So, you’ve found the cage door open and no-one inside?

Or you looked away for a milisecond at playtime and your hamster legged it?

Perhaps you were making your morning coffee and felt small paws running across your foot? Eek, now you’re awake, no caffeine needed! 

Don’t panic!

We love hamsters, but they are cheeky little escape artists when they get the chance. Here’s a guide on how to catch your hamster, however they found their freedom.

First steps

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Keep calm

When you see a little hamster bottom disappearing under behind your furniture, don’t shout or run around. Calm and quiet makes it easier to catch them because loud noises and sudden movements are scary.

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Shut the doors

As soon as you realise they have escaped, shut the room doors. This contains them in one area. It’s easier to search one room than an entire home. If you’re not sure where they are, it is still worth shutting the doors.

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Remember other pets

It’s hard to know how a dog or a cat will react to a loose hamster, even if they have shown no interest to your hamster in their cage. Keep predators out of the area where the hamster has escaped. I use the hamster playpen because the hamsters can’t get through and my dog can’t get over!

Don’t forget to check the cages of your other small furries, in case your escaped hamster has popped in there. 

If you can see your hamster

If you can see your escaped hamster peeking out of a hidey hole, move slowly and quietly.

Offer your hamster a dark cosy place to run into and hide. A long cardboard box or tube works well for this. You could also use a fabric pouch, or even a paper bag if that’s what you have to hand!

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 put your hamster back in a secure area.

Running after a hamster waving things to try and catch them is 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!

If you don’t know where your hamster is

Make sure that all food is secured and there is no ‘spare’ food lying around. Your aim is that all food is in traps so that your hamster has motivation to go into one.

Search for your hamster in all the dark and cosy places, for example behind furniture and under the fridge.

If you haven’t managed to locate your hamster then it is time to set some traps in the rooms where your hamster may be.

Hamster traps

Humane mousetraps work well for Chinese hamsters but are too small for Syrian hamsters (and most humane rat traps don’t trigger with a Syrian hamster’s weight). Some small hamsters can get in and out of a humane mousetrap without setting it off, so tilt the open end slightly up, for example by resting it on a book. Use moist treats like baby food because not only does it provide moisture but your hamster can’t pop into the trap, pouch it and then run away.

You can build a variety of drop traps with household items. One version is the bucket trap where you build a ramp leading to a container with yummy smelling food and substrate. The container must be tall enough that your hamster can’t get out. The hamster climbs up the ramp, falls into the trap and can’t get back out. The gallery has some pictures of drop traps for inspiration.

It is important to check your traps twice a day so you can check your escaped hamster as soon as they are caught.

Don’t give up

If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. 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. One of my 3-week-old Chinese hamsters was on the loose for nearly 6 weeks.

After you have caught your hamster

When you’ve caught your hamster, give them 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. These commonly occur if a hamster has walked over other rodent cages.
  • signs of dehydration
  • dirt, wetness or sticky substances in the fur.

Before you put the hamster back in his or her cage, make sure you have looked it over for the escape point, such as loose bars or chewed areas. Bulldog clips are useful for securing the doors on wire cages.

Think about your playtime arrangements. Sticky tape is a good way of securing the door on hamster balls as hamsters can quickly learn to twist these and escape. Consider using a taller playbox or playpen, and make sure there are no tall toys near the edges to provide an escape route.

Give your hamster plenty of good food and access to fresh water; they may be hungry and thirsty after their adventures. Unlike this young lady who stashed over 1kg of linseed in various places during her weeks of freedom!