Welcome to Dashing Hamsters. I created this website back in 2005, initially to have a place to share my love of hamsters. Throughout the years I have come across a lot of information that just often doesn't match up. Care standards and information are outdated, and these little creatures are misunderstood by many. So I decided to make this website as more than just a hamster lover's website, but a hamster website for modern owners who are looking for up to date advice on how to care for and understand their beloved hamsters. On DH you can learn about hamsters, see some cute pictures and read through a hamster filled blog.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Star Gazing

What is Star Gazing?
Some lines of hamsters seem to produce hamsters with behavioural disorders. They are often termed as a neurological disorder or simply as Star Gazing. The term ‘Star Gazing’ itself comes from a behaviour that causes the hamster to stand on their hind legs, gaze upward (toward the stars) and either flip over or fall on their back; this behaviour is often repeated and is compulsive and involuntary, meaning they cannot control this behaviour. Also included under this term are behaviours such as compulsive spinning and pacing. No one knows for certain what causes these issues to pop up, but they are largely believed to be genetic. These behaviours can have varying causes however, not all of them being genetic.


  • Compulsive pacing -- when a hamster is found to be pacing back and forth along the cage constantly.
  • Running in circles -- when the hamster is found to continually run in circles. The circles may be more like spinning, almost on the spot, and is referred to “waltzing” by Linda Price. It may take the form as running laps in a certain section of the cage continually. A video of Hoppinghammy's roborovski dwarf hamster, from Hamster Hideout, "waltzing":
    Click Here to View Video
  • Doing back flips or falling on their back, also called star gazing -- The hamster will stand on their hind legs either on the floor or on a toy and attempt to do a back flip, usually just falling on their back.Most of these hamsters, so long as they can eat, drink and sleep without too much trouble don’t need to be euthanized. With some effort on the owners part to make their life more comfortable, they can live healthy and happy lives. If the traits are extreme and the quality of your hamster’s life is not what is should be than euthanization should be considered. A lot of ethical points come into this decision and it is up to you as the owner to make the decision for what is best for your hamster.

    A popular viral video of back flipping hamsters, suffering from neurological issues:

There may be several causes for these symptoms to appear:

  • Ear Infection: An ear infection can cause a ‘head tilt’ (where the hamster’s head tilts a bit) and also for them to lose their balance, they often walk diagonally and sometimes also walk in circles. An ear infection doesn’t usually call back flipping. This can be treated by antibiotics from a vet.
  • Swelling of the brain: If your hamster has fallen or you believe it could have received an injury to the head, than this could have caused swelling to the brain that would effect the hamster’s ability to walk properly or act normally. A vet should be sought immediately if this is believed to be the case.|
  • Growth on the brain: If something such as a tumour is growing in the hamster’s brain than this too could also cause spinning, walking in circles and possibly even back flipping. If this is the case than a vet should be sought, though the prognosis is not a positive one.
  • Stroke: A stroke is thought to be another cause of some of these behaviours, again a vet should be contacted to see if this is the cause and to see what can be done for your hamster.
  • Less than adequate housing: Many times I have seen hamsters in small and bare cages displaying signs of compulsive pacing and circling. They’re bored and are attempting to compensate for lack of mental stimulation in their environment. One study on rats even suggests the following:

    Repetitive stereotyped behaviours are often performed by both wild and domestic rodents in small laboratory cages. In this study, a behaviour resembling a backwards somersault or backflip is described and quantified in captive roof rats (ship or black rats, Rattus rattus). ... Cage enrichment in the form of a wooden nest box resulted in dramatically lower rates of performance. Increased cage height resulted in delayed development of backflipping, as well as changes in the form of the behaviour. Results are consistent with the hypothesis that the development and expression of backflipping in young roof rats may be triggered by weaning and maintained by a heightened state of arousal in a relatively impoverished environment with limited opportunities for perceptual and locomotor stimulation” (Callard MD, Bursten SN, Price EO 2000. Repetitive backflipping behaviour in captive roof rats (Rattus rattus) and the effect of cage enrichment. Animal Welfare 9, 139-152).

