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How Do Hamsters Defend Themselves?

(Last Updated On: May 28, 2022)

There’s no denying that hamsters are low on the food chain. Their diminutive stature makes them a popular target for many animals. So, hamsters need to protect themselves from predators.

Hamsters defend themselves by avoiding conflict and hiding when it’s light outside.

If forced to protect themselves from predators, hamsters threaten opponents by hissing and biting. A cornered hamster with no means of escape may play dead in the hope of being left alone.

If a captive hamster feels forced to protect itself regularly, something is wrong in its living environment. As small and vulnerable animals, hamsters need to feel safe and secure in their cages.

What Predators Eat Hamsters?

Hamsters are omnivorous, but they’re low on the food chain. Their diminutive stature makes hamsters a popular target for many omnivorous and carnivorous animals.

Common hamster predators in the wild include:

  • Birds of prey, such as eagles, kites, kestrels, and owls
  • Big cats, such as ocelots and jaguars
  • Wild canines, such as jackals, coyotes, and foxes
  • Snakes
  • Badgers

Naturally, a pet hamster will live in its cage and be protected from predators. However, dangers can arise when a hamster is free-roaming or escapes from its cage.

Cats and dogs are the most likely threats to a hamster in the home. No matter how docile and friendly your larger pet is, instinct will drive it. Cats are notorious for hunting rodents, such as hamsters.

A free-roaming hamster’s sight, smell, and sound will be enticing. While hamsters will do their utmost to protect themselves, it’s rare for a hamster to survive a fight with a larger predatory animal.

how do hamsters protect themselves?

How Do Hamsters Protect Themselves?

Hamsters would much rather not need to protect themselves from threats. Hamsters are happiest when left alone to forage, dig, play, and exercise.

When a hamster feels under threat, it’ll display at least one of the following four behaviors:

Hiding

Given a choice, hamsters won’t put themselves in a position where they have to protect themselves.

In the wild, hamsters remain firmly out of the way of anything that could potentially do them harm. Most of a hamster’s day is spent burrowed under the desert sand.

Wild hamsters will emerge to the surface of their habitat periodically, usually to forage for food. This will be a fleeting visit, though.

Hamsters never expose themselves to danger for long and use their excellent hearing to turn tail and flee at the first sound of a predator.

Hamsters take advantage of their ability to fit into small spaces when hiding.

Hamsters can squeeze into gaps as small as one or two inches in diameter. No predator will be able to access such a small location, providing hamsters with a sense of safety.

When assessing whether a space is large enough to accommodate a hamster, consider the size of the animal’s skull, not its body. Wild hamsters judge space with their nose. They look for a space wider than their head and wriggle their bodies into it. 

If your hamster escapes its cage, you’ll likely find it hiding in a tiny space somewhere in the home. Here, the hamster will feel perfectly content and safe from anybody or anything else in the house.

Fleeing

A hamster may unexpectedly encounter an opponent in an open space and need to make a rapid escape. In such instances, hamsters run for their lives.

The top speed of a hamster is usually around 6 miles per hour. That’s not even close to being as fast as most predators, but it may buy enough time for the hamster to find a hiding place.

Hamsters use their brains as much as their short legs, thinking strategically while running.

Climbing

If a hamster can’t outrun an enemy, it may opt to reach higher ground to stay out of the way.

This is clearly of little use when attempting to escape a bird of prey. Some species of snake or canine won’t be able to follow a hamster to an elevated level, though.

Hamsters can easily climb a tree trunk or scale any other flat surface. This behavior is mimicked in captivity, with many hamsters climbing the bars of a cage.

Syrian hamsters can climb higher and faster than their Dwarf counterparts, as they have larger and more powerful limbs.

A hamster’s paws are equipped with sharp claws. Unfortunately, their arms are too short to use their claws for self-defense. A hamster is glad to have its claws when trying to gain traction on a climbable surface.

Threatening

If a hamster’s attempts to stay out of the way of a predator are unsuccessful, it’ll attempt to intimidate an aggressor. Typically, this involves standing on its hind legs, paws outstretched and hissing.

This action aims to make the hamster look as big as possible. It’ll be a fleeting motion, though. Hamsters are smart enough to understand they’ll not frighten many natural predators, and an attack will immediately follow this warning.

You may observe this behavior when you approach a hamster ahead of handling. If the hamster enters this defensive pose, retract your hand or risk being bitten.

what predators eat hamsters?

Biting

If a hamster is sufficiently frightened, it’ll bite.

As small as hamsters are, their teeth are strong and sharp. A hamster’s bite can be strong enough to make a predator like a cat or a dog yelp and take a step back, giving the hamster time to flee.

Hamsters’ bites aren’t a precursor to eating or attacking further. They’re purely a defensive instinct. After biting a threat, a hamster will usually look for shelter. Remember, as far as hamsters are concerned, they just want to be left alone.

The only exception to this is when hamsters fight other hamsters. As hamsters, especially male Syrians, are territorial, they tend to fight when forced to share space upon reaching sexual maturity. In these instances, hamsters bite to wound and even kill. That’s why most hamsters are caged alone.

Of course, hamsters also bite their owners on occasion. This usually only happens in the earliest days of owning hamsters, when you handle them without fully gaining their trust.

Playing Dead

If a hamster is scared out of its wits, it may play dead to avoid attracting a predator’s attention. According to Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, this behavior is known as thanatosis.

Thanatosis involves a hamster lying perfectly still on the ground, becoming limp and slowing its heart rate. Predators like to hunt live, moving prey as it’s more likely to be healthy. The hamster hopes an aggressor will assume that it’s already dead and ignore it.

If a hamster plays dead in your presence, don’t assume that it’s being cute. Hamsters will only resort to this in times of extreme anxiety, so thanatosis means that your hamster is terrified.

Even if the hamster successfully convinces a predator to leave it alone, the stress that leads to thanatosis will cause significant stress and strain its heart. 

Hamsters aren’t large, aggressive, or frightening animals, but they will defend themselves if cornered. While a hamster would rather avoid threats and conflict, it’ll protect itself if forced.