Our sweet hamster Poppy has been home with us for 10 days - she's already made huge progress and hit the first few major milestones in her life as a young hammy!
Typically, we're big advocates of "adopt, don't shop". However, with hamsters and other small animals (mice, guinea pigs, etc.) you really want to go to a breeder to ensure that your pet has been treated well, is healthy, and - in the case of females - not pregnant! Big chain pet stores often do not treat their small animals well, and they're almost always already mature adults. Hamsters only live 1.5-3 years, so you're much better off getting a younger hamster that you can tame yourself and is in a controlled, safe environment until they come home with you. Okay, rant over. Back to Poppy!
We anticipated her hiding in the travel cage as we drove her home - but that wasn't the case! She was exploring the tunnel and little cucumber treat we put in there for her, and kept peering out at us to see what was going on. When we got her back to the house and into her regular cage, she tried out everything before hiding away in the big tunnel we got for her. She went on her wheel, over the bridge that looks like a rainbow, into and on top of the hidey hut, and up and down the ramp to the second story part of the cage to find her food and water. We were so surprised that she didn't go right into hiding, but now it's not a surprise at all; Poppy is super curious and love to try new things! We like to say she's a little spicy. ;)
Poppy slept in her tunnel for the first 24 hours we had her at home, which gave us a little scare. We'd looked up all the diseases and signs of illness in hamsters, and we were very worried about her getting wet tail due to stress. If not treated by a vet in 12 hours or so, young hamsters often die. Since we couldn't see her, there was no way to check her symptoms.
But of course, in true Poppy style, she started coming out a few times a day starting the second day: once in the late morning, once around 4 or 5, and again at 10:30ish in the evening. Hamsters are nocturnal and crepuscular, which means they're most active at dawn, dusk, and at night.
We left her alone for 48 hours, just talking to her in encouraging voices and only opening the cage to change her food and water. This is important, because the change of scenery is very stressful to hamsters and adding any additional stress in the first couple of days by trying to interact physically can be really harmful.
Then taming began. Poppy was just over a month old when we got her, and had only been handled a few times (mostly by Jenni when we were choosing which hammy we wanted). She didn't trust people or hands coming at her, so we started by passing her sunflower seeds and little pieces of corn through the bars of her cage. Then we moved on to placing the food in our hand laid flat on the bedding of her cage and allowing her to take it - more and more, she got comfortable stepping partially or entirely onto our hands to get the food, which helps her learn that hands are nice and we aren't out to eat her like other predators would be!
The next step is bathtub bonding - you tempt your hamster into a mug with a treat inside, and then transport them to the tub with a blanket and some fun toys in it and let them explore! This gets them some necessary out-of-cage action, and they can get used to you interacting with them by feeding, picking up, and even eventually petting them. Turns out, Poppy doesn't like the tub. It was too big for her, and she kept trying to escape up the slippery walls and getting frantic.
Instead, we tried a large cardboard box filled with the same blanket and toys, and she loves it. She makes tunnels under the blanket, will take food from us, and is just now getting used to sitting for a few seconds in two hands cupped a few inches above the ground! We keep her out for about half an hour every evening (she now only comes out in the late morning and then from 7ish onwards) and help train her to be as comfortable with us as possible!
We had another scare - Ali was reading the reviews of some of the things we'd bought her (which we check before getting anything) and saw some very recent reviews for the bath sand we got her about how they'd changed the formula without telling anyone and it was now super dusty (it should be dust free) and was killing hamsters within a matter of days! Poppy had only used her sand three times, but that was pretty much the same amount as some of the hamsters that had passed and so we were very worried. She doesn't have any signs of respiratory distress, though, so we're just keeping an eye on her and not letting her use that sand anymore! (For any hamster parents out there, it's the Tiny Friends Farm small animal bathing sand - stay away!)
We already love Poppy so much. She always does BIG stretches when she wakes up, and does giant yawns as well! I (Jenni) am particularly obsessed with her little paws! As first time hammy parents, we're just doing as much research as possible and doing our best to give Poppy the best life ever.