Life With Your First Hamster

One hamster owner realizes how little she knew and how much preparation helps when adopting a pet hamster.

Life with a hamster can be wonderful. Via Sara Spildener/Flickr

By Martha Boden

“The clerk handed me this adorable, little, gray fluffball. He scampered to my shoulder, reached to lean against my cheek and licked me.”

With that, a dwarf hamster earned the name “Puppy,” helped a woman find joy and inspired a home for hundreds of hamsters in need. He was the first hamster ever owned by Jane Landis, who became a hamster rescuer in California.

“He was the part of my heart I didn’t know I’d been missing,” Landis said. “We all have fond memories of our first pet, but this little guy shaped my life and home for years to come.”

Learning Along The Way

Landis admits that bringing Puppy home would have been much easier with a little preparation. “I did absolutely everything wrong,” Landis said. “We’d found a nice habitat at a yard sale and headed for the pet shop on impulse. We didn’t even think of checking area shelters or rescue groups. I didn’t know anything about any small animals, so I pointed out the cage we had and let the clerk choose. I bought the food and bedding she recommended. Now I realize how blessed I was that she was actually knowledgeable about hamsters. I truly should have known better.”

It didn’t take long to find out how little she really knew. “Puppy was still the only hamster I’d ever seen. The first time he emptied food from his cheek pouches, I thought he was having a seizure. I had no idea how many of the basics I had to learn — from behavior to enrichment and nutrition.”

“The Internet was much smaller 15 years ago, but I took notes, bookmarked trustworthy web pages, and learned from other people’s experiences — everything I should have done before bringing a pet home. I put a list of dangerous foods on the refrigerator, kept a strict daily schedule and cleaning routine, and made sure a trusted friend was willing to ‘ham-sit’ if needed. When a lady posted about a local vet that helped her rat, I saved the information.”

That proved lifesaving. “One day Puppy woke up very sick, struggling to breathe. I’d read that when hamsters finally show symptoms of illness that they’ve probably been sick for a while. That vet treated his pneumonia, giving us more than another year together. I didn’t even realize that most vets don’t have experience treating rodents or how lucky I was to have found one before I needed her!”

dwarf hamster by hand
© Courtesy Jane Landis
Puppy inspired Jane Landis to learn all she could about hamsters and their care.

Changes For The Better

As much as Landis needed to learn to be a good caregiver, it was Puppy who helped most. “No one else had been able to get me to seek out people and make friends, but wanting to learn about Puppy did the trick. He was such an easy boy too — clever and curious, demonstrative of his preferences, and eager for daily playtime out of the cage. His routine quickly became mine, and gave me so much to look forward to each day. He had me wrapped around his teeny, little paddy-paws. It wasn’t long before I realized I’ll probably always have hamsters.”

A Hamster Rescue Is Born

Knowing that hamsters have short life spans, Landis planned to bring home a new one every six months, so there would be lively youngsters in the house as seniors reached the twilight months. That worked for a little over six months, till her favorite pet-shop clerk asked her to take a little one whose brothers were being rough with him. Dwarf hamsters can often be kept in same-sex pairs or small groups if they’re littermates or introduced very young. But these brothers were all bullying the same boy, and he needed a home by himself.

“It wasn’t long till that opened the door to rescue work. Now I laugh at the six-month plan. It was a great idea – I’m just a couple hundred years off schedule.”

Landis has now rescued hundreds of hamsters over the years, and she also started a Yahoo group about diabetic hamsters.

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Article Categories:
Critters · Hamsters