Friday, October 2, 2015

All about hamsters.

Hello people!

Last Saturday I posted this picture on Instagram...

Yeah...I couldn't take not being a hamster mom. I hated that I didn't have someone to check on every night before I went to bed, or to play with and let run around on my desk or the floor while I worked.

So last week I asked one of my friends who works at Petco if they had any surrenders, and she said no, they didn't but that they had some very nice male hamsters. I decided to stop by on my way home from Cam's on Saturday and take a look. When I first peeked in at the hamsters I saw this huge fluffy hamster in the most absurd sleeping position - he was laying there with his chin on the wall under the water bottle, his body practically at a 90 degree angle, his belly on the floor. It looked so uncomfortable. And he had long hair...Benjen was my first long haired hamster and I have never been the biggest fan of the long hair. I kept Benjen's nice and trim all the time.

I was pretty sure he was not the hamster for me, and when the associate came over I told her I wanted to see a different hamster - a short haired one with very characteristic markings around his eyes and a bit of a calico look to his fur. As I was looking at him and stroking him and trying to get a feel for his personality, I couldn't help but notice that this long haired hamster with the weird sleeping position had gotten up, climbed onto his house, and, it seemed, was trying to get my attention to pick him up. So I cracked and asked the associate to take him out next. Not only was he the hugest hamster I'd ever seen, he was very friendly and curious...

...and of course I fell in love.

The associate told me that all the hamsters had been well socialized with humans (this basically meant they weren't terrified of being picked up or stroked). This made me really happy because sometimes hamsters develop a stress-induced bacterial infection called Wet Tail when they're re-homed. The stress causes upset in their gut bacteria, and results in severe diarrhea that in most cases results in death very soon after re-homing (which is why most places have "warranties" on their hamsters for 7-14 days).

For anyone who's interested in hamster parenting, here's a basic coming-home guide (if you're not interested, you can skip to the next bolded section, unless you want to be blown away my my in-depth knowledge of hamster care):

Now that I've instilled the fear of Wet Tail in you, it's actually pretty easy to avoid. First off, if a store offers to sell you Dri-Tail, just know it does absolutely nothing to actually prevent Wet Tail. Rather, it is a required up-sell for some warranties, which boils my blood. Secondly, Wet Tail will be more common in younger or very skittish hamsters. And finally, the disease is most easily prevented by leaving your hamster alone for a few days when you bring it home. Make sure the cage is prepared in a quiet room (away from other pets) before you get home, gently move your new hamster from the box to their cage (if you can't pick them up that's okay, just place the box in the cage) and then let them acclimate to their environment before you introduce yourself.

I recommend two to three days of alone time - it lets them nest in their cage and get used to the surrounding environment. During these days I also suggest placing food and treats in their cage once a day - a fresh vegetable, yogurt drop, and a small, hard biscuit like a plain milk bone (I break the ends off of the medium dog bones we buy). This gets the hamster used to your scent, and helps them associate you with something good and harmless (being fed).

You'll also get a feel for your hamster's personality - they may be skittish, which means you'll have a bit more work with socializing them, but the effort is definitely worth it! In the last 10 years I've only had a hamster bite once, and it was because someone he didn't know tried to grab him right out of his cage when I was out of the room. Even when Benjen had to have a bunch of x-rays and was being pinned down to get them, he didn't bite. Hamster socialization is important for that reason, but it's also way more fun to have a hamster when you know it trusts you and won't bite. Hamster bites hurt, no doubt, but they are easily avoided if you put in the work.

Anyways...after a few days you can put your hand in their cage with food on it and your hamster should start exploring and getting used to you. If they're really skittish or chatter their teeth at you, back off and try again later. Hamsters love food though, so they will eventually associate you with being fed, and should open up to being petted and held.

(That's all I'm gonna post here now, but if you have any other questions feel free to ask in the comments!)

Now back to the main attraction...

Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden!

Dresden, or Dres, for short (otherwise everyone would think I'd named him after Harry Potter, but he's actually named after the main character from the Dresden Files, a phenomenal series of supernatural-crime novels that I have been making my way through lately).

