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When is your furry friend really feeling good?
You watch you hamster dig and burrow, run on its wheel, drink water. Maybe a little hidey house action, stuff those cheeks. Rinse and repeat. You’ve provided a nice, large cage, maybe some toys. You might start to wonder about their quality of life and life enrichment. Is your hamster happy?
What are some signs of a happy hamster? In your hamster’s world, no news is good news. Your hamster is more likely to show outward signs of distress than unbridled joy. A happy hamster tends to be a quiet hamster, with no changes to their behavior. Basically, the biggest sign of a happy hamster is if they are running at their normal baseline in terms of attitude, energy and personality.
Why Hamsters are a Little Different
To start, hamsters and people are alike in a few ways.
We both feel a spectrum of anxieties and are emotionally susceptible to changes in our environments. The difference here is that hamsters don’t necessarily communicate the same way.
They’re also not prone to outward explosions of joy, which makes reading them a little hard.
But hamsters are hardwired to respond positively to things that make them happier.
In a study involving presenting hamsters with sugar water and correlating good things with a happy, healthy state of mind.
The researchers found hamsters that had been living in elevated luxury conditions were more likely to test a new bowl of water in their cage, as they were less wary or fearful and more expecting things to keep being smooth sailing.
Hamsters who had been living with more of just the bare necessities were more anxious of the new bowl.
Essentially, happy hamsters are optimistic, unhappy hamsters are withdrawn and fearful.
How to keep your hammy happy
Once you know that the secret to a healthy hamster is a happy hamster, you will surely want to do all you can to keep them that way.
Hamsters respond well to a well kept cage. A clean cage with fresh bedding, chew toys, privacy, etc. so be sure to keep those items on hand when they need to be freshened up.
As we’ve mentioned, a large cage – 450 square inches at a minimum – is necessary for your hamster to burrow and run around.
The more bedding for burrowing the better. 6 inches of bedding in at least one area of your hamster’s cage is ideal (although the more the better). A happy hamster is a tunneling hamster.
Hamsters also enjoy foraging for food. Sprinkle some around its cage to allow for the foraging activity.
Further, exercise is also just as important to hamster mental health as it is to human mental health. Access to a running wheel in their cage and/or a ball to explore the house in are all but essential. Getting those little feet moving also gets those endorphins flowing.
A sand bath is also a great time for many hamsters. It’s the other way they can groom themselves. Remember, don’t ever bathe a hamster in water. Also, be sure you’re using sand, not dust to stay clear up upper respiratory issues. Play sand in a large bowl with a hideout is ideal.
Finally, provide your hamster with a high quality commercial food. Good nutrition lends itself to a happy hamster.
Signs of a sad, bored or upset hamster
It will be easier to tell when your hamster is not so happy rather than when they are over the moon.
A too small cage can lead to boredom for your hamster.
Watch out for unusual behavior, such as “monkey barring” or pacing around their cage and attempting to jump up the walls of their cage.
When frightened, hamsters often will urinate or defecate right where they are (even if in your hand).
It’s important to note this as a sign of fear and to return your hamster to its cage and a safe space so they are not further stressed. Speak in calming, soft tones to them while still respecting their space.
Fear and anxiety can also cause your hamster to essentially “go low” – that is, flatten themselves out so they are close to the ground.
Alternatively, the flight instinct can kick in and they may try to run away in a panic.
There is no one set reason why a hamster may be afraid, but they often exhibit this behavior when in a new situation, when being held early on, when being woken up or when around strangers.
In order to avoid what they perceive to be a threat, a hamster will make themselves as flat and hard to catch as possible. Respect those wishes, as pursuing your hamster will only cause more stress, which, while being bad for their health, can also lead to aggressive behavior.
This aggressive behavior can manifest as biting, which should always be taken as a sign of your hamster not feeling okay.
Respect those sharp teeth and leave your hamster alone at that time.
It may just be a passing bout of fear or anger, but if your normally chill hamster is suddenly aggressive more and more, that may be a sign of illness. Anything out of the ordinary that continues on should be treated with care, whereas a one-off incident can be nothing more than an off day for your pet.
Hamsters are not particularly outwardly happy animals. Don’t expect a golden retriever’s welcome when you come home. Really, being on the lookout for an unhappy hamster as well as providing a good environment and healthy diet are the best ways to ensure a happy hamster.
Victoria Raechel – How to have a happy hamster