Like any animal, hamsters can be unpredictable and should always be handled with care. Even the tamest hamster could be provoked into biting if they become scared, stressed or are struggling whilst in your hands.
If your hamster bites, it does not mean that it is aggressive by nature, and it is possible to train them out of the habit. There are several things that you can do when handling your hamster such as washing your hands, wearing gloves and offering treats for good behavior, which will all help to prevent painful bites.
Take a look at my suggestions below.
Why does my hamster bite?
Before I talk about training your hamster not to bite, it is important to understand why they might bite.
Hamsters are quite docile by nature and enjoy being cuddled and cared for. However, there may be instances when your hamster feels frightened, shocked or anxious, and this may cause your hamster to bite.
If your hamster is new and has not been handled yet, then they are going to need to give it time to settle in before they find their paws in their new surroundings. Give them space and time to adapt before attempting to tame your hamster.
Remember that hamsters have very poor eyesight, so it is important that you approach them gradually, so as not to startle them and let them gradually sniff out your familiar scent. If you have been touching food, I would suggest that you wash your hands thoroughly before playing with them, as you do not want your fingers mistaken for some form of food source.
Just like a sleeping baby, it is important that you never wake a hamster as this could shock them, and they may react by biting you. This especially applies to smaller children who are always eager to play with their new furry friend during the day and do not understand that they are most active at night. They are also prone to ‘over cuddling’, and it is important that your hamster is handled gently and never squeezed. For this reason, I would always ensure that your child is supervised when handling your hamster.
Taming a hamster not to bite
In order to train a hamster not to bite, it is important that you are sensitive to its care and well-being.
To start with, your hamster will be unused to any form of human interaction, so you will need to start handling them. Never rush the taming process – the slower you take it, the more receptive your hamster is likely to be. Let them take the lead as to when and how they want you to be held and remember not to sneak up on them, wake them up or speak loudly whilst in their space. You may encounter a few nippy moments but after a few weeks, your hamster should start to feel at ease in your company.
If, however, after a few months you are still fending off attacks or your once placid hamster has suddenly turned aggressive, I would strongly advise trying the following tips.
- Washing your hands with unscented soap before handling. Perfumed soaps can leave a residue smell and may even encourage biting – especially if it is sweet such as vanilla or fruit based. Therefore, I would suggest using something that is scent-free.
- Never approach your hamster from above or behind as these are their blind spots and you are likely to startle them. Always approach them from the front, where they can clearly see you.
- Wear thick gloves and stroke with the back of your hand. This makes the surface harder for a hamster to grip than a nice chunky knuckle.
- If your hamster is cage territorial (this is often the case with Dwarf hamsters), try and encourage them to leave the area rather than placing your hands in it. As hamsters grow, their cage may become too small for them, so consider upgrading their living space – trust me they will thank you for it in the long run.
- Hamsters can pick up on tension or become stressed when ill, if you move to a new house, get a new pet or switch cages. It is always worth keeping an eye on your hamster when environmental changes occur, however, if your hamster is showing signs of something more sinister then I strongly advise that you take it to a vet.
- Some pets are prone to nipping – especially if something has happened in their past. Try and work around this so that they still get some form of interaction, especially if they are solitary breeds such as Syrian hamsters as they will still rely on you for company. Use a cup or tube to get them out and remember to wear sturdy gloves.
- Use treats as rewards. Just like children, hamsters are receptive to bribery. If you give your hamster nuts, seeds or fruit when they display good behavior, they will soon associate handling with a rewarding experience and be less inclined to nip.
- Confidence is key. If you show your hamster that you are not afraid of it, regardless of what it does, eventually it will stop trying to attack.
What happens when a hamster bites you?
Although hamsters may look cute and cuddly, don’t be fooled as they actually have rather large teeth, that once sunken into the skin can really hurt.
The good news is that caged hamsters are unlikely to carry any diseases, so the chances of picking up an infection are incredibly low. If you have had the unfortunate experience of having a hamster dangle from your finger though, I would suggest cleaning the wound thoroughly with soap and water before adding some antibacterial gel. It is important to check the wound regularly to ensure that it is healing and that there are no obvious signs of infection.
What to do if your hamster bites you
If you do find yourself in the rather painful position of handling a hamster that nips, then try to stay calm. Easier said than done I know with a hamster ferociously gnawing on your finger, but do try to: –
- Lower it gently back into the cage. The temptation may be to shake your hamster in order to get it to release its grip, but chances are it is terrified. By placing it carefully back into familiar territory should sort out the issue.
- Resist the temptation to yell and scream as this will only scare your hamster more and could make it more prone to bite you again.