    It might be easiest to look into this possibility as a cause, at least while also consulting your vet for other possible causes. Enlarging the cage and providing more for your hamster to actually do, in order to stimulate them physically and mentally.
  • Genetic Neurological Disorder: When these traits are caused through some sort of genetic link. They will begin to display the symptoms at a young age, usually around two to three months of age. Some lines of hamsters seem to have these issues, and should not be bred further, nor should their kin, even if the disorder doesn’t seem severe. Some have found that white faced Roborovski dwarf hamsters seem to suffer from this more so than agouti Roborovski dwarf hamsters. In Russian Campbell dwarf hamsters it seems most common in those with the mottled pattern. It is also attributed to be found in hybrid (Russian Campbell x Winter White) hamsters. This does not mean that it is limited to these variations or species at any rate. There is no cure for hamsters that suffer from this when it is caused by genetic issues, however they do not necessarily need to be euthanized in every case. Many can still lead happy and healthy lives.

Treating a Hamster with a Genetic Neurological Disorder

Owners of these hamsters such as Hamster Hideout’s “Hoppinghammy” or “Rhapsody” seem to agree that hamsters that suffer with this are greatly impacted by stress, leading to their behaviours to increase in severity and regularity. It is recommended that these hamsters are not subjected to unneeded stress.

  • Instead of doing a full cage cleaning, try to do partial cage cleanings so that their whole cage isn’t disturbed at once. If a full cage cleaning must be done than be sure to leave several handfuls of the old substrate and sprinkle it around their cage so that their home doesn’t smell quite so strange to your hamster.
  • Keep the layout of the cage similar or the same, as this will help to reduce the stress of a new environment. While this wouldn’t normally bother a hamster, even the smallest things can cause stress or excitement to a hamster that suffers from these compulsive behaviours.
  • On top of reducing stress, a large one level cage is recommended so that the hamster has room to spin (or whatever the particular behaviour might be) without risk of falling or having to climb ramps or tubes.
  • A variety of toys and things to do in the cage can help to keep them from becoming bored and to attempt them to divert at least from the frequency of their behaviour.
  • The cage should be in a room that is quiet and free from too much excitement, activity or noise.
  • If the hamster suffering from these compulsive behaviours is living with other hamsters it is best that they are separated. The behaviour can stress our the other hamsters and cause the affected hamster to be subject to more attacks causing more stress and a worsening of the behaviours.

There is some suggestion that there may be a medical approach to treatment for these behaviours. “missPixy” from Hamster Hideout, has suggested these treatments:

I don't know if you are interested, but in my research
I found some treatments that are used in birds to treat
stargazing. since so many medications for hamsters use
birds as a basis for dosages, these should be safe for
Ruby, too:

1. The drug Nystatin (safe for guinea pigs)

2. The drug Trimethoprim Sulfa (one drop per day)

On the forum, 'HamsterHideout' a member under the username of 'Luci' began treatment of her star gazing hamster, Mirabelle, with the drug Trimethoprim Sulfa (mentioned in the original article) and within days reported a noticeable difference in Mirabelle, namely walking normally and capable of better balance. Mirabelle has since passed away, though as far as I know, her death is not believed to be caused from the drug. 

3. Vitamin B 12. (one drop in mouth per day, 5 - 6 drops in
8 ounces water)
This can be obtained from a pharmacy (chemist) should a vet not be available right away.

Before any of these are attempted you should talk with your veterinarian first to discuss treatment options. I have no information on the success of these treatments on hamsters at this time.
Most of these hamsters, so long as they can eat, drink and sleep without too much trouble don’t need to be euthanized. With some effort on the owners part to make their life more comfortable, they can live healthy and happy lives. If the traits are extreme and the quality of your hamster’s life is not what is should be than euthanization should be considered. A lot of ethical points come into this decision and it is up to you as the owner to make the decision for what is best for your hamster.

Further Reading

Friday, December 23, 2011

Caring for Elder Hamsters

     Sadly hamsters have rather short lifespans, depending upon their species they can live anywhere between 2-3 years. Some live longer and others pass sooner. Giving them the best life possible is important to help them stay healthy and then hopefully they will live to a ripe old age. It is at that point that new considerations must be taken in order to keep your hamster happy in their golden years.

