Question & Answer
Skittish Hammie

By David Imber
Help, one of my new hammies Smokey [he was always the shyer one] has become really skittish. I keep everything separate but do you think it could be that Smokey is spooked by having another Syrian in the same room?

You're right to ask, that IS known to happen. However, as you suggest, most hamsters get accustomed to ambient smells after a while -- after they realize there's no danger present. They usually don't go in the other direction though, unless something changes. It's change they don't care for. So I'm inclined to ask if anything else may have changed recently. To give an example I often use. One of my hamsters, several years ago, suddenly got into the habit of nipping at me. I couldn't figure out why, and assumed I was carrying the smell of another hamster on me. So I'd go into the bathroom and wash my hands well, come out, and he'd start nipping right away. It took a week of this before I figured out that my wife had replaced the hand soap by the sink with an "all-natural" soap scented with strawberries. I looked at the label and sure enough the soap contained "natural strawberry essence". My ham was convinced that he was sitting on a big strawberry, and he just wanted a taste. When I washed my hands with ordinary soap, he stopped.

So look at anything that might have changed, including your laundry detergent. No new pets in your life? You should try changing the position of the cages. Perhaps there's a bit of a draft in the room, and one cage is positioned just downwind from the other.

Another possibility to consider is that Smokey is ill. If he's uncomfortable, he might be reacting to that. That's a very slim possibility if he's not showing other symptoms, and I don't want to frighten you.

In addition, hamsters do undergo hormonal changes during their life. Females certainly do, as their bodies become enabled to bear young. But males experience changes as well. For instance I've seen some males, who, when they get older, will begin to sweat profusely at their scent gland while asleep. They'll also suddenly begin to "talk" in their sleep and become more vocal in general. When animals on the order of hamsters begin to affect these behavioral changes it's safe to assume that they are the result of changes to their endocrine system and consequently their brain chemistry (rather than "psychological" factors).

What am I doing wrong, Or is my little Smokey turning into the Hammie equivalent of Woody Allen?

You could do worse. It's better he should turn into the hamster Jean-Claude Van Damme? (Jean-Claude Van Hamme?)

Best, David Imber
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