When people talk about “smart” animals, they usually mention apes, dogs, or maybe dolphins. And yes, those animals are brilliant. But what about hamsters? These cuddly little creatures are amongst the most popular pets in the world, next to dogs and cats.
But how can they actually compare with other species regarding intelligence?
Unless startled or scared, hamsters are generally gentle and easy to take care of, making them favorite pets for children. There are about 24 species known, but only five can be domesticated. These are the Syrian Hamsters, Chinese Dwarf hamsters, Dwarf Campbell Russian hamsters, Dwarf Winter White Russian hamsters, and the Ruborovski hamsters. Each breed has own distinctive characteristics that distinguish it from the other breeds.
Generally, hamsters have poor eyesight, and it takes about eight weeks for a newborn hamster to see objects a few inches in front of its nose.
Even in adulthood, 97% of their eyes are comprised of “rod cells” which gives them a shallow light capability adjustment. It is handy for nocturnal animals but causes poor performance during the day. They are also color blind. However, hamsters are known to have an extraordinary sense of hearing. They can communicate with frequencies that humans cannot hear.
Hamsters are also gifted with a keen sense of smell. They often use this ability to find food, recognize other hamsters, or identify markings in territories. Given these conditions, can we predict a hamster’s level of intelligence based on their innate senses?
In 2003, a group of students from California State University performed a science fair experiment with the objective of determining whether the learning time of a maze can be reduced by adding stimuli related to the sense of sight, sound, touch, or smell, and that if it is true, which is the most effective in doing so? How do stimuli affect the learning process of a hamster?
During the experiment, four mazes were constructed, and around six control hamsters were used. Each of the mazes represented, and one was used as a learning curve. The results were astonishing. The hamsters had the fastest learning curve because of their sense of smell, while the other mazes provided mixed results.
This experiment concluded that the learning time could significantly improve by adding stimuli related to smell, with sight stimuli running second. It also proved that keeping hamsters in an enjoyable environment can increase the number of their brain cells and thereby improve their learning capability too.
The results of some studies also suggest that more contented hamsters or happier hamsters living in comfortable cages are more bound to respond to external stimuli and adjust well to its surroundings.
They are quick to respond to voices especially if they connect it with being given a treat. Hamsters can even give a response to their names after proper training.
Do Hamsters Have Feelings?
Hamsters are not capable of processing feelings or attachments. They may appear very loving and caring, but it’s just their habit to associate you with good things, rather than an emotional attachment.
Most hamsters are strictly solitary. Depending on their breed, they may or may not tolerate sharing their cage with someone else. The Syrian hamsters are best kept alone. Even siblings should be separated before they become eight weeks old, or they may start seeing one another as a threat and start fighting, that could sometimes lead to death.
Other popular breeds such as Chinese and Dwarf hamsters have better chances of getting along with others provided they belong to the same breed.
When it comes to interacting with humans, it’s the Syrian hamsters (also known as Goldens or Teddybears) that are more popular with children. The Dwarf hamsters still make good pets. They require more supervision of both child and pet during interactions.
Being excellent diggers, hamsters burrow for the purpose of nesting, food storage, and protection against predators. A typical burrow usually includes a steep entrance, a hoarding chamber, and a blind-ending branch for urination.
Hamsters as Pets
Due to their cute and cuddly appearance and generally mild demeanor, Hamsters have become favorite pets for children. They are relatively low maintenance pets when compared with other pets. It is comparatively easy to take care of hamsters.
Aside from needing only a small habitat, hamsters are generally independent. They like taking care of their grooming needs, and because they are always on the move, they are well able to keep themselves fit without needing a coach.
In spite of this independence, when you are looking to buy a hamster, it is essential to keep in mind that the process involves care and responsibility. Since hamster’s lifespan is only about two years, it is necessary to provide a good home for a happy and healthy hamster.
How to Train Your Hamster?
Training your hamster is a great way of forming a friendship and establishing a level of trust. Be prepared though, because hamsters, similar to other animals, have different personalities. It needs lots of hard work and patience, but it does give results. Here are some tips to help you out.
1. Build a bond
Before you even start with teaching tricks to your hamster, it is crucial that you spend time with it so that it will get used to your sound and smell. Petting him gently or giving him treats on a regular basis until the hamster becomes used to you.
2. Give Treats
Once the hamsters start responding to your commands, give them treats as soon as possible and always follow this with a soft verbal phrase such as “good.”
Remember that a hamster has a very short memory gap and to make their good behavior long-lasting, you must give them rewards regularly.
3. Give One Command at a Time
Multiple commands can make the situation overwhelming and may further hinder their learning progress. Most tricks will take about a week or two to learn without pause. Keep a slow pace and do not move on to the next one until the hamster has fully mastered what you are teaching.
4. Stand, Jump and Make Circles
It is the sequence of training you need to follow. Again, you need to consider the hamster’s speed of learning too.
Teach him to stand by offering him a treat above his head. Hold it up within his reach and have him try to reach it while staying stand as he is doing it.
Once he has learned “standing,” you can then try to teach him how to jump by following the same procedure. During this time, you will only need to raise the treat a bit higher above his head this time.
Lastly, you can use a hoop and treat method to teach your hamster how to jump through the hoop.
Hamsters, in general, are very unique in their intelligence. Some prefer to be with their own kind while others can be more personable with humans.
Are they as smart as a dog or a cat? Maybe not. Like all other animals, they can have good moods and bad moods. Some may have better depth perception than others. The ability to go through mazes or reaching through a gap to get a treat shows that they are also capable of doing some basic problem-solving.
Like any other animal, they are alert and know what’s going on around them. They get startled with a loud voice and hide, or come out of hiding upon hearing the sound of your voice knowing you are the one who feeds them.
With that being said, are hamsters smart? Yes, to some extent. Maybe more than we ever give them credit for.
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