Old age seems to take effect depending on the individual hamster. It will depend heavily upon their genetics along with the quality of their upbringing. Many hamsters from pet stores and poor quality breeders do not have long life spans, as they have not been bred for long lifespans. I have seen hamsters show signs of old age just before or around the age of one year, other not until they were closer to two years and others still until they were past the age of 2.

The Symptoms of Old Age
o Hamster begins to slow down. They aren’t moving as fast and perhaps not as much either.
o Your aging hamster’s gait may stiffen; this is usually caused from arthritis.
o Hamster may sleep for longer periods of time.
o Hamster’s fur may begin to thin as well. (If red skin, dry flakey skin, scabs or other symptoms occur with this than old age may not be the cause, a vet should be consulted).
o The hamster may also not be quite so concerned with keeping their coats in as perfect of condition as they once did.
o They may not make it to their “potty corner” as often.
o The hamster may also start to have issues eating hard foods as their teeth become weaker.
o The hamster’s hearing may not be as sharp as it once was.
o Your hamster’s eyesight may not be as strong as it once was either.
o Your hamster may gain weight as they are not moving about as much.
o On the other hand your hamster might start to lose a bit of weight as they aren’t eating quite as much.
o The hamster’s fur may begin to pale as they get older and depending on the species and colour they may begin to “silver” (fur begins to go grey or silver).

What You Can Do
• As your hamster slows down and you find them sleeping more it is important to find time to ensure that they do get some time out of their cage to walk around a bit and get their muscles moving and to help keep some of the excess weight off. This will help to keep them from feeling too stiff. This does not mean that you need to wake them up and force them to exercise, respect their space and allow them to sleep as they wish. You need to find a balance between their need for exercise and respecting their age and all that comes with that.

• With age, arthritis can also come with it. This is usually seen with your hamster walking stiffly and their gait seeming odd. They walk this way because they are in pain, the best way to help your hamster so that they do not have to suffer from this pain is to contact a vet and look into a pain management medication such as Metacam so that they can live comfortably.

• If your hamster is having trouble keeping their coat clean then you may need to assist them. Brush their coat with a clean toothbrush can help. You may also need to take a barely damp, warm cloth and wipe their underside to remove and feces or urine, especially as they may not use their “potty corner” as often. Be sure that they are dry afterward too. A chill at their age can do serious harm.

• As hamsters age sometimes their teeth become more sensitive and they have trouble eating hard foods. Supplementing softer foods alongside their regular food can help to keep them healthy. Foods such as baby food, oatmeal, mashed potatoes, mashed vegetables, yogurt and lab blocks soaked in a bit of water to make them mushy. This should help them maintain a healthy weight when they seem to be losing it.

• As your hamster’s eyesight and hearing begin to weaken you need to ensure that you give them more warning before handling them or being near them. They may not sense you right away and bite or run away out of surprise and fear. Just make sure not to pick them up from behind, rustle the bedding and let them sniff your hand first. Basically let them know you are near them before you try to handle them.

• You may also need to modify your hamster’s cage as well so that it is easier for them to live in their own home, even in old age. Read below for more information on how to modify your hamster’s home.

• Extra nesting material, such as ripped up toilet paper, should also be added for your hamster’s bed so that they may be comfortable and can have an easier time staying warm. If the temperature is rather warm in the room than this might not be necessary.

• You may also need to modify your hamster’s cage. Remove levels, vertical tubes, steep ramps, difficult climbs and any other obstacle that may pose a problem for your aging hamster. Not all hamsters need these things removed right away, just as soon as you see them having a problem with it or if they are suffering from arthritis. A large, single cage with floor space, rather than multiple shelves and multiple cages, is best for an aging hamster so that they can have an easy time moving about.
Along with that ensuring that the wheel is low enough for your hamster to step into it easily (or the bedding is high enough to allow for this) as well, the water bottle should be low enough that your hamster can drink from it without needing to stand on their hind legs completely.

Bracing for Loss
Hamsters do have short life spans in comparison to our own and so once your hamster reaches old age, one must begin to brace themselves for the inevitable passing of their pet. Take pictures, spend as much time with them as possible and remember them and all of the good times spent with them. When they do pass perhaps find a nice place to bury them, create a memorial or have them cremated if you wish. Death is part of life, and we can only take comfort in the fact that we have done our best to give them a good life.

