Kali the Hamster

August 2000 - May 3, 2002

We are sad to announce that Kali passed away on May 3. She was given a respectful burial and we are making a stepping stone to serve as a grave stone for her. She will be missed.

Kali the Hamsterd

Follow the path of destruction to find Kali...

We got Kali in August of 2000. Just like everyone in our house, she is not normal. She doesn't do or like all of the things that hamster literature and websites say she will. For instance, she does not like to play in boxes, nomatter how much neat stuff we put in there for her. She only wants out. She considers the back corner of our bedroom to be some sort of hamster Mecca, and frequently runs in her hamster ball back there, leaving nice piles of poo for Corran to tread on when he gets out of bed.

Kali has only escaped once, and that was not an escape so much as a wander, because I left part of her cage open. The next morning, we literally followed the trail of destruction to find her, including houseplants that had had their dirt dug out and showered over the white carpet, a chewed up sponge mop, and of course, poo. We found her in the closet, stuck there because she had climbed up the wire rack and dropped herself into the mop bucket (hence the chewed up sponge mop as she tried to make a nest of it there). Lucky for her we only use non-toxic, all-natural floor cleaners, or she may have poisoned herself.

Kali gets great joy out of running her ball over the springy things on the bottoms of doors that protect walls. It makes a loud BADOING noise when she does this, and it drives me insane, which is probably why she likes it. She also likes to chew on the inside of her balls, which is why we're already on the third one.

Her original cage was all SAM stuff, made by PennPlax. We were happy with it at first, but since have become so disappointed in SAM products that we won't buy them anymore. The cage is designed to have a plastic litter liner that allows for easy cleaning. PennPlax recently altered the size of the litter liners by a centimetre or two, making it impossible to get over the base of the cage without ripping it, and ripping it allows Kali to pull it up through the cage and eat it. I wrote to the company to complain, but they didn't bother to answer. I don't think they care. Furthermore, SAM stuff I ordered from PetsMart.com in September has still not arrived, despite my many emails and phone calls of complaint. PetsMart people have told me each time that the shipment will be in soon, but it never is. So be warned: if you're buying hamster stuff, avoid SAM and PennPlax, and don't buy anything on backorder from PetsMart.com. (UPDATE: After another series of complaints, PetsMart finally got the SAM Space Globe to me. But it took a ridiculous amount of complaining to get it.)

In mid January, I was cleaning her SAM cage and noticed that there was some kind of mold or algae growing in her water attachment; a sort of bottle thing that cannot be opened to be fully cleaned. Not wanting to risk her health, we went out that day and purchased a CritterTrail cage with a different sort of water bottle, and with a wire midsection so we can put on a normal water bottle if needs be in the future. Interestingly enough, since Kali had been used to a completely plastic cage, the wire didn't give her a fun thing to climb so much as a stress centre to chew on. It's as if she is convinced that because she can hear, feel, and smell the outside of her cage unlike before, she must be able to get rid of those bars and get out. I tried hooking up some wood chews to block her, but she just keeps finding another place to chew the bars. She isn't doing much damage to the cage, but I worry about for her little mouth.

So another recommendation: if you're going to get a wire cage, introduce it as the FIRST cage, and maybe the hamster won't go so insane.

Of course, now she has trained us to open the door and let her out when she chews on the bars, so she does it just to get attention.

Another Kali oddity: unlike what the books say, she does not like hut-type houses in her cage. She avoids them and has NEVER nested in one. She nested originally in the corner of the cage, piling up all of the wood shavings there and crawling in. Now she likes to nest in the Lookout attachment from the SAM cage, and prefers it to be tipped downwards to allow maximum stuffing of wood shavings. This allows some shavings to come out of the venting holes, adding to the general mess around our apartment of wood bits and hamster poo. Lately, however, I've been attaching a lightweight plastic bowl on the underside of the nest part, so when bits come out, they fall into the bowl instead of all over the floor.

Her latest fad is peeing in her nest, making her stink and threatening her overall health. She also is quite fond of storing her food in her urine, which is totally disgusting, and yet something she won't stop doing. If anyone has any way to stop her from doing this, email me and let me know!

Kali's most evident skill is extreme Cuteness. She uses this to her advantage to get treats, to get out of trouble, and to win other favours. Oh sure, some people will claim The Cuteness is incidental and her tiny rodent brain can't possibly comprehend such an abstract concept, let alone use it to her advantage. These people have not witnessed the power that is Kali's Cuteness, and thus cannot be blamed for their ignorance.

Here are some direct links to pictures that illustrate Kali and her awesome Cuteness powers:

Advice for those who wish to get a hamster

  1. Do not get a hamster if you will be really bothered by the constant presence of wood shavings and hamster poo on your floor, especially near the cage. Even if you have a fully enclosed plastic cage, that bedding stuff sticks to fur, will drop off of your hamster as you lift it out of the cage, and will end up being trailed through the house as it sticks to socks. If this small amount of continual mess is going to bother you, DO NOT BUY A HAMSTER!
  2. Either purchase the cage before getting the hamster and have it all ready to go, or purchase one that can be very quickly assembled without having to be washed first. Once you get the hamster home, it's going to be freaking out in whatever container you brought it home in, and the sooner you can get the poor little thing into a cage where it can make itself a new home, the better.
  3. Purchase your hamster from a reputable store, and do so in the evening. Hamsters sleep during the day and are most active at night, so if you go early in the day they'll all be hiding. You want to choose one that appears active and playful, and none of them will while they're sleeping.
  4. When choosing a hamster, look it over for signs of illness such as weeping eyes or a wet area around the tail. Wet tail is a serious hamster ailment. If the store doesn't have a healthy-looking hamster, wait or shop elsewhere.
  5. Hamsters are solitary creatures. In fact, we decided to go with a hamster instead of other rodents because of this; we only wanted to buy one little thing to care for, and didn't want it to end up lonely. If you're going to want more than one in the same cage, go for a more social rodent like gerbils or mice. Hamsters will fight if they have to share living spaces.
  6. Always wash your hands before and after handling your hamster, both for their hygiene and yours.
  7. Allow your new hamster to get acquainted with its new environment in peace. Do not try to pick it up right away, and do not poke at it, make lots of noise around it, or otherwise disturb it. It takes a couple of weeks of gentle training to get a hamster to see you as anything other than a threat. Believe me, they bite, and it can HURT, especially on finger tips. To train your hamster to accept you:
  8. DO NOT PURCHASE FLUFFY BEDDING! The Pet Site has compiled an extensive list of testimonials that detail the hazards of fluffy bedding material for hamsters. It can choke them, block their digestive systems, get wrapped around limbs and seriously injure them, and more. Instead, only purchase wood shaving bedding. I've seen arguments for and against pine and aspen, but Kali seems to be doing fine with the natural pine shavings we've been purchasing for her. Either pine or aspen should be fine, and are easily purchased in bulk from pet supply stores.
  9. Avoid SAM products by PennPlax. They started out okay, but as detailed above, they have started to seriously let us down. Furthermore, the company does not answer important email regarding safety issues with their increasingly defective products, which demonstrates a lack of concern on their part. Do you want to trust your critter's life to a company that doesn't care? I don't.
  10. Hamsters need time to get out and exercise. A wheel in or attached to the cage is a good start, and pretty much essential equipment, but plan on letting the critter out for more extensive exercise. If you're worried that it will chew on power cords and other hazards, which it will if they're available for chewing, get a hamster ball. This inexpensive toy lets the hamster run around the place without being able to escape through ductwork, to crawl under furniture, or to chew on dangerous items. But there are some important things you need to know about hamster balls:
  11. Always make sure your hamster has good access to plenty of food and water. It will hoard food, and you want to make sure you're not oversupplying an endless hoard, but don't assume there's a hoard somewhere and withhold food. Make sure there's always some available. Clean, fresh water must always be available as well, and preferably in a drip-proof bottle. Water dishes will be quickly polluted and overturned.
  12. Give your hamster fresh veggies occasionally, but not too often! It will just hoard most of what you give it, and you must be diligent to remove fresh food as it spoils, or the hamster will eat it anyway and could get sick. Remember that hamsters are originally desert creatures, and while occasional fresh food is a healthy and pleasant change from the regular dry seeds, too much can make it sick. Also, some fruits are too much for the hamster to handle; for instance, we once gave a tiny smudge of banana to Kali, and she threw up all over her cage. She also gets sick if we give her more than the tiniest slice of apple. Carrots are great, because they provide good chew exercise, are easily portable through tubes, and are nutritious. Kali loves lettuce, but we limit how much she gets because lettuce is mostly water and has a poor nutrient value. Her favourite veggie is broccoli.
  13. Hamsters need to chew on hard surfaces, because their teeth do not stop growing. If they do not continuously wear down their teeth, the teeth will become too long and cause problems for the hamster. Therefore, you must supply good chew toys for the hamster. There are a variety of wood bits on the market, but be forewarned that hamsters vary in preferences. Kali only uses her carrot-shaped wood chew that came with the cage to anchor her tube-blocking endeavours (as described below). She prefers to chew on the bendable log structure we got her, or the wood chew that I've wired into her nest area (being careful to make sure she can't really get to the wire). Actually, she truly prefers to chew on the plastic part of the cage just beside where she makes her nest. All attempts to redirect her chewing to wood in this area have failed, and she's slowly wearing through that part of the plastic.
  14. Expect to have to clean at least part of the cage every night. Hamsters will usually pick a certain place to do their business, and you need to clean out the urine-soaked bedding regularly both for the hamster's health and the smell. The poo doesn't smell quite as much, but should be scooped out regularly as your hamster deposits it. The cage should be completely cleaned about once a week, removing all bedding and replacing it with fresh stuff.
  15. Kali loves the Vitakraft Small Animal Waffles we've been buying her recently, and they have an extra benefit: the chlorophyll in them helps reduce the urine smell. Her cage now smells much cleaner for much longer.
  16. If you have a cage that has tubes and such, vary the layout from time to time after cleaning. This stimulates the hamster's exploratory nature. Kali has done weird things with some layouts, like picking a tube and stuffing it with bedding, then pistoning herself against it to pack it tight. We don't know why she does this, and she doesn't always do it, but it does happen. So we're careful to make sure that every point in the cage layout has multiple ways in and out, because once she managed to block herself in her nest and away from food and water.
  17. Keep your hamster in a warm but not hot environment, in a room where it is fairly quiet during the day but where it can make noise at night. Even "silent" wheels cause some amount of noise when the hamster rolls in it, so a bedroom might not be the best place. A children's play room will be too noisy for the hamster to sleep during the day, and is too much of a temptation for children to bother the poor thing while it is trying to sleep. Do not place the cage beside a vent, radiator, or air conditioner, and try to keep it out of too much direct sunlight.
  18. Do not leave your hamster alone for too long. A day or two is fine, provided you know for sure it has enough food and water. If you go on extended vacation, make sure someone, either a friend or reliable pet-sitter, is either coming into your home to check on the hamster and keep its water and food supplies up, or is taking the hamster and cage to their home and caring for it there.

Hamster Links

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Page last updated December 4, 2003.

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