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Old 03-14-2022, 10:15 PM   #1
PhoenixEcho
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Default New Syrian doesn't want to calm down

Recently, I came to adopt a hamster that I've named Jaeger. He didn't come from a good situation, so it's taken time for him to somewhat settle and get used to me. So far we're at the point where I can stroke him but not to where I can pick him up without gloves. As he'll still bite if I try, even if it's just to clean his cage.

Unfortunately, that's proven to be just the start of my problems with Jaeger. Unlike my previous and current hamsters, nothing seems to make him happy. He gets fed once a day, same as the others, and is given treats in the evening. However he's been throwing tantrums and knocking the bowl over when it's empty. I know that he wants more food but I also know that he's been storing it. So I don't put in anymore until feeding time the next day.

On top of that, Jaeger has constant cage rage. He still keeps gnawing at the cage bars despite all the toys and his wheel. And while the cage isn't overcrowded, I can say that he's got a ton to play with. Same as the others. Chew sticks, barbell, a see-saw, timothy hay chews, even a swing until he ate it. Plus he's got a good sized wheel in his habitat. Which, while it's not a fish tank, is still a decent size.

Jaeger also gets roaming time in his hamster ball. Something I know he enjoys. As he'll start zooming around the house as soon as I put him in it. And then he gets mad when he has to go back home.

After saying all this, I guess my question is: With all that I've done, what can I do to help this guy settle down? I'm completely stumped as none of my hamsters have ever been this feisty or aggravated. So if anyone has an idea or advice, please help!
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Old 03-15-2022, 02:03 AM   #2
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Default Re: New Syrian doesn't want to calm down

Hello and welcome. How long has he been with you? I'm just wondering if he needed a bit more settling in time. It can take them two weeks without any changes or cleaning, to adjust to a new environment. Especially if he is a more mature hamster and has had changes of environment previously.

I wouldn't leave his food bowl empty though. That can stress them. They are hard wired to be anxious about food shortages and foraging for food (even if it's from a bowl) is a natural instinct. How much do you put in his bowl each day? Surely he can't be taking all of it? They vary in this though. Our first Syrian used to pouch most of the food from his bowl (a tablespoonful) and only leave the bits he didn't like. Our later Syrians were more picky and would leave loads of it behind. But one thing I've found with hamsters is they won't eat "old" food from the bowl. So even if there's food in there, they don't want it till new is added.

I put about a tablespoonful a day out. And if there's any left after the first day, just top it up a little bit. Then on the second day I throw away anything that's left and add a new tablespoonful. It might sound wasteful but they need to know fresh food is there each day and hamster mix isn't that expensive really. And they don't eat that much.

Yes they hoard most of it and eat from their hoards, and their hoards can get quite large over time, but can be "pruned" from the bottom at a later stage. But this is their natural instinct to feel secure - to build a big hoard.

It must be difficult when he's had some issues as well but I'm just wondering if the food thing has become a bit of a run in between you and he's getting frustrated.

You mentioned cleaning him out. How often are you cleaning him out and do you clean out his nest and hoard as well? Sorry if you know all this already as you've clearly had hamsters before. But generally it's recommended not to do full cage cleans, but spot clean the pee area mainly once or twice a week. Or use a litter tray, then the cage stays clean and dry for a long time. If there's plenty of substrate (4 to 6") and you spot clean you can easily go 2 to 3 months without needing to change the substrate. And then best not to clean anything else at the same time or it removes all their scent and they feel stressed by that (which can lead to bar chewing).

I also never remove the nest and hoard. Unless the nest is pee'd in I leave it alone. They keep it clean usually, replacing bits of it with new nesting material.

When I do a substrate change (often not for 3 months) I prune the hoard then if it's got very big - by taking away stuff from underneath and leaving the top more recent layer. (They like to bury their hoard under their nest so if that's the case it's easy to do that).

But never take away the whole hoard or they will go frantic and see you as a thief! If the hoard gets pee'd on then it does need removing but I always try and leave a bit of the old hoard behind that's dry and add some new food in the same place to replace some of it. Or if it all has to be removed (rarely) add new food to replace it. Which consoles them a bit.

He is definitely communicating with you if he's tipping his food bowl over to say "where's my food?!".

