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what are hamsters whiskers for?
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What Function Do Hamsters’ Whiskers Serve?

(Last Updated On: September 6, 2022)

Hamsters’ whiskers are more than just a distinct characteristic of their small faces. Like their cheek pouches, hamsters’ whiskers serve several purposes important to their survival in the wild.

Even in captivity, hamsters’ whiskers play an important role. Their whiskers help them to maneuver through and explore their surroundings, detect impending dangers, and even smell.

If you look closely enough, their whiskers may explain how hamsters feel.

Hamster Whiskers Explained

Hamster whiskers, also known as vibrissae, may seem insignificant, but they’re very important because they act as another sense for hamsters.

Even though hamsters can see, hear, and smell, the extra sense their whiskers give them can be the difference between life or death in the wild.

Here, you’ll learn what whiskers do for hamsters, how their whiskers enable them to find food, explore, and navigate, and why whiskers are so important for hamsters’ survival.

Do All Hamsters Have Whiskers?

Five types of hamsters are most often kept as pets. While they’re different in many ways, one of the things all hamsters have in common is whiskers. These include:

  • Golden Hamster (also known as Syrian hamsters and teddy bear hamsters)
  • Dwarf Roborovski Hamster
  • Dwarf Winter White Russian Hamster
  • Campbell’s Dwarf Russian Hamster
  • Chinese Hamster
why do hamsters have whiskers?

What Are Hamster’s Whiskers For?

Hamsters’ whiskers give them an additional sense.

While they can touch things with their paws and see things with their eyes, their whiskers are useful when roaming around in the dark or moving quickly.

Guiding Navigation

Hamsters use their whiskers to help guide them when exploring, foraging for food, or even running on their wheel.

This extra sense their whiskers provide helps them, especially in the dark when visibility is limited.

The Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences state that small mammals, such as hamsters, use their whiskers to help them determine where to safely plant their feet as they move.

When they’re on the go, they use their whiskers to scan the area and feel for objects or obstacles like walls or trees.

They know the path they’re traveling is safe if their front paws land within the ground contact zone of the whisker field.

They keep the distance between their front paws shorter than the width of their whisker span because if their whiskers aren’t hitting anything, neither should their paws.

Balance

Because their whiskers extend out to the sides past their bodies, hamsters can stay steady and avoid falling over.

Sense of Smell

Hamsters’ sense of smell is strong, but their whiskers work with their noses to pick up smells.

Show Emotion

If you watch your hamster closely, you can pick up clues about the type of mood it’s in by the position of its whiskers.  

Why Do Hamsters Have Whiskers?

In the wild, hamsters’ whiskers guide them as they forage for food, alert them to dangers like obstacles or predators, and enhance their sense of smell.

However, hamsters still use their whiskers when in captivity. Because they’re usually most active at night and have poor eyesight, they rely on their whiskers to help them figure out where to go.

Their whiskers act as sensors, are very sensitive and extend out to the sides, which aids them as they’re walking or running.

Hamsters’ whiskers will brush against anything that might get in their way, like trees, walls, or animals.

Hamsters use what is called a whisking motion to identify any objects or threats and to guide them on their path.

How Many Whiskers Do Hamsters Have?

Hamsters have whiskers on both sides of their face and above each eyebrow. The number of whiskers hamsters have varies based on the type of hamster.

It also varies depending on if a hamster has lost any whiskers that have not yet regrown.

Why Are My Hamster’s Whiskers So Long?

Hamster whiskers are long because they need to use them to help feel for things in the dark. Their whiskers are usually as long as the length of their bodies from head to behind.

This length allows them to maneuver through the dark without running into things.

Can Hamsters Rotate Whiskers?

Hamsters can rotate their whiskers back and forth at high speeds, also described as vibrating their whiskers, which helps them search for obstacles in the dark. This movement pattern is called “whisking.”

According to the Journal of Zoology, when hamsters are resting, their whiskers are “reclined and motionless.”

When they’re on alert, their whiskers remain motionless but become partially or fully erect. When actively searching for things, their whiskers “whisk or sweep” through their surroundings.

Hamsters can vibrate their whiskers as fast as up to 30 times per second.

do all hamsters have whiskers?

What Happens if Your Hamster Loses Whiskers?

Your hamster can become disoriented, stumble, and fall over if it loses whiskers, so it would have difficulty navigating its surroundings.

Whiskers help to give hamsters balance and help guide them where they need to go. Without whiskers, they’d essentially be lost and unable to steadily get around.

Why You Shouldn’t Cut a Hamster’s Whiskers

You shouldn’t ever cut a hamster’s whiskers. Because they use their whiskers to survive, not having whiskers or even having whiskers that are too short can cause danger to them, as they wouldn’t be able to get around safely.

Hamsters’ whiskers consist of keratin, a natural protein that human nails and hair are composed of, so there are no pain receptors in their whiskers.

Although hamsters won’t feel pain if you cut their whiskers, you could put them at risk of injuries or health problems.

Do Hamsters Grow Whiskers Back?

Hamster’s whiskers will grow back within 2 to 3 months. However, living without whiskers can be risky for hamsters, so you should never cut them.

Although cutting your hamster’s whiskers isn’t a good idea, it’s normal for hamsters to naturally lose their whiskers due to damage, stress, or old age.

If you see that your hamster is losing some of its whiskers, it shouldn’t be a cause for concern unless it’s losing a lot of them all at once or they’re not growing back.