Why Is My Hamster Sniffing A Lot? (& What To Do About It)

Why Is My Hamster Sniffing A Lot?

Hamsters have their own unique behaviors and methods of communication. Among other quirks, you might notice seemingly constant sniffing coming from your hamster cage now and then. If you notice a behavior from your hamster that seems strange to you, it can be difficult to know if you are witnessing normal hamster behavior or something that requires veterinary attention. 

Is it normal for hamsters to sniff a lot? Hamsters rely on their excellent sense of smell to locate food, explore their environments, and sniff out potential threats. Sniffing is a completely normal hamster behavior, and you may see an increase in this behavior when adding something new to the cage, moving the hamster to a new room, or bringing another pet or person into the home. If the sniffing accompanies sneezing or other signs of illness, your pet may be experiencing an infection or an allergy.

Read on to learn more about hamsters’ senses, how they use these senses in the wild, and what your pet’s sniffing can mean.

Sniffing Is a Normal Hamster Behavior

It is easier to understand why a hamster frequently sniffs when considering their excellent sense of smell, coupled with their very poor eyesight. A hamster’s nose tells them who is around, if there are other animals nearby, where he can find food, vital information (including mating receptivity) about hamsters around him, and where potential threats may be located.

If you walk into your hamster’s vicinity and he starts sniffing the air, he is simply searching for information about you, what other animals you have been around, and – most importantly – whether or not you are carrying any treats on you.

You may find your hamster sniffing more frequently when encountering something new. This “something new” can be anything from a change in the location of his enclosure, a new house or toy, an object you have added to the room he is in, or a new pet in the house. Remember, hamsters use their noses to learn about their environment – especially when it comes to finding food and staying safe from predators. 

What It Means When Your Hamster Deeply Sniffs

The typical sniffing you might hear from your hamster will be continuous, small sniffs. But you may occasionally notice your hamster engaging in a larger, deeper sniff. This type of sniffing is usually reserved for when your hamster is especially curious about something, can’t figure something out, or can’t see what it is she is smelling.

You may notice her doing this if she’s encountered a passageway she isn’t able to squeeze through, for example. She may have tried investigating with her normal, small sniffing without success. 

If you notice her especially interested in something or unable to figure out what it is she is smelling, you may also notice her standing up on her hind legs while sniffing. This just means she is trying to get a better sniff – because hamsters live so close to the ground and are often surrounded by bedding and other soft material, they often stand up on their hind legs to investigate a specific smell (or noise) for better range and access.

Hamsters Sneezing While Sniffing

All hamsters sneeze from time to time, just as we humans do. But if your hamster is frequently sneezing and sniffing, it may mean that he is irritated (or even allergic) to the bedding in his enclosure.

The best bedding for hamsters is either Aspen shavings (the only appropriate wood-based shavings that are safe for hamsters), paper bedding, or pellet-based bedding. These are all non-toxic for hamsters, and each type of bedding has its own advantages and disadvantages.

For example, pellet-based bedding is very effective in odor control but is uncomfortable, and your hamster may not be able to burrow or nest in it. Many hamster owners use a mix of different bedding styles to take advantage of the benefits of each. 

If you are using appropriate bedding for your hamster and he is sneezing, he may be especially sensitive or even allergic to it. Try switching bedding to another brand. Sometimes the same product from two different companies will vary enough so that your reactive hamster may not have a problem with a particular manufacturer. If switching brands doesn’t solve the problem, try switching to another type of bedding altogether. 

When discussing hamster bedding, it is important to know what you cannot use. Don’t use cat litter as hamster bedding. This is not safe for hamsters and is very dusty. It is also uncomfortable and not conducive to burrowing and nesting.

It is also important that you do not use any Pine or Cedar shavings – these two types of wood will irritate the sensitive lungs of a hamster and will cause respiratory problems. If you are in a pinch and do not have any hamster- or small animal-specific bedding, you can use unscented shredded toilet paper. It is inexpensive, almost everyone has it on hand, and it’s soft – you will find almost no odor-control with it, however, so it is not a good long-term solution.  

Hamster Sniffing From Illness

Hamsters are generally healthy animals but, like any other living being, can become ill if exposed to unfamiliar pathogens. If your hamster is sniffing and you have ruled out normal behavior and allergens, another possibility is illness.

Your hamster can become infected through contamination – for example, if you have touched another hamster or pet carrying a specific pathogen, you can then infect your hamster if you don’t wash your hands between handling.

This can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites and is usually accompanied by one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Discharge from the nose or eyes
  • Diarrhea
  • Hair loss

If you suspect your hamster may be ill, you should see a veterinarian who specializes in small animals or exotic pets. There are multiple treatments for various infections, including antibiotics, antiparasitic medications, and fluids. 

Hamsters Sniffing: Sense of Smell

Hamsters, like most rodents, have an excellent sense of smell. It is believed that hamsters can pick up scents from up to 30 meters (around 100 feet) away. This is critical to a hamster’s survival in the wild – they have very few natural defenses and are especially vulnerable to their many natural predators.

A hamster in the wild will spend the majority of his day foraging for food. While scurrying about, their noses must always be aware of what is around them, with their sense of smell often being the difference between life and death. 

A hamster’s sense of smell is so advanced, in fact, that we should keep this at the forefront of our minds when setting up our pet’s habitat. For example, you should not use air fresheners or essential oil diffusers in the room in which your hamster lives – if her cage is smelly, you should change the bedding (or change bedding types altogether if the one you are using is not absorbent enough), and wash any cloth beds or toys in her cage. Air fresheners and essential oils will be much too strong for your hamster’s sensitive sense of smell. 

It would also be a good idea to allow her room to be her own – don’t use it for other pets, if possible. This may not be feasible (not many of us have an extra “hamster bedroom” in our homes), but it should be a priority to at least keep the cat away in the beginning.

Part of the purpose behind a hamster’s exceptional sense of smell is to alert him or her to potential threats. A cat is one of many natural predators to a hamster, and the presence (and therefore scent) of one may likely cause stress to your little pet. 

The hamster’s sense of smell is not the only area in which they excel – their sense of hearing is magnified as well. Hamsters are able to communicate with one another using frequencies so high that humans are unable to hear them. Both the superior sense of smell and sense of hearing is thought to compensate for the poor eyesight of hamsters.

They are thought to only be able to see a few inches in front of their faces and have no depth perception (this is the reason that single-story enclosures are recommended for hamsters – while they can climb easily, they will often walk right off of platforms unaware of what awaits them below).

Hamster Sniffing vs. Hamster Sniffling

Hamster sniffing is a completely normal hamster behavior and helps the hamster to learn more about his or her surroundings. Sniffling, on the other hand, will likely accompany other symptoms and may be a sign of allergies or infection.

It is important to spend time with your hamster so that you can get to know what is typical behavior for your individual pet – this will allow you to better distinguish when something is out of the normal range. You can learn more about hamsters and other small pets in my latest articles here!

Recent Posts