A blind hamster is a bit of a myth. Or is it ? Hamsters don’t have great eyesight, but are they really blind ? I looked around, asked a few questions, and found out if hamsters can see.
My Teddy was a bit of a guide here, since I compared what I found out with what I’ve seen Teddy do or how he’s reacted in the past. Here’s what I found out about hamster eyesight.
So are hamsters blind ?
No, hamsters are not blind. They are born blind, like most animals, but they don’t stay blind. The eyesight in hamsters forms after a few days, but it never really develops very well.
Hamsters have poor eyesight, but blind they are not. They won’t notice you if you just sit still, since they don’t perceive things that are farther away from their whiskers, or directly in front of them.
This also means your hamster can’t judge distances or depth, at all, and he will jump from a higher level in his cage to take a shortcut, and possibly hurt himself. Or jump out of your hands, thinking the cage is just a sneeze away.
Alright, so hamsters aren’t blind, but they don’t see well either. How do they navigate and survive then ? Let’s see.
Hamsters don’t rely on their eyes
Hamsters use their other senses much more than they use their eyes. Even if your hamster becomes blind over time, it won’t impact him very much.
This is because hamsters don’t relay on seeing what’s in front of them or around them, as much as they rely on hearing and smelling their environment.
If you’ve got a blind hamster, you’ll notice he’s got the cage all memorized and knows where to go and how to navigate.
There might be a few things you’ll have to get out of his way that he might bump into, like toys that move (a see-saw for example) or bridges.
Other than that, a blind hamster will know where his food is, where is nest is, where the water bottle is, and will recognize your voice.
He might be a bit nippy, but that’s about the only change people have ever reported about hamsters that turned blind.
A hamster has a great sense of smell
Hamsters use their smell for lots of things. Even if they don’t see very well, hamsters can still ‘see’ their surroundings.
Us humans don’t rely on smell too much, but hamsters do. Your hammy knows your scent, knows the smell of the house, and doesn’t like air fresheners too much.
This means that any strong smell will be overwhelming for your hamster. Like perfume, for example, which can be way too strong for his sensitive little nose.
If you’re handling your hamster you should wash your hands before. Depending on what you’ve done before, he might not like the smell and bite, or me might love the smell and try to… well, eat your hand.
My girlfriend touched some cooked chicken once, wiped her hands on a towel, and went to pet the hamster. Teddy smelled the chicken and chomped down on her finger, and she’s been afraid of him ever since.
Best to avoid that, and wash your hands. Do be careful to use non-perfumed, anti-bacterial soap. An overly floral or fruity soap might have the opposite effect and make your hamster think you’ve really got mango and coconut on your hands.
Conversely, hamsters absolutely have citrus. Teddy shies away from my hand after I’ve peeled any kind of citrus. Even after I wash my hands. He just can’t stand the smell.
Hammies use their hearing for nearly everything
Hearing is what hamsters use most in the wild to figure out if there’s predators around or not. Have you ever seen your hammy just freeze in place, with this focused, intense look on his furry face ?
He’s listening. Veeery very carefully, who knows when a fox might jump through the window to get him. Jokes aside, it’s funny with pet hamsters, but a life-saving trait for wild hamsters.
There’s no fox or owl or snake trying to get to your pet hamster, but in the wild, his predators might be just around the corner. They make sounds, even when they’re trying to be sneaky. Your hamster knows those sounds.
Hammies need some time to learn every sound in the house in order to feel comfortable and not panic at every floorboard creaking. After a while they’ll stop freezing as often, and be more relaxed.
They are hamsters, however, and won’t really ever relax.
Hamsters are sensitive to sound, but not the way you’d think. Loud noises are not comfortable for their ears, but don’t phase them much. They’re a bit stressful, but they know what’s going on.
So for example in a fireworks display it’s not the loud noises that scare them, but the bright, sudden lights.
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Whiskers and touch help hamsters ‘see’
Alright, so your hamster’s got superhearing and dog-level smell. He’s also got ‘the touch’.
I mean he sees with his little paws, and his whiskers. In the wild the hamster’s many tunnels are pitch black and winding, so he has to be able to navigate them somehow. The tunnels don’t hum, and they don’t smell, so he has to see with his paws and whiskers.
This also applies to his cage, plus the fact that he knows where everything is because he’s memorized it. One of the reasons changing up his habitat is a bad idea. Hamsters don’t like change.
When it comes to touch, he’s also sensitive to vibrations. He can sense them both in his paws and his whiskers too. Even if you got out of bed very quietly, and made sure to not turn on the light or step wrong, he still knows you’re up.
You every move is a small vibration, and he can sense that. Not in a weird way, it’s just his super-sensitive sense of touch.
For example my Teddy keeps sleeping if I just rummage in the room he’s in. But once I speak towards his cage, or stand there for a few minutes, he comes out. He just knows I’m there.
Don’t make sudden movements around your hamster
If you were sitting down and you suddenly move, chances are your hamster only just noticed you were there. And panicked. Hammies are not very bright, and they’re very easy to scare unfortunately.
This means that even if you’re not trying to scare your hamster, you probably still did. Some hammies are extra jumpy and panicky, and will scamper away if they see or hear anything new.
But, you can make sure you don’t scare your hamster friend by not moving suddenly. That means that if you’ve got business around his cage, move a bit slower than usual.
Try not to turn around too fast, and make your movements slower, deliberate.
Another thing that helps is to talk to your hamster while you’re near his cage, so he knows your general position.
Hamsters are very sensitive to light levels
The final warning about a hamster’s poor eyesight, sunlight hurts his eyes. The light is much too harsh for him, and actually painful.
Unlike cats or humans who can regulate how much light enters their eyes, hamster eyes are not as adaptable. Their pupils do adjust, but not by much.
This means that the best time for a hamster to use his limited eyesight is dawn and dusk. The light levels are low enough that his eyes don’t hurt, but high enough that he can see.
That being said, hamsters have very poor eyesight, even at night. But they don’t necessarily need the light on, or a nightlight at that.
Just think of your hamster as your cute, fluffy, incredibly near-sighted friend who lost his glasses.
A word from Teddy
I hope you found what you were looking for in this article. I know us hammies can be a bit clumsy at times, and we don’t see very well, no. However we’re not blind. We can become blind with old age, or an illness, so we rely on you to help us there.
If you want to know more about us hammies, you can check the related articles below to get more info on how to best care for us.