Saturday, November 16, 2013

Critter Q&A: Dwarf Hamster Bonding?

Q: I have a baby dwarf hamster, and I am looking for another to stick in the same cage. Is this a good idea?

A: Dwarf hamsters often enjoy the company of another dwarf hamster, so it’s a reasonable question to ask. This is not an option with Syrian hamsters, as they are very territorial and will fight and possibly kill other hamsters in their vicinity.

In general, when pairing same-sex dwarf hamsters the younger the better. Same-sex adults aren't always so easy to pair. Most adult dwarf hamsters will accept a youngster as a cagemate. A gentle, male, adult dwarf hamster is particularly likely to bond with a male, dwarf hamster youngster.

Here are some guidelines for doing the introduction:
1. Never plop a dwarf hamster into another hamster's cage. They both must be moved to a clean, neutral area with no other scents on the cage, bedding or accessories.

2. It's best if the dwarf hamsters meet on neutral turf outside a cage so you have quick access if there's danger. Possible neutral areas include the bathtub, a big box, your bed or a blocked-off area of the floor. Set out some tubes and toys and treats, but nothing that allows one hamster to corner and trap another; no boxes with only one end open, for example. The hamsters can explore and play, and eventually they'll check out one another. Petting them and talking to them is fine, but handle both of the hamsters equally.

3. Expect to let the hamsters scuffle. Once you put them together, you won't separate them again unless it's for real. No play dates or visits in advance. After the hamsters have played together outside the cage, eaten together, and you've seen no violence, move them to the cage. Make sure you have at least two of everything in their shared cage: two nest houses, two wheels, two food dishes, two water bowls. This helps reduce the chance of bullying.

4. The hamsters may bat at each other or roll and tussle. This is normal, but watch for lengthy tussles, squealing or any actual wounds. Guard against cornering in toys, and watch that neither hamster keeps the other from food, water or rest.

5. The only time to separate a newly formed pair is when they get exercise ball time, and even then it’s best to put them in their balls at the same time in the same area. Don't handle one hamster without handling both. Keeping their scents consistent is really important. If they’re females, be very careful not to leave any trace of scent of a male on them during handling.

Things to avoid:
• Pairing hamsters when you won't be around to observe them closely for a few days.
• The smell of the opposite sex on anything the hamsters encounter, especially you.
• Any spots where one hamster can corner the other.
• Starts and stops in the hamster pairing. No "visits" beforehand.
• Handling one hamster without the other as they begin to bond.

It’s wonderful that you’re thinking of getting your dwarf hamster a friend. Follow these guidelines, and you’ll have a good chance at success. Be prepared for the possibility that it won’t work out, however, and have an extra cage handy. You’ll already have all the accessories!

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