Handling a pet is one of the joys of having them but not all pets, like some new hamsters, enjoy being handled right away. Some hamsters need to be tamed before you can safely hold them. Thankfully there are a few tried and true steps you can take to get your hamster in your hands in no time at all.
Rules for Taming Hamsters
To make handling and taming easier, there are a few simple rules to follow to make sure your hamster is not stressed before you begin the training process.
- When you bring home a new hamster, give them a week or so to adjust to their new home and surroundings before you try to do much handling.
- Make sure your hamster has a good-sized cage and the other necessities for stress-free housing.
- Place your hamster's cage in a location where they will be around people but not disturbed by excess noise, other pets, and other distractions (especially during the day when hamsters do most of their sleeping).
- Don't disturb or try to handle your hamster during the day when they are sleeping. Work on taming and handling them only after they have emerged from their nest on their own. Waking a sleeping hamster is a fairly certain way to make them defensive and grumpy!
Steps to Taming a Hamster
Taming a hamster requires time and patience. Don't rush through the steps and take the time to get to know your hamster and respond to their cues. The key here is to earn your hamster's trust so they can learn that there is no reason to be afraid of you. Remember, if you push your hamster too far, too fast, your hamster will be stressed and it will be harder to gain their trust. Be sure your hamster is not stressed by any of these steps before moving on to the next one.
- Step 1: Allow your hamster time to become comfortable in their new environment. Signs of a relaxed hamster are that they are eating, drinking, and playing when you are present.
- Step 2: Spend more time around your hamster's cage and quietly talk to them to get them used to your voice. If you don't know what to say, try reading a book out loud or singing softly to them!
- Step 3: Offer some favorite treats (try sunflower seeds, bits of raisin, or other dried fruits) to your hamster from your hand. Start by offering treats through the bars of the cage (if you have a wire cage, otherwise just offer them right at the edge of the cage door) and once your hamster scurries over for the treats try putting your hand just inside the cage. Don't try to touch your hamster but rather let your hamster come over to explore your hand.
- Step 4: Place the treat on your open hand inside the cage so that your hamster has to take the treat off of your hand (and perhaps place a paw or two onto your hand to get the treat). Again, don't force this but let your hamster come to you.
- Step 5: Place the treat on your hand so that your hamster has to climb on to it to get it. Once your hamster is bravely doing this (and only then), try to gently and slowly scoop them up. The first few times your hamster will likely jump right out of your hands but just be gentle and persistent and eventually, your hamster will realize your hands are safe.
The time between steps varies, especially depending on the age of the hamster and your hamster's personality. Your hamster may quickly accept being picked up, take treats from your hand, etc., or they may take a month or more to be relaxed enough to do so.
How to Pick Up a Hamster
The best way to pick up a hamster is cupped in the palm of your hand with the other hand over their back. It is best to begin picking your hamster up just above your lap or some other soft surface in case they fall or jump. As your hamster gets more comfortable, let them crawl from one of your hands to the other and over your arms. You can continue to offer treats, though your hamster may not be as interested in treats when there are more interesting things to see and explore.
Picking Up a Hamster That Isn't Tame
There may be a time you need to pick up a hamster that hasn't been tamed yet, such as to clean their cage. To do this, place a cup (or cardboard tube with paper stuffed in one end to close it off) on its side in front of the hamster and gently herd them into the cup (or tube) to carry them. Most hamsters will walk right into the cup out of curiosity.
Gloves or a thick towel can be used if you must pick up a hamster that bites and for one that the cup method hasn't worked. This can be really stressful and cause your hamster to resist handling even more, therefore, if it is necessary to use this method, take extra care to be as gentle as possible.
Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT