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How Do Hamsters Defend Themselves?

Last Updated on: 24th September 2023, 09:39 pm

Hamsters are low on the food chain, as their diminutive stature makes them a popular target for many predatory animals. So, hamsters need to protect themselves from various threats.

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 must feel safe and secure in their cages.

What Predators Eat Hamsters?

Hamsters are a target for many omnivorous and carnivorous animals. Hamster predators include:

  • Birds of prey, like eagles, kites, kestrels, and owls.
  • Big cats, like ocelots and jaguars.
  • Wild canines, like 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 a larger pet is, instinct will drive it. Cats are notorious for hunting rodents like 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 them 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. They’re happiest when alone foraging, digging, playing, and exercising.

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

Hiding

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

In the wild, hamsters stay away from anything that could harm them. 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 can access this location, providing them 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 by looking for a space wider than their heads and wriggling their bodies into it. 

If a hamster escapes its cage, you’ll likely find it hiding in a tiny space somewhere in the home. Here, the hamster will feel safe.

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 about 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 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 cage bars.

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

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

Threatening Behavior

If a hamster’s attempts to stay out of the way of a predator are unsuccessful, it’ll try to intimidate the aggressor. Typically, this involves standing on its hind legs with its 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

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. After biting a threat, a hamster will usually seek shelter. As far as hamsters are concerned, they 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 kill, which is why most hamsters are caged alone.

Of course, hamsters bite their owners occasionally, but this usually only happens in the earliest days of owning hamsters, when you handle them without 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 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 fear and anxiety, so thanatosis means your hamster is terrified.

Even if the hamster convinces a predator to leave it alone, the stress that leads to thanatosis causes significant stress and strains its heart.

Hamsters aren’t large, aggressive, or frightening animals, but they’ll defend themselves if cornered. While a hamster would rather avoid threats and conflict, it’ll protect itself if there’s no other option.