Pets such as hamsters bring us so much joy, happiness, companionship, and a sense of fulfillment. According to multiple studies, the pets we keep play an integral role in helping us deal with emotions.
For instance, petting an animal has been shown to help reduce stressful feelings while communicating with them helps lower blood pressure. Another study also indicates that watching birds lower anxiety and boost mental health.
Unfortunately for hamsters, stress is one of the many life-threatening problems they often endure.
Stress can be caused by many things including being touched too much, being kept in a small or dirty cage, exposure to excessive noise, or lack enough food and clean water.
Stress can be fatal and more so among pregnant hamsters with delicate health conditions. Furthermore, stress is one of the reasons why nursing hamsters eat their newborn babies.
To help you understand how to tell if a hamster is stressed and ways to calm them down, this article will focus on these three main subjects:
- Causes of stress in hamsters
- Signs of stress in hamsters
- Tips to calm down a stressed hamster
Causes of Hamster Stress
Stress in hamsters can be caused by different factors. Most of these factors will depend on the hamster’s breed, living environment, and the care they receive from their owners. Below we highlight the most common causes of hamster stress.
1. Small Cages
While it’s true that hamsters do not need large spaces, keeping a hamster in a very small cage can be a trigger for stress. There’s a psychological disorder called “cage rage” which affects pets or animals kept in cages.
The primary cause of cage rage is keeping a hamster in a cage that’s too small. Syrian hamsters are prone to this psychological disorder as they can grow large and require more space to play around. Unfortunately, most pet owners mistake this condition for natural aggression.
It’s advisable to choose a hamster cage that’s large enough to ensure the hamster has enough space to play and run around.
2. Dirty cages
Another probable cause of stress in hamsters is when kept in a dirty cage. Hamsters are extremely sensitive animals and you should keep their living environment as clean as possible.
We recommend cleaning your hamster’s cage at least once a week, and if possible, deeply and thoroughly every fortnight. This ensures your little pet lives in a clean cage with clean bedding and toys.
3. Changes in Sleeping patterns
Hamsters are nocturnal pets, which means they sleep during the day and are active at night. Interfering with their normal cycle will cause stress and other health issues.
Intense interruptions that happen daily can cause chronic stress, which is one of the things that cause sudden death in hamsters.
4. Excessive noise
Keeping a hamster in a noisy environment will cause them stress. Hamsters prefer to be kept in places with little to no disturbance but with sufficient daylight.
You should keep your hamster’s cage in a room where it can enjoy more time alone or with other hamsters. The cage should also be placed in a position other pets such as dogs and cats cannot reach.
5. Insufficient food and water
Denying your hamster enough nutritious food and clean water will cause stress. While hamsters are not heavy feeders, they need nutritious food to remain healthy and enough water to remain hydrated.
One of the reasons hamsters eat their poop is to get as many nutrients into their bodies as possible. That’s how significant nutritious foods are for hamsters.
Make sure to avoid major dietary changes as a sudden shift in a hamster’s diet can be tough for them to adjust, which can lead to stress.
6. Cage interruption
Apart from small and dirty cages causing hamster stress, changing how a hamster has set up things in its cage will cause issues.
When cleaning your hamster’s cage, make sure not to make major changes in terms of the placement of its accessories. Try to leave everything as the hamster has placed it.
In the event the hamster is pregnant, you should avoid touching her nest and only clean the surrounding areas. Pregnant hamsters are more prone to stress, which can cause pregnancy issues and problems during nursing.
7. Changes in habitat
Another probable cause of hamster stress is a change in habitat. Whether you’ve moved into a new apartment or shifted your hamster’s cage to a new room, it will need time to adjust to the new environment.
Since hamsters are sensitive, it will take them some time to adjust to the new habitat and everything around them. You might even notice the hamster hiding for the first few days.
Try to maintain some level of normalcy and continuity once you move to a new apartment or change your hamster’s room.
8. Introduction of new pets
Being prey animals, hamsters are always cautious about their surroundings. They are always on the lookout for potential threats and an introduction of a new pet into your home could make them frightened.
For instance, if you introduce a cat or dog into your home, the hamster will need time to adjust. It will take time to feel comfortable around these pets.
In case you’re moving into a new apartment, avoid introducing a new pet to your home too soon, not even a hamster.
Your hamster will need between a week and a month to adjust to the new surroundings, and introducing a new pet can be more stressful for them.
9. High temperatures
Temperatures higher than 74°F (24°C) can cause stress to a hamster. Hamsters prefer room temperatures between 69°F to 72°F (20°C to 22°C).
A sudden rise of temperatures above 74°F (24°C) or a heatwave around your hamster’s enclosure can make your hamster very uncomfortable.
We recommend moving the hamster’s cage to a more central part of the room away from direct sunlight. Alternatively, you can use a fan or a self-cooling mat to ensure the hamster enjoys favorable temperatures.
Signs of Stress in Hamsters
Different pets express stress and depression differently. As a hamster parent, you need to remain vigilant to spot any behavioral and physical changes your pet might present. Early recognition will make it easy to address the problem and find a lasting solution.
Below we highlight the most common signs of stress in hamsters you should be looking out for.
Hyperactivity is one of the signs a hamster could be stressed. You will notice constant movement, constant running on wheels, climbing their cages, and seeming more nervous than usual.
A hyperactive hamster indicates the pet is stressed out and trying to find ways to release the tension. The hamster will be less friendly, more nervous, and also more destructive.
2. Heightened aggression
An overly aggressive hamster is probably a stressed-out hamster. The hamster will be more reactive than usual, will shore teeth, grunt, and move its ears backward and ready to attack.
