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how to tell if hamsters are playing or fighting?
Behavior

How Do You Know If Hamsters Are Playing or Fighting?

(Last Updated On: May 28, 2022)

Most hamsters can’t live together because they fight, but some dwarf species can cohabit if they’ve lived together since birth. However, it can be hard to tell the difference between fighting and playing.

When hamsters play, they squeak and chase after each other. During a play session, one hamster will assume the dominant position while the other will roll onto its back in submission.

Actual fighting takes place when neither of the two hamsters will back down.

Hamsters are at risk of killing each other during a fight. Because they’re territorial animals, there’s always a risk involved with housing two hamsters together. That’s why most owners keep them separately.

How To Tell if Hamsters Are Playing or Fighting?

As mentioned, most hamsters should be kept in solitude. Hamsters are highly territorial animals that compete for dominance. As a result, they become aggressive with each other, often resulting in death.

However, as Live Science describes, some hamsters are happy to live together and even thrive when they have company. Species that can coexist include:

  • Roborovski hamsters
  • Campbell’s hamsters
  • Winter white hamsters

Chinese and Syrian hamsters must never be housed together. You must never mix hamster species because they’ll fight.

If you choose to have two hamsters in the same cage, you must learn the difference between hamsters fighting and playing to prevent things from getting ugly. Follow these steps to distinguish between the two:

Watch How The Hamsters Interact

It’s advisable to spend some time watching your two hamsters interact. Doing so will enable you can determine how they play and how they fight.

If your hamsters largely ignore each other throughout the day, it’s more than likely that their interactions are due to aggression rather than friendship.

You’ll also need to determine whether one of the hamsters is more aggressive or dominant than the other. You don’t want any instances of bullying within the enclosure.

Hamsters undertake a behavior called appeasement. This is when one hamster will roll over onto its back and surrender to the other. As discussed, the problem lies when neither hamster refuses to back down, leading to a fight.

Don’t leave your hamsters in the same cage for too long unless you’re sure that they get along.

should I separate my hamsters?

Be Aware of Squabbling

Hamsters that live together frequently squabble. While it can be unpleasant to watch, it’s not necessarily anything to worry about. That’s because disputes are natural displays of dominance.

Squabbling consists of short bursts of:

  • Squealing
  • Chasing
  • Sniffing

As long as your hamsters resume their normal activities within a short period of time, you can be relatively confident that they won’t cause each other harm. However, if injuries occur, such as bites and scratches, you’ll need to think about permanently separating your hamsters.

Look For Signs of Fighting

It’s relatively easy to tell when hamsters have been in a fight. That’s because you’ll see bite marks and scratches from where they’ve been physical with each other. Both hamsters may have signs of injury, or there may be one who’s receiving the brunt of the other’s aggression.

A bullied hamster will become:

  • Underweight
  • Dehydrated
  • Withdrawn or scared to emerge
  • Aggressive

This is the result of being frequently dominated. Hamsters can’t live under these conditions, as the dominant hamster will eventually kill its submissive tank mate.

Companion Animal confirms how hamsters instinctively hide when they’re sick or injured to protect themselves from predators, so you must monitor your hamsters closely for any hidden signs of injury.

How Do Hamsters Play?

Hamsters are unique and play in various ways. However, chasing is one of the most common forms of play behavior. During a standard play session, hamsters take turns chasing each other around their enclosure.

Another way hamsters play with each other is through grooming. One hamster will hold the other down while grooming it. However, you’ll often hear the hamster being held down squeak in submission.

This is also a display of dominance. Other hamsters will forage for food together and dig underground burrows that form complex networks. Many hamsters sleep in the same tunnel, while others prefer to rest separately.

Why Do My Hamsters Fight So Much?

It’s impossible to expect hamsters to live together in the same enclosure without the occasional squabble. Hamsters fight for several reasons, such as:

Territorial Instincts 

In some hamsters, their territorial instincts are too strong to live in harmony with others. They don’t like to share their space, so they fight other hamsters to gain dominance over them.

Hamsters will even kill each other for territory. While dwarf breeds are less likely to exhibit territorial behaviors, all hamsters have these instincts.

Stress

Stress is another common reason why hamsters fight. Hamsters are sensitive to stress and become aggressive if they feel scared or threatened, making them more likely to fight one another.