Cage set up can make a difference as well. If he's bar chewing it could be cage stress or cleaning stress or it could be the cage isn't quite big enough possibly.

But also just the way things work. They do best with 4 to 6" minimum depth of substrate (the larger the cage the less you need to replace it), a large house/nesting box that's dark inside and open underneath and sat on the substrate (helps keep it ventilated and they can bury hoards under their nest - a normal behaviour). They need somewhere dark to retreat to.

Hamster balls are a controversial topic. Some people won't use them at all as it's difficult to know whether it causes stress to the hamster. Also most balls are too small for Syrians and they need a rat size ball - but most rat sized balls have slits that are too large and they can get their toes caught and injuries (which can happen anyway).

It can be better to have a safe area for them to have out of cage time. Either a hamsterproof section of a room or a playpen set up. I have a playpen that slots together and I can put it away again afterwards, but mainly our Syrians (once reasonably tame) have time on the sofa with me there to supervise. And some free roaming - if you can hamsterproof the room. Although I wouldn't do free roaming initially until they're more tame.

I do occasionally use a hamster ball for a Syrian but not as regular exercise as it's nicer for them to be able to move around freely. A ball is very good for transporting them safely from a to b though, so they can't leap out of your hands and fall - eg from cage to playpen.

Just wondering if some bathtub taming might help as well. You can keep your gloves on. This can gradually build touch trust. It could take a few weeks or may happen quickly.

So you transport them to the dry bath tub with the plug in. Have a couple of toys in there - maybe a tunnel and a hideout or even a spare wheel. And let them run around in there. They usually try and climb the sides and slither up and down. While he's doing that you can just gently stroke him on the back once, with one finger. If he jerks around as if to bite, wait a bit and then try again a bit later a second time. And no more than that first session (either with your gloves on or use an old toothbrush so you're at arms length).

Leave it two or three days then have another session. Same again. My experience is by the second or third session they stop bothering to jerk around and accept the stroke on the back. That is a big turning point. They have accepted touch from behind and don't feel threatened by you doing that any more.

So the next stage is to put your hand on the bottom of the bath, palm up - and let him just walk over it as he's going around in the bathtub. Don't obviously stick your hand in front of him. Just leave it there for him to walk over. Maybe do that for one session.

Next session do the same again but this time as he walks over the palm of your hand, just raise your hand very slightly, still flat, maybe 1cm but let him just walk off as usual.

Maybe a couple of times. Then raise your hand a bit higher as he walks onto it - maybe an inch - but still let him walk off. From there you should be able to pick him up and handle him and him be tame. Walking from hand to hand. Although I find most hamsters aren't that keen on walking from hand to hand for more than a few seconds and want to be doing something else.

From there you can have sofa or bed time. I like the sofa as it has a back and sides. Our last syrian used to enjoy climbing up the back. And I'd gently retrieve him when he got to the top. Or he'd like climbing the cushions. Eventually they want to try and jump off so you need to be there to retrieve them or have treats or a hide on the sofa. Sometimes they'll just sit in the hide for a wash, but then they're contented. And/or some playpen time. With a few toys in. They can get frustrated in a playpen too and just scrabble at a corner to try and get out. No space is big enough! Even when ours free roamed in the living room the main focus was trying to get out of the door into the next room! But if you're interacting with him the whole time then it's all part of the game. Retrieving him, giving him a stroke and a chat and him off again.

I can kind of sense your frustration with him a bit (and bar chewing can drive you mad) hence suggesting the taming sessions as it sounds like you two maybe need to bond a bit.

If he is biting when you're trying to clean his cage then maybe do it when he's out of the cage. (ie put him in a playpen nearby or where someone else can keep an eye on him or in a pet carrier in another room). But I think possibly you might be doing too much cleaning/too often.

I used to use the pet carrier (it's a guinea pig sized one) with a little house and some food in and put it in the bedroom with a blanket over (ie well out of smell range and sound range) and they just have a nap usually. They can get quite miserable just hearing you cleaning the cage and knowing you're messing with their stuff!.

If he trusts you he should just follow your hand around if you're spot cleaning a bit (checking what you're doing). But we do need to respect their environment and privacy a bit to build that trust.

I made a lot of mistakes in the early days but have learned that partial, less frequent cleans are better for the hamster. It's our human instinct to want to clean everything at the same time and have it "clean" but that's like someone coming into your house and moving all your furniture round and stripping your bed and you not feeling at home any more.

Do you have a photo of the cage set up? We might be able to make some suggestions or tweaks that could help him settle. Also check things are working ok. Sometimes they bar chew to get our attention and tell us something is wrong - like water bottle not working, wheel stuck and not moving etc. Or not being able to access something (ramp too steep or wobbly).
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Old 03-15-2022, 02:11 AM   #3
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Default Re: New Syrian doesn't want to calm down

Also when trying to pick him up, I wouldn't try that when he's actually in his cage - many hamsters just really don't like a hand in their cage. Maybe he could walk into a tube with a treat at the far end to tempt him in, and lift him out that way. Wear your gloves - you'll need to put both hands over the ends of the tube to lift him out and they can push hard against your hand which can make you jump and you don't want to drop him. Have a box or something right next to you so you can put the tube down in that and then transport him to the bathtub or playpen eg.

Or I used to let ours walk straight into the hamster ball from the tube by putting one end in the ball as I took my hand off then when they walk in the ball, pop the lid on quick!

Maybe let him run in the ball just for a minute after coming out and then carry him in the ball to the bathtub to let him out for a taming session/play time. I used to just put the ball down in the bath gently and take the lid off on its side so they can just walk out and then leave the ball in there (wedged against the plug) with the opening on the side. Our hamster used to hop back in the ball to say he'd had enough and wanted to go now.

They should never be left in a ball for more than 10 or 15 minutes in one go though without a break out of it, or that is stressful and they can feel trapped, and it needs constant supervision in case of accidents.
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Old 03-15-2022, 06:19 AM   #4
PhoenixEcho
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Default Re: New Syrian doesn't want to calm down

I've had Jaeger little under three weeks. He came to me just a few days after one of my other boys, Jak, passed away. I adopted him from a friend who asked me to take him or he was going back to the pet shop.

Concerning the cleaning, I was doing it because one corner of the cage was essentially caked in hamster poop. As in, he'd done some major dumps in that spot for such a little guy. That's the part that I cleaned out because I didn't want it to get stuck there.

As for food, I feed all my boys the Full Cheeks hamster pellets. These are good sized chunks. To the point where I have to break some in half. I fill the bowl and he takes the whole thing. As in, within half an hour, he empties it out and still wants more. I don't give him more because I don't want to overfeed him. Which is why I keep him on the same feeding schedule as the others.

Ball time is done for about ten minutes a day. Jaeger loves it more than Daxter, who's been known to literally walk right into his hamster ball. He's literally all over the place to the point where I have to block off the door to keep him from getting down the hallway. I haven't tried letting them run around the bath tub yet because my grandfather has a habit of calling me at the worst times and I don't want to leave them alone.
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Old 03-15-2022, 07:43 AM   #5
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Default Re: New Syrian doesn't want to calm down

Hi. Are you in the US? I'n guessing so as the food is sold by Petsmart It's great that you've adopted this little guy and we'd love to help get things right for him, so please don't take any of the following personally - but some changes need to be made for his wellbeing.

I looked up Full Cheeks Hamster food and I think that is probably the main part of the problem. It's really important you get a different mix.

Firstly these are Timothy Hay pellets and totally unsuitable for a hamster unfortunately - while Guinea pigs can cope with this much roughage, hamsters can't. And that probably explains the sticky poo mess (which shouldn't be there - they should have small little black seed type poops you can just pick up easily in your fingers).

So it sounds like he might have diarrhoea or digestive upset as well, which can become quite dangerous.

If it's the food I've linked then one pellet a day isn't enough and it would be underfeeding him which he is probably trying to tell you. It does say in the reviews that they are quite big pellets but most reviewers seem to be giving a few of them.

The ingredients aren't good for a hamster anyway (it sounds similar to Oxbow which is also bad for them).

They really need a muesli mix as that's more normal for them and yes they do pick things out and not eat all of it but they still get the nutrients required and it allows a happy hamster and more normal behaviours. You can even do a tiny bit of scatter feeding at the same time as putting some in his bowl, with a muesli mix and he'll really enjoy foraging for that.

It's really annoying that they sell these things full of Timothy Hay for hamsters, but then it's usually better to get a Hamster specific food rather than one for Hamsters and Gerbils (who have a completely different dietary requirement).

I don't want to alarm you but we had one member's hamster who starved to death - because she hadn't been giving him enough to stop him hoarding it, and then removing his hoards when cleaning out. He had also been frantic before he died. They can also start eating their poops if they're short on food (which is actually normal behaviour as they have two stomachs and can redigest vitamins etc from their poops). They're hard wired to do this in case of food shortages in the wild. But if he has diarrhoea he can't even do that. So sorry if I've misunderstood, I was just worried he might not be getting enough food and he does sound to have loose poo.

I notice reviewers said hamsters really enjoy it as well (but it's still very bad for them).

I think it will make life a whole lot easier for both you and the hamster to use a better mix - which doesn't necessarily cost more.

According to some of our US reviewers, the best hamster mix in the US which the right contents, sugar free and good ingredients, is Higgins Vita Garden. Which is a bit low in protein so needs extra protein treats to supplement it.

If it was me I would probably just use Harry or Hazel Hamster which includes everything needed and no supplementing necessary - which is easier for some owners and I've used it for our hamsters, who have all lived long lives. The pieces are the right size for a Syrian hamster as well and they like the food. It has whole sunflowers and peanuts in as well as some biscuit and pellet type things. It contains all the correct nutrients and vitamins and is sugar free. Most of them leave the brown pellety things in it, which doesn't really matter as that's the fibre element and they get enough fibre from the rest or from a bit of daily veg which they should have too.

They absolutely love a bit of fresh veg daily and that will make your hamster happy too. Just a really tiny bit - about 1cm cubed size (although can be any shape - that;s just to give an indication of size). Cucumber is a favourite as is broccoli. And both of those keep at least a week in the fridge. Also raw carrot. Those have been my staples, rotating them so it's different each day. And carrots keep for weeks in the fridge (although not their favourite veg!) Cucumber and broccoli seem to be the favourites. Ours look forward to it every day and it's the first thing they go for. And they actually eat it rather than hoarding it as well so you don't need to worry about it going rotten in the cage (which is why you only give a very tiny amount). I have never yet known a hamster hoard fresh veg.

I don't know where you'd get the Higgins Vita Garden from, but I know you can get Tiny Friends Harry Hamster or Hazel Hamster from Amazon online. They are both identical mixes, but Harry is the Uk marketed version and Hazel is the US marketed version. The labelling is slightly different due to different legislation for different countries.

But it's an all in one mix but also has lots of variety which they like. I would suggest switching his food asap and hope his bowels settle down, but keep an eye on that as they can get dehydrated really quickly. So best to check his water bottle is working daily (I tap my finger under the spout to make sure water is coming out).

But introduce the veg gradually or that can give them diarrhoea if they're not used to it. So give it every third day for a week and then you can go to every day. But honestly it's their reason for living with our hamsters! As soon as they smell it they're up and eating it.

Best not to give cabbage or lettuce which is too watery (there are varying views on whether that's ok occasionally but I don't risk it and they like cucumber and broccoli anyway).

So hopefully that will see some improvements. You'd need to give about a rounded tablespoonful a day in his bowl and also try scattering a few bits of it on the substrate as well so he can enjoy foraging for it - they really like doing that. But I wouldn't scatter all of it as if they don't want all of it it can make the cage messy so best to put most in the bowl still.

The only thing is I've just noticed Harry and Hazel Hamster seems to be ridiculously priced or not available on Amazon right now, but you can get it here ($11.99 for 2 bags).

2 PACK Supreme Tiny Friends Harry Hamster Food Tasty Mix 700g Sugar-Free Peanut | eBay

If he likes his ball and its supervised then that's fine. If you can at some point, you could maybe try the bathtub taming. Or even just do playpen taming if you can set up a playpen.

You haven't had him long anyway so I think once you get the food routine sorted, he'll be happier. But if the cage is a bit small or there isn't enough substrate, he will bar chew.

