The problem of stray dogs and cats is well known, but Snowflake is an example of an unusual phenomenon: he was a stray hamster.
One evening last Easter, a friend of Simon’s family, Angela, was driving through the Wicklow countryside. She was in a forested area on a narrow, winding road in a remote part of the Glencree valley, several miles from the nearest human habitation. Angela is a wildlife enthusiast, and she was driving slowly, with her headlights on in the dim light of dusk, looking for any sign of deer on the road. When she saw a tiny creature scuttle out from the verge into her path, she stopped and had a good look at it. She knew at once that the tiny animal was a hamster, even from a distance. It was something to do with his small spikey tail, the way he sat up, looking around, and his style of walking. As Angela says, rats, mice and other small wild mammals move in a different way, scuttling along on all fours rather than intermittently sitting on their rear end in that uniquely hamster way.
She jumped out of the car, and went up to him: he didn’t run away, and was easy to catch. She had some trail mix in her pocket, and he ate this hungrily when offered a small amount. She brought him home to Simon’s house, and asked his family if they’d look after him. He was put into a hamster cage, and he settled in immediately, as if he’d come home. He was soon named Snowflake, but he’s also known as the Magic Mountain Hamster: it does almost seem like a miracle that he was found out wandering by himself. Most drivers would have driven past, or worse, driven over the poor creature.
It’s still a complete mystery as to how he ended up where he was. Angela went back to the area, asking local people if anyone knew of nearby hamster enthusiasts who might have lost a pet, but there were no clues. Somebody must have dumped him in the wild, naively thinking that an unwanted hamster would be able to survive on his own. He was exceptionally lucky that a sympathetic human found him before a hungry bird of prey or other predator.
Snowflake was brought to see me recently because he’d gone off his food. When I examined him, I found that he has quite a serious dental problem. Hamsters have four large incisors at the front of their mouths: two upper ones, and two lower ones: the type of teeth that could be known as “Bugs Bunny” teeth, after the cartoon character. For some strange reason, perhaps to do with his spell of starvation in the wilderness, Snowflake has lost his two lower incisors. This means that there’s nothing for his upper incisors to grind against, which causes two problems. Firstly, he cannot bite hard objects properly, and secondly, the upper teeth have become very overgrown, because they’re not being ground down in the normal way by contact with the lower teeth.
His upper teeth were so long that they were digging into his gums on the opposite side of his mouth. I trimmed them to keep him comfortable, and Snowflake’s needs to be fed soft food rather than the normal crunchy hamster mix. He’ll need regular visits to the vet for repeat tooth trimming in the future.
Snowflake’s a most unusual hamster: his bizarre background story and his odd-looking teeth give him a particular charm. If you want to meet an interesting hamster, keep an eye out for Snowflake. Oh, and if you’re out driving at dusk, keep a careful eye on the road ahead of you.
- Domestic pets do not have the ability to look after themselves on their own
- It’s always wrong to release a pet animal into the wild
- Hamsters can suffer from dental disease, just like any other pet