How often should you hold a hamster?
This year has flown by and I cannot believe that our little Syrian hamster, Oscar, is about to turn one (yes, the kids are planning on throwing an extravagant party in his honour…well it’s a good excuse for cake)! Time ticks by so quickly and with the kids busy at kindergarten, in school and enjoying a host of other activities, there are days when poor little Oscar gets no reprieve from his cage. This has led me to wonder how much time we should set aside for handling our hamsters.
The amount of time your hamster needs to be held really depends on how hand tame your hamster is. If your hamster is happy to be handled outside of their cage, then we would recommend doing this at least once a day, for as long as your hamster is enjoying it.
Hamsters are skittish animals and can be incredibly fast. So even if you want to give them a cuddle, chances are that after a few minutes of attention, they will be darting around your floor looking for somewhere new to explore.
Do hamsters like being handled?
We find that Oscar often let us know when he does and doesn’t want to come out of his cage. As hamsters are nocturnal, it is normally at dusk that he will rouse from his bed and start trying to climb the sides of his bin cage. Failing that he will climb to the highest point and stand with his paws outstretched, waiting to be lifted out. If, however, he is not keen on being handled, then he will dart away to his hamster hideout.
Hamsters, in general, like to be petted. That does not mean, however, that we should be cuddling them all the time, and of course, handling them does come with certain conditions.
Hamsters are small pets with very poor eyesight, so can get easily scared by the sight of splayed fingers coming to clasp them. Although most hamsters, once tame, enjoy time away from their cage, we should take care that we handle them correctly.
Allow your hamster to come to you when they want to come out rather than swooping in to grab them. Remember that hamsters are small, delicate creatures that can easily be injured. You should pet your hamster gently with your index and middle finger in a downward motion across their back. Make sure you use gentle strokes rather than sudden movements.
- You will know if your hamster enjoys being handled as they will display signs of happiness. These include
- Relaxing their facial features, closing their eyes and twitching their noses in gratitude towards you
- Nestling into you for more affection
- Falling asleep in your hands or lap
- Stopping to wash unperturbed by your presence
Likewise, they will display very obvious signs if they are not wanting to be handled. These include:
- Hissing or squeaking at you
- Biting or nipping
- Squirming to get away
- Jumping out of your hands
How to handle a hamster
When handling your hamster, it is essential that you do it in a safe manner, being careful not to drop them. We have had an instance where Oscar got scared and leapt from our hands. Fortunately for us, he was unharmed but in order to ensure that your hamster continues to enjoy being handled (especially by children) you should always:
- Cup or cradle them in both hands
- Do not walk around when carrying them
- Reassure your hamster that they are safe with soothing words and gentle strokes
- Avoid cuddling or squeezing them too tightly
- Watch for any signs that they have had enough handling time
Daily activities for hamsters
It is important that your hamster enjoys daily exercise and play outside of their cage in order for them to be happy and healthy. Although handling them is a bonding experience for both of you, your hamster is likely to become bored within a few minutes if they confined to your hands.
Therefore, you should consider other ways to stimulate your hamster when outside of their habitat. This could be within an exercise ball, a large playpen, bathtub or, if space allows, a hamster proof area where they can enjoy the freedom of running around.
This open area or room should be hamster proof, with no gaps to escape or cables and wires to chew through. Most importantly, you should always keep a watchful eye on where your hamster roams.
Although Syrian hamsters are ok if they are left alone without handling for a short number of days, other species, such as dwarf hamsters, need playing with daily and if left alone for a few weeks or more can be become undomesticated quite quickly.
Just like all pets, hamsters need looking after, plenty of love and lots of attention. They need breaks from their confined cages every single day in order to run around and spend time with you.
If you don’t hold your hamster regularly and continue to get them used to being held, then you could face some painful consequences in the long term.