Hamsters evolved to wander about for miles at night, always on the lookout for food, mates and bolt-holes from predators. This instinct has not been bred out of the pet hamster. All pet hamster species – the Syrian (or golden); the Chinese; the Russian or Campbell’s dwarf hamster; the winter white dwarf hamster and the tiny Roborovski. It does not matter how nice the cage is – if there’s a chance to escape it, any hamster will.
Hamsters have been known to survive crossing busy highways, getting mailed like a letter and one amazing hamster named Mike survived the entire procedure for waste disposal at a Welsh metal waste recycling plant. But these survival stories are the exception. Escaped hamsters have limited life spans mostly due to getting stepped on, sat on or have a door close on them. They also can nibble electrical wires and eat household poisons.
Begin Rescue Operations Immediately
As soon as you notice the hamster is missing, start searching. Shuffle your feet along the floor so that you don’t accidentally step on your pet. The hamster still could be in the same room. Keep the door of the cage open in case the hamster decides to come back on its own. (It’s been known to happen.)
Gently shut the door, look under furniture, in cabinets and overturn all cushions. Leave notes up all about the home that the hamster has escaped and every one needs to check under the seat cushions before they sit down and to do the “escaped hamster shuffle.” Be sure that any mousetraps or rodent poison is immediately taken up because hamsters will be attracted to them.
Hamsters can slip into amazingly narrow cracks. They can usually slip under doors. Unless you know that your hamster is in a particular room (say, you saw her scampering across the floor but she disappeared again) do not block up underneath the doorway. But if the hamster is in the room, block up the doorway.
Set up a clean bucket or a plastic tote container that is at least a foot high. Make sure the bucket doesn’t have any noxious odors in it such as bleach that could discourage the hamster from the trap. Place one or two inches of soft bedding at the bottom, as well as some yummy hamster treats. Lean a ramp like a flat ruler, a bird toy ladder or a wooden paint mixer against the side of the standing bucket.
The idea is the hamster will go up the ramp, smell the food and fall in to get it but not be able to jump back out. You need to check this sort of trap at least twice a day.
If you are unsure what room the hamster is in, place little dishes of water in all of the rooms on tin foil. The hamster will have to drink. The sound of the tin foil crinkling can help give away where the hamster is. Another trick, recommended by Hammysworld.com, is to sprinkle some white flour around the water dishes. Keep checking the water dishes every few hours, especially at night when hamsters are most active. Footprints in the powder should help you narrow down your search.
“Training Your Pet Hamster.” Gerry Bucsis & Barbara Somerville. Barron’s; 2002.
“Hamsters.” Nancy Ferris, et al. Bow Tie Press; 2008
Hamsterific. “Hamster Homes and Cages.” http://www.hamsterific.com/HomesAndHabitats.cfm
About.com “Finding a Lost Hamster.” Lianne McLeod, DVM. http://exoticpets.about.com/od/hamsters/a/losthamster.htm
Author also was owned by Syrian hamsters for many years.