General Rules for Taming Hamsters
To make handling and taming easier, there are a few simple rules to follow to make sure your hamster is not stressed before you start handling your hamster:
- when you bring home a new hamster, give it a week or so to just get used to its new home and surroundings before you try to do much handling.
- make sure your hamster has a nice, good-sized cage and the other necessities for stress-free housing.
- place you hamster's cage in a location where your hamster will be around people, but not disturbed by excess noise, harrassment from other pets, or other distractions (especially during the day when hamsters are mostly sleeping).
- don't disturb or try to handle your hamster during the day when it is sleeping, especially at the beginning. Work on taming and handling only after the hamster has emerged from his or her nest on his own -- waking up a hamster is a fairly sure way to make him or her defensive and grumpy!
Taming requires time and patience. Don't rush through the steps, and take time to get to know your hamster and respond to its cues. The key here is to earn your hamsters trust so your hamster can be sure that he or she has no reason to be afraid of you. Remember if you push your hamster too far, too fast, your hamster will be stressed, and it will actually be harder to earn your hamsters trust. Be sure your hamster is not stressed by any of these steps before moving on to the next one:
- Step one: allow your hamster time to become comfortable in his or her new environment. Signs include your hamster eating, drinking, and playing when you are present.
- Step two: spending more time around your hamster's cage and quietly talk to the hamster to get it used to your voice. Don't know what to say? Try reading a book out loud or singing softly to your hamster!
- Step three: offer some favorite treats (try sunflower seeds, or bits of raisin or other dried fruits) by hand. Start by offering treats through the bars of the cage (if you have a wire cage, otherwise just offer them right at the edge of the cage door), and once your hamster scurries over for treats, try putting your hand just inside the cage. Don't try to touch your hamster -- let your hamster come over to explore your hand.
- Step four: place the treat on your open hand inside the cage, so that your hamster has to reach onto your hand, and perhaps place a paw or two onto your hand to get the treat. Again, don't force the issue -- let your hamster come to you.
- Step five: place the treat so that your hamster has to climb on your hand to get the treat. Once your hamster is bravely doing this (and only then) try to gently scoop up your hamster and lift him or her up. The first few times your hamster will likely jump right off, but just be gentle and persistent, and eventually your hamster will realize your hands are safe.
How to Pick Up a Hamster
The best way to pick up a hamster is cupped in the palm of your hand with the other hand over its back to prevent it jumping off your hand (and possibly getting injured). Especially at first, it is best to hold your hamster just above your lap or some other soft surface in case it falls or jumps. As your hamster gets more comfortable, let him or her crawl from hand to hand and over your arms. You can continue to offer treats, though your hamster may not be as interested in treats where there are more interesting things to see and explore.
Picking Up a Hamster That Isn't Tame
There may be a time you need to pick up a hamster that isn't hand tamed yet, especially when it is time to clean the cage. If you need to pick up an hamster that isn't yet tame place a cup (or cardboard tube with paper stuffed in one end to close it off) on its side in front of the hamster, and gently herd the hamster into the cup (or tube), which can be used to carry the hamster. Out of curiosity many hamsters will walk right into the cup.
Gloves or a thick towel can be used if you must pick up a hamster that bites and the cup method isn't working. The problems is that this can be really stressful and cause your hamster to resist handling even more. If it is necessary to use this method, take extra care to be as gentle as possible.
Tip: if you need to clean the cage of a hamster that isn't tame, or want to have an untamed hamster out of the cage for exercise, try a clean, dry bathtub. Make sure the drain is plugged, and close the bathroom door and the toilet lid (just in case your hamster is a super jumper, but most hamsters can't get out of a tub). Place the hamster's cage in the tub, open the door and let the hamster come out to explore (this won't work if you use an aquarium). Use treats to entice your hamster out, if necessary. Once your hamster is out, take the cage out of the tub to clean it, then put the cleaned cage back in the tub with the door open, and use treats to entice your hamster to get back in.
Some people will even sit in the empty bathtub with their hamster to get it used to their presence - you could add this into the steps I've given above once you get to step four or five. Just remember to let your hamster come to you, don't try to force the issue.