My hamster doesn’t seem to be her normal happy self and hasn’t for several days. She’s acting lethargic and doesn’t want to play. Is my hamster ill or unhappy? It got me thinking, how do you know if your hamster is depressed?
How do you know your hamster is depressed?
The tell-tale signs your hamster is depressed is a change in your hamster’s behavior. Is your hamster:
1. acting lethargic
3. excessively grooming
5. not eating
6. not interested in playing or being held
7. pacing up and down their cage
8. being aggressive
while they normally don’t? Then there is a good chance your hamster is depressed. Let’s look into this some more.
Hamsters are normally very active creatures, and if you find a sudden change in behavior, then this could be a sign that your hamster is not well. Often, we look at physical issues and take our pets to the vet, which is very important. But we often overlook our pet’s mental health. And sometimes without us realizing, our pets are suffering mentally. It’s important to take your hamster to the vet if you suspect it being sick. However, also critically, look at what can be improved to make your hamsters live nicer, fuller and happier as your vet will not be able to help your hamsters stress or mental state.
Let’s have a look at why hamsters get depressed, what the signals are and what you can do to avoid depression in your hamster and how you can help your hamster back to health should they become depressed.
Why do hamsters get depressed?
Many people don’t realize hamsters can get depressed. This is maybe because they don’t look like very intelligent animals, however they do have emotions and they do have feelings.
And like most pets, they need more than water, food and a cage. They also need attention, exercise and mental stimulation. If they don’t receive these basics, you might be making your hamster unhappy.
Studies on depression in hamsters
A study in 2005 was conducted by Ohio State University which suggested that hamsters may suffer from symptoms of depression and anxiety when there is less light during winter time.
Hamsters are nocturnal but they still greatly benefit from light. The best position for your hamster would be in a room which benefits from lots of natural light, though your hamster should not be placed in the sun. If this is not possible, it will be good for your hamster to have a sunlight lamp for animals placed in the room during the day (not directly on the cage) so your hamster has more UVA and UVB. Keep the sunlight lamp a great distance away from the cage so your hamster doesn’t get too hot.
Another study on hamsters was conducted by Liverpool John Moores University which concluded that:
“Hamsters were tested using a spatial judgement go/no-go task in enriched and unenriched housing. We included a number of controls and additional behavioural tests and applied a robust analytical approach using linear mixed effects models. Hamsters approached the ambiguous cues significantly more often when enriched than unenriched.”
The researchers found that hamsters with an enriched living space, like softer bedding, had a more optimistic outlook and made more positive choices when presented with these.
Hamsters can become depressed when they are stressed, injured or bored.
It could be that your hamster has experienced trauma, maybe their living space is not how it should be, maybe your hamster is anxious. This can all lead to depression, even in hamsters.
Hamsters don’t get depressed without reason. Even when nothing seems wrong with your care for your hamster, you will need to investigate what causes the change of behavior in your hamster.
Hamsters might get depressed when
1 your hamster is injured
It could be that a hamster is hurt. When they’re in pain and maybe even immobile, your hamster can be unhappy and become depressed. As hamsters are under constant treat of predators in the wild, they will not always show their injury as it will make them look weak. If you expect injury, take your hamster to the vet to get him checked out.
2 Your hamster is bored
Hamsters are very active animals and in nature they would be about all night long looking for food, burrowing and collecting things.
When they’re in a cage there’s not much to do, and if you don’t have sufficient toys for your hamster, he’ll get bored quickly.
Restless hamsters are unhappy hamsters. Have a look at our blog posts for the best toys for hamsters to keep your hamster active and happy.
3 Your hamster is stressed
The biggest reason why your hamster might be depressed is stress related.
There are many reasons why hamsters can become stressed and it’s important to look closely at your hamsters’ living conditions.
What makes your hamster stressed?
Consider where his cage is. Is it too noisy? Too busy? Or is there too much movement around the cage? Moving the cage itself can cause stress as well, so consider it carefully and keep the cage in the same place if it works well.
2. Size of living space
Another thing to consider is the ventilation in the cage and the size of it. Can your hamster move around freely or is there only space to turn on his axes?
3. Other pets
If you have other pets in the house they should be kept at a distance.
Sudden movements and big heads appearing next to the cage will startle your hamster and make it anxious, which can lead to depression.
Know your hamster
Hamsters can show different signs of depression.
It is very important to know your hamster. What are your hamsters’ behaviors?
- Is your hamster very active?
- Does your hamster like to play? When and how often?
- Is your hamster a biter and does it like to bite the cage?
- How much does your hamster eat and how often?
- Does he come out of his hiding place when he hears your voice?
- Does he climb up your hand when you hold it in the cage?
