Signs Your Hamster Is Sad: 5 Easy Ways To Tell

As a responsible pet owner, you want to make sure that your hamster is happy and content. Because hamsters are not humans, it can be difficult to ascertain the emotional state of your furry little friends. They express themselves differently than humans do, so it is important to understand how to speak your hamster’s language. You want to be able to distinguish between a happy hamster and a sad hamster.

What are some signs that your hamster is sad? There are several behaviors that can be symptomatic of a sad or stressed hamster. These include:

  • Trying to escape the cage
  • Repetitive behaviors
  • Cage aggression
  • Change in exercise habits
  • Excessive grooming

If your hamster is new to your home, it can be difficult to distinguish between normal hamster behavior and the behavior of a hamster who is unhappy. Read on for information detailing how to tell if your hamster is sad.

Sad Hamsters May Try To Escape 

Hamsters are quite active in nature, spending their lives foraging for food and building their burrows while remaining alert to their many natural predators. A hamster can only live happily in a cage if they are able to expend all of the energy that they have. Most hamsters who are trying to escape their cages are doing so because their cages are not large enough. Most cages you can find in a pet store will be too small for a hamster. Current recommendations by various animal welfare organizations are that a hamster should have an absolute minimum of two square feet of space (24”x12” of floor space). While this is a helpful starting point, the reality is that the bigger the cage, the happier the hamster. If you are looking for a cage at your local pet store, go big or go home (seriously, go home – you can find a wider variety of appropriately-sized rodent cages online from the comfort of your couch). 

What does an escape-minded hamster look like? If your hamster is unhappy in its environment, you may notice the following behaviors:

  • Climbing the cage bars – a hamster who is trying to escape its cage can often be seen climbing the cage bars. This is not only indicative of an unhappy animal, but can also be a safety concern depending on the height of your cage walls – if it were to make it to the top and suffer a tumble, the hamster could get hurt. 
  • Chewing on the cage – a hamster’s teeth are strong and sharp. If you find your hamster frequently chewing on the bars of the cage, you can assume that it is trying to break free.
  • Tunneling into the corners – if your hamster is repeatedly trying to tunnel into the bottom of the cage corners, it may be trying to escape the cage. Burrowing and tunneling are natural hamster behaviors, but rigorous digging at the cage corners can indicate a hamster is trying to find a way out.
  • Spending time at the cage walls – a healthy hamster will spend time exploring the cage, but if your hamster spends almost all of its time against the walls of its cage, it may be anxious and trying to get out of the enclosure.

If you notice your hamster showing any of these signs, you will want to make sure that its cage is meeting its needs. If it isn’t large enough, invest in a roomier enclosure. If a hamster doesn’t have enough enrichment in its cage, buy (or make) some toys and climbing structures. All hamsters should have an exercise wheel in the cage.

If your hamster does manage to escape their cage, don’t panic. To quickly find your hamster, follow the steps in my article Where Hamsters Hide and How to Find Them.

Sad Hamsters May Exhibit Repetitive Behaviors

Compulsive behaviors such as endless pacing and circling are strong signs of stress in an animal. You will often see this behavior in zoo enclosures or other habitats that are too small, especially for a previously wild animal. If your hamster is showing these repetitive, compulsive behaviors, you can assume that the hamster is unhappy. Again, this can be a symptom of a cage that is too small for your hamster. It can also be a sign of a hamster who is unable to expend its ample energy. If your hamster has a large cage, an exercise wheel, and enough stimulation, you should see a decrease in these behaviors. 

Sad Hamsters May Show Cage Aggression

If your previously docile hamster has started showing cage aggression, it is likely unhappy. This change in behavior can have a variety of causes, so its important to investigate the issue thoroughly. Like any animal, a hamster who is in pain or otherwise not feeling well may start showing aggression. Look at the hamster’s other habits – is it eating and drinking normally? Is stool solid or watery? Is the hamster sleeping more than normal? 

