John C. Kirk (johnckirk) wrote,
John C. Kirk
johnckirk

Hello to the hamsters

A couple of weeks ago I adopted three Robo hamsters from Furry Friends; "Robo" is short for "Roborovski" (i.e. they're not cyborgs), and rhymes with "yobbo" rather than "hobo". They're dwarf hamsters, so they're a bit smaller than the normal Syrian variety, and they prefer to live in groups. In this case, someone bought two hamsters, thinking that they were the same sex, but it turned out that one was male and one was female, so this resulted in pregnancy as soon as the female was physically able. There were five female babies, who were kept with their mother at the animal rescue place; since they're so close in age, it's hard to tell them apart, and I either have three sisters or two sisters and the mother. For now I'm assuming that I have three sisters, so I'm naming them after the women from Charmed (Piper, Paige, and Phoebe), although Phoebe is the only one I can (sometimes) recognise so far.

My family had a Syrian hamster when I was a kid, but I never had much contact with it because it slept all day. The main thing I remember is that it used to enter its plastic house by pushing off the roof rather than going through the front entrance: Hazzard hamster! It also used to horde sunflower seeds in the house, so I'd tip them back into the bowl every week or so.

A few years later, when I was a Deputy Grecian at school (effectively lower sixth), one of the other boys asked me for a favour. His girlfriend had a pet hamster in her boarding house, but this was against school rules so she'd been told to get rid of it; she gave it to him to look after, since he could get away with it more easily. On this particular evening, he needed to work late in his study but the hamster was disturbing him, so he wanted to leave it on my desk overnight. I said that was fine, since I was going to bed and it wouldn't affect me. The following day it was still there, but it was peacefully sleeping so I couldn't see what the fuss was about. In the evening I settled down to do my prep (homework), and then the hamster woke up. It was quite lively, and enjoyed climbing the bars of its cage. I also learnt that I shouldn't put paper too close to the cage, otherwise he'd pull it in through the bars! I had to hand in one set of Maths answers with chewed edges, and explain to the teacher that "The hamster ate my homework!"

Still, I enjoyed the company, and I wound up looking after the hamster for a week or so. He was quite tame, so I'd often take him out of the cage and let him run around the shelves or just pass him back and forth between my hands. On one occasion I got a bit careless, and the hamster dropped a short distance before I caught him, so he nipped my finger. However, I think that he showed restraint; given that hamsters can crack open nuts with their teeth, I'm guessing that he could have left dents in my bone, but he didn't even break the skin. In other words, he just wanted to send a message of "Oi, watch it!" rather than actually trying to hurt me. I like to think that's a sign of intelligence, although I know that other people disagree with this.

Here are the three of them in their cage:
All three hamsters in the cage
Are they the cutest hamsters in the whole world? I think they just might be. I make sure that I see all three of them every day, so that I know they're all healthy.

I brought them home in a carry case with plenty of bedding, and they burrowed into this to keep warm. I'd see movement under the surface every so often, so it was a bit like Tremors. I found that random people stopped to ask me about them while I was walking along, and on the bus, and they all seemed to share my opinion about the cuteness factor. When I got home, the main problem was actually finding the hamsters to transfer them to the main cage: it was "lucky dip", hamster style! I wound up moving handfuls of bedding into the cage, and as the level dropped in the carry case they eventually came to the surface.

I'm using a Savic "Mickey Max" cage, which has 5mm gaps between the bars; since they're dwarf hamsters, they might be able to squeeze through a 1cm gap. The bottle came with the cage, and I initially assumed that it was supposed to hang outside (so that I could refill it without opening the cage). However, the metal tube at the bottom is too big to easily fit through the bars, and I wound up bending them apart to force it through. shuripentu kindly helped me out by moving it inside, although the new snag is that it has to rest on the shelf to stay up. Since it's opaque, it's a bit hard to see whether the water level is dropping when the hamsters (try to) drink from it, so I'll replace it with a clear one soon.

