Hamsters are extremely sensitive small animals. It’s easy to stress hamsters out, which disrupts their mental state, leaving them unsettled and unhappy.
Long-term stress can cause unhappiness in hamsters. Feeling sad escalates into depression if left unresolved, which manifests as repetitive and self-destructive behaviors.
So, never ignore a depressed hamster. It may stop eating, fight with conspecifics, and harm itself, shortening its lifespan. So, you must identify the signs of low mood.
Hamster Depression Symptoms
The symptoms may begin as unusual behavior that many dismiss as hamsters being hamsters. However, as the hamster gets more depressed, the symptoms will affect its mood and behaviors.
Lack of Appetite
When hamsters are depressed, they eat and drink less. This is partly mental and partly physical, as a depressed hamster will lack the will to sustain itself, avoiding mealtimes and drinking water.
Stress is a health condition that weakens the body by compromising the immune system and reducing its energy to the point where it needs time to recover.
For example, when a hamster is recovering from an illness, it stops eating because digesting food uses energy. The body focuses on healing, reducing the hamster’s need for sustenance.
Depressed hamsters feel no desire to run on their wheels and play with their toys because they feel too upset to do what they usually enjoy, especially if it involves expending energy.
Aside from playing, they may even be too depressed to move around their cage. Hamsters are naturally energetic and like to explore. If the hamster barely moves, it’s a sign that something’s amiss.
A depressed hamster may also engage in excessive pacing. When hamsters pace around their cage continuously, it’s a sign of extreme stress.
While it’s normal for hamsters to move around a lot, excessive pacing isn’t. Moving from one place to another constantly isn’t a healthy movement hamsters engage in regularly.
Unfortunately, the more a hamster paces, the less relief it’ll feel and the more stressed it’ll become. That clearly shows that the hamster is physically reacting to mental duress.
Depression causes a hamster’s body to shut down. Such hamsters are less healthy due to their weakened immune system, so they get sick more easily, and injuries take longer to heal.
If a hamster takes longer to recover from minor health conditions, it has a weak immune system. This becomes a vicious cycle because illness causes more depression, which leads to worse health.
Biting The Cage Bars
Hamsters bite their cage bars when depressed out of desperation.
Depression can make hamsters panic to the point where they attempt to escape their cage. It wants to be free to evade predators, unhealthy living conditions, or boredom.
Biting on the cage bars can damage the hamster’s teeth, gums, and nose. It can also cause bar rubs. The injuries that result from bar rubs include:
- Bald spots.
Excessive grooming is yet another physical response to the stress and panic depression causes. Hamsters groom themselves to stay clean, but depression can turn this healthy habit into neurotic behavior.
Grooming is an activity that makes hamsters feel safe. When depressed, they seek out these comforting gestures to calm themselves and cope with their situation.
Unfortunately, they can overgroom and harm their fur or skin.
Lack of Grooming
Similarly, a lack of grooming is a sign that hamsters are depressed. In fact, not grooming usually means your hamster has been upset for a long time.
Hamsters are naturally skittish, but they should adjust to you after a while.
If the hamster is constantly hiding from you, it may be due to depression. Sad hamsters feel extremely vulnerable constantly. Even if you take care of your hamster well, it’ll feel threatened if you approach.
In extreme cases of depression, the hamster will hide in its burrow all day. It may not come out for food; if it does, it’ll only do so if nobody else is in the room.
Biting and Aggression
If you only have a single hamster, the aggression will be directed toward you. Even when you handle the hamster carefully or give it food, it may bite and hiss at you.
Compulsive behavior is when a hamster performs an act repetitively. This can involve destroying and rebuilding its nest multiple times, monkey barring, or biting a toy. Pacing and cage biting are compulsive behaviors if the hamster does it for an extended time.
Compulsive behavior is difficult to detect in hamsters. All hamsters have different personalities, so what may be compulsive behavior in one is easily mistaken as a cute quirk in another.
The best way to recognize compulsive behaviors is to pair the hamster’s habits with other symptoms of depression. If the hamster displays a lack of appetite, grooming problems, and cage biting alongside other strange behaviors, it’s most likely compulsive.
Why Is My Hamster Depressed?
Hamsters can get depressed easily because they’re sensitive creatures. They have a lot of natural predators in the wild, so they’re instinctively cautious and survival-oriented.
If they feel like anything in their environment hinders their survivability, it’ll stress them out. There are some common reasons why hamsters would show signs of depression:
Hamsters can get seasonal depression. According to Hormones and Behavior, short days in autumn or winter induce symptoms of depression in hamsters.
If a hamster has seasonal depression, it’ll be back to its usual self in no time.
Once the days lengthen, it’ll recover. Be mindful of the hamster’s health and hygiene to avoid infections and diseases while it’s vulnerable.
Wild hamsters forage often and have space to scurry around.
Being stuck in a small cage goes against a hamster’s nature, so you must get a bigger cage or sometimes take them out of the cage.
Although the standard cage size (12×24) is usually alright, you could always get a bigger cage.
Lack of Exercise
Exercise is important for hamsters’ health. According to Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, a wheel running stimulates key reward centers in a hamster’s brain.
According to Shaanxi Normal University, physical activity also helps hamsters reduce stress. Without enough physical activity, hamsters can’ relieve the stress that builds up over the day.
Many hamster species are asocial and don’t thrive while living with other hamsters. Fights break out, and the last hamster in the social hierarchy gets bullied by the others.
Hamsters recovering from a health problem feel vulnerable and scared, and they may not be able to do things like they used to.
This creates a complicated situation where the hamster is slow to recover from its illness due to depression but feels depressed because it’s in recovery.
How To Cheer Up A Depressed Hamster
To cheer up a depressed hamster, you need to identify why it’s depressed in the first place. For hamsters with seasonal depression, there isn’t much that can be done.
UV lights trick the hamster into thinking the days are longer, which isn’t recommended because it interrupts the hamster’s resting cycle. If a hamster is depressed, you can cheer it up by:
- Letting it play in a playpen once a day.
- Getting a bigger cage.
- Separating it from the other hamsters.
- Playing with it each day.
- Buying new toys.
- Letting it forage for food.
- Introducing it to new foods.
- Spending more time together.
Can Hamsters Die of Depression?
Unfortunately, hamsters can die of depression. Depression induces a slew of symptoms that worsen until the hamster dies of health complications.
Depression is caused by long-term stress, which affects the hamster’s heart and immune system.
While this tension is intended to help a hamster survive difficult situations, no animal can withstand the long-term effects of stress indefinitely.