Why Is My Hamster Acting Weird? [9 Signs & How to Handle]

Hamsters are docile, playful, active, and generally friendly. My hamster, Harvey, for instance, loves playing outdoors inside his exercise ball under the bright San Diego sky. Overall, hamsters are pleasant; that’s why it can be pretty alarming when we find our hamsters acting weird.

Your hamster could be acting weird because he’s hungry, scared, stressed, or lonely. He may start being lazy and passive or suddenly become aggressive and violent. It’s crucial to identify the cause of these changes and rectify the situation at once.

This article will talk about why your hamster is acting weird and what you can do to help address the situation quickly. We will then discuss what hamsters are really like and what you can do to make your little furry friend happy and healthy. I will also offer some insights on the misconception that hamsters are ideal first pets for kids.

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Signs Your Hamster Is Acting Weird (And Why)

It is never a good sign when your hamster starts acting weird. It is crucial to pinpoint the reason for his change in behavior so that it can be addressed at the soonest possible time.

Here are some red flags to watch out for:

1. Lethargy

As previously mentioned, hamsters are very active and energetic. If you see your hamster being sluggish and barely moving, take him to the vet at once so he can be evaluated and monitored.

Remember, if you live in a small, rural area like Skyline, Alabama, it can be hard to find an exotic pet vet in an emergency situation. That’s why it’s important to know where the nearest one is before you ever bring your furry friend home.

2. Squeaking

A squeaking hamster is scared, flustered, and confused. This behavior is quite common for hamsters who have just been brought home. You may hear them squeaking a lot during the first few days because they feel unsure about all the changes they see around them. The squeaking should subside as your hamster slowly adjusts to his new home.

If the squeaking persists, try making subtle changes in his environment. Change the color of his food dish or buy him a new toy. Consider taking him to the vet for proper analysis.

3. Not Eating and Drinking

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If you’ve had your hamster for quite a while, you will be familiar with his eating and drinking habits. Any changes in these, or utter refusal of food and water, are not good signs. Take your hamster to the vet at once. He could quickly go into dehydration with a body as tiny as his.

4. Not Chewing

Inspect your hamster’s teeth. Are they misaligned? Are his teeth crowded together? Are the front teeth bigger than expected? If you answered yes to any of these questions, bring him to the vet as soon as possible.

Keep in mind that hamsters’ teeth continue to grow throughout their lifetimes. That’s why it’s so important to continually provide them with adequate chew toys to help keep them filed down.

5. Frequent Burrowing

If you notice that your hamster hides even if he is not resting or sleeping, this is a cause for concern. It could be a sign of stress or anxiety, and you should try to identify the cause immediately.

Maybe your hamster is scared of the new pet in the house. If you moved his cage to a new location, perhaps he doesn’t like it and prefers his original spot. A new toy could even cause anxiety.

6. Biting the Cage Bars

This means that your hamster wants attention. My Harvey used to do this at night. I initially thought that he was hungry, but it turned out that he just wanted to play. Consider giving your hamster chew toys to divert his attention since biting on the bars may damage his teeth.

7. Grinding of Teeth

Hamsters usually do this when they’re not in a good mood and want to be left alone. Do not approach your hamster when he’s doing this, as it could stress him out further. Additionally, never try to pick up your hamster while he’s gnashing his teeth. You’re very likely to get bit if you do.

8. Hissing

A hissing hamster can be quite unsettling. They usually do this in a crouched position, with their mouths wide open, teeth bared, and front paws raised. The hissing sound can get very loud for such a small animal. Take this as a warning because your hamster is very upset. He will bite if you approach.

9. Cage Rage

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This is a psychological disorder that some hamsters kept in cages suffer from. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. Hamsters seem deranged and might cause harm to themselves, to other hamsters, and to you. It usually occurs in hamsters kept in cages that are too small or those living in an unpleasant environment.

Hamsters with cage rage squeal and are frenzied when you approach, bite everything to the point that their teeth are chipped, destroy everything within reach, and may even bite you.

If you find yourself in this situation, consider buying a bigger cage for your hamster. Make sure the new cage is spacious and that there aren’t too many toys inside. It would be great to buy a small pen so you could let your hamster play outside for a couple of minutes every day.

Read How To Travel With a Hamster

Usual Things Hamsters Do

Before we get all worked up about our hamsters acting weird, let us backtrack and learn about normal hamster behavior. Here are some of them:

  • Awake and more active at night: Hamsters are more energetic at night. My hamster, Harvey, likes playing in his exercise wheel at night. The squeaking noises have become a sort of lullaby for me.
  • Lots of chewing: Hamsters chew a lot to file their teeth, particularly their front teeth. These grow continuously, and it is second nature for hamsters to file and grind to keep them in a reasonable, comfortable size. Consider offering your hamster something safe to chew on, like a block of wood, a cardboard tube, or a chew toy.
  • Stuffing their cheek pouches with food: Hamsters do this to transport and store food and little things they find for their bedding. New mothers also sometimes carry their babies in their cheek pouches.
  • Rubbing their bodies against things inside their cage: No, your hamster is not itchy. He is simply marking his territory. Hamsters have scent glands in their bellies or hips (depending on what kind of hamster you have), and they use these to claim an area or item as their own.
  • Stretching and yawning: You might often see your hamster stretching and yawning. This is a sign that he feels happy, secure, and comfortable in his home.
  • Standing on his hind legs: You might sometimes catch your hamster standing on his hind legs with his ears perked up. This means that he is listening to something that caught his attention. Perhaps it’s the rumbling of the garbage truck passing by or the purring of your coffee machine.
  • Burrowing: Hamsters like hiding under their bedding, behind boxes, or underneath their toys. In the wild, they do this to protect and keep themselves safe. They usually burrow when they’re resting or sleeping.

