Are Hamsters Illegal in California? [What you should know]

It’s not easy being a cute fur ball, especially if you’re a hamster in California or Hawaii. In these states, it’s illegal to own hamsters and keep them as pets.

This isn’t done out of spite. The Humane Society of the United States claims that California’s climate is very similar to a hamster’s natural habitat. Hamsters may devastate native plants and colonies if they escape into the wild. Let’s take a closer look at this bizarre law.

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Why is it Illegal to Own a Hamster in California?

If Californians are found with a hamster or any other exotic pet on the banned list, they run the risk of facing a hefty fine and even jail time. Moreover, the animal will be removed from their possession right away.

Hamsters are believed to be an invasive species that could quickly breed out of control. This could pose a threat to California’s native plants and animals.

If the authorities catch you with a hamster, you are liable to face:

  • Jail time of up to 6 months and pay a fine of $1,000
  • A second fine of up to $10,000 for the costs of removing the hamster, storing it, and caring for it

In other words, you would be paying the state for forcefully removing the hamster from your care and reallocating elsewhere. Now that’s adding insult to injury.

Some hamsters may find a safe home to live a peaceful life. Others may not be so fortunate and could be put to death if they take up too many state resources.

The state of California prioritizes the preservation of the native habitat above all else. Besides hamsters, they have also banned the following exotic pets in California:

  • Ferrets
  • Hedgehogs
  • Monkey
  • Squirrels
  • Gerbils
  • Minks
  • Polecats

There are a Few Exceptions

The good news is that there are a few exceptions for some small pets and hamster species. The only catch is, you must buy them from a registered breeder or a pet store.

Owners of golden hamsters and dwarf hamsters will not face prosecution for keeping the animal as pets.

Golden Hamsters

Golden Hamsters, also known as Syrian hamsters, are legal to own in California. You don’t even need a permit to keep them as pets.

Golden hamsters are also the most popular breed of hamster in the state. They are larger than dwarf hamsters (as is evident by their name).

It would help if you bought them from registered Golden Hamster breeders in and around California. Most of these pet stores are easy to find with the help of a quick Google search and purchase.

You will need to provide golden hamsters with a proper setup with adequate space for playing and exploring.

Dwarf Hamster

Like golden hamsters, certain dwarf hamsters are also legal to own. These include the Russian dwarf, roborovski dwarf, and winter white.

You will need a permit to own dwarf hamsters. This is because the state considers dwarf hamsters more invasive than golden hamsters. As such, there is a higher risk of dwarf hamsters escaping into the wild and harming the habitat.

Things You Can Do to Make Hamsters Legal in California

If you want to change the law in California and make hamsters legal, start by contacting your state representatives.

You may also want to campaign to raise awareness about changing the law. Use social media and other channels to pressure lawmakers into revisiting the law.

Effective communication requires the right messaging that is targeted to the right audiences. It will take some time to change public perception and move lawmakers to take action.

Focus on building relationships with other influencers to reinforce your message and influence policy-making.            

You have a long road ahead of you, but one that could pave the way for owning hamsters in California.

Visit to find your California representative.

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How Hamsters May Damage the Ecosystem

If a pet hamster escaped into the wild, or worse, was placed into the wild by its owner, it could have devastating consequences on California’s ecosystems and the local flora and fauna.

If no laws restricted the ownership of pet hamsters in California, many of these animals would have ended up in the wild.

Hamsters can increase their numbers very quickly by breeding. If this were to happen, hamsters can endanger and disrupt California’s natural ecosystem and threaten the existence of other animal species.

As omnivorous creatures, hamsters feed on almost everything, from worms and snails to insects and other invertebrates.

They also eat plants, eggs, and baby birds. For their size, hamsters have massive appetites and spend the majority of their waking hours foraging for food.

Most of California’s plants, invertebrates, and insects play a pivotal role in keeping the ecosystem balanced.

