Do hamsters have feelings?

Are you feeling moody? Your hamster is too!

Let’s be honest. Sometimes when you look at your hamster hopping around in its cage. Or eating. Or running on its wheel. Or hopping around in its cage. Or eating. Or running on its wheel. You might start to think about what they’re thinking about. Maybe what they’re feeling.  

Wait. Do hamsters have feelings? Yes, hamsters have feelings. Scientists have confirmed what animal lovers have long known. Animals, including hamsters, have feelings. They go through a range of moods and emotions including fear, depression, boredom, happiness, and optimism. 

The science of hamster emotions

Scientists have challenged assumptions about hamsters being creatures of instinct. A study out of Liverpool John Moores University demonstrated that hamsters have a range of emotions beyond behavioral conditioning. 

They observed the reactions of two groups of hamsters under separate conditions. One group was given toys, open spaces to play, and sugar water. The other group was kept in living conditions that were about as exciting as a trip to the DMV. 

The hamsters that had been living the good life showed signs of happiness. How could you not with a good exercise wheel? As Elle Woods taught us, exercise gives you endorphins after all!

In the end, the happy hamsters were more likely to explore even when their settings changed, because they learned to expect good things and went searching for them.

The other hamsters with the bare-bones surroundings demonstrated apathy and stress. 

Of course they have emotions! Do we have any moral obligations?

Science has proven what basic human empathy already taught us. Hamsters have feelings. But what does this mean in the long term and why are some people resistant to embracing the idea that hamsters are sentient?

If we accept that hamsters have emotions, then we must examine our relationship with them. What does it mean if a hamster is kept isolated in a tiny cage in someone’s classroom, bedroom or pet store? 

What is the level of anxiety, sadness, stress or trauma the animals experience if deprived of adequate care and nurturing? 

It’s important to make sure that your new stoic little pet is as content as can be. Your hamster might not wag its tail when you walk up to their cage to say hello or add some delicious treats, but they’re likely to be just as happy to see you.  

What does this mean for our pet hamsters?

Since we know hamsters can feel fear and anxiety, it’s important to think ahead when adopting a pet hamster. 

Adopting a hamster on impulse without considering whether you have the space, time, energy, and finances to properly provide for your hamster can lead to hamster stress. To avoid this, all you need to get started is a little time and planning!

Since you’re here on this site, reading these articles, you probably already know this! 

Hamster body language and communication

Now that you know that hamsters have feelings, it becomes your responsibility to take their emotional and mental health into consideration. You can learn to identify their emotions based on their body language. 

Hamsters have ways of communicating their emotions and letting you know when you are stressing them, scaring them, or making them happy and content. 

You know your hamster and what to look for. Being sensitive to their body language or even noises keeps you in tune with their needs. 

Things to keep in mind to manage hamster emotions

Hamsters are intelligent and need to explore. They also love to dig and bury their food. 

They are territorial so other hamsters can be stressful for them so you might considering avoiding the natural temptation to get two so they can keep each other company. Hamsters can also be affectionate with humans though, and enjoy attention and playing with their owners!

Hamsters can become scared when they are surprised. As prey animals and can feel intimidated if you suddenly enter their territory. 

They can also become angry, sad, and bored. A telltale sign of stress is excessive grooming. Repetitive behavior including repetitive pacing can indicate boredom.

A happy hamster may stuff his face with food and joyfully burrow in the bedding of his enclosure. 

A secure and tamed hamster may enjoy a good snuggle and petting session.

The key is being in tune with the emotions of stress and anxiety (and helping them with that). And being in tune with when they’re happy and content and enjoying your pet.

Conclusion

Hamsters experience a broad range of emotions. Making the commitment to adopt a hamster can be fun and rewarding for both you and your hamster if their feelings are taken into account. 

Finally, being a responsible caretaker means being willing to consider not only your hamster’s physical needs but their emotional needs as well. Keep an eye out for their body language and watch for signs of stress or anxiety. 

References

Animal Wised – Stress symptoms in hamsters

Hamsters as pets – Hamster body language

Science Mag – How to tell if your hamster is happy