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Caging Hamsters Side By Side

What do different species of hamsters think when they can see other hamsters in nearby cages?

Martha Boden
Posted: January 13, 2015, 6:20 p.m. EST

dwarf hamster sitting on blue fabric
© Courtesy of Martha Boden 
Dwarf hamsters like this one don't seem to have as much interest in neighboring hamsters as Syrian hamsters do.

Q: I have a Syrian hamster and a Roborovski dwarf hamster in separate cages (both female). I have put the cages next to each other. The Roborovski doesn't seem particularly interested, but the Syrian seems desperate to see and smell the other hamster, hanging around the side closest to her constantly. Are they just curious, or is the Syrian hamster being possessive or aggressive? I am really interested in what they are likely to be thinking about their new neighbors. 

A: What a great observation and thoughtful question!

I have seen this behavior dozens of times over years of hamster keeping. In each case, it was a Syrian hamster fascinated by the activities of a dwarf hamster. Only once have I seen a dwarf hamster return any of that interest. Gender hasn't seemed to matter, although this is a small sample to judge by.

To allay your concern, I've not observed individual hamsters show fear or aggression toward individuals of others species housed nearby. Of course, for safety, hamsters in different cages must never be able to reach one another. A healthy curiosity is fun to watch, but a closer encounter would not be.

Rescues often house dozens of hamster habitats at once, and activity level is one logical way of grouping cages. Timid or nervous hamsters seem more secure away from busy, noisy areas of our home. They become more active and less likely to hide away.

Most of the interspecies interest appears in this quieter area. Moving an active dwarf hamster next to a senior Syrian hamster sparks interest often enough that I try it routinely. The older Syrian hamster often brightens, spends more time awake and seems comfortably energized.

My most successful neighbor pairing came when a frightened new Campbell's dwarf hamster named Sammy was placed next to a quiet, less active senior Syrian hamster named Oliver. Oliver immediately began spending more time awake and bright. Like your Syrian hamster, he spent time on the side of the cage where he could watch Sammy, hopping up on top of his sleeping box to see farther into Sammy's cage. When Sammy ran in his wheel, Oliver watched for a few minutes, then headed for his own — which hadn't interested him for weeks. He was more eager for our out-of-cage playtimes, ate better and seemed more content. I even saw him several days staring into Sammy's cage as the dwarf hamster slept, looking for his little buddy with more of an attention span than hamsters usually have.

Oliver's results were better than I'd hoped for, but the real surprise was Sammy's reaction. He arrived here after being severely injured by a cagemate in a pairing gone horribly wrong. After his quarantine period, he still had little appetite, didn't groom and preferred simply to hide and sleep.

It took Sammy longer to notice his new neighbor, but then he returned Oliver's interest with enthusiasm. When Oliver ate, Sammy crept nearer to him and ate, too. They groomed in unison. I wouldn't have thought it possible, but a relationship of sorts developed, meeting important needs for each of them and genuinely enriching their lives.

As to wondering whether this is stressful for your Syrian hamster, watch her demeanor and behavior in general, and let any changes guide you. While I can't tell you what your hamsters are thinking or how they experience what's going on, I can certainly tell you it's possible your Syrian hamster enjoys watching your dwarf hamster. So long as she does, and your Roborovski continues not to mind, enjoy observing them! 

Like this article? Please share it, and check out:
The Language Of Hamsters
Hamsters Living With Other Pets
Identify Hamster Body Language And Stress
Hamster Facts And Answers
Hamster Health Center
See all questions and answers about hamster behavior 
See all questions and answers about hamster health 
See Martha Boden's author bio

Posted: January 13, 2015, 6:20 p.m. EST


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