Hamsters thrive when owners replicate their natural living conditions in the wild.
Something that’s not commonly thought about is whether hamsters need sunlight. Hamsters rarely come out during the day, but that doesn’t mean light isn’t important to them.
Hamsters use sunlight to decide when to wake up and go to sleep. As crepuscular animals, too much or too little sunlight affects their sleeping patterns.
So, the optimal amount of natural sunlight prevents sleep deprivation. Also, direct sunlight can cause dehydration, stress, and heatstroke.
Keep your hamster out of direct sunlight and always provide fresh water. You’ll also need to monitor the cage’s position throughout spring and summer to ensure the sun’s direction doesn’t change.
Do Hamsters Need Sunshine?
Hamsters need some natural sunlight to remain healthy. However, there’s a fine balance between too much light and not enough.
Hamsters thrive when they have access to indirect or filtered sunlight. If they’re exposed to too much sunshine, they’re at risk of becoming overheated and dehydrated.
As mentioned, hamsters are crepuscular, which means they’re active between dusk and dawn and sleep during daylight hours. Once the sun sets, they become active and settle down to sleep once the sun starts to come up.
Light gives hamsters their cue to wake up and go to bed, enabling them to adopt a more natural routine. Hamsters don’t have a biological clock that tells them when to wake and sleep, so they rely on the light to alert them.
As a result, hamsters without access to natural light are more likely to experience sleep deprivation and stress due to a lack of routine. Similarly, hamsters see best in low light levels. If it’s too dark, your hamster won’t be able to see well enough. Hamsters get light from the moon in the wild, so they need at least a small amount of light to be safe.
While artificial lights can replicate natural conditions, they’re not an ideal long-term replacement for sunlight. There’s also the risk of you forgetting to turn them off when the sun goes down, leaving hamsters exposed for too long.
Can Hamsters Be in Direct Sunlight?
Direct sunlight is a problem for hamsters. As discussed, it can cause them to overheat and dehydrate. Hamsters are sensitive to light, so if your pet hamster’s cage is in the position of bright light, it’s more likely to develop:
- Eye problems
- Disrupted sleep cycles
Glass tanks have the highest risk of overheating because they trap heat, causing hamsters to become too hot. Providing ventilation and a mesh lid helps circulate cooler air, but you should never place a glass tank in full view of the sun.
Filtered sunlight is the best way to give your hamster the light it needs. Use a blind or net curtain to filter the sun’s rays and make your hamster feel more comfortable. You could also use a thermometer stuck inside your hamster’s cage to ensure it remains at a stable temperature.
Covering your hamster’s cage to block out the light isn’t a good idea because it wouldn’t be able to distinguish between day and night. As a result, your hamster would be effectively living in permanent darkness, causing long-term health problems and misaligned sleeping patterns.
Is Sunlight Bad for Hamsters?
Hamsters dig underground burrows at night, creating separate tunnels for:
- Storing food
- Escaping predators
- Sheltering from unpredictable weather situations
As a result, hamsters are rarely exposed to sunlight and only need a small amount of it to feel comfortable during the day. This also means they won’t be bothered by natural sunlight.
If their environment’s too bright, they’ll move underground where it’s nice and dark and cover themselves in bedding. Doing so will block out most of the sunlight. You can also provide hideouts for your hamster to retreat to and hide from the sun and the subsequent heat. Ceramic hideouts are particularly cool.
However, as mentioned, direct sunlight is bad for hamsters. That’s because it produces more heat than natural light filtering into a room. Spring and summer are more of a problem than autumn and winter because the days are longer. As mentioned, you may need to move the cage as the seasons change.
Similarly, if you keep your hamster in its own room, you may not even realize that your hamster’s becoming overheated. Periodically checking on your hamster during the sunniest periods of the day can help you determine which times are most problematic for your cage’s location.
Can Sunlight Kill Hamsters?
Natural light is unlikely to cause your hamster any harm. However, direct sunlight can quickly become a problem, especially if your hamster’s exposed to it for long periods.
They’re adaptable to cooler temperatures, so direct sunlight makes their environment hotter than they like. The following health conditions are most commonly associated with too much sunlight.
Dehydration occurs when hamsters lose too much water. In this case, direct sunlight causes excessive amounts of water to be lost through urine, vomit, and diarrhea, resulting in the body’s cells functioning less effectively and eventually shutting down. They also lose essential salts and minerals from the body’s water content. Symptoms of dehydration caused by sunlight include:
- Increased thirst
- Tight, dry skin
- Sudden weight loss
- Foul smell from where the hamster has no energy to clean itself
If your hamster becomes dehydrated, feed it small pieces of fruit and veg, such as cucumber or lettuce, to replenish its water levels. You may want to try placing your hamster’s water in a shallow dish so it can get to it more easily. To prevent dehydration, move your hamster’s cage away from direct sunlight and keep the room at a stable temperature.
Heatstroke in hamsters is also known as sleeper disease because it causes them to appear limp and lifeless. They also tremble when touched.
Heatstroke is a serious problem and causes a quick and painful death. The British Hamster Association confirms that heatstroke occurs when a hamster cage sits in direct sunlight.
Specifically, the excessive heat from direct sunlight causes the blood to thicken, making it difficult to flow through to their major organs. This often results in organ failure. The main signs of heatstroke include:
- Decreased energy levels
- Lack of energy
- Excessive thirst
- Mood swings
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Floppiness, or “playing dead.”
Water and ventilation are your best allies to control heatstroke. Provide clean water for your hamster and make sure it has easy access.
Hamsters become stressed in temperatures hotter than 75-80 degrees F (24-27 degrees C).
Stress can make pre-existing health conditions worse and weaken their immune systems. According to MSD Veterinary Manual, stress precipitates the bacterium Clostridium piliforme, which is the cause of Tyzzer disease.
Many owners rearrange their enclosures during the summer to create cooler sections. If your hamster seems to be getting too warm because of the sunlight, create a section at the end containing sand and coco oil (or a similar substrate), which doesn’t retain heat as much as bedding. You could also place a ceramic tile in the cage so your hamster can lie down on it to cool itself.
Hamsters need sunlight, but only in natural quantities. Direct sunlight is a significant issue, affecting your hamster’s quality of life. However, too much shade or darkness can cause problems, so opt for a happy medium.