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Similar to cats, hamsters are solitary hunters, so they may not require human interactions all the time. However, there are several things to consider if you plan on going on a vacation and leaving your hamster alone for a couple of days, like an ample supply of food, moderate temperature, cleanliness, and a variety of toys for entertainment.
Can you leave a hamster alone for a week or so? You definitely can.
Let us discuss in detail how to keep your little guy healthy, safe and sound in case a situation like that ever arises.
How Long Can You Leave Your Hamster Alone?
Despite the fact that hamsters are by nature very introverted due to being solitary hunters, they may not be able to survive alone for a very long period of time all by themselves. They may be independent in the wild, but in captivity, it’s a different story. One week should be the maximum time period.
Avoid leaving them all on their own any longer than that. If, however, your circumstances do require you to leave for longer than a week, it’s best that you contact a professional pet sitter or anyone trustworthy in your friends and family to regularly look after your hamster.
Considering The Breed Of The Hamster In Such A Situation
Different hamsters require different ways and time durations for being properly tamed, depending on their breed. In case you need to leave your hamster alone for a long period of time, you may not want it to end up getting untamed in the process. How long can a hamster stay tamed depends on breed to breed.
Syrian hamsters generally do well and stay tamed for a long time. Other breeds, such as dwarf hamsters, require human interaction every 3-4 days and may become untamed if you do not interact with them for longer than 4 days. It’s always wise to do some research beforehand on exactly how taming works for your specific breed of hamster.
Considering the Food Supply
Make sure you leave enough food and water supply in the hamster’s cage if you ever plan on leaving it alone for a couple of days. Sounds like a no-brainer, but there are some things you need to consider here; the kind of food you leave in their food bowls, and the condition as well as the number of water bottles you leave in their cage.
Do not leave fresh fruits, vegetables, or meat in their cage for any longer than a day, as it ends up rotting. What’s worse is that considering hamsters have the tendency to hoard food and store them for future use, you wouldn’t want them to store and eat rotten food which would end up them getting sick. Also, avoid foods with sugar content.
Stick to dry foods like seeds, pellets, and mealworms which can stay unspoiled for longer periods of time.
Considering the Water Supply
Staying hydrated is very important for any species. Most hamsters can survive without water for 2 days or so. They have a tendency to knock things over though and may end up doing so to their water bottle, causing breakage and leakage. That’s why it’s best to keep multiple water bottles so that if one breaks, gets clogged, or runs into other issues, your hamster can stay hydrated through the other ones.
Keeping the Temperature Appropriate To Prevent Hibernation
When a hamster is subjected to temperatures below 65 Fahrenheit for several hours, it may refuse to eat and drink, and not be able to breathe properly. This is called hibernation. If the temperature is not brought back between the normal 65-75 Fahrenheit range in such a situation, the hamster may die of cold. Similarly, if the temperature is too hot, it may cause a heatstroke.
Make sure while you’re away, you keep your hamster in an area where the temperature is 65 to 75 Fahrenheit. In case you live in a cold place, contact a pet sitter or a trusted friend or family member to regularly visit your house, look after your hamster, and turn on the space heater or a central heating system, whatever you have, to keep the temperature warm enough. Also, make sure the area is ventilated properly.
There have been some harrowing incidents in which owners mistook a hibernating hamster for a dead one and ended up burying it. The quickest way to tell if a hamster is hibernating or has passed away is whether its body has stiffened or is still soft. A dead hamster will have a stiff body, while a hibernating one will have a very slow and subtle heartbeat, and will wake up if warmed by stroking it with the hands or by bringing it in a warm area.
Keeping Your Hamster Entertained While You’re Gone
Your pet hamster needs some recreational activities apart from eating and drinking while you’re gone. Invest in a number of good-quality toys and leave them in their cage. Below are some of the toys you can give to your hamster:
1) Hamster Wheels: The classic hamster toys, which keep hamsters physically active in captivity as they are able to run to their heart’s content. Make sure the wheel you purchase is not meshed as their feet might get stuck between the meshes leading to injuries. Buy a solid hamster wheel and don’t move it to a different place in the cage the hamster isn’t used to.
2) Hiding Places: Hamsters like to hide. There are a number of plastic little ‘homes’ you can buy, or you can even make DIY hiding places for your hamster with cardboard tubes and other materials. Just make sure these toys are the right size so your hamster can go inside them.
3) Chewable Toys: Hamsters’ teeth grow quickly, and they need something to constantly chew on to maintain their oral health. There are wooden chewable toys you can purchase from any pet store, or you can hide little treats in their hiding places. Again, make sure you’re only leaving dry foods that won’t rot over time in this case. Avoid evergreen wood.
Should You Clean Your Hamster’s Cage Before Leaving?
You might think you should give your hamster’s cage a deep and thorough cleaning since you’re leaving it alone for a long period of time and don’t want the cage to be overly smelly when you return, but this will actually do your hamster more harm than good.
As mentioned before, hamsters tend to hoard and hide stuff. If you clean the cage thoroughly you might end up throwing away their hidden items, which would cause them mental distress, and deprive them of the food they’ve stored for future use and emergencies. If there’s some obvious, visible dust or dirt, it is okay to just do a quick clean-up. But don’t go for a thorough one.
Also, make sure that the bedding you use is made of absorbent materials so it does not end up getting dirty while you’re away. Beddings made of natural, raw paper usually work best. Avoid scented beddings, as well as those made of pine or cedarwood shavings
Considering Your Hamster’s Individual Habits and Routines
Last but not the least, consider your hamster’s personality. Your hamster may be used to playing at a certain time of the day, or enjoy a certain kind of food or toy depending on its individual personality and routine. If the hamster is deprived of what they’re used to for a long time, it may cause them to be stressed.
Make sure you contact a pet sitter or someone in your friends or family willing to take care of your hamster and let them know about any unique preferences, habits or routines that your hamster has.
Should You Keep Multiple Hamsters in One Cage?
Most inexperienced pet owners make the mistake of treating their pets as small humans instead of animals with natures, instincts, and requirements intrinsically different from humans.
It may be tempting to keep multiple hamsters in one cage for the sake of their own “company” and entertainment in case you plan on leaving them for a long interval, but this can lead to some disastrous outcomes. Hamsters don’t need another hamster’s company, as they are very territorial and will end up getting into fatal fights if kept in the same cage.
However, in this case, too, it’s best to do some research as there are variations amongst different breeds. For example, most Syrian and Chinese hamsters must be kept alone, but two dwarf hamsters can get along with each other in the same case provided they are given adequate spaces for themselves.
Do not make the mistake of pairing a dwarf with a Syrian hamster, or any breed with a different one in this case.
Hamsters may be small animals and have an introverted nature, but that does not mean they can be left alone in captivity irresponsibly. As responsible pet owners, we must ensure that our pets have enough food, water, and access to entertainment while we cannot personally attend to them.
In any case, investing a few bucks in a professional pet sitter who’ll check on your hamster’s food and water daily, will ensure they’ll remain healthy while you’re not at home.