The most common forms of stress include:

  • Loud or sudden noises
  • High-frequency pitches
  • Prolonged exposure to bright lights
  • Unsanitary conditions
  • Lack of enrichment
  • Shallow bedding

You’ll want to minimize your hamsters’ stress levels to prevent fighting. Ensure their enclosure is in a quiet location and turn the lights out during the night to allow complete darkness. If you have other pets, restrict their access to the room you keep your hamsters in.

Lack of Space

A single hamster requires at least 80 x 100 cm of cage space. Anything less is too small and doesn’t allow hamsters to satisfy their instincts properly.

Animal Welfare explains how hamsters are happier with 10,000 cm2 of ground floor area or more. You’ll need to take into account that two hamsters will need double the space, which will take up a significant amount of room.

At least with a large cage, you can separate it into two halves if your hamsters don’t get on with each other.

Not Enough Accessories

Hamsters will fight to gain access to the enrichment inside the cage. For example, if you only have one exercise wheel in the enclosure, your hamsters will become aggressive towards each other to gain the right to use it.

This may result in the more submissive animal missing out, resulting in health and well-being issues like obesity and boredom. As a result, you’ll need to provide multiple accessories to keep your hamsters happy and redirect their attention away from fighting.

When Do Hamsters Start Fighting?

Hamsters can start fighting as soon as they’re big and old enough to interact with each other.

Just because hamsters come from the same litter doesn’t mean they’re comfortable living in a pair. It comes down to their personality and upbringing.

Hamsters start suddenly fighting as they get older, leaving their owners perplexed. Small enclosures most commonly cause this. As hamsters grow older and get bigger, they need more floor space to run around in.

Many owners only provide enough space for one hamster when, realistically, the area should be doubled when accommodating two animals.

Why Do Male Hamsters Fight?

Male hamsters are considered calmer than female hamsters, so many owners prefer to house males together. That being said, they commonly fight for dominance. This is primarily because males compete with each other to mate with female hamsters.

Similarly, stress, small enclosures, and boredom will push your male hamsters to fight each other. However, if you introduce male hamsters from a young age, you’ll have a better chance of integrating them to live together.

Why Do My Female Hamsters Keep Fighting?

Female hamsters are more aggressive than males, particularly when they go into heat.

As a result, many females can’t be housed together and must be separated. Female Syrian hamsters, in particular, are highly aggressive and must never be kept in the same enclosure. That’s because Syrian hamsters are hard-wired to fight each other and will kill each other.

Why Do Male and Female Hamsters Fight?

When male and female hamsters live in the same enclosure, they mate. That means that if they were to live together in the same enclosure, they’d live an endless cycle of breeding and giving birth.

Also, females that aren’t in heat will attack the males. According to the journal Hormones and Behavior, female golden hamsters appear to be more aggressive than males, which is unusual in the mammalian world.

Female and male hamsters rarely coexist in captivity, so ethical breeders should only introduce them to breed before separating them.

difference between hamsters fighting and playing

Do Hamsters Squeak When Fighting?

It’s common to hear hamsters squeak when they are both fighting and playing.

This is one reason why it’s difficult to differentiate between the two behaviors. Squeaking is the sign of fear and is a sound bullied hamsters make. However, while squeaking sounds like the hamster’s in pain, that’s not always the case.

Squeaking can also be a warning for the other hamster to back off. This is common when hamsters are first introduced. However, aside from all else, squeaking is a way for hamsters to communicate and doesn’t always signify a problem. 

Can Hamsters Kill Each Other?

Sadly, most hamsters fight to the death if given a chance. Syrian and Chinese hamsters are most likely to kill their kin, but even dwarf hamsters will kill each other if they feel threatened enough.

Not only do hamsters kill each other through fighting, but female hamsters eat their babies when stressed or threatened. Cannibalism is relatively common in the hamster world, which is why most owners prefer to keep one at a time.

Should I Separate My Hamsters?

The best way to keep your hamsters safe and prevent the risk of fighting is to separate them. Experienced owners will even recommend splitting dwarf hamsters up.

There’s always a risk involved with housing multiple hamsters together, and because they come out between dusk and dawn, owners can’t keep a close enough eye on them.

Once they fight, their bodies are so fragile that they die quickly. There’s also a high chance of them developing painful injuries that they purposely hide.

Most owners will agree that housing multiple hamsters together is too dangerous because of the fighting risk. It’s too difficult to tell between playing and fighting, leaving less dominant hamsters vulnerable to bullies.