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Read How Do You Give a Hamster a Bath?

Tips for Keeping Your Hamster Happy

Hamsters can be great pets as long as you know how to take care of them. I first took my Harvey home a little over a year ago, exactly a month after moving to San Diego. Since then, he has helped make my house feel more like home.

Here are a few tips to keep your little furry pal happy:

  • Provide toys, water, and munchies for nighttime activities. Keep in mind that hamsters are nocturnal. Don’t let them get bored or hungry while you’re catching some Zs at night.
  • Be alert for body signals. Your hamster can express himself through body language. I know when my Harvey wants to play with me because he stands on his hind legs and reaches out his paws toward me.
  • Provide a healthy diet. Hamsters thrive on fresh vegetables (cucumber, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, lettuce) and fruits (apples, bananas, pears, grapes). You may also give hamster food from pet stores since these are formulated especially for their specific nutritional needs.
  • Provide opportunities for plenty of exercises. Hamsters love being active. Give them toys, boxes, tubes, or an exercise wheel to play with. Some hamsters love playing outdoors. I bought my Harvey a small pen so he could play outdoors in my backyard for a few minutes every day.
  • Provide suitable bedding. Your hamster’s bedding should be made of light and safe materials like hay, grass, coco peat, shredded cardboard, or shredded paper. This ensures that he does not suffocate, can build nests, and can effortlessly burrow. Also, such materials are harmless enough if your hamster ingests them.
  • Give your hamster a sandbox. Use sand especially designed for hamsters. It shouldn’t be too fine since these tiny grains will stick to your hamster’s fur and won’t easily dislodge when your hamster tries to shake them off when grooming himself. These tiny particles may also get into your hamster’s eyes, ears, and nose and might cause respiratory issues.
  • Keep the cage clean. Hamsters will appreciate a clean and spacious environment. Make sure the cage isn’t cramped with too many toys, and he has lots of space to move around. Change his beddings regularly. Remove fecal matter and urine daily.
  • Yearly vet visit. Take your hamster to the vet at least once a year. This is a great way to monitor his growth and catch possible diseases early on.

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Things That Can Make Your Hamster Unhappy

A common mistake of pet owners is that they treat their hamsters much like how they treat their dogs or cats. People are generally attracted to hamsters because they’re so cuddly and cute.

Here in San Diego, a lot of kids have hamsters for their pets. Keep in mind that a hamster is much smaller, has different needs, is much more sensitive, and possesses an entirely different personality from other animals.

Here are some things to avoid, or never even consider doing, to keep your furry buddy in good spirits:

  • Introducing a friend to play with. Remember that hamsters are solitary animals. They like living alone and may be stressed if housed together. Males, in particular, are territorial. They may fight violently and may even try to kill each other if you keep them in one cage.
  • Bathing your hamster. Hamsters do not need to be bathed and groomed. They do it themselves every day by licking their fur to smoothen and get rid of things that may have clung to it. Hamsters also like taking sand baths to shake off the excess oil from their fur. When your hamster grooms himself, it means he is happy and secure.
  • Making your hamster eat leftovers. Hamsters do not like eating leftovers. Provide them with just enough food every day – an amount they can easily consume. Scoop out leftovers and always start with a fresh batch of food. Leaving leftovers in their food dish may cause anxiety.

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Are Hamsters Ideal First Pets For Kids?

With everything that we’ve talked about, it is safe to say that bringing home a hamster entails a lot of responsibilities and commitment. Unfortunately, these cute, cuddly little creatures have been branded as great starter pets, especially for kids. Such a notion is misleading and quite dangerous.

Hamsters are not ideal first pets for kids because they demand a lot of attention. You have to feed them, play with them, and clean after them. You also have to observe their behavior to ensure that they are always happy. Such weighty responsibility may be too much for a child to handle.

Here are more reasons why you should think twice about buying a hamster for your child:

  • Hamsters may not be good playmates. Hamsters are nocturnal, which means they prefer to sleep during the day and play at night. Your child may want to play with her cute friend in the daytime, right when the hamster is taking a nap. A hamster awakened from sleep might be grumpy and may bite.
  • Hamsters are sensitive. Since they are small, hamsters need to be handled with care. They can easily be startled by sudden movements. They can quickly get scared if they feel that the person holding them is unsure. Young children may not possess enough self-restraint yet and may unintentionally squeeze or hurt them. An upset hamster may bite.
  • Children are at higher risk of acquiring zoonotic diseases. Zoonotic diseases are diseases passed on from animals to humans. Young children are particularly susceptible to these. Hamsters have been found to be carriers of salmonella (a type of intestinal bacteria) and lymphocytic choriomeningitis (a severe viral infectious disease).
Why Is My Hamster Acting Weird
Why Is My Hamster Acting Weird

Final Thoughts

When your hamster starts acting weird, the key is not to panic. Take stock of the situation and make the necessary changes to address your hamster’s needs quickly. Bring him to the vet if it is something severe and puts your furry friend’s wellness at risk. Hamsters make great pets for people who are willing and eager to take on the responsibilities and commitment of caring for such a sensitive and complex little creature.

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