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Why Do Hamsters Stand on Their Back Legs?

Last Updated on: 24th September 2023, 05:36 pm

If you’ve watched your hamster run around and play in its cage, you’ll have noticed that it occasionally stands on its back legs while scrutinizing its environment.

Most hamsters stand on their back legs to scope out their surroundings. As hamsters have bad eyesight, they assess their environment using their sense of smell and hearing.

Standing on the hind legs is also a sign of stress. Hamsters are prey animals, so they stand upright when they feel threatened or defensive.

Owners must build trust with their hamsters before handling them. Also, monitor the hamster’s front legs in case the hamster is standing up because it has hurt itself.

Injuries are common, especially when potentially dangerous items are kept in the cage. For example, a mesh running wheel could trap its feet.

What Does It Mean When Hamsters Stand on Their Hind Legs?

Standing on their hind legs is called the “prairie dog stance” or “meerkating.”

Every move a hamster makes has a meaning, and by being in tune with its body language, you can understand more about the hamster.

These are the most common reasons a hamster stands on its back legs:

Scoping Out Surroundings

Hamsters are curious creatures that always like to know what’s happening around them.

As mentioned, hamsters are near-sighted and colorblind, so they rely on their sense of smell and hearing to check for dangers and predators.

According to Physiology & Behavior, hamsters develop an olfactory system early. As a result, they process odors within the first few days of life.

Due to their poor eyesight, hamsters explore their environment in different ways. One of these ways is to stand up on their hind legs and take in the smells and sounds around them.

Doing so allows them to scope out their surroundings, keeping themselves safe.

Feeling Threatened

Hamsters are prey animals, so they’re driven by their instincts to watch out for predators. Due to a hamster’s inability to see well, it remains on high alert at night when awake.

Sudden loud noises will cause the hamster to stand on its back legs. It’ll also hold its front arms up toward the chest, enabling it to remain alert.

If you see a hamster in this stance, don’t pick it up. Wait until it’s more comfortable and understands you’re not a danger. Otherwise, your hamster will become scared of you.

You’ll be met with aggression if you attempt to touch the hamster when it’s in this position.

hamster walking on two legs

Defensive Behavior

When fearful, the meerkat or prairie dog stance is a defensive posture a hamster assumes.

In many cases, they’ll hiss while standing to warn people or other animals to stay away. This goes beyond worrying about a threat within the environment – they’re preparing to fight to stay alive.

Cats can make hamsters feel this way, and handling them too soon can be responsible. Owners must initiate a taming process and stick at it to ensure their hamster trusts them enough to be handled.

Hamsters don’t know their owners aren’t a predator until they prove otherwise. If an owner moves too soon, the hamster will react defensively.

Getting Attention

If you’ve built a strong bond with your hamster, you may notice that it stands on its back two legs when you walk into the room.

While hamsters may not be able to see their owners clearly, they can smell their unique pheromones.

You can tell if a hamster is standing on its back legs by observing its behavior and demeanor. If the hamster seems happy, even when you approach the cage, it’s comfortable in your presence and stands on its back legs to get your attention. This is also how some hamsters greet their owners.

This is more likely to happen if you bring the hamster a treat every evening or let it out of the cage. Many hamsters enjoy exploring their wider surroundings, but only if there are enough hiding spots to prevent them from feeling vulnerable and scared.

As described by Laboratory Animal Medicine, hamsters are nocturnal, although wild female Syrians display diurnal behaviors. This means you’ll rarely see a hamster standing on its legs during the day.

Why Does My Hamster Walk On Two Legs?

While it’s normal for hamsters to stand on their two back legs, walking on them is abnormal.

This behavior signifies the hamster has an issue with one or both of its front two legs and can’t bear weight on them. Similarly, most hamsters experience difficulty walking on their hind legs. 

Broken legs are common, especially if you house the hamster in a wire cage or use a mesh wheel. A hamster’s legs are fragile and can become trapped between the gaps.

Other issues that could be responsible for a hamster walking on two legs include:

  • Scurvy paralyzes the legs, which causes affected hamsters to hop around.
  • Dehydration causes strange body movements and positions.
  • Strokes can sometimes result in a hamster rocking back and forth.
  • Arthritis can be painful and cause hamsters to stand more often.

However, some hamsters will walk on their back legs to reach something higher, like a treat hanging from a ka-bob or a new toy that’s difficult to get to.

If the hamster seems well, this is likely a learned behavior, not a health condition.

Why Is My Hamster Dragging Its Back Legs?

Hamsters routinely stand on their back legs – so much so that you’ll notice the hamster standing this way several times while you observe it between dusk and dawn.

So, if the hamster begins dragging its back legs and can’t stand up on them, something’s wrong. Several health conditions are to blame, including the following:

  • Trauma to the legs or spine.
  • Leg injury.
  • Body weakness due to heart disease, pneumonia, and renal disease.

Many health issues cause body weakness, contributing to hind leg malfunction. Consequently, the hamster will drag its legs behind its body rather than stand on them.