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12 Strange But Common Hamster Behaviors

From stuffing their cheeks to staying up all night and more, hamsters do things we might think are strange but the behaviors are actually quite normal.

Laura Doering
Posted: February 10, 2014, 9 a.m. EST

hamster on toy
© Gina Cioli/I-5 Studio
Hamsters are explorers and also like to burrow, so tunnel toys satisfy two needs.

There’s a reason why hamsters are popular family pets: they are cute, require less space than most other pets and they have personality that transcends well beyond their diminutive size. Here are some common hamster behaviors:

1. Sniffing things out: When you welcome a hamster into your home, expect to see him wiggling his little nose … a lot. Hamsters don’t have great eyesight, but what they lack in visual acuity, they make up for in an extra-keen sense of smell. Sniffing is often accompanied by standing up on the hind legs, which your hamster might do if he feels the need to investigate things further and/or to better sniff out any nearby perceived threats. Your hamster might also take to a standing position if he catches a whiff of a tasty treat.

2. Exploring: A hamster will spend a good amount of time navigating around his environment and memorizing the layout. This is where his whiskers come in handy; they literally help him get a better feel for his environment.

3. Stuffing those cheeks: If you see your hamster’s cheeks suddenly bulging to the brim, don’t fret; it’s not a case of hamster mumps. Just like squirrels, hamsters can be real food hoarders, stuffing food into their cheeks (in some instances, expanding them to the point of almost doubling their head size!) so they can move large quantities of food to their special, self-designated hiding spots located in tunnels hidden throughout their bedding or in other areas of their housing environment.

4. Busy burrowing: You might see a lot of wiggling going on underneath your hamster’s litter/bedding. This is your little furball burrowing to create covered areas he can retreat to or hide his extra stashes of food in. Expect to see some burrowing after you change your hamster’s bedding material; after all, he has to start all over again!

5. Making himself disappear: You might find yourself wondering where your hamster is. Hamsters like hideouts; whether they are spots in their bedding, in a hamster-size igloo or burrowed under a toy. Allow your hamster a little privacy — hamsters are prey animals after all, and keeping out of sight is their best defense in the wild.

6. Pulling an all-nighter: Don’t expect your hamster to go to bed when you turn out the lights at night. Hamsters are nocturnal and can be little busybodies during the night. If you can’t sleep with the sound of your hamster working out on his exercise wheel, consider moving the cage.

7. Sleeping while you’re awake: If you hadn’t noticed that your hamster is most active at night, you might be a bit bewildered as to why your little hammy sleeps all day. Don’t worry, your hamster is not unwell; he’s just on a different sleep schedule than you. And if your home drops below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, don’t be surprised if your hamster undergoes a mini hibernation and sleeps a little longer than usual.

8. Chewing like crazy: A hamster’s teeth continuously grow, so your pet will seek out items to chew to keep his teeth in check. Give your hamster appropriate items to chew, such as a hay or a wood block, and sit back and enjoy watching him hold it in his little hands as he chomps away.

9. Leaving a mark: You might notice your hamster hitting his flanks (hips) against things. He’s not uncoordinated; he’s claiming the item/spot as his own! Hamsters have scent glands (which other hamsters can smell) but the exact location varies depending on the species of hamster. Syrians have a scent gland on each hip, while dwarf hamsters have a single scent gland on their underside, just below where you would imagine their belly button to be.

10. Squeaking or hissing: A hamster making an audible noise is generally not a happy hamster. An annoyed or frightened hamster might squeak or resort to hissing to further get his point across that he is quite angry.

11. Laying back: Some hamsters prefer to lie on their backs when sleeping or just to relax. Let your hammy chill out while in this favored pose and wait until he’s back up on his feet before attempting to pick him up.

12. Grooming: Hamsters have a reputation for extreme cuteness to uphold, and nothing is cuter than a hamster combing his fur down, much like when we run our fingers or hand through our hair to keep it in check.

For more articles about hamster behavior, click here>>
See the Q&A about hamsters, click here>>

To find out about stange but common rabbit behaviors, click here>>
To find out about strange but common ferret behaviors, click here>>

Posted: February 10, 2014, 9 a.m. EST


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