How Smart Are Hamsters? (IQ, Memory, & Recognition)

How Smart Are Hamsters?

You know your hamster is cute. Your hamster may even be friendly. But how smart is he? Intelligence is the ability to gain and utilize knowledge and skills. Some species of animals have a naturally higher level of intelligence than others, making them easier to train but often more challenging to keep confined. While some of our pets may be more intelligent than others, they are all lovable and cuddly and worthy of respect.

So, how smart are hamsters? There are limited studies surrounding the intelligence of hamsters, but they are not generally known for their intellect. While you can train your hamster to perform rudimentary tricks and tasks, hamsters do not seem to have a high level of reasoning ability beyond those required for basic survival. This doesn’t mean that hamsters are mindless – they are complex beings and are entertaining to watch and learn from. 

Read on for more information about the intellect of a hamster, how intelligence is measured, and whether or not you can train your hamster. 

What Is The Average IQ Score Of A Hamster?

“IQ” is short for “intelligence quotient” and is a measure of your reasoning ability, how well you can solve puzzles, and how you use logic to interpret situations and make future predictions. An IQ score is the result of an intelligence test that follows a bell curve. The average score is 100, with most individuals scoring between 85 and 115. Anyone scoring over 160 is considered to have a “genius IQ”. 

IQ tests were developed originally in France and have been used by the US government since World War I. It is a test that was developed by humans for humans. For this reason, it really is impossible to assign an equivalent IQ score to a hamster. What would the average IQ score be for a hamster? It is impossible to tell, as the test is specifically designed to test human knowledge, logic, and intelligence. 

Hamster Intelligence: Memory

So, how impressive is the memory of a hamster? Not very, when compared to many other animals, though there is not much scientific research into a hamster’s memory (as there is with mice and rats, for example). What we do know is that a hamster’s memory seems to be tied strictly to what a hamster needs for survival.

For example, two of the few studies that have been done in relation to hamster memory revolve around 1) food and 2) procreation. One study has shown that when familiar with a maze, a hamster will move straight for the branches that have held food in the past for up to a couple of weeks.

This does show that hamsters have at least some capacity for necessary spacial memory when it comes to retrieving information about where to find food. This is crucial for any species of animal, and especially for foraging animals.

Another study showed that hamsters understand the length of days compared to days in the recent past, using that information for breeding purposes. Both of these studies were in relation to a hamster’s survival, and really every animal requires this level of memory. 

This isn’t to say that there are no brains behind that cute hamster face. Research is limited, and you may learn more about the memory of a hamster anecdotally. For example, there are many claims by hamster owners of teaching tricks like spinning, walking backward, going through a maze, and even name recognition.

If you have the patience – and lots of treats, because treats are key – you can certainly train your hamster to perform basic tasks and tricks.

Hamster Intelligence: Recognition

Understanding that not much is known about the memory capabilities of a hamster, you may be wondering whether or not your hamster even recognizes you. If you have had your hamster for any significant length of time and are his primary caretaker, you can safely assume that your hamster recognizes you in several ways.

Hamsters have fairly poor eyesight, but they have an excellent sense of both hearing and smell. One of the benefits of talking to your hamster when you are in the same room is that they will begin to recognize your voice.

They will associate your voice with a safe person, and they’ll respond in a different manner than they would respond to someone they don’t recognize. They will also recognize you by your smell.  You may not think you have a natural odor, but we all do.

An animal with a sense of smell comparable to a hamster will be able to distinguish your smell from the smell of others and will recognize your scent. 

Can You Train A Hamster To Perform Tricks?

You can train a hamster, though you should adjust your expectations if your prior training experience was with, say, a Golden Retriever. It is best to start very simple to keep your hamster from becoming confused and frustrated.

Hamsters can learn simple tricks like jumping through a hoop, “dancing”, begging, and coming to you when called. It may take several attempts before your hamster understands what you are asking of him, but if you have the patience, the rewards will be well worth the time.

Speaking of rewards – these are key to training a hamster. Some domesticated animals, like dogs, are eager to please their people and will perform requested tasks for the simple acknowledgement and praise. Hamsters are not similarly motivated. What really speaks to a hamster is: food. Using treats as a reward will be the most successful way of teaching them a trick. 

Can You Potty Train A Hamster?

You can potty train a hamster to urinate in a designated area, but you can’t train a hamster to defecate in any one area. Hamsters poop without discrimination, eliminating as they are going about their business. Even just training a hamster to urinate in a specific spot will help immensely with cage cleanliness and odor, however.

You will need to start by purchasing an appropriate litter box – a plastic container that your hamster can easily move into and out of. You’ll want to fill it with a material that you don’t use in the rest of the cage – sand and litter pellets are most commonly used. Place the litter box in a corner of the cage, ideally where your hamster is already urinating regularly. 

It is important to clean out the entire cage before you begin. Place some soiled bedding into the box to attract your hamster to the area. Having the soiled bedding in only one area should encourage him to eliminate in this area.

Some hamsters will get the hang of using their potty right away. Many will require more patience. When your hamster makes mistakes outside of the box, which you should expect, simply scoop the soiled bedding and throw it away (or put it into the litter box if the litter box has been cleaned recently).

The box may be half soiled bedding/half sand or pellets at first, and that’s okay. As your hamster learns, you will be cleaning up fewer and fewer accidents and your litter box should eventually be entirely litter.

Make sure to keep the cage and litter box cleaned regularly to maintain good habits with your hamster. At first, this will mean regular spot cleaning. 

The Smartest (And Least-Smart) Animals

If you’re wondering how smart hamsters are, you also might be curious to know what the smartest animals are. The most intelligent animals known to man include chimpanzees, elephants, crows, pigs, orangutans, dolphins, and octopuses (interestingly, pigeons and rats, both often considered pests, are very high on this list as well). On the other hand, some of the least intelligent animals are sloths, koalas, pandas, flamingoes, and turkeys (what they lack in reasoning ability, they more than make up for in cuteness!). 

Though it’s easy to place and rank these different species, much is being discovered every day by researchers about the intelligence of various animals.

These lists may change and evolve as we learn more. While there is a high amount of research surrounding the intelligence of rats, there are far fewer studies on the intelligence of hamsters. That said, let’s dive into what we do know about our tiny, sweet pets. 

Hamsters Are Complex Creatures

Though it is without argument that some species have a higher level of intellect and reasoning ability than others, it takes all creatures to create the beauty of the world in which we live.

The life of a hamster does not require a high level of intelligence but rather a focus on survival skills to ensure the continuance of the species. Of course, every hamster is an individual being, with some being easier to train and reason than others.

One of the ways to determine where your hamster lies on this spectrum is by engaging in training – at the least, you and your hamster will bond through the activity, and your hamster may learn a trick or two; at the most, you will discover that your hamster is an Einstein-level genius!

You can learn more about hamsters in my articles here.

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