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I am planning to fly from USA to Hong Kong and wanted to take my small Chinese hamster with me. My understanding is that a hamster would probably have to ride in the cargo hold with other animals (dogs, etc.).

But I was told by a friend that very small animals like the Chinese or Roborovski hamsters are unable to deal with the cabin pressure (or lack thereof) in airplanes. What that friend told me made it look like as if the hamster might explode.

This sounds like an urban myth to me but is it correct? Is it safe to take hamsters on an airplane, or should I instead try to find someone to take care of it here while I am abroad?

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Airplanes maintain air pressure in both the passenger cabin and the cargo hold. The reason for the passenger cabin is obviously health and safety of the passengers, but in the cargo hold it is for various goods and, possibly, animals that might be in it that also require pressure. Near vacuum isn't really a good thing for pressurized containers often carried in luggage.

So, in general, airplane air pressure is maintained at about the equivalency of about 6000 - 8000 feet above sea level. So, the question you're really asking is whether or not a hamster can survive the lack of pressure at that level. Denver, Colorado, is close to 6000 feet above sea level and you can buy hamsters at pet stores there and they're not apparently suffering. While that is not really a scientific analysis, I think it's safe to say that while they might not enjoy a trip in the hold, the altitude is not going to be the big reason for their lack of fun.

I think a bigger concern, really, is that it is often quite cold on airplanes, even more so in the cargo holds, and your hamster may not be acclimated to such temperatures. So, from that angle, unless there's a compelling reason to subject it to the colder temperatures and, in all likelihood, the customs quarantine, then I would leave it at home.

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  • Not all small hamsters live in hot climates. The Siberian dwarf hamster, for one, is native to Siberia, or so I was told.
    – ksoo
    May 18 '15 at 0:47
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    @AsianSquirrel - Siberia covers a lot of territory, not all of it frigid. However, point taken.
    – John Cavan
    May 18 '15 at 0:54
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Explosion is obviously an urban legend.

I never heard of such a thing before. But Roborovski hamsters are adapted to similar pressures as humans and other mammals so there is no reason to assume that slightly lower pressure in airplanes might cause anything more than a discomfort to hamsters.

Hamsters have a very high rate of metabolism so you need to put some food in its enclosure during a long flight. Hamsters also have a very low tolerance to drafts and low temperatures so if you need to carry them in the luggage compartment, you need to include some bedding, like paper tissues.

The problem with carrying hamsters is that most airways assume that all hamsters are rodents which are capable of gnawing their way from their compartments and damage the plane. Therefore, however small the hamster is, most airways will reject carrying the hamster so make sure that you can carry them on your journey.

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