Q: I just purchased a black bear hamster today. After getting him settled in his cage, he seemed to be enjoying himself by running, climbing the cage, etc. However, it seems like he won’t sleep. I know hamsters are nocturnal, so it’s confusing me that he is still awake. He has so much energy, and I’m afraid he will run himself too hard and become exhausted. Also, he hasn’t burrowed to sleep yet. He is sleeping very much in the open. Is that normal?
A: The much harder question is “what’s normal for a hamster”? No matter how many years we’ve been observing them, some hamsters just seem to do things no other hamster has. That’s part of their wonder. But in this case the answer is yes, that behavior is all resoundingly normal.
First, to be clear, a so-called “black bear” is just a typical Syrian, with a specific coloration and fur type. But the characteristics that apply are the same as to all Syrian hamsters, and first among these is that they are solitary. The store, therefore, is likely to be a very stimulating environment, often with negative consequences. Syrians that have spent too much time in an environment where they cannot escape the presence of other hamsters can develop serious behavioral problems.
In most cases the small discrepancies in behavior that a hamster exhibits on entering a new, more stable environment vanish within a few weeks at most. For the first seven to 10 days you’ve got your new hamster it will have no regular patterns of sleeping, eating or playing. This is partly because in a pet store environment it could not mediate those things on its own. It was at the mercy of the shop’s schedule and the continual presence of other animal scents, which made it a little uneasy and unable to fully rest.
Ordinary youthful exuberance and the excitement of new surroundings make for a very healthy sort of stimulation. Young hamsters in a new environment take every opportunity to run around and explore, check out the new food, bathe in the enhanced attention and generally have a great time – which I think we can all agree is exhausting. So the hamster will suddenly find itself incredibly tuckered out and simply drop off whenever the feeling strikes.
Hamsters don’t always burrow when they sleep, but it’s true that they do covet a bit of privacy. In the case of your hamster, he’s just partying heartily and paying the price. It won’t last.
All hamsters, but especially Syrians, seek stasis and regularity. In a short while, if he hasn’t already, he’ll begin to eat at regular times, run at regular, short intervals, and so on. This is just the bloom of youth, and it will change with every season of his life.