These are all things you really want to know about your hamster. Because it will make it easier to know whether your hamster is behaving normally or whether there is something wrong with him.
What are the reasons hamsters get depressed, and what can you do about it?
We will have a look at what makes your hamster depressed in more detail and give suggestions on what you can do about the depression in your hamster.
What are the signs of depression in hamsters?
Some of the signs that your hamster is depressed could be:
1. acting lethargic
3. excessively grooming
5. not eating
6. not interested in playing or being held
7. pacing up and down their cage
8. being aggressive
Lethargic and sleeping a lot
If your hamster seems to be sleeping all the time and doesn’t want to play then again this is a sign that hamster is not happy, especially if your hamster is normally very active.
This normally happens over a period of time, unless something very traumatic has happened to your hamster, then it could be instant. It could be feeling very insecure, unsafe and maybe even under threat.
If your hamster normally doesn’t bite very often but suddenly start, then something is wrong. Excess biting is a sign of depression. Normally hamsters bite because they scared, anxious or because they feel attacked. But if your hamster is settled in your home an all of a sudden start biting excessively, then there is a big chance that your hamster is depressed
it’s important for your hamster to groom itself because that way it stays clean. However, if your hamster starts grooming too much it will start losing patches of fur and this can lead to some health issues.
When your hamster grooms too much he’s probably bored, stressed or depressed.
If your hamster is spending a lot of time in his hiding place and doesn’t come out even when he hears your voice, when you open the cage or when you put your food in his bowl, then again, there’s something not right.
It’s true that hamsters like spending time in their hideout because it feels safe, if your hamster spends all his time there, then you need to take action.
If your hamster has loss of appetite and even refuses their favorite snacks and treats, then something is wrong. It could be that your hamster is ill. It could also be that your hamster is unhappy.
Not interested in playing or being held
If your hamster is normally happy to see you and climbs your arm or is happy to be lifted and petted, but is not anymore, then you know something is off. Try offering different kinds of food and talk softly to your hamster. However, don’t force petting or handling as your hamster is clearly not happy and could become aggressive when pushed.
Pacing up and down their cage
Pacing is a sure sign of boredom and unhappiness. There is a big chance your hamsters cage is too small and/or there are not enough toys to keep your hamster entertained and challenged. If the cage is small, introduce a larger one and make sure you have hamster runs and challenges in the cage.
If your hammie has become aggressive, beware for bites. Don’t try to lift or pet your hamster until you have figured out what’s wrong.
Aggression is not just a sign of depression. It can also be a sign of discomfort or pain. I would have my vet check out my hamster for sure.
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What can I do to stop my hamster being depressed?
One big reason why hamsters are depressed is because they’re bored.
This is something that is very easily solved by making sure your hamster has enough toys to play with.
Especially if you are out a lot. Also, to make sure that you give your hamster lots of playtime when you are in. You can take your hamster out of the cage and maybe make a little hamster run in a bigger area, so your hamster has got new areas to explore and a larger area to move about it.
Of course, you have to take extra care to hamster doesn’t escape, so always make sure you ensure windows are closed and there aren’t any holes in the walls or little areas where your hamster can disappear into.
You can easily create a hamster run with the inside of kitchen rolls and toilet rolls. You can attach them together so your hamster can run through it. You can also create openings here and there, so you see where your hamster is. Different runs can be easily made by connecting the rolls in a different way. This makes your maze different for your hamster at times, which will keep it exciting and interesting for your hamster.
Tip: hide treats in the maze for your hamster to find. This will make it even more interesting for your hamster.
Another reason why hamsters don’t feel very happy is because their living space is too small. This can be solved by buying a hamster a larger cage, of course this is only possible if you have a room big enough to place a larger cage in.
Before you transfer your hamster to the new cage, make sure you let him get used to it first. Place their bed in the cage and their water and food bowl. Make sure the new cage smells like the old one so your hamster gets used to it calmly.
Give your hamster different kinds of food
Imagine if you were fed the same food over and over again, you might get bored of it rather quick. Your hamster might have the same problem. Hamsters can get bored with the food if they’re being fed the same food over and over and over again. An easy solution is to give your hamster lots of different treats. Don’t give large portions. Just tiny bits of different food at different times and days.
You can give your hamster different kinds of:
Fruit, like apple, banana or blueberries.
Vegetables, like broccoli and cauliflower.
Greens like kale and spinach.
Or you can give your hamster some meal worms or crickets.
There are lots of different snacks that your hamster can have besides their normal meal. Just make sure you don’t start giving more treats than their normal dinner and that their portions are small.
Make sure that you clear out your hamsters food store should he decide to hoard fresh food in it. It will go moldy quickly which can make your hamster ill.
