I Would Have Gotten Away with It, if It Weren’t for that Meddling Hamster

So I published this two years ago, and I’m having deja vu. I took the new(ish) hamster, Marble, to the vet this week, and he needs to have something removed from his balls. He’s adorable, but I would like to say for the record that I’m done with male hamsters and their ball issues. And before you ask, as a number of my friends already have, my kid is waaaaay too old and attached for me to put Marble down and get a new one because it’s less expensive than surgery. Look, I get he’s a hamster and doesn’t register much in the pet kingdom, but in the kid kingdom, he is the bee’s knees. So, in honor of laying out yet another three figure amount in the name of pets, here’s the post from two years ago.

This week I joined the ranks of what I used to think of as the Crazy Pet People, but now think of more as the Concerned and Highly Responsible Pet Owners. I grew up in the time when the only reason you took your pets to vet was to end their misery, and you’d hear your parents complain about the bill for months after. I owned my last cats in 1990, way before people were spending $56 billion smackers a year on their pets. And for the record, I did NOT take them to the vet then—I became allergic and sent them to live a good friend. I like to hide my secret relief at not having to lay out serious cash on pet wellness and health care that rivals humans by secretly shaking my head at those crazy pet people, acting like their pets are people. I’ve gotten away with it too for quite a while—long enough to foster some hubris on the topic. When my son reached pet-wanting age, my and his father’s cat allergies and my incompatibility with dogs left him with a pretty short list of possibilities: fish, turtles, and small furry creatures. We started with two successive goldfish. Dorothy lasted about a year, but Baby Dorothy had some digestive issues that required a special diet. Despite the fact that I hand-fed her mashed peas, she left the mortal coil after a few months. That should have been the red flag for me. I was hand-feeding. A fish. Peas. Why? Because she was my son’s pet, and he loved her. That, I told myself, was much different from what those Crazy Pet People do.

Two fish funerals in a short time took its emotional toll on my son, and so we laid low on the pet front for a while. When the hamster request became frequent and steady, we agreed to get him a hamster for his birthday. He picked Nibbles, who was up for adoption at the pet store; his previous owner was no longer able to care for him. I was brimming with pride, both at my son’s compassionate choice, and at Nibble’s exceptional talents; he placed third in the Petco Hamster Ball Derby that year. Mostly, Nibbles was a healthy and maintenance-free hamster. At least from a vet’s perspective. He did escape from his cage numerous times, holing up under the dishwasher for 36 hours once and getting specked with black gunk after about 6 hours of roaming under the baseboards. But he was none the worse for wear. One weird episode involved us cleaning his cage during the day. Hamsters are nocturnal, so we had to wake him up to do it. He wasn’t right for three days after that—sleeping day and night, except for a few feeble attempts to walk in his wheel. He’d walked for a few minutes, then seemed confused at why he was there and retreat to his house. I lay awake listening for the sound of the wheel, and then convinced we’d killed him, I checked on him in the middle of the night. He finally perked up all on his own, and the only other help he needed was when he was very old (at age three) and we turned his cage into a one-level assisted living facility for him. But, you know, none of that was crazy, it was logical animal care.

After a few months of mourning Nibbles, my son was ready for a second hamster, and why not? Since we’d weathered one hamster’s life vet-free, the idea of it went completely out of my head. And for our first year with Hamphrey, we continued in that self-delusional fantasy. That is, until last Tuesday. My son picked up Hamphrey and said, “What’s that?” There something slightly larger than a Cocoa Puff on him, and the color was not any color a mammal should be sporting. Although I previously had not consciously defined for myself what size a weird growth needed to be for me to consider a vet, apparently it’s slightly larger than a Cocoa Puff. So there I was, making awkward calls from work, first finding a vet who treats what one vet website called “pocket pets” and then describing the problem. I was acutely aware that to people who don’t own pets, on the scale of legitimate pet issues, Hamphrey’s was just above fish digestive issues. Lucky for me the Concerned and Highly Responsible Pet Owners at the vet fell over themselves when I showed up in the waiting room with the cage. All dog owners, they oohed at Hamphrey’s well-timed,head poke out of his house, exclaimed his cuteness, and peppered me with questions about him, including his ailment.

The vet examined him thoroughly, which I was very grateful for. But it was also kind of hard to take seriously, I mean, when she looked in his eyes, ears, and even in his tiny nose, what could she possibly see in there? I was mildly amused until she started talking about surgery, the risks, and a specialist south of Boston. And there I was, in that place I’d avoided for so long. Trying to make a difficult, expensive health care decision for a small animal with a three-year life span and hold on my son’s heart. Of course I considered it, because I’m a Concerned and Highly Responsible Pet Owner. What made me hesitate was that surgery was probably just as risky as doing nothing—the anesthesia alone could kill him, and how the heck do you administer it? With a little mask? So as my mind was racing about how I would explain this all to my son, we came back to the more basic approach, trying to clean up the Cocoa Puff. So they took him off for about 10 minutes. When they returned, the Cocoa Puff was gone, there was a small wound, and I swear Hamphrey looked relieved. Seems like it was an infected cut, and not some big scary tumor. Phew. And $107 later, that is how I joined your ranks. Now if you’ll excuse me, Hamphrey needs his antibiotics, ointment applied, and a foot rub.

Photo: Marble the newish hamster in all his cuteness.


  1. And I was on the edge of my seat until I reached the “he’s okay” part. Did I spend the whole blog saying “To hell with your insights and humor, is Hamphrey OKAY?” No, of course not.

  2. My cats’ prescriptions cost as much as mine. But they are 17, which makes them centenarians in cat years. I KNOW I won’t be as spry as they are if and when I reach that age!

  3. You sound like me with Snowball our all-white guinea pig. I am now referred to as Grandma and get to guinea pig sit every time Haley has to clean her cage.

  4. Oh My Goodness!!! this is such an adorable recount of Hamphrey’s medical scare! – I am also glad to hear he is on the mend/ probably recovered by this time. However, my real inspiration for replying was your comment about the “tiny mask” that may exist to anesthetize hamsters undergoing surgery! it’s funny to imagine how similar “human” tasks would be executed on a miniature/(hamster) scale – I would’ve figured they’d have modified Barbie’s “Animal Dr.” accessories into functional medical equipment” a little seed light and watchmakers otoscope to inspect his little nostrils – hopefully Hamphrey avoided one of those ungodly awkward ass-out exam gowns.

    1. Lol! Very true! Wouldn’t you love to get a look at that procedure room? He is recovered and if he did have any moments without dignity he’s decided to be stoic and keep them to himself. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      1. I feel that I am in good company when I say I can and have worked out the details of his tiny exam room in my mind… I thought they could use an iPhone or laptop speaker as the stethoscope hehehe

  5. Reminds me of having the ferrets years ago! Love the term “pocket pets” we called them exotic pets back them. Also remembering taking one of them in to be euthanized, in the waiting room and all these people swarming around asking questions. A tough moment.

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