Understanding and responding appropriately to your hamster’s body language will help you be more sensitive to the moods of your pet and will also help you have a more enjoyable friendship with him. Recognizing certain signs in body language can also aid in the taming process of your hamster. You do not want to continue handling or playing with your hamster if he is showing signs of stress or fear. Body language can also help you understand if there is an issue between hamsters housed in the same cage or aquarium. If you can recognize the signs, you can prevent serious injury or death to the weaker, less dominant hamster.
One way you can tell if your pet is nervous or fearful is if he begins to wash his face. This is a sign that your hamster is stressed and is trying to perform a habitual activity in order to calm himself. (Think of it as the hamster equivalent of playing with your hair.)
Some hamsters will urinate or defecate when frightened or when they feel threatened. This can cause some disgust when the hamster is being held by the owner! If your hamster gets this frightened, return him to his housing area immediately (but gently) and speak softly to him to try to calm him down.
Your hamster may also flatten himself close to the ground or cage floor or attempt to run away. This often happens when first trying to tame your hamster and your pet is not used to being held. It can also happen when you wake your hamster up in order to play. He can and will try to make it more difficult for you to pick him up by becoming as close to the ground (or cage floor) as possible. If this happens, do not attempt to pick him up or to hold him – this is not a good time. If you continue to try to pick him up, you risk stressing him further, and stress is not good for the health of a hamster. Instead, offer him a treat and speak softly. Try again later, when he is not as upset.
Biting is an obvious sign that this is not a good time to play with your hamster. Again, this often happens when you are first trying to tame him, but it can happen at anytime. As a side note, if a normally docile hamster begins to consistently bite and be aggressive, you should look for signs of illness or pregnancy – this could be indicative that things are not right with your pet. If it is just an occasional incident, chalk it up to your pet having a bad day.
Hamsters are not usually very social animals, and even hamsters from the same litter will fight, often with lots of squeaks and noise. It is important to look for signs of extreme mistreatment in hamster groups because hamsters can and do severely injure each other sometimes, even to the point of death. If you notice a hamster that cowers in one spot while the others are feeding and playing, this might be a sign that he is the submissive member of the group. Check the hamster for injuries. If it continues, you should remove the less dominant hamster for his own safety. The others might be unwilling to let him eat.
In conclusion, observing your hamster’s body language is a great way to be more “in tune” with the needs of your pet, and can be crucial to their health and wellbeing.