The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.
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There are many different kinds of pets that you can choose to bring into your home that don’t require the same type of life-altering dedication that cats and dogs require.
For instance, there are small rodents that you can adopt, and while they still need dedication and care, this can be confined to a single room of your house, making them a perfect solution for people who cannot risk having animals wander around a house unmonitored.
Hamsters are enjoyable and amusing animals to take in, as they have a considerable amount of personality packed into their little bodies. However, because they are not as common as cats or dogs, this means that you have to take some time to do some research on the best ways to care for a hamster.
No matter how much research you do, there may come a time when you aren’t sure how you should handle a situation with your hamster. For example, you might notice that your hamster is especially prone to biting you, and most people don’t appreciate being bitten.
To get your hamster to stop biting you, you first have to understand why most hamsters will bite you, and from there, you can learn about what those reasons for biting you will be.
Once you know why your hamster might be inclined to bite you, you can work on adjusting the situation to eliminate that desire in your hamster.
One thing to keep in mind when owning a hamster is that even in a trained hamster, the occasional bite is inevitable. If this is something that you are not comfortable with, a hamster may not be the best pet for you as all hamsters can, and will, bite, especially if you don’t go through the process of helping your hamster get used to your presence.
Why Do Hamsters Bite in the First Place?
Hamsters, as you know, are incredibly tiny animals. In the wild, they are almost exclusively prey animals at the bottom of the food chain, meaning that this prey mindset is hardwired into their little brains.
In addition to this, hamsters have poor eyesight. They get around predominantly through smell.
With these facts in mind, think about it from your hamster’s point of view. Imagine a hand several times larger than you reaching down from outside your world and trying to touch you or even lift you off the ground, and you have the mindset of knowing that most other creatures that interact with you want to hunt you for prey.
The only method of defending itself a hamster has is its teeth, and in such a terrifying situation, it uses that defense, leading to the biting. Hamsters bite out of fear and out of defensiveness, no matter what the situation is.
If your hamster hasn’t gotten accustomed to your scent yet, then you are a strange and unfamiliar creature trying to handle the prey animal, so it would naturally want to bite you. If the hamster is used to you, but you tried to pick it up while it was sleeping, it may not recognize you at first through sight and bite you out of momentary fear.
If your hamster is in pain, either from illness or injury, and you try to handle it, it may confuse this with an attack and again bite you out of defensiveness. If your hamster is simply naturally aggressive or hasn’t been properly trained not to bite, then it will see nothing wrong with continuing to use this method.
There are some situations when a hamster will bite you as a mistake. These situations usually come down to the hamster’s poor eyesight and not realizing that your hand is connected to the rest of you and not a strange new kind of food for it to consume.
Typically, a bite made from a curious and well-meaning hamster will be more of a nip before your hamster realizes that you are not food, while a bite made from a hamster trying to defend itself (whether rightly or wrongly) will be sharper and more painful as the hamster believes it is trying to protect its life.
Now that you understand why hamsters have a tendency to bite people so much, you can begin to work with your hamster to work on not biting you as much.
Again, the occasional nip or bite is to be expected when owning hamsters, but you can drastically reduce the frequency that this happens by showing your hamster that your hand is not something that it should be fearing.
Teaching Your Hamster Not to Bite You
The process of teaching a new hamster not to bite you can be a bit time-consuming, meaning that if your hamster is primarily for a younger member of the family, it is important for you to help them be patient and gentle with the hamster as it gets used to the new creatures that routinely invade its habitat.
The idea of teaching your new hamster to get used to you should take place over about a five-week period of time, with each week moving to a new level of handling the hamster as it also gets used to its environment.
The good news about hamsters being so small and simple animals is that they can adjust quickly to their new environments.
The first week should be dedicated to simply letting the hamster get used to you and its new home. You shouldn’t try to invade its space that much during this week, but rather, sit near its habitat, talk to the hamster, and generally let it get used to you.
The goal of this week is to get the hamster used to you, your smell, and your voice, as sound and smell are the primary ways your hamster will identify you through. If you need to pick the hamster up to clean its habitat, it’s optimal to wear gloves or use a medium to keep the hamster from touching your skin as it will fight for its life during this stage, since it hasn’t yet fully learned that you are safe.
The second week should be dedicated to introducing your hand to the hamster’s habitat. You will want to be patient, passive, and gentle during this, simply moving slowly and letting the hamster sniff your hand at its own pace.
The goal of this week is to simply show your hamster your hand, as it will soon become a regular presence in your hamster’s life. Do not actively try to touch the hamster yet, as it will still be fearful.
Instead, you should place your hand near the entrance of its habitat and let the hamster come over to your hand at its own pace and let it sniff and explore at its comfort.
The third week will involve the introduction of treats in addition to the hand to start with positive associations, much like you would do with dogs. At this stage of ownership, you should have a good sense of what treats your hamster prefers, and you should use the hamster’s favorite when interacting with it.
The goal of this week is to get your hamster to overcome the fear of the hand through use of the treats. Using the hamster’s favorite treat, you will want to offer the treats in the hand that you have been placing in the habitat for the past week, and while the hamster may be wary of you, the temptation of a treat should help it overcome that fear to accept you and your hand.
The fourth week will finally involve touching the hamster, though this may end up taking longer than a single week depending on your hamster’s temperament. Some hamsters take longer to adjust to the hand than others, and you should only move on to this step when your hamster comfortably takes treats from your hand.
