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Home > Hamsters > How Intelligent Are Hamsters? Our Vet Explains the Science

How Intelligent Are Hamsters? Our Vet Explains the Science

Funny little white hamster sitting on a chair in the kitchen_szymon kaczmarcyzk_shutterstock

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Dr. Luqman Javed Photo

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Dr. Luqman Javed

Veterinarian, DVM

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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It’s easy to dismiss the intelligence of small rodents. After all, how can such a little body have such big thoughts? Well, this species is one of great capabilities, small but mighty.

Hamster owners won’t be surprised to discover that hamsters do have some intelligence feats but are mostly instinct-driven. But just how smart are hamsters? Let’s ask science.


The Hamster Brain

The average weight of a hamster’s brain is around 1.4 grams (roughly 0.05 ounces). Though very small in size, the structure of a hamster’s forebrain is similar to those of other mammals. They possess frontal, lateral, and occipital lobes. They also possess a cerebellum. However, their brain possesses some features that are slightly different from those of other mammals 1.

Nonetheless, these features do not offer them any unique intelligence feats, nor do they seem to hinder their intelligence. Their brain’s metabolism is affected by their hibernation status 2.

Hamsters are not as extensively studied in cognitive psychology and behavior as other rodents are 3; other rodents (such as rats) have achieved more impressive intelligence feats in tests (such as learning how to solve puzzles, navigate mazes, and learn actions that lead to a reward in the form of a treat). Whether or not hamsters can also replicate these results is unclear due to the lack of research on their intelligence.

syrian hamster playing
Image Credit: Johannes Menge, Shutterstock

The 4 Fun Facts About Hamster Intelligence

1. Hamsters Can Recognize Other Hamsters

Hamsters are able to recognize other hamsters, as demonstrated by research 4 5. This allows them to avoid confrontation and interact with hamsters that border their territories.

2. Hand-Taming Hamsters Modifies Their Behavior

Hamsters that are hand-tamed tend to respond more favorably to strangers in their enclosure. Though they may still naturally fight a stranger, they seem to do so with less intensity if they’re used to human handling 6.

3. Different Species May Have Different Learning Abilities

Even with the same genus, differences of intelligence and learning ability are noted in some hamster species. It seems that the level of activity a hamster has seems to influence their intelligence. More active hamsters seem to be less responsive to learning than those that are relatively placid and tame 7.

4. Smell Is a Hamster’s Strongest Sense

Because hamsters are excellent foragers that work on their own, they must have an impeccable sense of smell. This serves them well in the wild, providing the base of their survival. So don’t be surprised when your hamster can sniff out anything.

Try hiding treats and goodies around the room and let your hamster go on a scavenger hunt. You’ll be surprised how quickly they can uncover yummy hamster-approved items.

dsungarian dwarf hamster with seeds_Robirensi_Shutterstock


What Is the IQ of a Hamster?

The exact IQ of a hamster is unknown. There need to be more studies conducted to give an accurate measurement of hamsters’ intelligence. To date, hamsters have been used to study human diseases, but their application for intelligence studies is limited.

Hamsters aren’t the most intelligent rodents. Mice, rats, and a few others are thought to trump them. However, this is likely because animals like mice are more suitable for cognition studies, as their brain chemistry is more similar to humans than that of hamsters. They are also more sociable and can be housed together for being used for studies.

Syrian hamster peeking
Image Credit: Mary Swift, Shutterstock

Can You Train Your Hamster?

Most hamster owners will not be surprised to know that you can absolutely train your hamster. The intricacy involved in training will depend on you. Some hamsters will also be more motivated than others to learn things. This is largely due to the amount of interaction they’d had as juveniles.



While hamsters don’t have an exact IQ measurable by science quite yet, we know that they are very instinct-driven creatures. Studies on their cognitive abilities are limited; however, they do seem to have the basic models of intelligence that other mammals possess.

These tiny rodents seem to have enough intelligence to suit their needs though!

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Featured Image Credit: Szymon Kaczmarczyk, Shutterstock

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