand their feelings and needs, rather than presuming, try to see the world from their point of view. Treat it like “putting yourself in their shoes”. Imagine how situations would be for a very small animal rather than a human.
Is your hamster’s cage too small? Imagine what it’s like to be a very active animal trapped in there for your entire life. Is your hamster’s back curved when using their wheel? Think about how uncomfortable that must be when your only form of exercise causes you pain. Want to play with your hamster but they aren’t awake? Think about how it’d feel to be a hamster sleeping in a nest, only to have the roof lifted off your house and have a giant stare in at you!

It’s only when we have empathy for our pets that we can really give them the best care and be able to make sure they are healthy and happy. Hamsters exist to be hamsters. They don’t exist to please us or to do what we say. They don’t owe us anything. As pet owners, we owe them. We owe them respect and the care they deserve, regardless of our own needs and wants.

HAMSTER CARE ON A BUDGET

Before getting a hamster, it’s important to note that they may cost more than you initially realise. Hamsters (or any pet) are a privilege, and not a right. If you cannot afford a hamster, then do not get one. If you’re struggling to keep the hamster you currently have, adding another is probably not a good idea. As a pet owner, you owe it to your pet to give them a proper life and it is your responsibility to ensure they get all the care they need. While there are certain aspects that will require a lot of money, there are also ways you can cut corners to save money. Below is a list of the things that may be more expensive than you first thought and how you may be able to save a few euro where appropriate.

THINGS YOU SHOULD NOT TRY TO SAVE MONEY ON

Cage: As we all know, cages that meet the minimum requirements of your hamster’s species can be hard to come across, and with added shipping costs, they are usually one of the most expensive items your hamster will require. Buying a suitable cage should be considered an investment. It may cost you anywhere from €50-200 for a suitable cage, with DIY cages being generally cheaper. However, if you look after your hamster’s cage well, you’ll be able to sell it when you don’t need it anymore and make back a lot of the money you initially spent. It’s better to buy a suitably sized cage for €100 and sell it for €60 after a few years, than to spend €60 on a tiny pet shop cage and then be unable to sell it because it doesn’t meet the minimum requirements.

Wheel: Another area where it is not recommended to cut corners. Always ensure your hamster has an appropriately sized wheel. Plastic wheels can be bought relatively cheap if you don’t want to splash out on a high quality super-silent wooden wheel.

Wheels (and cages) are items you can get second hand, keep an eye on any resale sites and the Hamster Info Ireland facebook group in case someone is selling their unused items at a fraction of the original price.

Food (seed mix): Your hamster’s food is very important, as it’s what will keep them healthy. It’s recommended that you feed your hamster a high-quality seed mix that is appropriate for their species. While these mixes are often a lot more expensive than the bags of food in popular pet stores, you can usually save money by buying in bulk. So, while it may look like a lot at first, you’ll end up saving yourself money in the long run. There is a seed mix available from Maxi Zoo that has over 40 ingredients and is only €4 for 500g and it’s available online, so there is no excuse to be feeding your hamster a mix that is full of added sugars, colourings and preservatives.

Vet: Vet care should never be overlooked (although it often is!) as it’s one of the expensive parts of owning a hamster. Check-ups can be anywhere from €30-€60, and sometimes over €80 for out of hours appointments. Scans, medication, and surgeries can cost well into the hundreds of euros. Sometimes this can be sudden, so it’s always recommended to have some money put aside for such occasions. If you don’t need to use the fund, then it’s all the better, but with hamster insurance being pretty much non-existent, your bank balance may be a matter of life or death for your hamster.

THINGS YOU CAN SAVE MONEY ON

Hamster: 
Hamsters are generally pretty cheap to adopt, being roughly €10 -€25. Unfortunately, this can sometimes “set the stage” and make people think that they are a cheap pet and that they do not need much money in order to own one. Rescues have very small adoption fees, and from time to time you may see “free to good home” ads from people who can no longer take care of their pet.

Accessories: 
This is definitely an area where corners can be cut. Loads of accessories can be made from easy to find or recycled materials like cardboard, egg cartons and lollipop sticks. There are loads of tutorials online for how to make digging towers, platforms, hides, bridges, and all sorts of different things. Your hamster will appreciate a shoe box hide just as much as a €30 wooden hide from a shop.

Food (treats): 
Hamster treats like yoghurt drops can be costly, so to save money you can feed certain human foods to your hamster. Fruits and vegetables, seeds, nuts, and plain cereals make great hamster treats. Seeds and nuts can also be bought in mixes or in bulk from most supermarkets and you’ll often find large bags of sunflowers seeds in the bird section of most pet shops. See our safe hamster food guide for more!

