If you’ve got a hamster you know he’s a cutie pie, and he’s always sniffing out some thing or another. Does that mean he’s got a great sense of smell, or is he just curious ?
Well, let’s see just how well hammies can sniff things out, and if they’ve got super-smell or not.
So do hamsters have a good sense of smell ?
Yes, hamsters do have a very good sense of smell. In fact, smell is your hamster’s first sense he uses when navigating his cage, and figuring things out about you.
Hamsters have very poor eyesight, so they have to compensate with their other senses. The sense of smell will tell your hamster if there are predators around, if there is food, and if there’s another hammy nearby.
Us humans don’t have the greatest nose, true. But hamsters have a very sharp sense of smell, and as such are actually sensitive to smells we like.
Hamsters particularly hate citrus scents, since the smell is overwhelming for them. My Teddy scrunches up his face and wanders off whenever I peel an orange or cut a lemon.
Hamsters can smell anything on you
As it happens with pets that have keep sense of smell, hamsters can tell what you did. What you ate. Who you just hugged, and where those shoes have been.
This is a reason to be careful about how strongly you smell when handling your hamster. I don’t mean body odor, hamsters tolerate a faint, intensely human smell.
For example a perfume, even a gentle one, can be too much for your hamster. Any essential oils you may have rubbed on you fall into that category as well. Deodorant too, and in some cases fabric softener.
Basically hamsters are the most sensitive things ever, especially since they are so small. So if you’ve got a strong smell on yourself or your clothes, they will feel it and shy away from it.
Make sure your hands are clean when handling your hamster
When picking up your hamster make sure you’ve got clean hands. I’m saying this as a warning, since hammies are easy to trick with smells.
For example my girlfriend touched a few pieces of cooked chicken one day, we’d just eaten. She just wiped her hands on a kitchen towel, and went to pet the hamster.
Teddy, thinking she really did have chicken fingers, bit into her finger like it was food. She’s never touched Teddy since, even if she knows why it happened.
Now I’d have for you to end up in the same situation as my girlfriend, so please make sure your hands are clean. Before handling your hamster, make sure you wash your hands very well with soap. It should be antibacterial soap, and unscented.
A very strong scented soap will either make your hamster pull away, like citrus for example. Or it’ll make him think you’ve really got mango and coconut on your hands and try to eat some. This happens with especially fruity soaps.
If you want to know which fruits hammies can eat, so you know which soaps aren’t smart to use with him, try this list here.
Hamsters are very sensitive to artificial smells
Hammies have a very sensitive nose, yes. The will learn the smell of the house and know it as their habitat. However artificial smells are often used in homes, like air fresheners for example.
We have one too, and it’s always on, except at night. At night, given the way our apartment is laid out, Teddy’s cage sits right under the air freshener shelf.
So we turn the freshener off (it’s on auto) so Teddy’s nose doesn’t have to be bombarded with lilac and vanilla.
So if you’ve got anything very strong smelling or scented, make sure it is as far away from you hamster’s cage as possible.
The same goes for food. If you’ve got great, delicious food laid out somewhere, make sure it’s not near your hamster’s cage. He will smell the food, and try very very hard to get to it, chewing on the cage bars in the process.
Once he gets into the habit of biting the bars, it’s nearly impossible to get him off of them. You can find out more about that here.
Syrians can’t really stay close to each other
I’m taking a separate note on Syrians here because most other hamsters – the Dwarf types – can live together. Syrians however will fight to the death and will not share one measly wood shaving with anyone.
So if you’ve got two Syrian hammies, and they’re hopefully in different cages, they need to be far apart. Even if they’ve both got their own, private cage, they will know the other hamster’s there.
You see hamsters communicate with each other through pheromones. That means that your hammy will literally smell other hamsters’ feelings and emotions.
All hammies emit pheromones, as do we humans. Fear smells a certain way, heat a certain way, playfulness a certain way, and so on. Hamsters use that to communicate with eachother.
However since Syrians are solitary animals, smelling another hamster will make them continuously irritated and territorial.
A Syrian hamster will mark his territory through the scent glands on his hips(big black dots under his fur), and this will annoy the other hammy.
He will see that as a sort of threat, and mark his territory, which will annoy the other hammy who will mark his and so on.
Case in point, don’t keep solitary hamsters close together, even if they’re in different cages.
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Keeping the hamster’s nose healthy
Hammies can develop different illnesses and diseases, like us humans. When it comes to noses both us and hammies need them to breathe, but they rely on their noses to ‘see’ the world too.
While a cold can just annoy a human, for a hamster that blocks a lot of signals he gets from his habitat.
So you can do the following to make sure your hamster friend not only doesn’t get a cold, but keeps his nose safe and clean.
Keep the temperature in the room between 20-23 C/ 68-78 F
Hamsters are very sensitive to temperature, and can catch colds quite easily. So, you should keep the hamster’s room at an even temperature like described above.
A temperature lower than that can weaken the hamster’s immune system and welcome in a cold, which will impair his sense of smell.
A much much lower temperature that that will set in a hypothermic shock, which can be lethal to the hamster.
Do not leave anything sharp or rough in the cage
Hammies can’t see very well, but they can distinguish what’s directly in front of them. Still, they can be a bit clumsy, and it’s your job as a responsible pet owner so make sure your hammy is safe in his cage.
This means that pieces of toys or the hideout or the wheel that might stick out and be extra sharp, should be removed. The same goes for wooden objects, which maybe have certain very rough corners.
Make sure those wooden objects are sanded down properly, so your hammy doesn’t have tiny razors to nick himself on.
That being said, be sure to check everything, since I found a bit of dried pain in my Teddy’s wheel that I had to chip off, or it would’ve been like a nail for him to step on.
Clean your hands before handling the hamster
Another reason to clean your hands before handling your hamster, aside from the scent, is possible bacteria. Hamsters do have an immune system, but they’re very small creatures. They can’t withstand most infections and a stray bacteria or virus can be lethal to them.
Best to make sure your hands are as clean as possible before you touch your hamster, or handle his food, or do anything with his habitat.
Keep dust away from your hamster
Hammies have very sensitive noses, and as such can develop lung problems easier than us humans. This means keeping your hamster away from any dust or dusty surfaces is mandatory.
For example if you’ve got an exercise ball for your hamster, make sure the floor you let him roam on is clean, and has no debris or dust. The dust and debris will end up in the hamster’s ball, where he will breather them in. Never a good thing.
The same goes for toys and a new cage, or anything really. A quick wipedown or cleaning will do the trick, even if it’s a bit of a hassle.
The cage Teddy currently has was absolutely dirty and dusty when we got it, given how it was stored in the back of the shop. We gave it a thorough cleaning in the shower, dried it down, and it was great for use
Only use safe bedding for the hamster
The bedding you give your hamster is like the drapes and carpet in your room. If they smell funny, you won’t feel alright, and they probably need changing.
Wood shavings are what hammies usually get as bedding, and it’s a very good idea. Just make sure they’re not dusty, since wood shavings are made in the same place as sawdust.
So, the bags can sometimes have a bit of dust in them, make sure you check for that.
Also make sure you do not give your hamster pine wood shavings. Pine wood has phenols that are harmful for your hamster in large quantities. When it’s spread all over the cage as a bedding the hamster will have no option but to breathe them in.
A word from Teddy
I hope you found out more about us hammies’ sense of smell. We’re pretty good at it, and we can figure out lots of things with our tiny noses. In the wild we use our noses to find out food over vast territories !
If you want to know more about us hamsters you can check out the articles below, so you know how to best care for us and keep us safe.