Hamsters are inquisitive and persistent little creatures who love hiding in small spaces and are active when the human world is asleep. This adds up to them being great escape artists. It is therefore important to ensure that cages, playpens, carriers and hamster balls are made as secure as possible to prevent escapes: the big wide world is not a safe place for a hamster. If you find you hamster has escaped, here are a few tips to help you recapture him or her safely.
“Help! My hamster has escaped” – First Steps
Firstly, don’t panic! When you see a little bottom disappearing where it shouldn’t be, don’t shout or run around. Stay calm and keep your cool. It makes catching the little one easier as loud noises will scare them.
As soon as you realise someone’s escaped, shut the door of the room so they are contained in a given area. It makes it much easier to search one room than an entire home. Make sure that others in the home know why the door is to be kept shut. This is especially important if you have other pets which may harm your hamster, such as dogs, cats or ferrets.
To catch a hamster that you can see
If you can see the escaped hamster peeking out of a hidey hole, keep as quiet as you can and try not to make sudden moves. Offer a dark cosy place for the hamster to run into and hide, like a long cardboard tube or box. A reluctant hamster can be persuaded into it with some treats at one end. Hamsters usually will walk into a dark space (especially if there are treats in it) and you can cover the open ends, lift the tube or box up and place the hamster back in a secure area.
I have found running after a hamster waving things to try and catch it unhelpful, though potentially my neighbours found the sight of me trying to recapture my very first hamster as an adult entertaining since I was dashing around with a colander! Needless to say that approach didn’t work and he was later caught using a bucket trap (see below).
To catch a hamster you can’t see
If you can’t see the hamster and don’t know where s/he is, make sure that all food is secured and there is no ‘spare’ food lying around. The aim is that all food is in traps so that the hamster has motivation to go into one. I do tend to leave water out so the hamster doesn’t get dehydrated.
Search for the hamster in all obvious dark and cosy places, e.g. under/behind furniture, under the fridge. If you have more than one hamster or small furry, check in the other cages to make sure your escapee hasn’t got into one as serious injuries can result.
If you haven’t managed to locate your hamster then it is time to set some traps in the room(s) where your hamster may be. I use both humane mousetraps and bucket traps. The humane mousetraps are too small for Syrian hamsters, but good for Chinese or Roborovski hamsters.
Some small hamsters can get in and out of humane mousetraps without triggering the trap mechanism, so I tend to tilt them slightly. I also use treats that can’t be grabbed and run off with, such as baby food.
The Bucket Trap
The bucket trap is a container with yummy smelling food, substrate and a moisture source at the bottom. You then build a ramp leading up to the top of the container which should be deep enough that a hamster can’t climb out of it once s/he has fallen into it. I have had good results with this with previous escaped hamsters.
This was a bucket trap for a baby Chinese hamster (the hamster chose to escape on the day I used the buckets to clean out the fish!). It would be no good at all for a Syrian who would be able to hop out easily.
Don’t give up
If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. Hamsters are more active at night, so the late evening or morning is when you are more likely to find them in the traps. Don’t give up after a day. Keep on searching and setting the traps. I know of an infamous young Chinese hamster named Fugative who spent 56 days on the run in his owner’s car, and a cheeky mouse called Phoebe who spent 10 weeks in her owner’s room before recapture. My little baby Chinese hamster was on the loose for 4 days before falling for the humane mousetrap. All were none the worse for their experiences!
After you’ve caught your hamster
When you’ve caught your hamster, give him/her a health check, particularly looking for:
injuries to the legs, back or paws, for example from falling
cuts, bites or wounds, especially to the belly, face and paws (commonly occur if a hamster has walked over other rodent cages)
signs of dehydration
dirt, wetness or sticky substances in the fur (make sure a hamster is clean and dry before placing him/her in the cage)
Before you put the hamster back in his or her cage, make sure you have checked it over for the escape point, such as loose bars, poorly fitting parts or chewed areas. Bulldog clips are useful for securing the doors on wire cages. Sticky tape is a good way of securing the door on hamster balls as hamsters can quickly learn to twist these and escape.