Bedding: 
Chipsi and Allspan are very cheap substrate options that are suitable for your hamster. Large bags can be bought for less than €20 and they will last a long time. Again, a properly sized cage will mean minimal clean outs, so the substrate will last much longer this way. Other substrates of course provide variety for your hamster but are not essential. A cheaper way to do this would be to use the inexpensive substrate for the bulk of the enclosure, and then use smaller amounts of the more expensive substrates. Tissue paper and napkins can be used in some areas of the enclosure and are very cheap and accessible.

Sand:
Some pet shops sell sand for rodents and reptiles, but they can be expensive for the amount you get. Children’s play sand is one of the cheapest ways to provide sand for your hamster, with some large bags being as little as €5. Just remember to bake children’s play sand at 180 degrees for an hour, allow it to cool and the pour it through a sieve before adding to your hamsters enclosure.

Home Wares:
Candle accessories are great for your set up, wax melt warmers make good hides, tealight holders are good water bowls and due to their shallowness are also safe to use.

Anything ceramic can be used during the summer to help cool your hamster. Wooden items are great, not only as furniture but safe to chew as well. Ikea and Flying Tiger have small home wares available all the time, they’re both quite sustainable shops, so a lot of their products are wooden, ceramic, or recycled plastic and so cheap.
Ceramic plant pots are another great alternative and can be used to add different substrates to the enclosure, salt pigs can be used for the same thing on a smaller scale.

LET'S COMPARE...

500g for €4
2000g = €16
(2000g lasts a year for one hamster)
47 high quality ingredients

400g for €5
2000g = €25
(2000g lasts a year for one hamster)
less than 10 ingredients, including nuggets that have no dietary benefit

150 Litres
€16.49
This fills a cage.

16 Litres
€2.49
10 packs would be needed to fill a cage
which would cost €24.90

DON'T BUY CHEAP, BUY SMART

END OF LIFE PLANS

Each of us will eventually need to plan for the time our hamster passes away. They have such short lives, so it’s up to us to give them the best life possible. Part of that is to make sure we’re prepared for when they leave us. The following steps will help make it as easy as possible.

MAKING AN END OF LIFE DECISION
The first thing to consider at the end of your hamster’s life is: Do you need to be the one to make the decision? Is your hamster in pain? Would it be best to have them put to sleep rather than live in pain for a few more days? You must consider their quality of life at this point. Don’t let them suffer just because you’re not ready to let them go.

SAVINGS
Make sure you have savings set aside. Sometimes, we may try to put them hamster through surgery or provide medication in order to attempt to save it’s life. Depending on the situation this can be costly. Sometimes we may need to make the decision to have our hamster put to sleep. This is never an easy decision, but more often than not, it’s necessary to put them out of pain, especially if they will never have a good quality of life. The vet will usually charge a small fee to put a hamster to sleep so it’s important to have the money to hand.

WHAT TO DO WITH THEIR CAGE & ACCESSORIES

Do you have a plan for your hamster’s old cage and accessories? Do you want to keep a few mementos? Do you want to sell the cage, or maybe you’d like to keep it and adopt another hamster in future? Where are you going to store it until you’re ready? It can be a good idea to have a plan in place, so it’s not overwhelming when the time comes. Some people have to take their time clearing the cage and will only do it when they feel ready. Others feel the need to clear it as soon as possible because seeing an empty cage is more upsetting. All people are different, and we all mourn in our own way.

MEMORIALS
Here are a few ideas on how you can remember your hamster: 

  • You can keep some of their belongings; 
  • Get a portrait done, or a paw print; 
  • Set up a little plant pot with their favourite things on top.
  • There are a few online hamster stores, such as Etsy, that create little namesake keychains & decorations that you might like to get.

BURY OR CREMATE?
If you decide you’re going to cremate your hamster this is an additional cost that you’ll have to factor into the end of life plan. Pet cremation services can offer a range of ways to display the ashes of your pet – whether it be a memorial box or a pendant, you’ll find the right option for you. If you decide to bury your hamster, you must ensure you place them in a box before burying. You also need to bear in mind if you’ll ever be moving house; are you ok leaving the pet behind? Maybe opt for a large plant pot – this way your pet can come with you wherever you go. There are certain laws about where you can bury your pet, so we recommend choosing a deep plant pot instead. Make sure it’s at least a foot deep to deter any larger pets digging in the area.

HOW TO COPE WITH THE LOSS OF YOUR HAMSTER
Everything previously mentioned will help you plan for when your hamster eventually passes away, but nothing can help you plan for the emotion you may feel. There are pet bereavement services available, and the Hamster Info Ireland team are always here to help too. We set up our Facebook group’s Rainbow album so that our members have a place to remember their hamsters together. We think it’s nice having our members’ hamsters immortalised in the group, showing they’re always with us.