Our furkids are unable tell us when they’re in pain, so it is important for paw-rents to identify signs of discomfort and know when they’re unwell. Some of these symptoms can look cute, or even funny at times, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not an issue to be worried about. One good example is the ‘Stargaze’ of hammies.
A video of a hamster doing backward somersaults or backflips went viral with more than 1.5 million views since being posted December 2019. Many viewers found the hamster’s “gymnastic skills” amusing and funny.
Cute as it may seem, did you know this behaviour is actually a result of a neurological disorder called ‘stargazing’? ‘Stargazing’ is a disorder that causes hammies to stand on its hind legs, gaze upwards, and either flip over or fall on its back. This compulsive behaviour is often repeated and is involuntary, meaning that it is not within their control.
Other Symptoms Include:
* Compulsive Pacing: Constant pacing back and forth in the cage
* Running In Circles: Continuous running in circles, whereby it looks more like spinning on the spot, This is also referred to as "waltzing".
No one knows for sure what causes ‘stargazing’, but believed that genetics play a big part.
* Ear Infection
An ear infection can cause a head tilt, where the hamster’s head tilts to one side. An obvious sign is when the hamster tends to lose its balance and walk diagonally or in circles. An urgent visit to the vet is warranted—your hamster might need antibiotics.
* Growth On The Brain
If a tumour is growing in your hammy’s brain, it could cause it to act weirdly--spinning, walking in circles, and even back flipping. A veterinarian should be sought promptly.
* Inadequate Housing
Hammies in bare and small cages may display signs of compulsive pacing and circling due to stress and boredom. They are trying to compensate for the lack of mental stimulation in their environment with backward somersaults or backflips.
* Genetic Neurological Disorder
When these behaviours are caused by genetics, they will be displayed from a young age (two to three months old). Hamsters showing such behavioural symptoms shouldn't continue to be bred, even if the disorder doesn't seem severe.
There is no cure for hamsters that ‘stargaze’ because of genetics. Owners of these hammies agree that their furkids tend to be under immense stress, causing their behaviours to be more severe and regular. Affected hammies should lead a life that is as relaxed as possible. Here are some tips for paw-rents of furkids that ‘stargaze’:
* Instead of cleaning the entire cage, it would be better to clean the cage in sections so that the entire cage isn’t disturbed at once. If the whole cage has to be cleaned, it would be good to leave several handfuls of the old bedding and sprinkle it around the cleaned cage so that the home doesn't smell and feel completely foreign to your furkid.
* Keep the layout of the cage as consistent as possible, because a new environment will give the hammy unnecessary stress. While this wouldn't usually bother a hamster, even the slightest thing can trigger stress and excitement within a hammy that suffers from compulsive behaviours.
* Besides reducing stress, a large one level cage is encouraged so that the hammy has room to spin (or backflip) without the risk of falling or getting injured.
* A variety of toys and things to do in the cage can help to prevent boredom and divert their attention to reduce the frequency of their compulsive behaviours.
*The cage should be located where it there is minimal activity and noise.
* It would also be ideal to separate a hamster suffering from this disorder from the other hammies. The flipping or spinning can cause the other hammies to be stressed out and result in the affected hammy getting attacked by the rest, causing it to feel more stressed, thereby worsening its behaviour.