My dear elderly Damion (2006-2008)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Lone Species

The first species of hamster to hit the pet market is the Syrian hamster (Mesocricetus auratus), since then they have remained the most common and most popular species of hamster. In 1912 when Aharoni caught the ancestors of today’s Syrian hamsters he quickly found upon raising these hamsters that they were solitary creatures. While attempting to breed them in captivity some of the hamsters he caught killed each other while contained in the same cage. Upon more careful housing practices he successfully bred Syrian hamsters in captivity.

It wasn’t Aharoni that first realized that Syrian hamsters were solitary animals however. In 1839 George Waterhouse officially classified these hamsters as their own species. Along with this he gave a description in which he described the Syrian hamster as a solitary species based on his observations.

There may have been others before these two men that knew the Syrian hamsters were solitary, these two men are the ones that history remembers though.
Science has gone forth to look into the sociability or lack thereof in Syrian hamsters as well.

N.C. Pratt and R.D. Lisk’s study (Effects of social stress during early pregnancy on litter size and sex ratio in Mesocricetus auratus) suggest that when pregnant females were kept together, that the subordinate females birthed smaller litters with less male pups in comparison to the females that found themselves in a dominant position of the hamsters. It was found that some of the babies were reabsorbed by the subordinate females likely to deal with the stress of the social situation. Basically living together negatively affected the size of litters of subordinate female hamsters.

Fritzsche P., Riek M., and Gattermann R.’s study (Effects of social stress on behavior and corpus luteum in female golden hamsters) indicates that when females were kept in pairs for five weeks, that they showed physical indications of stress when kept in groups. Basically after comparing certain physical developments after this time between group kept females and singly kept females, those kept in social situations showed signs of having endured stress.

Jasnow A, et al.’s study (Acute and Chronic Defeat Suppresses Humoral Immunity of Male Syrian Hamsters) found that living in social situations caused stress which then suppressed the immune system. “These data suggest that social defeat is an important, ecologically relevant model with which to examine stress-induced immune suppression in rodents” (Jasnow, et al).

In a book intended to help aid researchers in understanding the use of hamster’s in laboratory conditions, it is expressly mentioned that, “Adults generally live one to a burrow and will readily fight one another (Nowak and Paradiso, Anderson and Jones, 1984)”.

In the wild Syrian hamsters only come together to mate. The female then raises her young in her burrow and when the pups are old enough to survive on their own, she ejects them from the burrow for them to begin their own solitary lives. The male has no interest to help raise the young and could even prove a danger to the litter. There is some speculation that a pup may adopt the nest from the mother, though there is nothing conclusive about this at this time. The point is, they do not live together. In captivity Syrian hamsters can live together until about six weeks of age, some as long as eight weeks. At this point the chances of fighting increases and it is important that they are separated. They may seem to enjoy each other’s company at a young age, but it will not be long before those play fights become more serious and injury or death could be the end result for one or both hamsters. Gender has no factor in sociability of this species.

Some people have come out to say that they kept Syrians together with no incident. Even if they do not fight right away, it is still stressful for them to be forced in this unnatural predicament. Stress lowers their immune system and puts them at risk of other health issues. Not to mention they could turn one day while you are at school or or work, or one night while you are sleeping. Unable to help them and only to return or wake up and find one or both hurt or dead. It is simply not worth the risk. Within a day they will settle into solitary life as nature has intended and they will be better off for it. It’s nice to think that your pets are the exception to nature, but really the chances of that being true are too slim to risk it.

Hamsters aren’t like humans or even like some other species of rodents. They do not crave social interaction as we do. While they are often content to interact with humans, hamsters of any species are not welcome in their heart.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

NO pets for Christmas!

Simply scroll down for the English version.

Please do remember that giving someone a pet as a present for any occasion is not a good idea. Not unless it has been okay'd by the person receiving the animal. So many animals get forgotten once the 'magic' of a new pet wears off and many people aren't prepared for the responsibility of a pet or perhaps not well researched in the needs of that animal. Look in the shelters even within a month after the holidays. Look through the want ads. Countless animals of all sorts needing homes. Just don't do it and save a life. Animals aren't things that can be thrown in a corner once the human grows bored, they are living beings too and deserve respect.

