My hamster dumps her food in the wheel
January 3, 2010 11:57 AM   Subscribe

What is my crazy hamster doing?

I have a hobo hamster bought a couple months ago. While she is very lively, likes to be picked up from the cage, and is overall a great pet. she has a pretty weird habit that I would like to eliminate, ot at least understand. Her cage is one of those plastic abominations that look like an amusement park, full of tunnels and galleries. The wheel is also made of plastic and is solid, unlike those metal wheels that make hamsters run on thin frames.

I feed her once a day with fresh food, and here comes the strange thing: instead of eating it, she puts everything (I mean EVERYTHING) in her cheeks, very carefully. Then she goes to the wheel, dumps almost everything there and starts running, so the food "rains" on her. Once in a while she stops, leaves the wheel, and dumps some more in the cage. She then returns to the wheel to provide us with some more of the food rain show.

What is she doing here? We'd like to cut or control this habit, as most of the food ends up on the floor instead of in her mouth.
posted by dcrocha to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Not sure about the crazy food rain thing, but it is very normal for hamsters to store food away for later. It is a natural instinct that proves useful in their native, food-scarce desert environments. When you clean the cage you should remove any spoiled food but leave any fresh food for her stores.
posted by nestor_makhno at 12:03 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I wonder if you removed the wheel for a while if she'd find another place to "store" her food; maybe then, after you return the wheel, she'll discover that storing food in the wheel is less efficient than storing it in a more stable place. Just a wild idea.

This sounds kind of hilarious. You might want to get (and post) some video first. Please?
posted by amtho at 12:18 PM on January 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

It definitely sounds hilarious.

Also, the cheek thing is something all hamsters do, as Nestor said. It sounds like your hamster just is confused about where a good place to put the food is.
posted by ®@ at 12:34 PM on January 3, 2010

All hamsters cache food, yours has chosen an inefficient place to cache but don't worry, she's young and still learning. She has fur-lined pouches in her cheeks just for the purpose of transporting food; here's an example of a (much larger) Syrian hamster's ability to stow grub in the pouches.

She's also re-collecting some of the scattered food and eating it later (assuming she hasn't peed on it in the interim). You might not see her doing so as Roborovski (I'm assuming 'hobo' is a typo) hamsters are nocturnal.

Whatever you do, don't replace her nice solid wheel with a wire one: hamsters can get a foot caught in the mesh which can cause serious physical damage to the little guy. Don't take the wheel away either, she needs the outlet to run or she will develop stress-related tics (such as chewing on herself).

Also, robos are omnivores: feel free to slowly introduce a more varied diet than packaged hamster mix. Raw vegetables (well rinsed) such as raw broccoli, carrot and carrot tops, wheat grass and the occasional live mealworm all go over well.

For the deluxe hamster life: give her a place to take sand baths. A cupful of rinsed and dried beach or play-yard sand in a shallow bowl placed in her habitat is perfect. (Avoid chinchilla sand/ dust, sold in pet stores as it's too finely powdered for hamsters).
posted by jamaro at 12:39 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Consider putting an additional object in her cage that would act as a nice food storage container.
posted by moira at 1:36 PM on January 3, 2010

Our hamster has a soup can that he loves. The first thing he'll do after pouching a bunch of food is run over to the soup can and de-pouch it all. I assume that's because it's a dark, semi-private place that seems like a good hiding places for a cache of food. If your hamster doesn't have a similar place for it to "hide" things, consider providing one. She may stop using the wheel once she has a better place for a cache.
posted by chrisamiller at 2:06 PM on January 3, 2010

The hamster probably isn't super intelligent and doesn't realize that it's a bad spot for the food, or even realize that he's affecting his food when he runs on this perplexing wheel. Afterall, when he comes back, the food is still there, albiet scattered around. I'd just start removing all food every time he makes it rain. There's got to be a circuit in his little brain that eventually goes "oh, bad spot, I should hide it somewhere else" if the food starts disappearing.
posted by floam at 2:42 PM on January 3, 2010

Try changing the food. There might be something about the taste - or the shape - of the food that makes her want to play with it more than eat it.
posted by arnicae at 3:52 PM on January 3, 2010

The advice to take the wheel out is horribly bad, don't listen to it. A hamster needs exercise and a wheel is imperative to a happy hamster environment. As for the question at hand, this is just something hamsters do and as someone else said, your hamster chose an unfortunate place. If the cage is big enough, you can take the wheel out that the cage came with and replace it with another one. Maybe that will help but who knows. Also, the hamster isn't "playing with the food." It's exhibiting an ingrained hamster behavior of foraging and hording food.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 5:23 PM on January 3, 2010

Yeah, I didn't mean to remove the wheel for more than a few hours or however long it would take, but I have to admit I don't know much about hamsters.
posted by amtho at 6:10 PM on January 3, 2010

Would it be possible to feed her farther away from the wheel? I'm thinking maybe if you can move the buffet table far enough away, she'll find a better cache in between the delivery point and her wheel.

All the hamsters I've owned have cached food in or behind their nesting areas. I adore the idea of caching food in your bed. Think how lovely it would be to wake up in the middle of the night, reach behind your pillow for a hamburger, take a little nibble, then set it back for later and go back to sleep! How tremendously convenient.

It's useful to keep in mind that you may be able to convince her to cache elsewhere, but she'll always cache. If your problem is with bits of carrot and lettuce going bad in her bedding, that problem won't change.

I always tried to clear out their caches frequently, and to feed fresh veggies in small amounts. (Just build in the cost of wasted food to the cost of keeping a hamster - it's only like ten cents.)
posted by ErikaB at 6:54 PM on January 3, 2010

The name 'Hamster' even comes from a German word, 'hamstern', which means 'to hoard'. Peculiar beasts.
posted by Cantdosleepy at 8:49 AM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Circadian biologist here. Lots of experience with wheel running in rodents. Your hamster is foraging, finding food, and taking it back to her nest. What she seems to be doing in her wheel running is carrying the food some distance and then picking it up again after she has run with it to move it back home. She is going for groceries, really: Pick up food. Carry food. Put food down, run home, pick up food again and bring it inside. The only issue here is that, in simple terms, running wheels short-circuit some things in the brain; despite years of research no one really knows what the wheel represents to animals, but we DO know that in at least some cases animals seem to think they are traveling while running, despite the visual evidence from theirt surroundings telling them they are NOT moving. In your case, it seems that while she knows she is moving, she also understands enough that she ISN'T moving that she puts the food down while running rather than holding it the whole time as some other hamsters do.

You can't fix this. However, you CAN film it and send it in to a funny videos program and perhaps win some cash. I'd go for that option, myself, and maybe stick a cookie sheet or bread pan below the wheel to help keep the falling food off the floor.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:50 AM on January 4, 2010 [6 favorites]

It seems that "make a funny video out of it" option has triumphed here. I will make one tonight and post it here for (y)our amusement.
posted by dcrocha at 4:18 PM on January 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

It is 3 days later with no video of hamster food falling from the sky! Booo... :D
posted by like_neon at 11:15 AM on January 7, 2010

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