Hamster leashes – just say no!

I’ve had a nasty sinus/lung infection, but after a course of antibiotics and four weeks into it, I think I’m finally getting over it. But life goes on! And, in order to totally brag about my work ethic, it takes more than an infection to keep me from meeting my pet sitting obligations.


As I visit pet shops to network and shop, I’ve been absolutely horrified to see hamster leashes being sold at a number of them. I cannot stress enough how wrong I feel this product is, and how, as a life-long hamster parent, I will never ever use one. Ever.

I encourage anyone interested in buying one of these things to watch youtube videos of people taking their hamsters for a walk with one. In every one, the poor hamster is tightly tied into the harness/collar, often looking like its innards are squished on either side of the loop around its middle. It’s not like you can put a little dog collar on one of these little guys. The hamster is dragged along the ground, or yanked around. The hamster never appears to be enjoying the walk on the leash. They aren’t walking in a straight line, or trying to get some exercise or goofing around. In every video, they look like they are trying to escape, or aren’t interested in walking, and the people – usually teens – laugh and look like they are enjoying the hamster’s struggles and discomfiture. To me, a hamster leash is a torture device and trying to walk a hamster on a leash is akin to animal abuse.  Hamsters enjoy running on wheels, but in no way should that be seen as parallel to a dog’s need to be walked outside or a high-energy cat’s need to be exercised.

If you want to play with your hamster, there are many other fun things to do beside dragging them around on a string. The cutest activity I’ve seen so far have been hamster agility courses. First you have to make one, then you take a few days to train the hamster to run it. How do you train a hamster to run an agility course? You dangle a treat in front of them to lead them through each hurdle. Eventually, the hamster will remember what to do, and you can gradually switch to rewarding them only at the end.

But if you don’t have the patience and skill to build a dog agility course down to a hamster’s scale, never fear. Some people enjoy “free ranging” their hamsters on the floor. Instead of a plastic ball, which is the classic hamster exercise choice when out of the cage, block off an area so they can’t get into trouble (or stepped upon) and let them run around free for a little while. Make sure they can’t run under or behind the sofa where you can’t easily retrieve them, or fall down the stairs. I like doing this myself, but always make sure that my cats are put into another room first and my toddler is not around. I never leave the hamster unattended. I’ve heard of some people who free range their hamsters 24/7 without keeping them in a cage, but I’d imagine you’d need tile floors and mops in every room for that sort of lifestyle. It sounds pretty cool, though.

And of course, the hamster ball. The benefits of the ball are that you don’t have to watch the hamster like a hawk while they are in one, but the downside is that they can still get into trouble in one. Hamster parents sometimes forget their hamsters are in the ball, and find them hours later, sleeping in their own pee and poop. Some hamsters aren’t as good at running in the ball as others, and end up spinning around a lot, or have trouble navigating around furniture. The ball doesn’t work very well on plus carpeting. People and other pets can accidentally trip over the ball, resulting in mutual injury and unhappiness. The ball needs to be cleaned and they get scratched up. But don’t get me wrong – it’s a classic for a reason, and I’ve always kept one for my hamsters.

But please, please do not try to walk your hamster on a leash.

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