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How do I make my depressed hamster happy again?
There are many simple homemade and budget entertaining things which you can make for your hamster.
Paper snippets are great as they love burying.
They love treasure hunts where you can make your hamster find different kinds of treats hidden around the place.
Hamsters love hay feed feeders. Make sure that your hamster has enough hay laying around so it can make a nest move things around.
Little pot of sand keeps my hamster entertained for ages.
And you will need a good hamster wheel of course.
The most important thing is to keep your hamster busy. If your hamster has nothing to do, she’ll get bored, and boredom leads to depression. And we don’t want that.
Now that you know why hamsters get depressed, how to recognize when your hamster is depressed and what to do about it, you can give your hamster the best possible life you can.
How do you know if something is wrong with your hamster?
If your hamster is less responsive, lethargic or stays in its hideout more than normal, then there might be something wrong with your hamster. You will need to check your hamster’s fur for bald spots, signs of wet tail, bumps or lumps, discharge from eyes or nose and any swelling on his body. Also check if your hamster eats and drinks. If you find anything out of the ordinary, take your hamster to the vet and get him checked out.
How do I know if my hamster is happy?
You will know if your happy is happy as she’ll make lots of noise at night, busy rummaging through her cage at night, exercising and nibbling food.
Some things to look out for are:
- Eating and drinking
- Running around, exercising and sniffing around her cage
- Hoarding food in her store food
- Improving her bed/nest
- Happy to be petted (if she’s tame)
Can hamsters get dementia?
Hamsters have a very short lifespan and while it might look like your hamster is displaying signs of dementia, it’s likely that your hamster is slowing down due to old age as hamsters luckily don’t get affected by dementia.
How do you tell when a hamster is stressed?
Your hamster can get stressed but the signs of stress will be different to the signs of depression. When your hamster is stressed, their heartbeat is going fast, and your hamster is likely to be very active but can also be aggressive, loose fur and start showing compulsive behavior like excessive grooming, cage biting, scratching, running up and down its cage or turning on its own axis.
Why is my hamster so stressed?
Your hamster could be stressed for many reasons. It could be other pets in the house. The cage could be moved to different places. The hamster cage could be in a busy spot with lots of shadows and movements near it. It could be very noisy in the room. The cage could be too small or there could be not enough entertainment for your hamster to keep them happy, fit and happy. Study your hamsters behavior for a while and try to find out what you can improve.
How can I help my stressed hamster?
First try to find out why your hamster is stressed by observing your hamsters behavior for a while. Then try to improve their living situation:
- Have a quiet spot for the cage
- Have a cage large enough
- Have entertainment for your hamster with toys and a hamster wheel
- Pet your hamster often and talk to it
- Supply tasty snacks
- Don’t let other pets near the cage
- Don’t move the cage unnecessarily or often
How long does it take for a hamster to die of stress?
If your hamster is subjected to prolonged stress, it will get ill and die – long before old age. Increased heartrate and continuous hyperactivity due to stress can lead to stroke and heart failure in one hamster even after a couple of weeks. Another hamster develops wet tail and due to increased stress dies within 48 hours (about 2 days). Make sure you don’t stress your hamster out by looking after your hamster by giving it a good living space.
Can hamsters die of loneliness?
While hamsters are naturally solitaire creatures, being locked in a cage all day without any interaction can lead to loneliness which can lead to depression and even death. Sometimes it might seem that hamsters die easily because we can’t always see the underlying issues. You need to spend time with your hamster and give it attention. Talk to your hamster in a soft voice when you are in the same room. It doesn’t matter what you talk about, it’s so your hamster hears you. It would also really help if you tame your hamster so you can pet it and stroke it.
Can hamsters die from depression?
Yes, hamsters can die from depression as it will lead to illness and ultimately death. Find out what makes your hamster unhappy and change the circumstances. This can either be more attention, a better habitat for your hamster or a checkup at the vet to check your hamster for illnesses.
We looked at the question how do you know your hamster is depressed?
First and foremost, it’s important to know your hamster so you can see changes in behavior straight away.
Check if your hamster is injured, stressed or bored.
Examine your hamster for illness and injury.
Also ask yourself if anything might have changed recently which might be stressing your hamster out. And check if your hamster has enough stimulation.
Lastly make changes to your hamsters’ habitat and life by offering more or better toys, petting and handling your hamster more and giving nice treats.
If everything is well with the food you offer, the position of the cage and the entertainment provided, it could be that your hamster is suffering from lack of daylight. A sunlight lamp shining on part of the cage during the day might do the trick.
Lastly pet your hamster, create a maze or run and talk to your hamster often.
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