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How Smart Is A Hamster?

(Last Updated On: May 28, 2022)

Hamsters are prey animals, so they aren’t considered the smartest creatures. However, this is an unfair assessment, as hamsters may be more intelligent than you think.

They demonstrate intelligence through their ability to build burrows and learn basic tricks with food-based rewards and positive reinforcement.

Hamsters are sentient, so they can think and feel basic thoughts and emotions. However, hamsters aren’t as clever as other rodents.

Even though hamsters aren’t the cleverest rodent species, their level of intelligence means they get bored quickly and require constant physical and intellectual stimulation.

Are Hamsters Intelligent?

You can tell how intelligent a hamster is by watching how it behaves within its environment.

Not only do they build burrows, but they use specific tunnels to sleep, pee, and store their food. They’re also inquisitive and love to explore, which are signs of a bright animal.

Hamsters can also recognize their owners’ voices and be taught basic tricks and tasks.

However, as mentioned, the downside to their intelligence is that hamsters need to have their minds and bodies exercised at all times.

It’s not good enough to keep a hamster in a small cage and leave it to entertain itself. Your hamster will become depressed and destructive.

Hamsters need space measuring at least 80 x 50 cm. In many cases, they need much more room than this. They also need toys and items they can use and explore, like a sand bath and cork logs.

How Can I Test My Hamster’s Intelligence?

You can test your hamster’s IQ by playing certain games with it.

Hamsters are food-focused, so the best way to test their intelligence is to make them work for treats. Your hamster is more likely to respond favorably to the promise of a reward.

You can make your own games or buy some from a pet store. Then, set up your hamster intelligence tests to see how your pet performs.

Create a Maze

Find a cardboard box and create a maze by separating sections with cardboard pieces or obstacles. Leave a treat at the exit point and watch your hamster navigate through the maze to find the treat.

Note the time it takes your hamster to get through the maze and how often it gets stuck. You can also increase the difficulty level by making the maze larger and more complicated.

what's a hamster's IQ?

Place Food Under Containers

Another way to test your hamster’s intelligence is to obtain three light containers of different colors or patterns and place a piece of fresh fruit or veg underneath one of them. You can do this the next time you get your hamster out to play to save you from placing the objects in its cage.

Your hamster will be intrigued enough to investigate the containers and smell the food. If your hamster knocks over the container without the food, place it back in its cage and return the container to a standing position.

Then, repeat the game until your hamster can knock the container over with the food underneath. An intelligent hamster will approach a different container from the one it already tried.

Are Hamsters Sentient?

As the journal Animals explains, sentience is the ability to consciously feel or experience subjectivity. In animals, this manifests as different states of welfare, which can be positive and negative.

Hamsters have feelings, including happiness and sadness, and can experience pain. They also have:

  • A sense of perception
  • Consciousness
  • Sensations
  • Ability to perceive

Because of their sentience, the journal Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine questions whether the use of sentient animals in basic research is justifiable. 

Do Hamsters Have Thoughts?

Although they’re not as complex as ours or more advanced mammals, Hamsters have thoughts. We’ll never really know what they’re feeling, but we can observe their behavior to understand how they react to certain situations.

The Royal Society Open Science found that hamsters approached spatial judgment cues more often when enriched than unenriched. This means that they are driven by their emotions and require a high level of welfare to be happy.

Are Hamsters Smarter Than Rats?

Common rats are widely considered the most intelligent rodent species in the world.

As a result, hamsters don’t compare in terms of their intellect. Rats have a similar brain structure to humans, consisting of highly connected neurons that talk to one another.

Current Biology explains how rats also show a basic level of metacognition, which is an awareness of thought processes and an understanding of their patterns. This hasn’t been proven in hamsters.

Rats can think about past experiences and consider the pros and cons of previous decisions. This was an ability previously thought specific to humans and primates.

While rats are more intelligent than hamsters, hamsters are similar to rats in that they dig tunnels and can find their way around. They can also be taught tricks, although rats are faster learners.

Are Gerbils Smarter Than Hamsters?

Gerbils and hamsters are popular pets, so they’re commonly compared with each other. While they’re similar in size, their intellect doesn’t compare.

Unlike gerbils, hamsters are solitary creatures. They only interact with each other to mate, and they fight for territory when placed in the same cage. As a result, gerbils have a more advanced level of social intelligence than hamsters, communicating with their kind more effectively.

Gerbils also dig more complex underground burrows than hamsters. Hamsters can find their way around, but gerbils have better spacial memories.

Hamsters respond to classic conditioning in laboratory settings. For example, associating a neutral stimulus with a sound but teaching them tricks is far more difficult than training a gerbil.

smartest rodent species

Are Hamsters Smarter Than Mice?

Mice have an advanced cognitive ability than hamsters. Mice can learn and recall various behavioral tasks, but it’s difficult to train hamsters in any medium that requires more than basic learning and memory.

Scientists historically believed that rats were more intelligent than mice. That’s because mice are smaller and have smaller brains. However, this isn’t the case. Mice can characterize information, switch between two different ways of characterizing items and make quick decisions.

Rats and mice achieve high performance levels, so it’s safe to assume that mice are more intelligent than hamsters.

However, all rodents are good at different things, and hamsters have other unique qualities, such as building tunnels and holding food in their cheek pouches.

Are Hamsters Smarter Than Guinea Pigs?

Hamsters have fewer neurons in their brains than guinea pigs. Their memory spans are also shorter. Guinea pigs have sharp memories which they use to:

  • Recognize their owners
  • Learn and respond to names
  • Remember pathways and retrace their steps
  • Learn and remember tricks

Not only are guinea pigs slightly more intelligent, but they’re less timid than hamsters, making it easier for them to learn tricks and perform them.

What Is the Smartest Rodent Species?

A ‘rodent’ is any animal belonging to the scientific order Rodentia, including hamsters, rats, mice, gerbils, squirrels, chinchillas, capybaras, chipmunks, porcupines, beavers, etc.

Rodents are capable of demonstrating highly developed cognitive abilities. Some are more intelligent than others due to their different mental abilities and brain structures. This is so that they can live the unique life they’ve evolved to lead.

There are over 2,200 rodent species in the world, making it impossible to test and rank their level of intelligence. In fact, many haven’t even been scientifically studied, making them incomparable.

Some rodents, like rats, mice, and gerbils, have shown high levels of intelligence in laboratories, displaying problem-solving abilities and the capability to learn new skills. Hamsters aren’t as clever as these rodents, but they can still learn tricks.

Despite their size, hamsters are smart creatures and need appropriate enrichment and entertainment to prevent boredom-related behaviors, such as bar biting and monkey barring. You can also form a strong bond with your hamster due to their ability to recognize and interact with humans.