On a less serious note, Merry Christmas from myself and from my hams, Rory & Bones. Christmas pictures will be up soon. :)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

USDA's Minimum Standard

The USDA stands for the United States Department of Agriculture and they apparently regulate large scale breeders in the US. More info here: USDA licensed breeder= Better?. I don't know how old that is and whether if it's been changed, but using the measurements given in that article I came up with these in comparison to quarter and a 2 shillings coin. Just remember, that even if a breeder is USDA registered, it doesn't mean much.

One: For a syrian over 10 weeks of age-- 15 square inches

Two: Nursing dwarfs (mother, litter & possibly father)-- 25 square inches
Three: For a syrian 5 to 10 weeks of age-- 12.5 square inches

Four: Dwarf up to five weeks of age-- 5 square inches
Five: Dwarf 5 to 10 weeks-- 7.5 square inches
Six: Dwarf over 10 weeks-- 9 square inches
Seven: Nursing Syrians (mother and litter)-- 121 square inches
Eight: For a syrian up to 5 weeks of age-- 10 square inches

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Ikea DETOLF Cage

With the push for people looking for larger cages for hamsters more and more people have run into the problem of not being able to find any. Cages made for hamsters tend to be too small, especially in North America. So then people tend to look into a home made option. Not everyone can afford this option and others just aren't that handy. I know I'm not. So some genius came up with converting furniture from Ikea into hamster cages. The most common are made from Ikea's EXPEDIT and DETOLF. The Detolf is, in my opinion, the easier of the two to convert. This post will focus on how to convert the Ikea Detolf. If you're interested in the EXPEDIT try looking on hamster forums or make good use of Google. I won't be looking at this set up here, they are fantastic and versatile, but a bit beyond my means.

So what is the Detolf?
The Detolf looks like this:

If you tip it on it's back and don't install the shelves and the door than you have a ready made tank, all you need to do is make the lid. I have one myself for my two roborovski dwarf hamsters and they're really do adore the space. I see no negative behaviour indicative of boredom at anymore.

Quick Facts
  • Floorspace: about 1088 square inches of floorspace (7019.340 cm²)
  • Depth (or height when tipped on it's back) is about 14"
  • Can be found at Ikea
  • Easy to convert
  • Bigger cages mean less frequent cage cleanings (hamster's mess is less concentrated)
  • Relatively cheap compared to other options for cages of similar size
For lid ideas try checking out these threads, you may need to run them through Google translate if you want the instructions as the websites are in German, but their ideas a great:

In order to clean these cages it is recommended that you only do partial substrate cleanings as needed. If your hamster has a 'potty corner' than clean most of it out daily. Since the hamster's mess is less concentrated than the substrate should not need to be cleaned as often, especially if you use a deep layer of substrate. I am finding myself using less substrate with the detolf than I was with my 20 gallon long aquarium (360 square inches of floorspace) actually. If you wish to do a full cleaning than you would simply scoop out the substrate (or vacuum it if you want) and than use a hot wet cloth (with some soap or white vinegar) to wipe it down. Since setting up my Detolf in early April of 2010 I have done two full cleanings.

Where to Put it?
I can't tell you where to put it in your home, but I do want to mention that most people use the Ikea EXPEDIT shelf as a stand for the Detolf. It is almost the perfect size, leaving a bit of the ends hanging off. It's almost like Ikea planned for this or something. I have my detolf on the floor in my room, however if you do this be sure that you have something underneath to support the glass. I have some extra pieces of my laminate flooring holding it up. Before I put that underneath the glass actually sagged in the centre and touch the floor- it's just a big risk of the glass cracking.

Fighting Hamsters?
If you have a pair of hamsters and they do end up fighting despite all of this space than you can always insert the middle shelf in and voila! A ready made divider. You only need to find something to support it. Then on each side you still have enough floorspace so you're not below the floorspace minimum of 360 square inches.

Want to see some Setup?
Then please check out this page: Natural Detolf Cages.

My Detolf