Catching an Escapee – How to Deal with a Houdini Hamster (or Other Small Animal)

Small animals can make great pets and soon become mini additions to the family, providing endless hours of entertainment with their funny little ways. Watching a hamster filling its cheeks with food, doing laps on a wheel or careering around the house in a ball is hours of fun! The tamer they become, the more they’re able to participate in ‘family life’ and can often be trusted to spend some supervised playtime outside of their cage … but what happens when they escape from their cage and make a bid for freedom whilst no-one’s looking? How do you catch a ‘Houdini Hamster’?

Now, I say ‘Houdini’ because these little creatures can be ingenious in their escape methods. It’s not always a case of “Fluffy’s escaped! Someone must’ve left the door open!” Oh no, don’t be fooled! Fluffy may be a master locksmith in disguise! It’s common for hamsters, gerbils, mice and other small furries to escape from what their owners believe to be the most secure of cages. They can chew through plastic, they can squeeze through bars, they can even open closed doors. We’ll deal with ways to try and prevent them absconding later on, but for now… what do you do when there’s a ‘mouse loose in the house’? (Or hamster, gerbil etc. – but they don’t rhyme!)

Let’s picture the scenario. You’ve returned home and, as you enter the front door, you think you hear a scurry of tiny footsteps. Nah, surely not; must be your imagination. You go to Fluffy’s cage and, lo and behold, it’s empty. Uh-oh! You weren’t imagining things. The first thing you need to do is stay calm! While your first reaction is to PANIC, dashing around and yelling ‘Fluffy!’ at the top of your voice isn’t going to be terribly helpful and is only going to drive your runaway rodent further into hiding. Close all the doors so that you can contain your search to one room at a time. If you know which room your furry fugitive is in, then that’s great. If you’re not sure, at least you can search methodically. Also, make sure any other pets are safely shut away… you don’t want Kitty or Fido to find Fluffy before you do!

They tend to like dark and cosy spaces so check under and behind furniture for their hidey-hole. If you spot them, you need to tempt them out rather than trying to move the furniture (which could scare them and run the risk of trapping or squashing them). Food is always the best way to entice them but, as they’re likely to already be quite alarmed by their predicament, holding up a sunflower seed is not going to have them dashing out into the palm of your hand. Instead, leave the food somewhere safe and dark – like in a long cardboard tube or an open pillowcase – then sit back, very quiet and still, to see if they take the bait. If this works, that’s great! Carefully block the ends of the tube or lift the pillowcase then check them over before safely returning them to their cage (obviously fixing their escape route before leaving them alone again!).

You may not be lucky enough to immediately spot Fluffy’s bolthole, in which case you’re going to have to be patient and a little more wily. You need to tempt the tiny tearaway back to safety – again, food is the best way to do this. You can create some ingenious humane ‘traps’ by either placing food in a bucket with a ramp up to it that Fluffy can climb up and fall into, but not climb back out of (obviously not a huge bucket – we don’t want the poor mite to fall too far!), or by placing some food in the sealed end of a cardboard tube that’s then propped at quite a steep angle so that Fluffy can slide in to sample the delectable delights but can’t escape once he’s filled those chubby little cheeks.

The main thing here is perseverance. As long as you’ve made sure there are no other readily available food sources, your little fluff ball will, eventually, come out of hiding in search of a feast. It may take hours…it may take days…I’ve even heard of hamsters who’ve been on the run for weeks! Don’t give up; eventually you’ll be able to outwit and repatriate your elusive escapee.

When you’ve finally caught them, you’ll need to give them a good check over – especially if they’ve been on the run for a long time. Make sure they’re looking healthy, bright eyed and showing no signs of injury. They’re likely to be in need of a good drink of water, too. To be on the safe side you might want to pop them along to your friendly local vet 🙂  so they can be given a thorough health check (although make sure you’ve got them in a secure container for the journey…you don’t want to repeat the whole escapade in the car!).

So, once they’re back in their cage, how to you prevent a recurrence of this ‘adventure’? Well, firstly you need to locate and repair their escape hole. If it’s a wire cage, this may be as simple as securing the door. A bulldog clip or a small padlock (the type you get on a suitcase) can prevent the surprisingly mighty little mite from pushing it open again. If they’ve chewed through the plastic then it’s probably a case of replacing the cage…but you’ll need to find a temporary secure compound for Fluffy while you dash off to the shops! On the whole, glass tanks are better than plastic as those little gnashers can’t gnaw through it.

Keeping Fluffy entertained will make their home more appealing and help to prevent further attempts to abscond. Make sure there’s plenty to stimulate them in their cage, including things to chew, a wheel for exercise (check the appropriate size for the breed), and somewhere quiet and dark to sleep where they’ll feel safe. While you want your furry friend to be part of the family, they also need their space and peace so keep their cage in a part of the house that’s away from too much noise or other pets; they need to be able to relax and feel safe in their environment. Many hamsters will also relish the opportunity to explore the sights and smells of the home in a ball but supervise this adventure at all times and, for extra security, put some tape over the lid of their ball as these clever little creatures can soon work out how to undo it!

Until next time, have fun with your pets and enjoy the four seasons of weather we’re currently being treated to. I’m off to put another jumper on … Brrrrrrr!