The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.
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Is there anything cuter than a furry little hamster curled up in a little ball?
Is there anything crueler than watching that poor little ball shaking and shivering?
If you have ever owned a hamster, you have probably come across this problem before. Given how tiny hamsters are, it’s only natural to view them with a sense of caution and delicacy. Something that small and fragile can be harmed by just about anything, so it’s natural to be a little overprotective.
Still, the question remains – why do hamsters shake and shiver in the first place, is it a problem, and if so, what can you do to help your furry little friend?
The Truth Behind Hamsters Shaking
First, to answer the most obvious question, it is not normal for your hamster to be constantly quivering and quaking. We all feel momentary shivers and shakes as we get cold or a chill goes down our spine, and the same may be true of your hamster, so don’t panic quite yet if you see them shiver for a split-second and then go back to normal.
However, any prolonged shivering should be cause for concern.
Reasons Why Your Hamster May Be Shaking
There are potential causes why your hamster may be shivering or shaking, with some of the most common being:
1 – Cold Weather
This is both the most common reason and the one that could be the easiest and least stressful to fix. While your hamster’s fur is designed to keep it warm, there are obviously limitations to this.
When your hamster shivers in this context, it is doing so for the same reason you do – the cold temperatures trigger an autonomous response in its body that causes it to shake to warm itself up again. This is typically an involuntary action. Neither you nor your hamster have any control over it.
You do, however, have control over the temperature in the space in which your hamster lives, and should exercise it, since you don’t want your hamster to freeze. In fact, hamsters can be pretty picky when it comes to their ideal habitat, with their preferred temperature range being about 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
When in doubt, make sure to air on the warmer end of the spectrum rather than the colder one. While you don’t want to roast your little fur baby, unless you live or place their cage in a very hot, arid, sun-drenched area, there’s probably a greater danger of them catching cold.
Make sure that your hamster has plenty of clean straw bedding and a space in which to burrow and keep itself warm.
2 – Respiratory Issues
This may be connected to the previous point. A serious enough chill can lead to you catching a cold or even pneumonia, and the same may be true of your hamster.
If your hamster has an upper respiratory infection, it should have a few characteristic symptoms to go along with its shivering, including sneezing, wheezing, coughing, water eyes, and runny nose. (If it has some of these but it hasn’t been exposed to a cold environment and isn’t shivering, it may have an allergy.)
To reduce the chances of something like this happening to your hamster, make sure to clean the cage regularly. If the bedding seems thin and sparse, consider adding more or getting a different type that may be better insulated and thus help trap warmth better.
3 – Mental Stress
In the Daria episode “The Lab Brat,” the once and future Queen of Millennial Sarcasm, Daria Morgendorffer, is forced to do a group science project wherein she and her team train a hamster, only for Brittany’s little brother to traumatize it, leading to it shaking with terror.
Hopefully something as dramatically terrible hasn’t happened to your hamster, but mental stress is nevertheless a potential reason why your hamster has begun shaking.
For example, you may have inadvertently interrupted your hamster’s hibernation cycle. Hamsters are highly cyclical animals who depend a great deal on their routine. When this is disrupted, it can produce a great deal of mental and emotional stress.
This is especially true if their natural hibernation cycle is interrupted, as this is an essential part of your hamster’s annual life cycle.
On the other hand, if it has been startled by external traumatic stimuli, you’ll obviously want to remove that as soon as possible. Remember, these stimuli don’t have to be as dramatically terrible as Brittany’s little brother. Hamsters are tiny, skittish creatures. They are easy prey, and they know it.
As such, what seems “fine” to you as a much bigger creature may seem threatening or terrifying to them.
You should thus make sure you always handle your hamster with the greatest of care. Even a tiny drop from a small distance can feel like a big fall to your hamster, and it can leave it mentally distressed as well as physically disoriented or injured.
You probably don’t need a ton of extra encouragement to snuggle with your hamster, but in case you did, showing it affection can help counteract miniature instances of trauma. That said, because hamsters are so vulnerable, they need time before they trust people.
This is also why they can sometimes shake around new people. You’re probably really excited to show off your cute little hamster to all your other friends, but that doesn’t mean your furry little friend is as eager to make their acquaintance.
If you do show off your hamster to them, make sure that you do so very gradually, while holding and reassuring your hamster (your familiar touch and scent may be comforting to them). You can also give your hamster a treat to reinforce these reassuring feelings.
4 – Nervous System Issues
What if your hamster isn’t nervous, but suffering from a problem with its nervous system? If you have overstimulated your hamster, it has suffered cranial trauma, or has otherwise developed issues with its nervous system, it may begin to shake.
Needless to say, something as serious as this may well require the attention of a veterinarian.
5 – Other Warning Signs
In addition to these basic categories, you should also consider getting your hamster veterinary attention if it starts to shake while exhibiting the following symptoms:
- Skin parasites
- Heart failure
- Nasal discharge
- Watery stool
- Weight loss
- Glazed-over eyes
There are myriad reasons why your hamster may be shivering and shaking. Some of these may be due to natural environmental factors, with colder conditions being the most common, and these are also the easiest to fix.
Other factors can be more serious, such as infections or mental trauma. The latter case in particular can be especially troubling, since no one likes to think about their furry little friend being traumatized, and once it has occurred, said trauma can be hard to undo.
When it comes to your hamster shaking or shivering at all, whatever the cause, it always pays to be safe rather than sorry. You don’t want to wait too long to get them attention and be sorry afterward.
That being said, if you can take preventative measures by keeping your hamster warm, comfortable, and happy, the results will be better for everyone.