If your hamster is physically well, the aggression can have another cause. A hamster may lash out in fear. Has your pet recently had a traumatic or very stressful episode, or have there been any recent changes in your home? If a hamster senses a new cat or if you have a few loud houseguests, your hamster can become stressed and fearful. Try to give your hamster a calm environment, offering plenty of treats and quiet interaction, and you will hopefully begin seeing fewer episodes of aggression.

Any changes in your hamster’s behaviors can be an indicator of a deeper-lying issue. To learn about one strange behavior, visit my article Why Hamsters Eat Their Poop (The Answer May Surprise You.)

Sad Hamsters May Change Their Exercise Habits

Both an increase and a decrease in physical activity can be a sign of stress or unhappiness. If your previously lazy hamster begins spending all of its time on its exercise wheel, or if your previously active pet is suddenly spending more time moping around, your hamster may be depressed or under stress.

This behavior, too, can have a number of different causes. You will want to rule out illness in your hamster, especially if your hamster is suddenly lethargic. You will need to look at the size and quality of the habitat, and you should also consider whether or not there have been any changes to your household. 

Your hamster may also slow down simply during the different seasons. Researchers studying “seasonal depression” in hamsters found that the animals exposed to 8 hours of artificial daylight per day exhibited many more stress-related behaviors than those exposed to 16 hours of artificial daylight. This may not indicate a “sad” hamster, per se, but rather a normal alteration in behavior due to seasonal changes.

Sad Hamsters May Practice Excessive Grooming

Many animals will display excessive grooming practices when experiencing stress or anxiety. Hamsters are clean animals by nature, and there are some estimates that a healthy hamster will spend as much as 20% of its day in grooming. If your previously “typical” hamster has started obsessivesly grooming itself, spending almost all of its waking moments looking after its fur, this may be a sign of a hamster who is not emotionally well. Like the previous stress-related behaviors, this can have a number of different causes. You will want to look into whether your hamster is feeling physically well, whether it has enough enrichment to keep it busy, whether its cage is of an adequate size, and whether there have been any recent changes in the home.

Are Hamsters Sad When They Are Lonely?

As social animals ourselves, it can be easy to assign our own attributes onto our pets. If you are worried that your hamster is sad because it’s lonely however, you can put that fear to rest. Unlike other pet rodents, hamsters are solitary animals, and it is highly unlikely that your little pet will be experiencing depression due to loneliness. In fact, the opposite can be true – if you are keeping two hamsters in the same enclosure, you may see extreme signs of unhappiness or stress coming from one or both of them. This is especially true for Syrian hamsters, who should never be kept with others of their kind. Hamsters are very territorial, and even the scent of another can be enough to cause anxiety in some individuals. If you are worried that your solo hamster is sad, avoid the urge to introduce him to a friend – you will likely only exacerbate the problem.

Helping Your Sad Hamster

Fortunately, many of the problems that can lead to an unhappy hamster can be mitigated. Many situations of a stressed hamster can be resolved with an adequate habitat. If your hamster does not have an exercise wheel, make sure that you get it one. If its cage is too small, purchase a larger one. You can add chew toys and climbing structures to its habitat, and you can even begin “hiding” its food instead of filling a bowl, meeting its need to forage. 

Causes of stress not related to your hamster’s habitat can be a bit trickier to nail down. However, a good starting point would be to consider any recent changes that have occurred in the home, including the addition of new pets, a move, a change in the location of the cage, or an increase in the level of noise or activity. If you have made these considerations and are still stumped by your hamster’s sudden change in behavior, you might want to make an appointment with a vet – behavioral changes can indicate illness in a previously healthy hamster.

Trying different activities with your hamster can be a fun way to change things up for them and keep them engaged. To learn some of my favorite things to do with my pet hamsters, visit my article What To Do With Your Hamster: 10 Fun Things to Try.

Recent Posts