It can be very upsetting when your little hamster bites you, especially if you had high hopes that you were going to be the best of friends. It can be really distressing (and painful) for children. Whilst a hamster bite is unlikely to cause a major injury, they have a strong nip that can draw blood and hurt a child’s soft skin.
If your hamster has just given a member of your family a bite, do not panic. This does not mean that you have a hamster that you will never be able to handle. It also does not indicate that you have an aggressive individual on your hands! Remember that, in the wild, hamsters are pretty defenseless when attacked and their teeth are their only weapon. When they feel frightened or threatened, their instinct will take over. You just have to convince them that you are a friend and not an enemy.
Hamsters can ‘unlearn’ biting. Once you understand why your little pet has acted in this way, it is quite easy to do something about it.
Don’t Try to Handle Them at the Wrong Time
There are two times when you should not attempt to handle your hamster. The first is when you bring them home for the first time. They will be nervous about their new home. Don’t attempt to handle them for a few days; some need up to a week before they feel at home. They will spend this time scenting their cage and that makes them feel less threatened.
The second, is when they are asleep. If you startle them, they can turn around and nip you very quickly. They tend to be at their most inquisitive in the evenings so this may be the best time to attempt to hold them for the first time.
Make Sure You Smell Right!
Hamsters don’t have great eyesight but they do have a fantastic sense of smell. If you smell like food, they will try to eat you. If you smell like another hamster, they may try to attack you.
Some hamsters, especially Syrian hamsters can be very territorial. So, wash your hands in a non-perfumed soap before you attempt to touch your hamster.
Get Them Used to Your Hands Being in the Cage
There are two approaches to getting your hamster used to being handled and to stop them from biting. What works with one hamster, may not work with another so be prepared to give both a try.
The first approach involves you putting your hands in the hamster’s cage. Don’t rush in and try to scoop them up because this can scare them. Instead, rub some of the bedding on your hand so your scent merges with theirs. Leave your hand in the cage and allow them to come to you. You have to be patient. Your hamster may not want to come to you straight away. Keep doing this every day for a week or so and they will soon get used to you and will come over to investigate.
Get Them Used to Your Smell
The second approach involves getting your hamster out of their cage. You can do this by using a plastic scoop but make sure that it has no sharp edges. Place your hamster on your bed or on your sofa. These will smell strongly of your scent and your hamster will learn what you smell like. Let your little pal wander around and if they get near the edge, nudge them back on with the back of your hand. They will not be able to bite that because it is a flat surface. Do this for 10 minutes every day.
Use Hamster Treats
Hamsters love tasty treats like small bits of carrot and cucumber. Feed your hamster out of your hand but keep your fingers out of the way because they cannot tell a finger from treat!
They will soon learn to associate you with the nice things in life and will stop being scared of you. However, don’t overdo it. Too many fresh vegetables can cause your little friend to get a stomach upset or even ‘wet tail’ which is very serious for hamsters.
If you want your hamster to not bite you, you have to be consistent. You must hold them every day. Only by doing this will they get used to your scent. They need to trust that you will not do them harm and that takes patience and perseverance.
They will get it in the end!
Hold Them Correctly
The correct way to hold a hamster is to cup them in the palm of your hand. They don’t tend to like having pressure on their backs so try not to grab them from the top. The best approach is to scoop them up using two hands. It’s best to do this from the front as they don’t like to be surprised from behind.
Some people put gloves on because they are so nervous about being bitten. However, these are going to smell quite strange to your little hamster and can make them even more scared.
Start off by holding them for very short periods and build up. Most hamsters eventually love being picked up and will actively crawl only your hands when you open their cage. If they look like they are about to bite you, blowing gently in their face will distract them.
What to do if Your Hamster Bites You
Don’t panic and don’t overreact. Remember that it is just a natural reaction and they mean no harm. It’s not personal! Don’t yell, don’t drop the hamster and don’t attempt to punish it in any way. This does not work and makes your pet more likely to bite you again.
Calmly put them back in their cage and deal with your wound. It needs to be cleaned with warm water and an antibacterial lotion.
- Kristen Hall-Geisler, Hamsters Aren’t Jerks. Here’s How to Stop Them From Biting, HowStuffWorks