Posted: January 9, 2014, 1:05 p.m. EST
© Isabelle Francais/I-5 Publishing
As long as a hamster's noises don't seem to indicate pain or fear, enjoy your pet's vocalizations.
Q: My husband and I have a Syrian hamster, Barney. Barney is our fourth hamster. He is around 4 months old. Something we have noticed with our last two hamsters is sometimes they make a barking noise. This happens occasionally when we are playing with him outside of his cage but usually when he is alone in his cage. He appears to be healthy (eats well, is very playful with us, and is active and curious). Is this him trying to get our attention or is it a health problem? Our previous hamster, Hamlet, also did this and lived more than two years.
A: Great observation! We often think of hamsters as quiet little pets, aside from the occasional noisy wheel or bar-chewing. But some do find their voices. Once that happens, some continue to be vocal for life, while others stop after a time. None of this is unusual.
Some hamsters are more "talkative” when alone inside their homes, while others prefer to chatter while out and about. Their vocalizations may range from insistent whines for attention or treats to soft squeaks or chirps when they are busily engaged in favorite activities.
Naturally you want to be sure Barney isn’t expressing fear or pain, but those are fairly easy to discern. Fearful or startled screeches are loud and strident, and the cause is usually evident — sudden moves toward a sleeping hamster, a stray insect in the cage or a loud bird outside, for example.
Squeals of pain may be similar, and are usually associated with urinating, defecating, walking, filling or emptying pouches, chewing or anything else that might cause sharp, sudden discomfort. Grunts or moans of more constant pain are typically lower pitched and repetitious. Both are hard to describe, but an observant owner will hear the difference from contented or begging sounds.
Hamsters that haven’t made sounds before can pick up the habit if their cages are moved near more vocal hamsters. Some seem to direct their chatter to themselves, some to nearby hamsters or other pets, and some to their people.
Once you’ve observed that Barney’s vocalizations aren’t linked to anything fearsome or painful, you can enjoy this most charming behavior and encourage it by responding to his sounds, reinforcing them as communication and a special way of enjoying one another.
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