Hamsters are solitary animals. Due to their territorial instincts, many hamsters develop cage rage, becoming aggressive within their enclosures, which is a sign of extreme stress.
Hamsters claim territory by scent marking with their urine or scent gland secretions. This is to gain access to resources, such as food, seeing other hamsters as competition. Small cages cause territoriality, so they display aggression toward humans by biting and screaming when they get close.
Keeping several hamsters in one cage once they reach 21-28 days old causes stress. They’ll eventually fight to the death for dominance of their enclosure, so most species need to live separately.
Are Female Hamsters Territorial?
Female hamsters are considered more territorial and temperamental than males.
Females are significantly larger than males and require more space. Small cages are more likely to make females more territorial than males, although this affects both species.
Because female Syrians are highly territorial, they have a built-in safety mechanism that makes them go into paralysis every time they enter their heat cycle.
During this time, they freeze when stroked and lift their tails in readiness for penetration. This safety mechanism allows male hamsters to enter a female’s territory, mate, and flee before it’s able to move again, preventing the female from attacking and killing the male while they copulate.
Owners mustn’t stroke their female hamsters when they go into heat. Paralysis only lasts for around 30 seconds, but females can’t move within this time, even if they want to, making it a stressful experience.
While female hamsters are territorial, they only display aggression toward other hamsters. Most are happy to be handled by humans once they feel settled in their tanks and have undergone a taming process.
Are Male Hamsters Territorial?
All hamsters are territorial, and males are no exception. However, while male hamsters can be territorial, they don’t show the same levels of aggression as females, making them easier to handle and tame.
In Hormones and Behavior, researchers found that male hamsters subjected to social defeat, a psychological response to the social conflict between members of the same species, failed to defend their territory from smaller, non-aggressive males.
This phenomenon is known as “conditioned defeat” and can be characterized by a total absence of territorial aggression. It occurs in all defeated male hamsters, persisting for at least 33 days.
Interestingly, female Syrian hamsters that were tested displayed far lower levels of submissive behavior and didn’t experience long-term behavioral changes.
Can Hamsters Be Kept Together?
Most hamsters dislike living together, only coming together to procreate, which is essential for their survival. Cohabiting in a domestic setting provides no benefits and causes stress.
Even hamsters that start off accepting each other eventually become territorial and fight.
Hamsters that huddle up may look happy together, but they keep each other close. This is far from being cute and is a stressful experience for all hamsters in the enclosure.
Roborovskis and Campbell’s hamsters can sometimes coexist with their species, but the conditions must be optimal. Even then, they may not get along.
Why Is My Hamster Cage Territorial?
Also known as cage rage, cage territorialism is where hamsters become aggressive in their cage.
The hamster becomes so territorial over its home that it lashes out when its owner goes near the enclosure. Confusingly, most hamsters are okay outside their cage, making it difficult to understand.
The most common reasons for cage territorialism include the following:
Cage aggression is directly linked to the size of the enclosure. Hamsters, particularly female Syrians, don’t do well in small cages.
They need space to roam and explore, but cages less than 80 x 50 cm are ill-equipped to offer the room and enrichment they need. The smaller the cage, the more territorial hamsters become.
Some hamsters never grow out of cage territorialism, even if they’ve had an enclosure upgrade. This is because territorial behavior has become a habit the hamster can’t break.
When this happens, there’s little that owners can do except move slowly around their hamsters and respect their wishes to be left alone. Some hamsters warm up over time, while others don’t.
Hamsters hide their illnesses to protect themselves from predators. So, they become more aggressive when their owners attempt to approach or put their hands in the cage.
This is a defense mechanism that even the tamest hamsters have. While your hamster is unlikely to allow you to handle it, you must take it to the vet for a check-up.
It’s not normal for hamsters to display aggression toward their owners over their cages.
While hamsters are territorial, they more commonly show aggression toward other hamsters – they only become possessive of their cages and become hostile to humans when something is amiss.
As prey animals, hamsters get stressed at what we think are minor things, such as:
- Bright or prolonged exposure to light
- Loud noises
- The sound of other animals
- Not enough enrichment in the cage
- Small running wheels
- Exercise balls
Once you’ve identified the source of stress, eliminating it from the hamster’s environment should calm its cage rage, making it less territorial. You’ll need to give your hamster time to adjust and settle.
What Are the Signs of Cage Rage?
It’s easy to see when hamsters show signs of cage territorialism because the behaviors are so extreme. Cage rage is more difficult to identify in the early stages, so check for the following signs:
- Frenzied bar biting.
- Increased or excessive scent marking.
- Destructive behaviors, like chewing a plastic cage.
- Aggressive behavior toward owners, like biting.
- Screaming, squeaking, spitting, and hissing.
- Restlessly climbing around the cage.
- Racing or moving at pace around the enclosure.
- Anxious or agitated demeanor.
- Lunging towards anything new inside the cage, such as toys.
Do Hamsters Mark Their Territory?
Hamsters mark their scent with urine, which contains unique pheromones that hamsters and other animals can smell.
As described by Physiological Behavior, hamsters develop acute olfactory systems early, meaning they have an advanced sense of smell and can easily detect these pheromones.
According to Veterinary Practice News, male hamsters use secretions from their scent glands to mark their territory. This is achieved by rubbing their hips along surfaces to transfer the unique scent.
Hamsters mark their territory to gain better access to resources, such as food, water, and quality ground to burrow into. Scent marking also warns predators away.
In contrast, female hamsters mark their territory to let males know they’re coming into heat. Even captive hamsters do this because their mating instincts are so strong.
Upon smelling the hamster’s urine and secretions, other animals recognize they’re trespassing on another animal’s territory and will, in most cases, leave.
If they choose to stay, they’ll have to fight the hamster for dominance. However, if the other animal needs the hamster’s resources, it’ll stay and fight to claim them, often dueling to the death.
While territorial behavior is normal among hamsters, they shouldn’t display aggression in captivity if they have a suitably-sized enclosure, enrichment, and live alone.
They shouldn’t display territorial tendencies if other hamsters are in the same room but in different cages. Cage rage is linked to stress, so always make the environment more comfortable for hamsters.