In contrast to the Syrian hamsters, which are territorial toward other hamsters, the Campbell’s hamster (Phodopus campbelli) can be territorial when protecting its hamster cage from humans (more so than any of the other hamster species). They are prepared to fight and bite any intruder. This is most common with pregnant and nursing female Campbell’s, but same-sex pairs or individuals can also exhibit this behavior. Once the hamsters are removed from their cage, they are docile and easy to handle. You should always first read your hamster’s body language before interacting with your hamster.
If you find that you have a territorial Campbell’s hamster, minimize the chance of provoking an attack by using the following steps.
First, purchase a cage with good accessibility. Reaching into the far corners of a cage to retrieve a scared and territorial Campbell’s hamster usually results in a hamster bite.
Second, train the hamster to come out of the corners on its own. Use a ladle, drinking mug, open hamster ball, or other tool to safely remove the Campbell’s from the cage for playtime. Most Campbell’s hamsters learn that these utensils are “elevators” to playtime, and they will come running to stand on the tools to get out. If there is a child who regularly handles the hamsters, have the adults in the house condition the hamster through repetition to come to the item, and then train the child to always use this item to remove the hamster.
Territorial Campbell’s Hamster
You can often tell if a Campbell’s hamster will become territorial when it is young. The specific age territorialism appears depends on the individual hamster and its environment.
1. “Boxing” or swatting at you with its paws is a sign of possible territorialism or fear.
2. Having territorial parents can be a risk factor.
3. Being picked on or stressed when young or being roughly handled can encourage this behavior in a Campbell’s hamster. Housing different age groups together — such as when merging a young group of hamsters with an older group — may lead to the older hamsters picking on and stressing the younger hamsters. Young hamsters are chased and may develop poor socialization skills as a result. If a hamster is frequently picked up with gloves, scoops or other rough implements — especially when asleep in the safety of its nest home — this can also encourage territorialism and poor socialization.
When purchasing a Campbell’s hamster, observe how it is removed from its cage. Does the hamster seller put his or her bare hand into the cage and gently lift out the hamster? Does he or she respect the Campbell’s nest house and wake up the hamster before gently coaxing it out to meet you? Such actions indicate good husbandry practices and a better chance at the hamster being tame.
Note how the hamster responds to the touch of bare hands. If it displays a strong negative reaction, go elsewhere for your Campbell’s hamster. If the seller must chase the hamster to get it out of the cage or the seller won’t reach his or her bare hand into the cage to pick it up, be wary. Both actions indicate that the hamster hasn’t been properly socialized.
Such hamsters can be tamed with enough time and patience, but realize this and be prepared for challenges if you choose to adopt such a hamster.
Another factor to consider when choosing a Campbell’s hamster is getting one that lives in a group. Those that have lived a solitary life may not be able to adjust to companions.
Excerpt from the Popular Critters Series magabook Hamsters with permission from its publisher, BowTie magazines, a division of BowTie Inc. Purchase Hamsters here.