One thing I'd suggest as a good investment is a corner potty litter tray. They will use it and then the cage stays clean and dry. They nearly always choose a corner of the cage as a toilet as you've mentioned, so if you put the potty litter tray there, with Chinchilla bathing sand in, then I am absolutely sure he will use it! All ours have. It really makes life easier for both of you. The sand soaks up the pee and the cage stays clean and dry. So you just take the litter tray out and empty it and refill it once or twice a week (not every day - not necessary). And don't have to mess with his cage too much. He will pee in it. Their poops they tend to do anywhere, but they aren't dirty or smelly - (as I mentioned they even hoard some for emergency food supplies or eat the odd one) - they should like little black seeds almost. So don't worry about those, unless there start to be a lot around, then you can just pick them out (spot clean them out).

Spot cleaning is basically just removing a handful of substrate in an area where it's perhaps a bit poopy, and adding another new handful to replace it. Then mix it in a bit so it still smells familiar,

Using the potty does mean buying sand as well as substrate but it lasts for ages. It must be Chinchilla sand not "dust" as that's bad for their airways.

This is the right size corner litter tray (be careful some online are huge!)

Amazon.com

Some people use the tiny Friends chinchilla sand. Others use childrens play sand but that needs baking to sterilise it. Some reptile sands aren't suitable though.
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Old 03-15-2022, 09:38 AM   #6
PhoenixEcho
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Default Re: New Syrian doesn't want to calm down

Okay, I'll look into the new food. Thank you.

The others don't have any issue with it but there's no harm in checking it out. Though when I feed them, they each get several pellets since I never even considered just giving them one each. So when I say that I fill the bowl, it gets filled. Jaeger just empties out the whole thing and stores it all. Then he throws a tantrum wanting more.

I already give them bits of carrot and apples. Though not often, since I don't wanna deal with wet tail on a regular basis.
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Old 03-15-2022, 10:46 PM   #7
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Default Re: New Syrian doesn't want to calm down

Okay, I picked up some new food and a new water bottle when I got off from work. I also received a package with some toys that I ordered for the trio. I gave Jaeger a chance to try the new food while I switched out his water dish and put in fresh toys. It might be a bit early to be sure but I can at least say that the new food was met with great enthusiasm.
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Old 03-16-2022, 09:11 PM   #8
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Default Re: New Syrian doesn't want to calm down

Oh that's good to hear! They do like the variety and finding things in the food mix they like . Veg won't cause wet tail - too much veg when they're not used to it can cause diarrhoea - but wet tail is something much more serious (mind you, you don't want them getting diarrhoea either). But if he's used to occasional veg he'll be fine having it daily. To be honest it's probably the very high roughage pellets that caused the diarrhoea - the hay based pellets have far too much roughage for a hamster's intestines - better for rabbits or guinea pigs.

Hope he settles down soon. My experience is their nest and hoard are their most precious things and if those are left alone as much as possible then they're contented. And if they have plenty of substrate to mess about with (they seem to like piling it up into little mountains or around a house (for insulation?). The mountains I think are to hide secondary hoards. If the substrate isn't deep enough and they can't bury hoards they can get a bit anxious about them and how to hide them.
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Old 03-16-2022, 09:29 PM   #9
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Default Re: New Syrian doesn't want to calm down

Oh, they've all been making mountains with the bedding. It's a wonder if I can find them without shaking the treat bag. Once they hear that, BOOM! They're out faster than the Roadrunner on crack.

Good news though. Jaeger hasn't tipped his bowl over once since the new food arrived. It's still staying in its place and there's actually still some food left in it. I'm hoping that's a sign that he knows he doesn't have to panic about his meals anymore. But since it's only been two days, I'll have to wait and see. But hey, progress is still progress. So I'll take it.
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Old 03-17-2022, 02:12 AM   #10
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Default Re: New Syrian doesn't want to calm down

Quote:
Originally Posted by PhoenixEcho View Post
Oh, they've all been making mountains with the bedding. It's a wonder if I can find them without shaking the treat bag. Once they hear that, BOOM! They're out faster than the Roadrunner on crack.

Good news though. Jaeger hasn't tipped his bowl over once since the new food arrived. It's still staying in its place and there's actually still some food left in it. I'm hoping that's a sign that he knows he doesn't have to panic about his meals anymore. But since it's only been two days, I'll have to wait and see. But hey, progress is still progress. So I'll take it.
Haha, I would love to see them rushing out when they hear the treat bag.
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