Hamsters are small prey animals that are easily affected by changes in their environment. While they have fewer needs than most pets, if these needs aren’t met, hamsters can show signs of a decline very quickly, including shaking.
Hamsters shake because of excess stimulation, poor living conditions, a drop in temperature, nervous system issues, medical conditions, and hibernation. It is essential to monitor your hamster carefully and head over to a veterinarian if the shaking doesn’t subside with environmental changes.
Why Is My Hamster Shaking a Lot
In this article, I will explore all the possible reasons why your hamster could be shaking and what you can do to address it.
1. Shaking Caused by Excess Stimulation
Excess stimulation overloads most animals, especially if the stimulus induces fear and anxiety. Most animals shake when they’re startled, and hamsters are the same.
Hamsters can get overstimulated by loud noises, especially if they’re young and still growing. Young hamsters are especially susceptible to trauma because of loud or otherwise stressful sounds.
A good way of identifying if your hamster is shaking out of overstimulation or fear is to look for other accompanying symptoms. Hamsters that have been startled might make high-pitched squeaking sounds. They might also be tense and frozen in a single place in their cage.
Excess stimuli stress hamsters, leaving them afraid and overwhelmed, and shaking is a natural expression of that anxiety. Since hamsters are small prey animals, they are easily startled by loud noises, quick movements, or unusual smells.
To calm a stressed hamster, identify the source of stress. Switch off any electronics making loud noises like a TV or a radio, or move your hamster’s cage to a quieter location. Don’t make any sudden movements, and ensure your hamster has a safe space for burrowing into familiar smells.
When you’re moving your hamster’s cage, make sure that you move it to a location familiar to your hamster, or you’ll risk stressing it further. Ideally, move the cage to a room that smells strongly of you.
Hamsters recognize their primary caretakers by scent, especially if they’re handled regularly. Keeping them in a space where they can smell their caretakers will reassure them and help them feel safe.
Alternatively, you can use a tissue paper or item of clothing that has absorbed your scent and add it to your hamster’s cage to reassure your pet that you’re close by, and they don’t have to be afraid.
2. Poor Living Conditions
Hamsters spend all their lives in their cages, so these must meet their habitat needs. According to the Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association, hamsters live in deep tunnels where the temperatures are cooler, and relative humidity is higher than the surrounding desert environment.
Depending on where you live, you may not need to worry about the temperature or humidity. However, it is crucial to ensure that your hamster has room and material to burrow into whenever it feels unsafe.
The cage must also be sufficiently large, so your hamster has plenty of room to move about and explore. A large cage and a hamster wheel are necessary to avoid boredom and boredom-related anxiety in hamsters. A good size hamster cage is between 360 – 450 sq. in (2,322.6 – 2,903 sq. cm).
The cage must have spaces for your hamster to hide in. These spaces should be dark and easy for your hamster to slip in and out of. This will provide a hideaway for your hamster to burrow into if it feels unsafe.
Cages must also have clean water in water bottles that are fixed to the cages and fresh food that is cleaned out regularly. The cage itself should be cleaned fully every five days, while the bedding should be refreshed daily.
Maintaining good living conditions is essential to avoiding stress and anxiety-induced shaking in your hamster. If your hamster seems to be shaking out of stress with no apparent external stimuli, try cleaning out their cage, taking care to keep some of the old, clean bedding and burrowing material to ensure that the cage smells familiar.
3. Weather Changes
While hamsters live in burrows because of the relative drop in temperature, they are desert animals, and as such, have evolved to live in warm weather. If you live in areas like Alaska or Portland, where temperatures stay below 60°F (15.6°C) for the majority of the year, your hamster might be cold if not cared for properly.
Hamsters prefer consistent temperatures between 65 to 80°F (18.3 to 26.7°C). If the ambient temperature gets lower than that, they become lethargic, eventually entering torpor or hibernation to conserve energy.
If you notice your hamster shaking soon after a dip in temperature, your hamster is likely cold, especially if a noticeable drop in energy accompanies the shaking. Check to see if your hamster is in a drafty location and note the ambient temperature in the room to further confirm the cause of your hamster’s shaking.
To warm your hamster up, move the cage away from drafts or windows that are opened often. If you can’t increase the ambient temperature, add more bedding and line the cage with cardboard. You can also wrap a blanket around the cage to keep it warm.
4. Torpor Induced Shaking
If the temperature drops below 50°F (10°C), hamsters will go into torpor, a condition where the metabolism of the hamster slows down to conserve energy. Torpor is involuntary, unlike hibernation.