I snagged that Instagram picture of us as I was putting him in his cage. Since he'd been handled the whole time he was at Petco he was already very friendly, and we were able to truncate his re-homing process a bit. (Yeah, that's right. I just gave you all that advice and then admitted that I didn't follow it. I was only able to do that because I know hamsters, man.)

I'd prepped his cage beforehand, because even though I had mad remodeling ideas, I wanted him to get used to the smaller area over the weekend (convenient since I needed to order a bunch of stuff off of Amazon for the remodel).

I ordered a few things for him from Amazon: giant ferret tubes, a wheel, and zip-ties. Everything was in by Tuesday, so Wednesday after my MRI I got to unboxing:

There it all is (minus zip-ties, which will be used for a future project)! The ferret tubes were necessary because Syrian hamsters (the big ones like Dresden...the small are Chinese Dwarf or Russain Roborovskis) are too big for the "hamster tubes" you usually see. Because the tubes are enclosed and dark, hamsters end up loving them for nesting and sleeping, and the smaller tubes pose suffocation and entrapment hazards for Syrians. So I got ferret tubes 'cause they're huge.

And that wheel. Okay, this is a bit ridiculous. Here's the size different between the "medium" and "large" Silent Spinners...I think it's ludicrous that they don't have a size in between:

(Marker for scale.)
The one on the left is 6 inches, on the right is 12. Dresden is much too big for the smaller one (his back bends when he runs in it) so I got the bigger one. He can work it, but it's very silly seeing him run in it :P

And the starting materials and setup:

Dres had no idea what was coming...
I unboxed the tubes and put them together (I ended up having to tape and glue them to make them stable enough):

And my lovely boot, for effect.

I didn't think I'd be able to use the whole length of all 4 tubes so this picture is misleading. I was able to put them all together to make a nice long tunnel for him!
Again...had to glue and tape them together. What followed was a lot of drilling, cutting, sanding, vacuuming, etc. It was a difficult process with the boot I'm wearing and I was a bit sore after :(

I was able to secure the bottom joint really well:

The joint at the top did not go as well as planned, but I used some electrical tape to patch up the bits of plastic that splintered. As a result it was very stable in the end. Truth is though, I won't be able to remove those tubes very easily...whoops. The other dilemma I faced was with that wheel. It's too big for the tubs, so I cut a hole out of the top which the wheel sticks through. Not an escape hazard because he has nothing to climb on, I just don't like that it looks ugly.

I'll probably end up redoing this with better tools in a few months so I can get straighter lines, but for now it turned out well. When I redo it I will also be adding bars to the front of each tub so I can more easily access the insides for feeding. For now, there are just extra air holes drilled in.

And, as I mentioned before, hamsters like to nest in the tubes, so of course Dres picked smack dab in the middle of those tubes to make his bed. Fastest way to get anywhere, I suppose. I filled both water bottles and put a small amount of food in each cage. That stick coming out of the blue tube is actually a leaf from the veg I gave him Thursday morning before I left for work.

It'll do for now, but I'm hoping Cam can help me put together something a bit more precise when he finishes school in December. Until then...this is Dresden's new crib!

On Wednesday night we also had a good little cuddle session. Dresden is pretty chill. He likes to explore and run around and acts like he owns the place, but he spent most of the night snugged up on my chest, collecting pets. I took this picture of's pretty dark, but you can see his cute little face in it:

So there he is! My newest little buddy. He's cute and fun and we're having a good time getting to know each other. Poor fella though, he's a long-haired Syrian ("teddy bear" hamster) and I can't stand their hair being long and tangley so I gave him a bit of a haircut when he got home. It looks bad, I won't lie. A picture of his terrible haircut will probably make it onto IG. That said, I suppose a bad haircut is better than a nicked ear.... :P

And that's all I've got for now. I will be back with a post tomorrow morning (hopefully), as I get my MRI results today. So yeah...expect that post about the MRI and diagnosis/prognosis. Fingers crossed it's not terrible news!


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