Hamster owner spotlights mistreatment in pet stores

Two weeks ago, we featured an enlightening article discussing the mistreatment of betta fish — and since then, I decided I needed to follow up with another animal whose life is plagued by misconceptions: the hamster. 

You’ve seen varieties of hamsters in pet stores from “teddy bear” hamsters (Syrian) to Roborovski, Chinese and Russian Dwarf hamsters. I’m sure you’ve watched them in their glass boxes, housed with others and a thin layer of bedding that wouldn’t even count as an inch coating the bottom. That is where the first red flag can be seen: hamsters are burrowers, they like to have enough bedding to dig tunnels. 

Surely it is just for display purposes, one might think. But if you look at Petco’s official hamster guide, you will find tons of misinformation. It explains that a cage should be 12” W x 12” D x 24” H at minimum. This is completely false, as a cage that small would be miserable for a hamster of any size to live in.

I researched for months before getting my first hamster, Bruno. What I found was many hamster owners recommended a 75 gallon tank, IKEA cages such as the IKEA detolf or, as a minimum, a 40 gallon breeder tank. Mine is a 55 gallon storage bin from Home Depot. 

The Petco guide also says to provide hamsters with roughly two inches of bedding. This is abysmal compared to the actual amount of 10 inches. Like I mentioned, they are burrowers. They find comfort in creating a tunnel system underneath everything.

This description is the exact opposite of what pet stores would tell you. Hamsters will get bored of tiny cages, rampaging as they try to escape from the sheer lack of enrichment. 

The guide mentions that an exercise ball might be good for your hamsters to play. This is one of the greatest misconceptions, as it closes off the environment to the hamster and they are trapped inside, making it hard to navigate. 

They have poor eyesight, too, so this makes it all the more difficult to see where they are going. Plus, hamster balls are an improper size that can cause an uncomfortable curvature of their spine, giving them more issues in the long-run. That is, if their toes don’t get caught in the air holes sooner.

Now, I want to step away from the Petco guide and inform you of the greatest dishonor against hamsters from these pet stores. Have you ever wondered where they get their small animals? Pet stores are known to get their hamsters from rodent mills. 

These mills are designed to breed tons of hamsters at a quick pace in order to sell to pet stores. There was an article written by PETA UK a few years ago where they investigated one of these rodent mills in Europe. While I don’t particularly support PETA, the article showed photos of neglected rodents with diseases, packed in tiny cages with 20 or more of their kind, sometimes with corpses that have not been removed due to lack of care. If you decide to look at the article, just be warned, these are devastating sights.

So, where can you ethically get a hamster? Lucky for you, my friend, there are rescues and breeders. One Syrian hamster breeder on Instagram is Poppy Bee Hamstery in Virginia. Their social media content involves photos and videos of their new litters as they are born, as well as informational videos about hamster care. 

One of their recent posts discussed the hamster illness known as “wet tail,” a bacterial infection that could be deadly if not caught immediately. This is something every hamster owner needs to know about. I lost Bruno to wet tail a month ago because I didn’t understand what it was and I caught it too late. 

There is so much more I could say about the welfare of hamsters, but alas my article has to come to an end. I can, however, safely say that if you made it this far, you already know a lot more about these lovable creatures than you did before. They are intelligent little balls of fluff and love, and if taken care of properly they provide some of the best companionship you will ever experience.




Featured photo by Peyton Bortner