Pet hamsters run about constantly at night because they are nocturnal--they sleep during the day and are active at night. This behaviour can be annoying to humans who prefer peace and quiet at night. Still, there are many things hamster owners can do to help their hamsters keep the racket down at night.
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Syrian or golden hamsters have been kept as laboratory animals and pets since only 1930, according to the BBC. The other species--the Russian or Campbell's dwarf, the winter white dwarf, the Chinese dwarf and the Roborovski or "Robo"--have only been kept as pets since the 1970s. This is not enough time for any of the species, including the Syrian, to drastically change their behaviour.
Hamsters evolved in deserts and needed to be nocturnal to avoid predators and the heat. Night is also the best time to search for extra food that can be stored for winter or times of little food. According to the BBC documentary "Wild China", the smallest species of hamster, the Roborovski, runs "the human equivalent of four marathons every night." Pet hamsters still have this powerful instinct to search for food, which means they want to run about all night to get this need fulfilled.
Anyone about to buy or adopt a hamster must be aware that they need to be active at night. All interactions and training can take place from sundown, when the hamster wakes up. Because hamsters are nocturnal, they have poor eyesight. A sleeping hamster will automatically bite if touched. Disturbing his sleep can cause the hamster to become stressed, which can predispose it to getting ill, according to "Training Your Pet Hamster."
To prevent the hamster from making disagreeable noises when it runs about all night, be sure to give him hamster toys, places to tunnel and climb as well as 10 to 15 minutes outside of the cage in a toy like a hamster ball. Roborovski hamsters are too small and shy to be handled or to use a hamster ball. They need large cages and wheels built specifically for dwarf hamsters to burn up their energy. Larger hamster species also need wheels and at least one inch of bedding to dig.
The instinct to run all night and find food to place in storage is so strong in hamsters that they will try to escape a cage. Always watch a hamster when it is first in a cage to be sure it can't slip through the bars. Use cages with latches that the hamster cannot open. Use clips or weights on wire mesh lids, because hamsters have been known to push the lids off. Never leave a hamster cage door open. Check cages regularly for holes due to constant chewing.
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