If the hamsters’ population increases dramatically, they would run amok in the state and eat these living creatures, thereby throwing the fragile ecosystem out of whack.

A disrupted ecosystem can devastate the local flora and fauna, and may even bring some species to extinction.

For this reason, California takes the law very seriously and will prosecute residents for keeping hamsters and other banned exotic animals as pets.

How Hamsters Escape

Hamsters are curious little creatures that are more intelligent than we give them credit for. They are more likely to escape their cage than other animals.

Over time, your hamster may figure out how to open the door to their cage. In other cases, they will simply chew their way through the cage – sort of a mini-prison break.

It is also likely for the pet owner to forget to shut the cage door. Moreover, the cage may not be secure enough.

Hamsters will open their cage attachment if given the opportunity. This could also land you in trouble with the law for allowing an invasive species to break into the wild.

Most hamsters will not survive their first day in the wild. But there is a slight chance that they will find a mate to breed with and devastate the environment.

What Should I Do if My Hamster in California Escaped?

Try not to panic. Don’t get upset if you see an empty cage. Your hamster may be around the corner, and you can find them immediately.

The hamster can linger closely near their cage. If this is not the case, you may have to start a search for the missing hamster. But you have to be strategic about it.

Hamsters are small creatures that like to curl up into tiny spaces. As nocturnal creatures, they also seek out hiding spots such as closets, shoes, and furniture.

Here are a few hiding spots to begin the search for your hamster:

Shoes: Hamsters like to crawl inside the spaces in your shoes.

Closet: Hamsters also like to crawl their way into closets and find warmth in the comfort of their clothes. You might have to bring a flashlight for this one.

Kitchen appliances: Your fridge, stove, and other electrical appliances have plenty of hiding spots for hamsters.

Furniture: Hamsters like to hide under beds, couches, and dressers. They have been known to crawl into cushions and pillowcases. Don’t accidentally put all your weight on your cushions because your hamster may be hidden under them.

Boxes: Hamsters will likely hide under small boxes, especially shoe boxes.

Blankets: Hamsters like the touch of cozy blankets and often hide under them.

Bathrooms: Hamsters like to rummage around the bathroom, especially if yours has plenty of nice-smelling perfumes and shower gels.

Basements; Hamsters are nocturnal creatures and like to stay in the dark. And your basement is the perfect spot for hamsters to hide in.

Make Your Hamster’s Cage More Welcoming

So you’ve looked through every nook and cranny of your house and the hamster is still nowhere to be found, now what? Again, don’t panic.

The hamster may still be nearby. Please pay attention to the noise they make. Hamsters leave behind a lot of clues about their whereabouts. Keep your eyes peeled and your ears open.

It is a good idea to make your hamster’s home more enticing for them to appear. If you have other animals in your room, try to relocate them to other rooms.

Now open the cage door and put their favorite snacks right outside the door. Your hamster will eventually get hungry and run back home, where there’s plenty of food and safety.

Alert Your Family and Neighbors

It is a good idea to inform everyone in your near vicinity, including family members and neighbors about the missing hamsters.

Ask them to watch their step lest they accidentally step on the hamsters. If you live in an apartment building, you can inform the building management about your missing hamster.

You can also place signs and post them so that others will keep an eye out for your missing hamster.

Wrapping Up

California has among the strictest animal laws in North America and has banned residents from owning many exotic pets.

It doesn’t own residents to keep most species of hamsters, gerbils, and ferrets. Some of this protects the animals from abuse, while other laws aim to minimize the risk of alien species that may break into the wildlife and cause damage.

If you really want to own a hamster, you can choose between golden hamsters and dwarf hamsters. You will need to buy these hamsters from ethical and registered breeders.

In the case of dwarf hamsters, you will need a permit to own them. And as always, make sure to keep the hamster’s enclosure secure.

And if you really want to own restricted species of hamsters, you may have to look at relocating to another state in America.

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