Whitney is a hamster parent and has raised a variety of species.
Hamsters are typically very docile and quiet animals, but you may notice that they are trying to tell you or another hamster something—whether it be happiness, contentment, or aggression.
In most cases, you won't hear sounds that your hamster makes, as much of their vocal communication is ultrasonic so that other hamsters can hear but human ears won't detect it. Below are common behavior cues observed in hamsters.
Body language is very important with any animal's form of communication. Posture will determine signs of aggression, stress, or sexual tension between hamsters.
- Circle and sniff: When two hamsters check each other out by circling each other in a "T" arrangement. There will be one upright hamster sniffing the other hamster laying down. The one hamster may even try to topple the other hamster over by biting the underside. The hamsters will shift positions and continue to circle while they decide which hamster will be the dominant of the two. The submissive hamster will be the one who sits back on its legs in a more or less upright position to avoid being thrown off balance.
- Face-to-face sparring: The aggressor will try to bite the submissive hamster's belly while he remains upright and tries to push the aggressor away. It may be hard to tell which hamster is which, as they will switch positions rapidly. The more submissive hamster will be the one who is more upright with his paws extended and the moth open. The upright position is an alert position typically used to threaten dangers away.
- Appeasement: Hamsters will hold out one paw and avoid eye contact, in appeasement to the approaching hamster.
- Rolling fighting: The aggressive hamster will stand upright or on all fours as it launches at the other hamster, biting at the midsection. The fight will usually stop when one hamster freezes in a belly-up position, which is a surrender signal.
- Fighting and flying escapes: High pitched squeaks will signal something will be escalating. Both hamsters will start rolling around fighting, typically resulting in inflicting wounds on each other. When the fight gets serious, the submissive hamster will try to escape, but the dominant hamster won't let him and will follow him around the cage.
- The chase: A dominant hamster will chase the submissive hamster, which can turn very badly if the submissive hamster doesn't have anywhere to escape. Usually, you can stop this with a few squirts of water.
- Tail flick: A submissive hamster will flick his tail upward and hunch his back upward in attempts to stop any aggression. He may even walk slower with a more stiff gait, whereas the dominant hamster may mount the other hamster.
Hamsters squeak and talk a good bit especially when housed with other hamsters or when restrained. If you pay attention to the sounds, you can figure out what your hamster is trying to tell you.
- Mating calls: Female hamsters will call when in estrus, lactating, or when the days are short. Females will call when there is no male around. Males will call when they have found a female.
- Teeth chattering: This is typically a sign of fear or aggression among male-to-male hamster encounters but is also heard with female to female encounters as well. When a hamster is trying to protect his cage against an intruder, you may notice the chattering sound.
- Echolocation: Because hamsters have poor eyesight, they use echolocation to explore and navigate.
Hamsters use chemical cues to communicate messages by scent.
- Flank scent glands: Most of the time the scent glands are the most common chemical cue. Syrian hamsters, Romanian, Turkish, and the Roborovski hamsters have paired flank scent glands on each hip. These glands are used to mark territory by rubbing their sides on a vertical surface. Flank markings can occur in a nonsocial or a social setting. They can be a status marker to determine dominant or submissive hamsters.
- Other scent glands: Dwarf hamsters such as the Campbell's hamster and the winter white hamster have six pairs of scent glands located on the ears, belly, and genitals.
- Salivary glands: Hamsters can recognize familiar hamsters by their breath.
More than likely, you're more interested in how your hamster is trying to communicate with you. It's pretty simple, and for the most part, you can figure out what your hamster is trying to tell you by just paying attention. Basic communication clues are going to be bodily and auditory cues.
- Burrows in clean litter: The hamster is happy and checking to see if there is something hidden for him to eat.
- Watches with erect ears: Curious but calm
- Grooms itself: Hamster is seeking reassurance that everything is fine. If the hamster is out of the cage and with you, grooming himself, then he's content and feels good about the situation.
- Stretches: Feels good and relaxed.
- Ears forwards, check pouches puffed up: The hamster is insecure and may feel the need to flee.
- Stands on back feet and boxes: The hamsters feels threatened and is countering with aggression.
- Startled when you approach: The hamster isn't feeling safe and may require gentle handling and less strenuous out of he cage play.
- Ears are laid back: The hamster is suspicious of something and is watching carefully; he may be upset or feel aggressive.
- Flops onto back and displays teeth: The hamster is frightened and wants you to back off.
- Creeps along the floor of the cage, especially near the walls: The hamster is uncertain and frightened.
- Chattering: The hamster is either excited or nervous. In some cases, the hamster may be showing signs of aggression or fear.
- Loud squeaks: The hamster may be hurt, feels discomfort, threatened, agitated, or just wants attention.
- Hissing: The hamster is irritated, upset, and frightened
- Clicking: Happy and content
- Teeth-grinding: Very irritated and wants to be left alone.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Carl Broadbent on March 22, 2020:
I do believe Hamsters and other small pets have the ability to hear and understand their owners.
CelesteTheViking on December 04, 2017:
I KNEW my hamster was echolocating! I recognized what he was doing but I had no idea that hamsters could actually do that!
. on July 15, 2013:
My larger hamster uses it body to corner my smaller one and then will steal any food he has in his paws... I cant separate them but I've also noticed him acting kind of rough... Is this just normal behavior or should I be worried?
Nicole on April 06, 2013:
Where did you find the information about hamsters using echo location? I have felt my hamster vibrating and wondered if it was echo location, but I can't find an authoritative source to back this up. Thanks!
Dubuquedogtrainer from Dubuque, Iowa on February 14, 2012:
Interesting - some of these behaviors are cat-like and some are dog-like.
Chelsea on September 06, 2011:
you know when you say clicking well when lift my hamster aand show its belly it clicks and wrigles away so im a bit confued about that ? x
Sasuke on July 13, 2011:
I have som cute hamsters named Chico and Chica.They are awesome!Anyway I think Chica(Which is the girl)might have some babys.:D
Sasuke on July 13, 2011:
Thanks man these deitails about hammies totally helped me.:D
taipan541 on August 23, 2010:
hey, thanks! it really helps me a lot.. erm, perhaps you have written these facts, how about writing the solutions to counter each of these problems?
Whitney (author) from Georgia on May 16, 2010:
It means that you need to separate the two hamsters. It really sounds like one is bullying and trying to dominate the other.
lucy on May 15, 2010:
What does it mean when a hamster charges and the other rolls onto his back?
Whitney (author) from Georgia on March 19, 2010:
In regards to what exactly?
gecko_boy on March 19, 2010:
hi agen can you direct me to a russian dwarf hamster page ???
Jen's Solitude from Delaware on February 24, 2010:
"Teeth Grinding: Very irritated and wants to be left alone." - and I thought it was just me. :-) Very informative hub, thanks for the good read.