My small furries and I have travelled many miles over the years. Our shortest journeys are the 15 minutes or so to the vet surgery; the longest has been between Holland and Southampton via Dover. How I keep the hamsters safe and comfortable on their journeys is similar regardless of number or distance. Often the vet trips take more thought than the long distance trips because the hamsters being transported are unwell and therefore have more complex needs than the healthy hamsters going to shows.
Although most hamsters travel well, please think carefully before starting a journey. Some hamsters can find journeys stressful, especially if they are old, unwell or not used to carriers and travelling. Travel should be to a rodent-appropriate venue; do not take your hamster out for a sight-seeing trip.
I recommend using a secure plastic carrier. There are many different styles and makes of plastic carrier. When choosing one, look for how easy it is to gain access the hamster. A carrier should be large enough for the hamster to stand up and move around; I prefer ones similar in size to show pens to minimise risk of injury in the event of an emergency stop in the car.
Take care with using handles on carriers. It is safer to carry the travel carrier by holding the base. If the handle is attached only to the lid and using it could result in the base detaching and the hamster falling.
Never use a cardboard box as a carrier they are far to easy for a hamster to nibble their way out. If you are planning on getting a hamster from a shop take along your own secure carrier. I prefer not to transport hamsters in their cages, but if I do I remove all toys that could cause injury if they move and the water bottle.
Where possible, put some familiar substrate in with the hamster (especially if the hamster is unwell, nervous or stressed). Depending on the hamster, I may put a hidey hole in the carrier, for example a cardboard box. Make sure that anything put in a travel carrier can’t roll over and injure a hamster. For vet trips, I prefer to have a hidey hole that is easy to get a hamster out of for examination by the vet. I don’t want to stress an already unwell hamster by struggling to extricate them.
Food and Water
Hamsters should have something to eat and a source of moisture in their travelling carriers. This is especially important on long journeys or in warmer weather.
I wouldn’t recommend using a water bottle during a journey as they can leak with the movement. Instead I put a piece of moist vegetable, such as cucumber, in the carrier. If you are on a long journey, you can take extra veg in a box and replace as needed along the way. I prefer not to use fruit as I have diabetes-prone hamster species, and fruit can attract flies and wasps in Summer.
Hot and Cold Weather
In winter months in the UK I rarely need to use additional heat sources, but this may be different in other countries. I have used a Snugglesafe when transporting very young or very sick hamsters to the vet in colder weather. Always give your hamster part of its carrier/enclosure without the heat source so they can move away if they get too hot.
In the Summer months I monitor the temperature as we travel in the car to ensure the hams don’t get too hot. The car windows on the side where the hamsters are can be shaded. Given the travel I do with the small furries, I chose a car with air conditioning to help regulate the temperature.
Never leave a hamster unattended in a car on a hot day
Securing Carriers in the Car
When travelling by car, I make sure that the carrier can’t move or slide on the journey as this can cause distress and injury to the hamster, and could cause injury to the driver/passenger in the event of an accident.
If I have only one or two carriers then I will secure them onto a seat using the seatbelt, or ask a passenger to hold them. Do check your car manual regarding the air bag if your passenger is in the front seat. Make sure that seatbelts are out of reach of little teeth!
When transporting many hamsters I prefer to do so in their show pens as these stack securely into show pen carriers and minimise any sliding around. If I am using several plastic carriers, I seatbelt them all in individually if there is space. If not, then I prefer to arrange them in the rear passenger footwells so they can’t move around. Sometimes, I stack carriers into boxes or crates and then seatbelt the box onto a seat. Make sure that ventilation holes aren’t covered by other stacked carriers or any box used to restrain the carriers.
Travelling by Public Transport
Hamsters also cope well with journeys by public transport. I have taken hamsters and other small furries on trains and ferries, and have had my babies travel to their new homes on buses, planes and trains.
I recommend having the carrier(s) in a fabric bag. This keeps the hamster shaded, helping the hammy to feel secure as well as protecting from cold or sun. It can also be easier to carry when transferring between buses/trains, and prevents other travellers from having contact with your hamster.
Always check the rules of the transport provider and make sure your hamster is secured throughout the journey. Resist getting the hamster out of the carrier on public transport as it would be disastrous if the hamster became spooked and was lost.