Hamsters are naturally full of energy. However, this does not give us a clear picture of their emotions. Is your pet hamster running its wheels out of boredom or joy? When it bites your finger whilst handling, is it mad or not? Do hamsters miss their owners? And the first question is: do hamsters have emotions, in the first place?
Hamsters’ emotional state
Do hamsters have feelings? Yes, these furry creatures are capable to experience emotions including optimism, happiness, sadness, and depression. In fact, just like humans, your pet hamsters have moods, too. That said, a pet hamster that bits your finger may only be in a bad mood when you were lovingly stroking its fur. It does not necessarily mean that it dislikes you.
Scientists revealed that the up and down moods of your furry companion affect its outlook in life. For instance, a well-pampered pet hamster is more optimistic whilst the others receiving low to average care and support are inclined to a gloomier outlook.
Research discovers that aside from the capability of hamsters experiencing emotions, it is also possible to support his emotional state through the quality of its living environment.
Assessing hamsters’ emotions
An animal behaviourist at Liverpool John Moores University mentioned that stressed hamsters are not the best option for their scientific research. Researchers added that hamsters were generally enigmatic. As such, they have to go to great lengths just to see even a glimpse of their moods.
The understanding of pet hamster emotions is not only significant to pet owners but to scientists as well. It is of common knowledge that hamsters are usually the subjects of research or experiments. One of the features they find challenging is that face value says little about the animal’s emotional state.
Published research in the journal Royal Society Open Science involves 30 Syrian hamsters divided into two groups. One group was given a luxurious life with soft beddings, extra toys, hammocks, and ramps.
On the other hand, the other group was only provided with the minimum level of care including a wheel and some light bedding. With the differences in domestic environments, researchers were able to test its impact on the hamsters’ emotional states as well as their decision-making.
For a period, animals in both groups are introduced to plastic drinkers placed on the left side filled with bitter quinine water. On the right side, drinkers have sugar water that serves as a delicious treat. During the test, drinkers were placed on alternate positions. How often the hamsters approached the two kinds of drinks were measured.
The research concluded that hamsters with luxurious living have roughly 12 per cent likelihoods of approaching drinkers in ambiguous locations in comparison to the other group. This is regardless of the proximity to the bitter drinker. When environments were switched, behaviours follow.
Researchers may not able to provide mind reader equipment on these enigmatic furry creatures, but they have at least provided a better understanding of how to improve their emotional lives.
How to keep your pet hamster happy
As previously established, it is important to provide an environment that allows your pet hamster/s to feel comfortable and avoid any bad behaviour elicited from stress or fear.
Hamsters of any breed should be kept in a cage where there are lots of activities to engage themselves with. Consider investing with crawling tubes though keep in mind that it is harder to keep clean. Syrian hamsters especially enjoy a larger environment with lots of spaces to climb and roam. Russian and Roborovski are best housed in a cage with tunnels. As for the Chinese hamster variety, they fare better with longer rather than tall cages. Regardless of the breed, cages should have minimum bar spacing to prevent any means of escape.
Toys for hamsters include:
- Card or plastic tunnels
- Card boxes
- Hammocks (especially to Syrian hamsters)
Apart from commercial hamster pellets, there are fresh food items that rodents enjoy including:
- Apple (without seeds)
- Greens (especially the dark leafy ones)
- Sweet potato
Safer food that can be given as treats are:
- Cooked brown rice
- Fresh or toasted whole-grain bread
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Plain popcorn (no butter)
- Pumpkin seeds
- Unsalted nuts
How pet hamsters recognise their owners
“Does my hamster recognise me?” is a common question raised by novice hamster owners. Through socialisation, once your pet hamster recognises you as an owner, the bond will start getting built. According to experts, some rodents bond well with one or two people only.
It is important to establish or introduce your scent and voice to your furry pet consistently. Keep all movements light and avoid making any sudden movements. Do this until your pet hamster willingly crawls into your hand. Continue exposure and once comfortable, you can slowly move your hand and gently pet it. Keep doing this for more days and let his natural instincts get to know you and your scent.
Further, keep in mind the importance of regular handling as a form of encouragement on staying tame and well-socialised. It also ensures that your pet hamster will always recognise you as the owner.
With consistent exposure, pet hamster should be used to its owner’s scent within weeks. Each of us emits unique smell which your hamster should have no difficulty distinguishing which one yours is.
Direct talks should be kept in a gentle voice. They have an excellent sense of hearing and as prey animals, they may be frightened easily. Keep everything gentle so as not to give your pet a fright.
Looking at it objectively, in comparison to cats and dogs, hamsters are less likely to recognise its owner bt sight. They find it harder to recognise their owners as they have poor eyesight. Instead, they use their sense of hearing and smell to identify their owners. This explains their behaviour why they are prone to attack (perhaps, out of fear) when stroked by people they consider as strangers.