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Pet Travel – Hamster Syle

We talk a lot around here about traveling with dogs … mostly because that’s all we know! But people travel with all kinds of pets – including cats, birds, rabbits, reptiles, guinea pigs, ferrets, and hamsters. Since we have no insights into what traveling with other types of pets is like, we’re happy to bring you this guest post by Emmy Scammahorn, a live-in pet sitter in the Washington, D.C., area, who recently took a trip with her hamster.

Traveling with a Hamster

When I knew I’d be traveling from Washington, D.C., to the Southwest for six weeks I longed to take my hamster, Maggie along —who, despite his name, is a boy. But travel can be very stressful for hamsters. How would he cope? To test the waters we took a weekend “test trip” and Maggie was completely unfazed by riding in a car or being in a new environment. We were good to go!

Emmy and Maggie

Maggie and I took off on our adventure, flying from Washington, D.C., to Arizona, then driving throughout the Southwest.

In the Air

Frontier Airlines is the only commercial airline to welcome hamsters to fly in-cabin, so I booked a flight when Maggie would be asleep (which was easy, since hamsters are nocturnal) and chose a seat in front of the wings, so it was quieter. Frontier’s Traveling with Pets gives you all the details except one: You’ll have to take your hammie out of his cage and carry him through the scanner at security.

To carry Maggie on the plane and in the car I bought a small carrier – approximately 12″ x 8″ x 7″ high at its peak. Hamsters love to dig, so to make him comfortable and give him something to do, I scattered a generous amount of chow, seed mixture, and Twigs treats on the floor of Maggie’s carrier. On top of that I added a mix of used and fresh bedding and his hut. I carried this small cage in a lightweight, slightly aerated tote bag and on the plane I kept the carrier in the tote to minimize drafts. Keeping your hamster hydrated is a major concern, so I offered Maggie water, fruit and vegetables periodically throughout the trip.

I also packed a larger cage that, when taken apart, fit easily into my 30″ suitcase. Instead of bringing food and bedding, I bought those in Arizona and donated the leftovers to an animal shelter before I flew home.

Maggie at Motel 6

At home I let Maggie run free for a bit every night, but when we’re away the ball is safer.

On the Ground

In the car Maggie rode shotgun in the small carrier, fastened with the seat belt. I kept the windows up so he wouldn’t get drafts, the radio off so it was quiet and he could sleep, and periodically gave him fruit or veggies from the cooler. When I stopped to eat or shop, I brought the carrier – tucked inside the tote bag – with me, so he wouldn’t overheat in the car.

Because a low price and unique experience were important in lodging, I focused on vacation rentals and bed and breakfasts. I also found pet-friendly chains like Motel 6 are good options, though I check the reviews before I book. I got lucky: No one charged a fee for Maggie!

When we arrived at each new destination, I assembled the big cage and, without waking Maggie, placed the small carrier inside it. Then I set up his water bottle, food bowl, and exercise wheel. The majority of space in the big cage was for exercising – the small carrier was where Maggie slept. During the day, if he waited for me at the hotel, I’d draped a towel over the whole shebang to keep out noise and drafts.

Small-town grocery stores didn’t have salad bars, so to get a variety of fruits and veggies every day I ordered salads at restaurants, asked grocery produce clerks for “leftovers,” or bought packaged salads.  I chose hotel rooms with a refrigerator, and we stayed at least two nights in each town so Maggie could get quality rest. At nighttime, when he was most active, he’d run on his wheel, tootle around hotel rooms in his exercise ball, or play with the trash I’d turned into treasures to amuse him.

Maggie in Tunnel

On the Fence

Maggie was my friend through a landscape of new places and new people … my only constant. With him along, I didn’t feel lonely. He showed no signs of stress: he ate, slept, and exercised as usual. Still, I questioned my decision. Should I have brought him?

In Sedona, Arizona, I voiced my concerns to an extraordinarily intuitive friend. She cocked her head, as if listening to something far off. “The travel has been a little uncomfortable,” she said, “but your hamster is okay. He just wants to be with you.”

My heart sang.

Emmy Scammahorn – a.k.a. Emmy the Pet Sitter – is a live-in pet sitter in the Washington, D.C., area who creates pet blogs, journals, and videos for clients. She and Maggie wrote a journal about their Southwest adventure.

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