Even though they are thought of as ideal pets for kids, hamsters can and do bite if they are scared. Hamsters that have not been handled very much are usually not very tame and often bite if you try to pick them up. When dealing with these hamsters, it is most important to remember that they are biting because they are afraid though, not aggressive.
How to Handle a Biting Hamster
The key to handling a hamster that bites is patience. You need to earn the trust of your hamster and this is a slow and gradual process that is detailed in the steps that follow. Do not be discouraged though if it takes a month or even longer to gain the trust of your hamster. And if your hamster settles down and responds faster than expected you can shorten the time between the steps. If your hamster is still fearful at any step, go back to the previous step and spend a little more time working on that one.
- Week 1 - Let Your Hamster Get Used to You - In the evening when they are most active, spend time sitting near the cage and talking to your new hamster. You can read or even sing to them if you don't know what to say. The idea is to let your hamster adjust to your presence, especially your scent and your voice. Remember, moving to a new cage in new surroundings is very stressful and this period also gives your hamster a chance to adjust to life in their new home. At this point do not try to touch your hamster.
- Week 2 - Let Your Hamster Get Used to Your Hand - Now when you sit by the cage and talk to your hamster place your hand inside the cage. Move slowly - the first day, put your hand just inside the door or top of the cage and then each day after that you can put your hand in a little farther. Do not try to touch your hamster but if your hamster becomes curious let them sniff or explore your hand.
- Week 3 - Offer Your Hamster Treats - By now you might have discovered some of your hamster's favorite treats but if not try sunflower seeds, raisins and apples. While these treats should only be fed in moderation they can be a great training aids. Offer your hamster these goodies from the bare hand that you've been putting in their cage and eventually your hamster will likely come over to eat. Feeding your hamster from your hand will help gain their trust.
- Week 4 - Petting Your Hamster - Once your hamster is taking treats comfortably you can start trying to gently pet your hamster. If your hamster tolerates this you can quickly move on to the next step of picking up your hamster otherwise continue to be patient.
- Week 5 - Picking Up Your Hamster - If your hamster accepts treats and allows you to touch them try picking them up. You might want to try enticing your hamster onto your hands with the treats. Then you can try scooping them up with both your hands. Place one hand on either side of your hamster and then bring your hands together under their belly. Gently cup your hamster in your hands, rather than tightly gripping over their back, as hamsters sometimes find pressure over their backs to be threatening at first. Do not hold your hamster high off the ground in case they try to jump out of your hands. First, try holding them just off the floor of the cage and gradually lift them a little higher. Holding hamsters facing your body seems to make them less likely to try to jump out of your hands.
Over time your hamster will learn to see you as a source of treats and not be scared of you. You will need to be patient but in the end it will be worth it.
Tips For Handling Hamsters That Bite
- If you need to pick up your hamster (such as for cage cleaning) before they are tamed, try using a drinking glass. Use the open end of the glass to move your hamster into a corner then scoop them up gently and tip the glass upright.
- If your hamster jumps out of your hands and gets away and won't let you pick them up again, you can use a drinking glass or a thick towel to scoop your hamster back up and get him or her back to the cage.
- Wash your hands before trying to handle your hamster. If your hands smell like food your hamster might mistake your fingers for food.
- Sometimes people will use thick gloves for handling biting hamsters. This can be a good temporary solution to picking up a hamster that bites. However, it is still stressful for the hamster and the hamster doesn't get a chance to know your scent so it doesn't help the long term taming process.
- As much as bites hurt, try not to shake your hand to dislodge your hamster if they won't let go when they bite. Try to gently put your hamster back down or use your other hand to pry the hamster off your hand. Do not scold, yell, or hit your hamster. Try to stay calm and remember your hamster is biting out of fear, not because they are aggressive.
Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT