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October 24, 2011

Hamsters in Heat?

Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, PHR

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My family and I really love dwarf hamsters…okay, me especially. They are much friendlier than the big Teddy Bear hamsters I remember from my childhood (and friends that had the little biting critters). These dwarfs can be very tame and cuddly, and some can even by trained to use a “litter box.”

The first for our family was Jonathan, a Fancy Russian Dwarf hamster, mostly all black. (Remind me to tell you the story of his near-death experience another time; as a technician, I was clearly ashamed.) Then we had Snowy, a Russian Winter White who was mostly gray (see photo) who lived nearly twice as long as a hamster should! After the two boys, we brought Ginny into our family, named after Harry Potter’s sweetheart. She was different. After about a month, she became obsessed with chewing on the bars of her cage, and would bite us when we held her. I was distressed, because she was unhappy, and above all I want all my dozen of pets to be happy.

Snowy

Then I spoke at the South West Veterinary Conference in San Antonio, and stumbled upon a veterinarian speaking on pocket pets who was resting in the speaker ready room. I mentioned my dilemma, and she appeared totally blasé when she said, “of course, she’s in heat.”

WHAT?  I thought, are you serious?  Yes indeed, female hamsters come into heat…fortunately, they don’t have to wear little sanitary pads like dogs in heat. But yes, she was miserable. She was looking for a man, so to speak.

According to this veterinarian, she would keep cycling unless something changed, and fast! As it happened, we have a friend that has a male Russian dwarf hamster, although he’s been fattened up to about twice the size of Ginny. So we introduced the two. Ginny, funny enough, wasn’t interested in Ham (yes, I did NOT name him!), but Ham followed her around sniffing her back end for a while. The first night together, she did a lot of squeaking at him, trying to spell out the rules of the romance I suppose. Now they’ve settled down to sleeping together in the fluff under their little wooden house, but no one is certain if they’ve had “hamster love” just yet. We’re waiting to see if her belly starts growing!

In the meantime, we couldn’t live without a hamster in the house (I mean, really!) so we brought Mouser home, this time a Chinese dwarf hamster with a longer, thinner body, and WOW, a little inch-long mousey-looking tail!  Very cute!  We’re working on the hand training now, and trying to keep the bedding out of his wheel where he keeps nesting down (but loves to run too, so don’t figure!).

While only a fraction of the size of many of my other pets, these hamsters squirm their little way into my heart just the same. When Snowy was found expired from old age in his cage, I cried…and was thankful my daughter wasn’t home so I could express my grief without freaking her out! As tiny as they are, the love is just as big…something to remember when a pet owner brings a furry member of the family that is no bigger than an egg, but has a hold of their heart. Respect that relationship just as much as you would any other example of the human-animal bond.

By the way, Snowy died with a yogurt treat in his little cheek pouch…we think he’s taking a treat to heaven for later!

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