Hamsters sleep during the day and wake up at night.
Because they have the opposite sleeping routine to ours, it’s easy to mistake their natural behavior for laziness. However, hamsters become less active when conditions aren’t to their liking.
Laziness in hamsters is normally due to old age, cold weather, boredom, stress, and nutritional deficiencies.
It can be a sign of a health issue, such as a foot injury from running on a wheel. As they can’t be active, hamsters sleep more to recover and conserve their energy.
You should always investigate any changes to your hamster’s activity levels. While you may think your hamster’s lazy, there could be an issue causing its energy levels to dip.
Are Hamsters Lazy?
Hamsters may be small, but they’re highly active animals that can run up to six miles each night in the wild. They also spend their days foraging for food and being on high alert from predators. Mammalian Biology explains that birds of prey and foxes are an issue for wild hamsters.
Because hamsters are almost at the bottom of the food chain, their prey instincts transfer from the wild to captivity. That’s why you’ll often see your hamster freeze in its cage and stand on its back legs. This behavior means it’s listening out for predators.
Hamsters are commonly touted as lazy pets because they sleep throughout the day. While commonly mistaken for being nocturnal, hamsters are crepuscular. This means they’re most active between dusk and dawn, although some hamsters prefer to come out after dark when their owners are asleep. Because owners don’t always see their hamsters emerge, they assume they’re being lazy.
Another reason why hamsters are seen as lazy is that they’re most active underground. Like their wild cousins, hamsters spend much of their time building intricate burrows and tunnel networks. However, they’ll only do this if they have approximately 6-12 inches of bedding in their enclosure.
While you may not see your hamster moving around on the surface, it’s likely to be building burrows underneath its bedding. Depending on the style of cage you have, you won’t see these tunnels until you clean out the enclosure.
Creating burrows is important because it makes hamsters feel safe while they sleep. They also move their food into a specific chamber so they can eat without fear of predators or other animals stealing their food. You must remember that captive hamsters aren’t aware that they’re not in the wild, so this behavior is ingrained in them.
Why Is My Hamster Not Active Anymore?
While an underlying issue may be to blame, you may need to consider how much enrichment your hamster’s getting to encourage it to become more active.
Here are the most likely reasons why your hamster is inactive:
Cold Winter Months
Hamsters slow down in the winter and become less active when it gets cold. While hamsters don’t hibernate, they can go into a state of reduced metabolism called torpor.
During torpor, hamsters decrease their activity levels to survive. They also breathe more slowly and go into a deep sleep. Unless owners quickly warm their hamsters up, many never wake up.
Encourage your hamster to be more active through the winter by keeping the temperature between 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also place a heated blanket or pad underneath your hamster’s cage to warm it up.
Sickness or Injury
One of the more common reasons for inactivity is sicknesses and injuries. Hamsters commonly get broken bones if their wheels are unsuitable or they have high platforms to fall from.
According to MSD Veterinary Manual, hamsters are also prone to the following illnesses:
- Wet tail and diarrhea
- Cushing’s disease
- Parasites and ringworm
- Tyzzer disease
Hamsters hide their sicknesses and injuries to protect themselves from prey. As a result, they tuck themselves away in their burrows and nests until they recover and feel well enough to start being active again.
Happy, healthy hamsters spend their hours awake being active. However, they get bored quickly, particularly if they don’t have enough to do.
Hamsters need a large exercise wheel at the very minimum, but they also benefit from:
- Sand bath
- Multi-chamber hide
- Chew toys
- Foraging toys
- Scatter feeding
- Grapevine and cork logs
Some hamsters also benefit from enclosure changes occasionally, and doing so enables them to explore a new environment and receive mental enrichment as a result.
Stress is a serious problem for hamsters, as it exacerbates health conditions and causes anxiety. Hamsters who are scared of their surroundings will keep themselves tucked away where they feel safe, refusing to come out.
This behavior is easily misinterpreted as laziness. Owners must look to their hamster’s environment to ensure nothing is causing their pet to be distressed.
Hamsters are affected by:
- Loud noises
- Bright lights
- Other pets, including hamsters (they’re solitary animals)
- Direct sunlight
- Hot or cold temperatures
Removing stress triggers within your hamster’s environment should encourage it to become more active once again.
New and young hamsters take some time to get used to their new surroundings. Enclosure moves are stressful, and owners don’t often see their hamsters until they feel comfortable enough to emerge.
This inactivity results from your hamster settling in and is entirely normal. Leave your pet for a few days before gently attempting to coax it out with tasty treats.
If your hamster doesn’t receive the right nutrients, it will lack the energy it needs to be active. Hamsters are omnivores, but they need plenty of protein in their diets to be healthy. Insects, such as mealworms, are excellent forms of protein, as are boiled eggs and plain cooked chicken.
Similarly, store-bought food mixes differ in quality, and some are packed with sugar and hay to bulk them out. Hamsters can’t digest hay, so they get no nutritional value from it and often starve to death due to malnourishment.
As described by the California Hamster Association, Oxbow is one of the most popular hamster food brands and is readily available in pet stores across the U.S. However, it’s notorious for containing hay, meaning it’s unsuitable for hamsters and causes them to become lethargic and inactive.
Hamsters only live between 18 months and two years on average. When hamsters reach old age, they deteriorate alarmingly quickly, going from being fine one day to showing significant signs of aging the next.
This is entirely normal, but it’ll mean your hamster will become inactive and appear lazy in its final stages of life. Most elderly hamsters sleep for up to 24 hours and only emerge for food and water.
If you feel your hamster is being lazier than usual, set up a night camera so you can see when your pet wakes up. You’ll also be able to watch what it does during the night.
In most cases, you’ll find it plays on its wheel, burrows, and emerges for food and water when you’re asleep. It may even play with its toys and bathe in its sand bath.