The wheel is also a bit tricky; it would be really helpful if these things came with instructions! It basically comes in two pieces: the main wheel, and a spindle (?) with a mounting piece behind it that clips onto the cage. I assumed that the main wheel went inside and the mounting piece went outside, but when I did this I found that the hamsters couldn't actually turn it. I could spin it with my finger, but they're obviously a bit smaller than me! It turns out that the whole thing goes inside, and then you just twist it slightly to mount it.

There was a plastic food bowl that came with the cage, and clips in between the bars of the shelf. However, I noticed that the hamsters sometimes put their legs between the bars when they were walking around, and we were concerned about injury, so we put down some newspaper to cover it. I've found that the best approach is to get a double page, then fold it into thirds (a bit like putting an A4 page into an envelope) and tear off a strip (about 3cm wide) from one end to match the length of the shelf. As a fringe benefit, the hamsters seem to like being undercover, so they spend most of their time in the loo rolls under the shelf. Anyway, this meant that the plastic bowl wouldn't balance very well, so I've replaced it with a ceramic bowl that came with a cheese selection; I've had it in my cupboard for a year or two, assuming that it might come in handy one day, and I'm glad that I've found a use for it. I quite often see two of the hamsters sitting in the bowl together!

That thing in the bottom right corner was intended to be a shelter (and claw/tooth sharpener), but as I mentioned they seem to prefer the loo rolls, so they just climb over it every so often. Speaking of the loo rolls, it's quite funny watching all three of them try to get out at the same time, by squishing past each other; they haven't quite learnt to take it in turns. Still, it's nice to see that sibling behaviour doesn't change much between species.

Two hamsters on the wheel

This is a bit blurry, but you can see two hamsters on the wheel at once; they get up a pretty good speed on that. The side effect of this is that if one of them stops then she gets spun around and then flung off; I've seen them do a complete loop that way. At first I thought that they were just a bit dense, and hadn't realised that they need to slow down gradually, but I now wonder whether it's deliberate (like a kid jumping off a swing at the high point).

I've noticed that they tend to be a bit hyperactive whenever I put them back in the cage (e.g. after cleaning it), and all try to use the wheel at once. Unfortunately, it's not quite wide enough for all three to run side by side, so they wind up rotating around: two side by side at the front and one behind, then the rear hamster pushes forward and right, which means that the left hamster has to drop back to avoid being pushed off altogether.

In the foreground you can see a "Coconut Hut" which has replaced the egg carton. They seem to like it, since they've been chewing on the side and climbing through it. It does look quite sweet when one of them sticks her head out through a hole, although I don't have a photo of that yet.

Hamster in my hand

This is another blurry photo, so sorry about that; it was taken one handed, using my left hand. Anyway, here you can see one of the hamsters sitting on my hand. The interesting point is that all of the articles/books I've read say that Robo hamsters don't like to be handled, so they're just pets to watch rather than to play with. However, these hamsters obviously haven't learned to read yet! I haven't brought them out of the cage very often (except for the transfers between the cage and the carrying case), but that's mainly because they move like greased lightning: I picked one up when I was collecting them, and she promptly dashed up my arm, so Sarah (from SprogPages) had to retrieve her from my shoulder.

For now, my main approach is to get them comfortable with me, so I rest my hand on the shelf and wait for them to come to me. This did require a certain amount of patience at first (and bribery with treats in the palm of my hand), but the more I do it the quicker it gets, and nowadays I quite often have two of them sitting on my hand at once. I tried to do something similar with Cruiser (the stray cat at my last house), as described here, but unfortunately I never managed to tame him completely. With the hamsters, I'd say that they're not all equally comfortable with me yet, but I'm getting there. I'm pretty sure that they recognise me by smell, but I still try to avoid startling them with sudden "predator" movements.

Anyway, I'm intending to have a hamster-warming party in due course (mainly when I've had a chance to tidy up my flat), but that will probably have to wait until January, so let me know if you'd like to meet the new members of my household. For now, I'm enjoying the company.
Tags: hamsters
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