Like all animals, hamsters can communicate with one another and with you, the pet owner. Hamsters communicate for various reasons, including saying hello, telling another to back off, or even for finding a boyfriend or girlfriend to mate with. Since they don’t speak words, they have to rely mainly on nonverbal cues to communicate with one another or with you. These nonverbal cues include: sending off chemical messages through their scent glands and displaying different types of body language to non verbally show how they are feeling.
Their sense of smell is very impressive. By smelling each other’s scent glands, they can find out if the other is a male or female if they are related and possibly even know the exact individual they are smelling. Mother hamsters can smell their own babies and often know if there is a baby in her litter that doesn’t belong to her. Additionally, their scent glands are used to mark territory and attract a mate when the time is right. These behaviors are aided by visual cues in the way of body language.
Related: Aggressive Hamster Behavior
Hamsters use body language much as we do. They can display a range of emotions that include being: happy, afraid, threatened, curious, startled, angry, and many other emotions. They even use sign language to a small extent when conversing with others.
With all that said, that doesn’t mean they won’t use an auditory form of communication too. Babies use ultrasonic sounds to call for their mothers, females have mating calls to attract a mate, and a hamster can squeak when it feels threatened or is being aggressive. Many of these sounds are brief and unrecognizable to the human ear.
Behaviors and What They Mean
When you learn what all these behaviors mean, you will then be able to better care for your hamster. If you notice your little pet is upset, mad, or sick, you can change the way you care for it by improving its situation. Often, you might just need to build more trust with your pet for it not to act aggressively or get frightened when you put your hands in the cage. The following is a list of behaviors and what they mean.
- Burrowing in bedding: This means a hamster is happy and just digging around playing or searching for a possible snack it may have buried earlier.
- Watching you with its ears erect: A hamster behavior like this means it is just a bit curious about what is going on and in a calm way.
- One that is grooming: They are seeking reassurance and are feeling rather content with everything that is going on.
- Stretching their limbs: They are feeling good and relaxed about their current situation.
- Ears forward with cheek pouches puffed up and mouth open: It’s frightened. Try to remove the stressors that are causing this behavior.
- When it empties its cheek pouches quickly: This is a hamster that is insecure about the current situation and is likely to flee and hide.
- Standing on hind legs with their dukes up: A hamster with this body language is telling you it feels threatened and might get aggressive if you don’t back off.
- It gets startled when you approach: This is another sign that your pet is feeling insecure and unsure of what is going on at the moment.
- Ears laid back with narrowed eyes: This is a sign of suspicion, and they think something is up.
- It is lying on its back with incisors showing: Yet one more sign of a frightened and threatened hamster that doesn’t want to be messed with.
- It creeps slowly along the sides of its cage: It’s unsure of its surroundings, or it’s trying to find its bearings on where they are at.
- It freezes in place: When they are afraid, they might playing dead by lying down and freezing in place.
- When they chatter their teeth: This behavior means they are fearful and ready for aggression. It’s a warning sign to stay away.
- If they are shy and always hiding: This occurs when it’s stressed by something or someone. (loud noises, aggressive hamsters, over-eager children)
- When it squeaks: This can mean it’s doing a mating call, feels uncomfortable, is mad, or even frightened. It can also mean nothing at all.
- They are unresponsive when you approach: This is often a sign that your has an illness or an injury.
- When they are lazy or lethargic: Another sign that they might be sick or under the weather.
- Biting or nipping you or another hamster: This is a sure sign of a hamster that is frightened and defensive. It shows you have not built up enough trust with it yet.
- Two hamsters are fighting: One or both hamsters are trying to display their dominance or defend their territory. Separate them if they don’t stop fighting.
- When it repeats a behavior over and over again: If this happens, this is an indicator that it’s not well mentally. A monotonous life causes this mental disorder in an inadequately sized hamster cage. Consider a larger cage or some enrichment toys.