The goal of this week is to be able to pet your hamster with minimal fear on its end of things. You will want to move slowly, not with a treat in your hand, and try and touch the hamster and pet it gently, and if all goes well, you can then progress to holding it, though this may also take longer than a week’s time.
The fifth and final week involves moving from petting the hamster to holding it in your arms. Again, it may take longer than a week to reach this stage as well, and you should only move forward with trying to hold your hamster when it accepts pets happily and without fear.
The goal of this week is to be able to hold the hamster without it freaking out. Once it accepts pets happily, you will want to present both of your hands to the hamster, and if it crawls onto them willingly, you can attempt to scoop it up and hold it in your arms, letting it down if it begins to get scared.
Over the course of these weeks, your hamster will familiarize itself with you and your hand, adjusting to the way that you move, the way you sound, and what you smell like, so that the next time you put your hand into its habitat, it’s far less likely to react defensively.
One thing to remember, especially during the earlier weeks, is to move slowly and deliberately, as fast and uncertain movements may scare the hamster, leading to bites.
Also remember that your hamster is not the brightest animal and its default response to things it doesn’t understand is going to be to bite. This is why you should never poke or prod a sleeping hamster, as it will be upset when it wakes up and likely confused as to why it was woken up, and if it sees your hand after being disturbed from its sleep, it may bite out of confusion and fear.
What Should You Do If Your Hamster Bites?
As mentioned earlier, a hamster biting you at some point during ownership is inevitable, especially during the earlier days. If you have never owned a small animal such as a hamster, you may not know what to do or how you should react.
The most important thing to keep in mind if your hamster bites you is to never, under any circumstances, overreact to the bite. Jerky movements, loud noises, and punishment are all going to make your hamster even more scared of you, which makes it all the more likely to bite you again.
This is something that may be harder to teach to younger children and is one of the reasons why hamsters are not recommended for children younger than their tween years, as some young children may not be able to fully grasp that hamster bites are not signs of disliking them, but simply a sign that you have startled the hamster in some capacity.
First things first, when a hamster bites you, you should not try to pry or shake it off. While it won’t feel that good, you should wait for the hamster to release your hand and then remove it from the habitat in a way that won’t further spook the hamster.
You should not yell at the hamster, nor should you try to punish the hamster physically. Hamsters do not have the capacity to understand that what they did was wrong, and with the added fact that they bite out of defensiveness rather than aggression, they won’t understand not to do it again because to them, you were the one who intruded on them.
Punishments and yelling will only result in more fear and distrust, leading to the hamster biting you again if it smells you, as it will remember the negative emotions associated with the event. Hamster bites can sometimes come as a surprise, and as such, may mean that you yelp in pain because it was unexpected, and this should try to be minimized so as not to further scare the hamster.
If the hamster has clamped onto your hand, you will need to try and (gently) pry it off. Trying to shove it off may result in a worse bite wound, as their teeth are designed to pierce rather than scrape and will leave a bigger mark.
After you have removed the hamster from your hand, you should immediately wash the bitten hand with warm water and antibacterial soap and place a dressing over it. Indoor hamsters are not as prone to spreading disease as wild animals are, but the mouth of any creature is teeming with bacteria so animal bites need to be addressed with preventative measures.
Hamsters do have a small chance of transmitting diseases to people, though the chance is low with well cared for indoor hamsters. If you are immunocompromised or in any way susceptible to some of the diseases that a hamster can transfer, you need to consider whether or not this risk is worth keeping a hamster.
The most important thing to remember is that hamsters are not aggressive creatures by nature. If they bite you, it is because you have scared them in some capacity (which can happen, given the sheer size difference) or because they are injured and/or sick and feel the need to defend themselves.
When a Trained Hamster Bites You
For the most part, a fully trained hamster will not bite nearly as much as a new, untrained hamster will, so what does it mean when it does?
Usually, it will be one of two situations, where you have either scared the hamster enough that it felt biting was the best solution to the problem, or your hamster is feeling sick and has become more defensive because of it.
The most common reason why trained hamsters will bite after training is because of fear again. Even if you teach them that your hand is not something to fear, they are still prey creatures at heart and will resort to biting when they are stressed.
This can happen if the hamster didn’t see your hand before you touched it, if you tried to pet the hamster while it slept, if you are making loud noises or moving unusually, and so on.
Some nonmalicious types of biting may happen if your hamster accidentally mistakes your finger for a treat, which is why some hamster enthusiasts suggest washing your hands before handling the hamster to prevent a hamster smelling your hand and thinking it is a new treat to chew on.
The second reason is more unfortunate, as it may mean that your hamster is sick. Hamsters, being prey animals, will naturally try and hide illnesses from everyone around them, and they can do this so well that their owners may be fooled as well.
A sick hamster will present as one that is more aggressive or more lethargic than usual. It may change its eating habits, or it may have more obvious signs of sickness such as skin irritation, blisters, vomiting, diarrhea, or weight loss.
If your hamster that was previously successfully trained not to bite you begins biting you for seemingly no reason and is exhibiting other signs of sickness, then it may mean that your hamster needs to have a trip to the vet to rule out illness, and if it turns out that the hamster is actually sick, it can receive the appropriate treatment.
The final takeaway to note is that hamsters will inevitably bite you. It can be more worrying when hamsters bite you after they have been successfully taught not to do so, as it can be indicative of a larger problem.