The hamster will try to bite you and will constantly be biting its cage. In case these aggressive behaviors go on for too long, we recommend consulting your veterinarian.
3. Compulsive behavior
Compulsive and repetitive behaviors also indicate a hamster is stressed. Such behaviors include gnawing incessantly, constantly scratching itself or its cage, and constantly cleaning itself.
Extreme cases of compulsive behavior can lead to self-mutilation, which makes the hamster more vulnerable to infections.
4. Hamster noises
Hamsters are generally quiet animals. However, stress can make a hamster produce certain characteristic noises such as snorting and grunting. Extremely nervous hamsters often emit squeals or shrieks.
5. Hair loss
Hair loss could be a sign a hamster is suffering from chronic stress if not other health complications. When suffering from chronic stress, the hamster will lose its fur or appear to have oilier hair.
In some instances, a stressed hamster will pluck out its hair leading to the formation of bald spots on its skin.
6. Excessive salivation
Another notable sign of stress and anxiety in hamsters is hypersalivation. When stressed, nervous, anxious, or fearful, a hamster will experience excessive salivation. This is probably a way in which its body responds to tension.
7. Attempts to escape
When a hamster is stressed, it will try to escape from the stressful environment. The hamster will be hyperalert with its ears facing forward and its cheeks inflated.
8. Muscle rigidity and tremors
When stress is coupled with fear, the hamster’s muscles become tense. In extreme cases, the muscular rigidity will become so tense that the hamster’s body will start to shake.
How to Calm Down a Stressed Hamster
Now that you know what causes stress among hamsters and the likely symptoms you should be on the lookout for, how can you calm down a stressed hamster?
Below are a few tips to help you keep your stressed or nervous hamster calm.
1. Keep the hamster in a big enough cage
One of the most effective ways to calm down a stressed hamster is to ensure they have a big enough cage. This ensures they have sufficient space to play and run around.
A bigger cage will ensure the hamster has enough space not only to play and run around but also room for their favorite toys and water & food bowls without the cage seeming crowded.
A crowded cage will make a hamster feel boxed and inhibited, which can easily cause stress.
2. Keep the hamster cage in a quiet room
Noise is one of the reasons hamsters get stressed. These little pets are very sensitive and ensuring the cage is kept in a peaceful room without noise or constant disturbances is important.
Keeping a hamster in a quiet and peaceful environment ensures they remain calm. A calm and relaxing environment also gives a hamster a sense of security.
3. Be gentle when handling the hamster
Hamsters are also sensitive to touch and you should avoid touching them too much. If you often cuddle with your hamster, be as gentle as possible to give them a sense of tender care and love.
Being gentle with your touch helps calm a stressed hamster down. However, some hamsters avoid being touched when stressed, so it’s ideal to understand your pet’s personality.
4. Provide enough toys for them
Ensuring a hamster has enough interactive toys will also help them when they are stressed. These pets are usually very active and not having toys will make them bored and inevitably stressed out.
The most common toys to provide include running wheels, puzzles, and mazes. Coupled with a spacious cage and a peaceful environment, interactive toys will help keep stress away.
5. Keep bigger pets away from the cage
You should always keep small and big pets separate. The hamsters’ “prey nature” means they’re less likely to stay calm when pets such as dogs and cats are around.
It’s best to keep the dogs, cats, and other bigger pets away from the hamster’s cage. If they have to share a room, make sure the room is spacious and the hamster’s cage is kept in a place other pets cannot reach.
6. Provide sufficient food and clean water
Lack of enough food and clean water can make a hamster stressed. Although hamsters do not eat a lot, it’s best to ensure they always have food and water in the cage.
You should also ensure the food is nutritious to provide all the nutrients the hamster needs. Additionally, avoid major dietary changes because sudden dietary shifts mean the hamster will need time to adjust.
Besides, chopping and changing their diet will make it hard for them to adjust and find some form of continuity.
7. Avoid changing the hamster’s habitat
A change in a hamster’s living environment also means it cannot enjoy any form of continuity. Even the smallest changes such as changing the spot where you place the hamster cage after cleaning it make a huge difference.
Ensure to always keep the hamster cage in the same room and the same spot. The place should also have sufficient daylight and comfortable room temperature.
After cleaning the hamster’s cage, ensure the positions of the items such as toys, water & food bowls, and bedding remain unchanged.
FAQs About Stress in Hamsters
Let’s have a look at some of the most frequently asked questions regarding stress in hamsters.
1. Can hamsters die from stress?
Yes, a hamster can die from chronic stress. Stress can weaken a hamster’s immune system making them more susceptible to illnesses including bacterial infections. Stress can also exacerbate preexisting conditions such as heart disease, and when a hamster dies suddenly from a heart attack or stroke, chronic stress is often one of the inducers.
2. Can a hamster be stressed in a new cage?
A hamster can be stressed in a new cage due to unfamiliar surroundings. Hamsters are not flexible to change and take time to adapt to a new environment. Keeping a hamster in a new cage, whether smaller or bigger, with new items and in a new spot can cause stress.
3. Can a hamster be stressed after cleaning the cage?
A hamster can be stressed after cleaning the cage especially if you change the cage’s position in the room and positioning of its items within the cage such as toys, water & food bowls, bedding, and nest in the case of a pregnant hamster.
4. Why is my hamster so hyper all of a sudden
A hamster can become hyperactive all of a sudden due to boredom or stress. If the hamster is not only very active but also aggressive, biting its cage, producing noises such as snorting & grunting, and presenting symptoms of hypersalivation, it is suffering from stress.
Hamsters are extremely delicate pets. Even the smallest of changes in their normal routines or the things they are used to can cause them stress. It’s best to learn the things that can cause them stress, signs to look out for and ways to calm down a stressed hamster.