Hamsters do hibernate, but in most cases, they enter involuntary torpor due to a sudden drop in temperatures. If you attempt to warm your hamster up after it enters torpor, you might observe some shaking. This shaking is a normal response to a sudden increase in temperature.
Shaking is a natural mammalian response to the cold, where the body attempts to generate heat by shaking the muscles. This happens in people, too, when they become hypothermic.
If your hamster is shaking after coming back from a period of torpor, monitor it closely. Watch out for any other indications of poor health like lethargy or poor appetite. In most cases, the shaking will wear off as your hamster warms up, and it will be back to good health in no time.
However, if the shaking doesn’t wear off after a few hours, and at most, a full day, take your hamster to the veterinarian immediately.
Check out, Why Does My Hamster Poop So Much?
5. Nervous System Conditions
Inbreeding is a common problem among all pet animals, which is true for hamsters. Inbred hamsters may develop a number of neurological conditions. These conditions may also develop as a result of infection by viruses like the West Nile virus.
The infection affects the brain stem, which may cause involuntary shaking in hamsters. Tremors are commonly induced due to defects in the central nervous system in hamsters, and there is no cure.
If you’ve eliminated excess stimulation, weather changes, and torpor or hibernation as possible causes for your hamster shaking, then it is time to consult a veterinarian.
A nervous system condition is the likely cause of your hamster shaking if the tremors have lasted more than a day and no other medical conditions have been identified.
Keep track of what causes tremors in your hamster – potential triggers can be food, medications, bright lights, and other environmental factors, and record these for your vet. While there may not be a cure, your vet will be able to help you manage your hamster’s shaking.
So long as the quality of your hamster’s life remains unaffected, the nervous system condition can be managed and will be something your hamster and you learn to live with.
6. Medical Conditions
Suppose the shaking in your hamster is accompanied by other symptoms like:
- Labored breathing
- Rough fur
- Nasal discharge
In that case, you could be looking at a serious medical condition.
Persistent shaking that isn’t resolved by removing stimulants, raising the temperature, and cleaning the cage is likely a medical issue that needs to be addressed after an examination from your vet.
Take your hamster for an examination as soon as you notice that your efforts to make your hamster comfortable are not having any effect.
If the temperature dropped recently, your hamster has likely developed a respiratory infection. Other illnesses that cause shaking include:
- Heart failure
- Viral infections
- Skin infections
Temperatures over 85°F (29.4°C) in areas with low humidity can cause heat stroke in a hamster. Symptoms to watch out for apart from shaking include:
- Reduced urination
- A sweaty coat
- Your hamster sleeping in an open area of the cage instead of burrowing into its bedding
If your hamster has trouble breathing and moving erratically, it may be a respiratory infection or even heart failure. Don’t wait if you see that your pet is in respiratory distress. Rush your hamster to the vet immediately to ensure their well-being.
Infections like Wet Tail can cause serious diarrhea in hamsters, causing the animal to become extremely weak and shake uncontrollably.
Diarrhea is a dangerous condition for small animals, and it can lead to dehydration and must be addressed immediately to prevent death.
Hamsters that are shaking and having trouble walking may be experiencing a stroke. Other reasons hamsters are shaking and unable to walk include injuries from falls, accidents, or attacks.
Hamsters swaying or moving back and forth when they try to walk while shaking have likely experienced a stroke. Strokes tend to affect one side of the body more than the other, so watch out for limping on one side.
If you suspect that your hamster has experienced a stroke, rush them to the vet immediately.
Hamsters may shake because of:
- Poor living conditions
- A drop in temperature
- Nervous system, or other medical conditions
Monitor your hamster closely, remove external stimuli and keep them comfortable. If your hamster is still shaking or other symptoms accompany the shaking, take them to the vet for a full examination.
Related Hamsters article:
- How To Train Your Hamster To Cuddle
- Why Is My Hamster Bleeding From Its Bottom?
- How To Make Your Hamster Happy
- Difference Between a Hamster and a Gerbil
- How To Keep a Hamster Warm
- How To Put a Hamster Out of Its Misery
My name is Everly. I am a Milwaukee-based mom of 2 and have been a proud owner of many hamsters throughout my life. Like many of us, my introduction to hamsters happened when I was very young. My family saw several hamsters come and go through the years, and I enjoyed playing with them, but I never fully appreciated them until I grew up and my own children decided to jump on the hamster bandwagon. At that point, I was determined to learn all I could about caring for these adorable pets. Read more