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Help! My Hamster Bites - What Can I Do?

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Question: Help! My Hamster Bites - What Can I Do?
Hamsters that have not been handled much (and this includes a lot of hamsters sold at pet stores) 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. Unfortunately, they see people as a threat, and are just defending themselves; they are not being purposefully mean or aggressive.
Answer: The key to handling a hamster that bites is patience. You need to earn the trust of your hamster, and it is a gradual process. Do not be discouraged as it may take a month or even longer to win this trust. I've provided a general schedule of steps below, but please be flexible and adapt it to your hamster. If your hamster settles down and responds faster, you can shorten the time between steps, but if he/she is still fearful or aggressive at any step, go back a step and take a bit longer before progressing.

Week 1: Let Your Hamster Get Used to You.
Spend time sitting near the cage and talk to your hamster, in the evening when they are active. You can even read or sing to him or her. The idea is to let the 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 your 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 you hand inside its cage. Go slowly here too: 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 him or her sniff or explore your hand.

Week 3: Add Some Treats
By now, you might have figured out some of your hamsters favorite treats. Most like sunflower seeds, and while these should only be fed in moderation they can be a great training aid. Small bits of raisin or apple or other favorite treats can be used, but don't give too much of these at one time. Offer your hamster these goodies from the hand you put in the cage and eventually your hamster will likely come over to your hand to eat. Feeding your hamster from your hand will help gain its trust.

Week 4: Picking up Hamsters
Once your hamster is taking treats comfortably, you can start trying to gently pet your hamster. If your hamster accepts treats and allows you to touch him or her, try picking up your hamster. You might want to try enticing your hamster onto your hands with the treats. Then you can try scooping the hamster up with both hands: place one hand on either side of the hamster, and then bring your hands together under the belly of the hamster. Gently cup your hamster in your hands rather than tightly gripping over the back, as hamsters sometimes find pressure over their backs threatening at first. You will probably have to take the top off the cage to do this, so make sure you are working in an escape-proof area. Do not hold your hamster high off the ground in case he or she tries to jump out of your hands (first just try holding him just off the floor of his or her cage). Holding hamsters facing your body seems to make them less likely to try to jump out of your hands.

Tips and Hints

  • If you need to pick up your hamster (e.g. for cage cleaning) before he or she is tame, try using a dringing glass. Just use the open end of the glass to "herd" your hamster into a corner, then scoop him or her up gently and tip the glass upright.
  • If your hamster jumps out of your hands and gets away, and won't let you pick him or her up again, you can use the 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 you hands smell like food, your hamster (who has poor eyesight) 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 really help the taming process.
  • As much as bites hurt, try not to shake your hand to dislodge your hamster. Try to gently put the hamster back down, or use your other hand to pry the hamster off your hand. Do not scold or yell or hit your hamster: try to stay calm and remember your hamster is biting out of fear.

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