Hamsters sleep during the day and are awake at dusk and nighttime. As hamsters 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 or lethargy in hamsters is usually due to old age, cold weather, boredom, stress, and nutritional deficiencies. It can also signify 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 energy.
Always look into any sudden changes to a hamster’s activity levels. While you may think your hamster’s lazy, there could be an issue causing its energy levels to diminish.
Are Hamsters Lazy?
Hamsters may be small, but they’re highly active animals that run for miles each night in the wild.
They also spend their days foraging for food and being alert from predators. Mammalian Biology explains that birds of prey and foxes are a significant issue for wild hamsters.
As hamsters are almost at the bottom of the food chain, their prey instincts transfer from the wild to captivity. That’s why you often see a 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 come out after dark when we’re asleep. As owners don’t always see their hamsters emerge, they assume they’re being lazy.
Another reason why hamsters are seen as lazy is 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 6-12 inches of bedding.
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 the cage, 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 to eat without fear of predators or other animals stealing it.
Captive hamsters aren’t aware that they’re not in the wild, so this behavior is ingrained into them.
Why Is My Hamster Not Active Anymore?
While an underlying issue may be responsible, you should consider how much enrichment your hamster’s getting each day. Here are the most likely reasons for inactivity:
Cold Winter Months
Hamsters slow down in the winter and become less active when it gets cold. While hamsters don’t hibernate, they enter 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 the cage.
Sickness or Injury
One of the more common reasons for inactivity is sickness and injury. 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:
Hamsters hide their sicknesses and injuries to protect themselves. So, they hide in their burrows until they recover and feel well enough to start being active again.
Happy, healthy hamsters spend the hours they’re awake being active. However, they grow bored quickly, particularly when they don’t have enough to do. Hamsters need the following:
- Sand bath
- Multi-chamber hide
- Chew toys
- Exercise wheel
- Foraging toys
- Scatter feeding
- Grapevine and cork logs
Some hamsters also occasionally benefit from enclosure changes, enabling them to explore a new environment and receive mental enrichment.
Stress exacerbates health conditions and causes anxiety. Hamsters 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 scrutinize their hamster’s environment to ensure nothing is causing them distress. Hamsters are affected by the following:
- Loud noises
- Bright lights
- Other pets, including hamsters (they’re solitary animals)
- Direct sunlight
- Hot temperatures
- Cold temperatures
Removing stress triggers within the hamster’s environment will promote physical activity.
New and young hamsters take time to adjust 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 is due to a hamster settling in and is entirely normal. Leave them alone for a few days before coaxing them out with food.
If a hamster doesn’t receive the right nutrients, it’ll lack the energy it needs to be active.
Hamsters are omnivores but need lots of protein in their diets to be healthy. Insects, such as mealworms, boiled eggs, and plain cooked chicken, are good protein sources.
Similarly, store-bought food mixes differ in quality; some are packed with sugar and hay to add bulk. Hamsters can’t digest hay, so they get no nutritional value and starve to death due to malnourishment.
According to 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, Oxbow contains hay, so it’s unsuitable for hamsters, leading to inactivity and lethargy.
Hamsters only live for 1 to 3.5 years on average. When hamsters reach old age, they deteriorate quickly, going from being okay to exhibiting significant signs of aging.
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, only emerging for food and water.
If you feel your hamster is lazier than usual, set up a night camera to find out when it wakes up. You’ll also be able to see what it does during the night.
In most cases, it runs on its wheel, burrows, and emerges for food and water when you’re asleep. It may even play with its toys and clean itself in its sand bath.