People used to dogs and cats as pets may be baffled by the behavior of a hamster.
All species of pet hamster may look different, but share a common problem – their poor vision.
Don’t let those big button eyes fool you. In comparison to dogs, cats or humans, hamsters are practically blind. This makes a hamster easy to startle. Startled hamsters tend to become biting hamsters.
Think about it…
If you were extremely nearsighted and something bumped into you – wouldn’t you be startled? You wouldn’t know if the thing bumping you was a friend or a foe. You may lash out in order to protect yourself. This is what a pet hamster has to go through. As a hamster caretaker, you always need to remember that your pet is practically blind.
The Wild Hamster
Pet hamsters do not behave that much differently than wild hamsters.
All pet hamster species evolved in arid, wind-blown deserts. It was safer to hunt and gather food in the cool of the evening. The night also made it harder or predators to spot a hamster. Even if a predator touched a hamster, it would defend itself fiercely in order to survive. Pet hamsters still behave as if predators are always hunting them.
Since hamsters moved around in darkness, they relied on smell and touch in order to navigate and find food. Hamster whiskers act like cat whiskers to help find small spaces to hide from ever-present predators. Hamster communicate to each other through smells (such as urine marks) and high squeaking, including ultrasonic squeaks that humans cannot hear notes The Hamster Handbook (Barron’s Educational Series; 2003.)
Life With Hamsters
Since hamsters are nearsighted, they cannot see you walking over to them or bending your hands down to them.
They also are color blind, which makes it harder for them to make you appear any different from another moving blurry object. You need to make a small noise in order to get a hamster’s attention, such as gently tapping the cage’s side. Don’t just pick up the hamster!
Place the palm of your hand inside of the cage but do not touch the hamster. Let the hamster come to your hand. The hamster will need to give your hand a good sniff, which can tickle. Placing a tiny treat in your hand makes the hamster look forward to smelling you. Keep in mind that hamsters cannot see ledges or steps, so keep them away from drop-offs like table edges. This prevents injuries from falling.