While hamsters have tails, they aren’t prominent. In the case of long-haired Syrian hamsters, the tail is often barely visible. You would be within your rights to question why hamsters have tails.
Hamsters use their tails to protect their behinds. Hamsters love to climb but can be accident-prone, so a tail offers padding if they were to fall from a height.
Also, hamsters’ tails provide stability when negotiating uneven terrain, and female hamsters raise their tails when they’re willing to mate.
A hamster’s tail may not seem like an indispensable part of its anatomy. However, the tail is part of the spine, so damage to the tail can have severe repercussions.
Do All Hamsters Have Tails?
All hamsters have tails, though the size varies based on breed.
The tail will be tiny in a Syrian hamster, rarely longer than half an inch. You may not even see the tail without moving some fur around the bottom.
Dwarf hamsters have more prominent tails, although they’re always in proportion to their body size. The Chinese Stripe is the only breed of hamster with a long tail, akin to a rat or mouse.
Why are Hamster Tails So Small?
Hamsters’ tails are small because they’re not separate appendages.
The tail is part of its spine. In the case of a Syrian hamster, it’ll have up to 44 total vertebrae, 14 of which are found in the tail.
As a result, hamsters won’t benefit from a prominent tail. Wild hamsters spend significant amounts of their days hiding from predators, and a conspicuous tail would make that more difficult.
A hamster’s tail is as long as it needs to be for its very limited purpose.
Why Do Hamsters Have Tails?
Having established that hamsters have tails, we need to know: what are hamster tails for? Unlike other animals, hamsters don’t curl, swish, or wag their tails, so their purpose isn’t immediately clear.
Hamster tails have three primary purposes:
- Padding around the rear
- Remaining balanced when tackling wild terrain
- Used in body language when communicating with conspecifics
The primary purpose of a hamster’s tail is the protection of the rear.
Hamsters love to burrow underground and squeeze head-first into small spaces in the wild. This could leave a hamster’s bottom exposed, but the tail provides a measure of shielding.
Hamsters can find life in a cage pretty dull and will look to entertain themselves by embracing their wild instincts. This will often involve climbing or monkey barring across the cage.
That’s fun until they lose their grip and fall. It’ll enjoy a soft landing if you have packed the hamster’s cage with sufficient substrate. However, your hamster will tuck its tail to absorb some of the impact.
This doesn’t mean that hamster tails can be used as a shield indefinitely. We have explained how a hamster’s tail is an extension of its spine, so it needs to be treated with due care.
The tail can take the occasional bump from falling from a height, but there are limits to its endurance.
Support and Stability
It would be a stretch to claim that a hamster’s tail provides balance when climbing or traveling.
The appendage is too short to be overly helpful in this way. Though, the tail can give a little more stability when crossing unfamiliar terrain.
Most hamsters prefer to move around on soft ground. Wild hamsters hail from desert climes, so they’re used to living in and around sand, which is why we replicate this environment with a substrate in a cage.
A wild hamster may occasionally need to scramble over rougher ground, such as rocks, especially when it’s chased by a predator.
In such an instance, the hamster will use its tail to keep an even distribution of weight, ensuring movement does not falter in difficult surroundings.
Communication and Mating
Hamsters use their tails to express body language and communicate with each other.
The best example of this is female hamsters during their estrus cycle. Breeding hamsters take preparation, and there’s still no guarantee that you’ll be successful. A female lifting her tail dramatically enhances the chances of mating success.
If your female is in her estrus cycle, try giving her a gentle stroke on the back. You’ll likely find that she reacts by freezing on the spot, and her tail will shoot straight upward like an antenna.
Why do hamster tails stick up this way?
It’s to announce that the female is willing to mate. Ordinarily, a female hamster might snap at a male that attempts to mount her without invitation. When in estrus, females change their behavior.
By lifting her tail, the female is presenting herself to a male.
Can Hamsters Live Without Tails?
There’s nothing to say that a hamster can’t function without a tail.
None of the uses of this appendage we have profiled are a matter of life and death. There will still be repercussions for a hamster losing its tail, though.
As a hamster’s tail is part of its backbone, amputating or seriously damaging the tail will have repercussions. Hamsters can break their tails, which invariably leads to difficulty moving.
Just because a hamster’s tail is subtle and inconspicuous, it doesn’t make it redundant.
How Does a Healthy Hamster Tail Look and Feel?
How your hamster’s tail feels is of more importance than how it looks.
Hamsters are susceptible to a bacterial infection called proliferative ileitis, colloquially known as wet tail. This condition is basically diarrhea, which leads to a damp feeling around the appendage.
Wet tail is very serious and should be treated as such. As per Laboratory Animals, just 44% of hamsters recover from the condition without treatment, and many hamsters with wet tail die within 48 hours.
If you notice dampness around your hamster’s tail, especially accompanied by a lack of energy, dull eyes, and a lack of appetite, seek emergency veterinary assistance.
Hamsters’ tails have a range of uses, despite the small and stubby nature of the appendage. As subtle as hamster tails are, they are reliable barometers of their health and well-being.