Ross, A. P., Norvelle, A., Choi, D. C. et al. 2017. Social housing and social isolation: Impact on stress indices and energy balance in male and female Syrian hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus). Physiology & Behavior 177, 264-269.
Although Syrian hamsters are thought to be naturally solitary, recent evidence from our laboratory demonstrates that hamsters may actually prefer social contact. Hamsters increase their preference for a location associated with an agonistic encounter regardless of whether they have “won” or “lost”. It has also been reported that social housing as well as exposure to intermittent social defeat or to a brief footshock stressor increase food intake and body mass in hamsters. By contrast, it has also been suggested that housing hamsters in social isolation causes anxiety-induced anorexia and reductions in body mass selectively in females. The purpose of this study was to determine the physiological consequences of housing hamsters in social isolation versus in social groups. Male and female hamsters were housed singly or in stable groups of 5 for 4 weeks after which they were weighed and trunk blood was collected. In addition, fat pads and thymus and adrenal glands were extracted and weighed. Serum and fecal cortisol were measured using an enzyme-linked immunoassay. Housing condition had no effect on serum or fecal cortisol, but socially housed hamsters displayed modest thymus gland involution. Socially housed females weighed more than did any other group, and socially housed females and males had more fat than did socially isolated hamsters. No wounding or tissue damage occurred in grouped hamsters. Overall, these data suggest that Syrian hamsters tolerate both stable social housing and social isolation in the laboratory although social housing is associated with some alteration in stress-related and bioenergetic measures.