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.
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:
- Peeking out from a toilet paper tube - again, this is something that all the literature says hamsters love to do. Kali liked to crawl into cardboard tubes when she was little, as in this picture, but now refuses to do so. Of course, this could be because we used our big ape brains to mess with her little rodent brain, and prevented her from dropping dangerously out of the ends of tubes by turning them around as she crawled in them. So she may have learned that cardboard tubes exist in some twist of spacetime that result in the start being the end. Do hamsters have deep thoughts about curves in spacetime? With Kali, it's hard to tell for sure.
- In the pink plastic hamster ball - this is the one toy that she does love. It rarely takes any convincing to get her into the ball, and in fact she usually leaps in it as soon as it is offered. Because she manages to find dangerous things to chew on if we let her run free (tissues that have fallen out of garbages, Ethernet cables, power cords, carpet fibres, etc.), most of her time outside of the cage is spent in her ball. Of course, she likes to wedge the ball in corners and then chew on the lid to try to open it, which means constantly purchasing new balls. Oh, and in this picture, the ball looks pristine because it is new. No ball looks this transparent after Kali has smacked it into the walls for a few days, scuffing it and covering it in paint marks.
- Eating a green bean in her cage - hamsters like to hold their food in their little hands as they eat. Here, Kali is enjoying a green bean. She probably would have shoved it all the way into her cheek pockets if it hadn't been so long.
- Eating popcorn - as with the green bean, she holds the piece of popcorn in her hands, fully utilizing her Cuteness to get more if she can. I don't have a picture of her doing this with a Cheerio, but when she holds it like this, it looks like she's eating a hamster doughnut.
- Stuffing food into her cheek pouches - hamsters can fit huge amounts of stuff into their cheeks in order to carry it back to their nests. Here, Kali is pocketing a dried peach skin, and in the next picture...
- Poof! Food has disappeared into the face! - ...now the peach skin is in her cheek pouch. Kali goes to great lengths to fit food into these pouches, and often seems perturbed when large items, such as rodent wafers, must be broken up first. Not that she hasn't tried to fit a flat 5.5x4.5cm wafer in that little maw, but it just doesn't work.
- Full cheek pouches - in this picture, Kali has stuffed her face literally full of popcorn, Cheerios, milk-and-honey hamster drops, and her regular seed food (sunflower seeds, dried corn, etc.). She is now attempting to climb back into the plastic tub where lies more seeds, but she won't be able to fit any more food in anyway.
- The look that says "Let me go spit this out!" - After sniffing around the plastic tub and determining that, in fact, no more food will fit in that face, Kali gives me the look that indicates she'd like to go back to her cage so she can spit her hoard out in her nest to save for later. For reference, the food in the cheeks is not kept dry, and the spitting, which is done largely by force of her little arms against the outside of the swollen cheeks, is kinda gross to watch.
Advice for those who wish to get a hamster
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Always wash your hands before and after handling your hamster, both for their hygiene and yours.
- 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:
- Do not rush things. Start by letting your hamster sniff your hand and fingers, then work up to petting it.
- Do not force your hamster to accept you, because it won't work. If the hamster hisses at you, snaps its jaws at you, freaks out when you touch it or adopts a defensive posture (i.e. ears back, eyes squinted), leave it alone for awhile. Hamsters get stressed out pretty easily if you keep bothering them, and this will not lead to a trusting relationship.
- After you've had your hamster for a few days and let it sniff your fingers, start teaching it that you're the bearer of yummy things, not a yummy thing yourself, nor a scary thing. Hand the hamster goodies, including regular food, occasional fresh treats, and special snacks (but be sure all food is appropriate and won't make it sick). At first, give the food between fingers, letting the hamster pull it out easily. Once the hamster trusts your hand to bring food and doesn't react as if frightened, you can start putting food in your palm and letting the hamster crawl into your hand to get the food. NOTE: if your fingertips smell like food, it may nip at them. Be ready to pull your hand back if the hamster appears ready to chow down on your fingers, but try to do so in the least alarming way. Also, keep your hands clean and try to minimize the tempting smells on your fingertips.
- Eventually, if you have trained the hamster to accept food from your hand and that it can trust you not to poke at it, hurt it, or otherwise disturb it, you'll be able to pick it up without it freaking out, running away, or biting you. This does take a couple of weeks, so be patient. I know I started to get bummed out when Kali was slow to accept me, and kept biting my finger tips. But now she is totally relaxed in my hand, and has only bitten me once since when I had the smell of chicken fat on my fingers (I'd washed them, but the smell had remained), and she mistook my finger for a snack.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- DO NOT LEAVE THE HAMSTER IN THE BALL UNATTENDED FOR LONG PERIODS OF TIME. Hamsters need access to food and water. Kali likes to be in her ball for hours and hours, but we make her come out frequently (about every half hour) and spend some time in her cage to get water, urinate, etc. She will definitely urinate in there if we don't take her out often enough (and sometimes will do it within 5 minutes of being in there). After she's been in the cage for at least 5-10 minutes, if she's eager to get back out we put her back in the ball for awhile. But the ball is NOT a cage substitute. Do not forget the hamster is in there!
- Do not let the hamster roll around freely where there are stairs, even a single step down. Rolling off of an edge can seriously injure the hamster, and losing control down a flight of stairs could kill your hamster by fright alone, if not by being bashed about in the ball. Only use a hamster ball if you can block off stairs, keep it on a main floor, or in one room (which isn't much exercise).
- Be sure to keep an eye on the hamster in the ball, or if you're letting it run in a safe area unattended for a few minutes, check frequently that the hamster is okay and not stuck. Kali is safe in our one-level apartment, so we let her roam without watching her every move, but if we don't hear a regular bonking noise of her rolling around, we go check and often find that she's wedged the ball partially under our bed, become lost in the closet, etc.
- Do not take the hamster ball outside. Sun can overheat the ball quickly, and although it is vented, the hamster could suffer from the heat. Similarly, it provides no protection from the cold or the damp. Grass, stones, dirt and other unfamiliar stuff could get in through the cracks, making your hamster dirty or even tempting them to eat things they possibly should not be eating. Also, hamsters can move really quickly in their balls, and it wouldn't take much to roll down a driveway into traffic, which would certainly be deadly.
- Do not let other pets, such as a dog or cat, terrorize your hamster in the ball. Yes, the ball will give the hamster some degree of protection, but if a cat is jumping on the ball and/or batting it around, the hamster inside could be terribly frightened and traumatized. Don't torture the poor thing like that.
- Even though the lid of a hamster ball feels secure when closed properly, it isn't. Trust me. Hamsters learn how to roll the ball against couches or other surfaces that slowly open the lid, then they escape. Put a couple pieces of tape over the edge of the lid to secure it to the ball and prevent it from being twisted. Be sure to place the tape so it is only on plastic, and not over an opening. The hamster can and will pull an edge of tape through the vent to chew it and eat it. A tip: fold a tiny end of the tape over on one end to form a tab to allow you to open and close the ball more easily and reuse the tape as long as it remains functionally sticky.
- Kali has become very good at urinating out a hole of the ball, so it doesn't spin around and drip on her, but leaves a nice little puddle/stain on the floor instead. She also often poos in her ball, and as she rolls around you can hear it rattle. I try to grab the ball, remove her, dump the poo, then put her back as much as possible, but the latest model of ball seems to let the poo out quite easily. So if you're using a hamster ball, expect hamster poo to be a common addition to your floor.
- Never put anything in the ball with your hamster. As it rolls around, any object in there will roll as well and can bonk your poor hamster mercilessly. In fact, poo trapped in the ball will often fall on your hamster's back and get stuck in its fur, which is why you want to empty it when you hear it rattle.
- Hamsters will fight in a cage together, so you can bet they'll be furious at being in a ball together. Don't even try it.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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