A biting hamster is never fun. For example my Teddy used to nip at my fingers when I first brought him. I figured out why he wanted to bite and how to stop him as well.
As it turns out, hamsters do a lot of things with their teeth, and half the time they have their teeth on you they’re not really biting.
So why is your hamster biting in the first place ?
Well, the short answer is that hamsters bite mostly when annoyed or scared. And they’re very easy to scare. That’s the most common reason, but a list of possible reasons could be:
- Your hamster is scared/irritated – hamsters get defensive real fast, and that often means biting or scratching
- The hamster could be hungry or you could be smelling of food
- He found an unfamiliar scent on you, or you might be a new person – he might bite strangers
- Your hamster might be a difficult hamster, or one that doesn’t like being handled at all
- He might be hurting and you’re touching that part of him
There are times when you might mistake a nibble for the beginning of a bite, draw your hand fast, thus scaring the hamster, and end up bitten anyway.
I’ve found this out with my Teddy when he was young, and I was trying to earn his trust. He still nips from time to time, since he is a hamster after all.
Hamsters are very curious things, and will want to explore everything. Since they can’t see very well, they’ll use their paws, nose and teeth to try everything out. Let’s talk about that for a bit, since it can often be mistaken for a bite.
Hamsters nibble and chew on everything – including you
This doesn’t mean you’re a snack for him, he knows that. It’s just that hamsters have very very poor eye sight. Just enough to see right in front of them, but not enough to tell distances or certain things apart.
So, hamsters use their ears, whiskers, paws and nose to figure out the things around them. This, combined with a natural curiosity will make them want to touch and feel everything. That means that your hamster will also try nibbling on things to get a feel for them.
Much like baby humans, actually. Except they never grow out of that phase. That, and the fact that a hamster’s front teeth never stop growing. Ever. So they need to always file them down on something, and that’s an instinct as well.
So the next time you feed your hammy from your hand, don’t be surprised if he starts inching towards the edge of your palm, or the crease of the palm. He’s naturally drawn there, and will try to chew on any ends and bits, even if they’re your fingers.
When this happens, draw your hand away slowly. Try to suppress your reflex since any quick movement will scare your hamster. And once you’ve scared him, he will definitely bite. So take your hand away gently and you hamster will leave it alone.
Until you present it to him again, since he is very curious, always. But draw your hand away gently, and he won’t bite.
Teddy: Us hamsters are a curious bunch, and we’ll want to try to get a feel of everything. Don’t make any sudden movements, we scare easily !
Reasons your hamster is biting – and what to do about them
These are things I’ve tried myself, and things I’ve discovered from talking to other hamster owners. Most of these can be managed easily enough.
Your hamster is scared or irritated
These are in fact the same thing, at their core. A scared hamster is an angry, jumpy hamster, so we want to avoid this as much as possible, for the hamster and for you as well.
For more info on why your hamster can get scared of you – or anything else, really – you should go here. It’s an article on exactly why your hamster might be scared, and what you can do to calm him down. Also, you find out how to avoid most of the reasons your hamster gets scared. Do take note that some hamsters are just too easy to scare, and that’s just their personality.
In short, any scared or irritated hamster should not be handled immediately. Give the furball some time to relax and calm down, speak to him softly. Talking to him helps a lot, but keep you voice low since hamsters have very sensitive hearing.
Using food and treats works as a way to get the hamster used to you, and he will calm down much faster with a peanut in his paws than not. Unsalted peanut, no peel.
Your hamster is hungry, or you’ve just handled food
This is very true, and something that is easy to forget. Like dogs, hamsters have very keen senses of smell. So if you’ve handled some food, wiped your hands on a towel, then went to pick up your hamster, he might bite.
This is because he can smell the food on your hands, and not figure out that it’s your hand, not a piece of chicken.
So wash your hands very well before handling your hamster. Use a soap that doesn’t have a strong smell, and avoid any fruity soaps. Make sure you get under the nails since some food particles might get stuck there, and your hamster might go straight for those.
And sometimes, your hamster might be very hungry in that particular moment, and you’ve chosen to handle him when he wanted to eat. So, never handle the hamster when he is eating, same as you would leave alone a dog or cat when they’re eating.
You might smell unfamiliar, or you’re a new person he just met
Most hamsters are skittish, they don’t trust very easily and get defensive fast. That’s normal when you take into account how many predators they have in the wild.
Now, if your hamster that you’ve had since forever and used to pick up easily, suddenly shies away or even bites your hand, there is a reason. What have you handled recently ? Another animal’s scent might have picked up on you, like a stray cat you played with, or the neighbor’s dog.
It might be on your clothes, not necessarily on your hand. Or, it could be a strong smell like citrus – winter time with orange and clementine peels, maybe. A strong perfume, or anything new your hamster doesn’t recognize.
My Teddy hates citrus oil and scrunches up his face whenever I peel an orange. Coffee grounds is again a scent he doesn’t like. I mean he gets close to the edge of the cage, gets a few whiffs, then makes the most disgusted face. He always does that, even if he’s smelled my coffee every morning. Maybe I make terrible coffee, who knows.
As with the food on your hands, make sure you wash your hands before handling your hamster. And if you’ve got any heavily scented clothes on you, consider changing out of them.
But what if you’re a new person, and you don’t know the hamster ?
That’s a whole other story, and the hamster will not want to be around you at first.
Most hamsters are distrustful, so you should not try to touch them right after seeing them for the first time. A very clear example was when a neighbor came with his daughter to see the hamster. The little girl is blind, so she needs to see with her hands.
But since Teddy never met her, and I didn’t know better, and she tried to ouch him, Teddy started squeaking and tried to catch one of her fingers. I had him in my hands, and got him away fast enough.
No one ended up bitten, but I learned a very important lesson that day. Strangers need to be introduced slowly, and the hamster will take a few encounters to accept someone new.
So if you’re meeting a new hamster for the first time, first let him smell your hand through the cage. Then, feed him a bit of food through the cage.
After a few tries, or better after a couple of days, you can then try to place your hand inside the cage, with a bit of food on it, to encourage him to touch your hand.
Your hamster might be difficult to handle
Some hamsters just don’t like being handled, no matter how much time or effort you put in. That’s just their personality, and there’s not much you can do about it.
If you do find yourself with a difficult hamster, still try to be nice to him. Try finding his limit, and don’t cross it. If he will eat from your hand, but absolutely will not climb onto your hand or let you pick him up, then stop.
That’s where his comfort ends, and there’s no point in pushing him any further. He may be your pet, but there are certain limits you both have.
If your hamster is exceptionally difficult, try going to your local vet. He might be able to figure out something that you can’t, like if your hamster has an illness or maybe he’s seen cases like this before.
It might take a very very long time to tame a difficult hamster. It might even take months, but you should still try. This is especially true if it’s a hamster you’ve picked up from a shelter or previous owner. There might be some bad things that the hamster can’t forget.
Always approach the hamster with a treat or food, and it will be easier. If you want to know what treats or foods are safe for your hamster, you should check out this list. It’s got what you can and can not feed hamsters, and what kind of treats hamsters can eat.
My Teddy is a bit difficult
In that, he will not sit still for more than 2 seconds when you hold him. He is a hamster, most of them don’t sit still anyway. But my Teddy is a very strong and independent hamster, who don’t need no man.
Seriously though, there are times when he will stay in my hand, but most of the time I have to do the hand-washing motion when I handle him. You know, putting one hand in front of the other while he keeps trying to climb out.
He rarely ever bites anymore, he used to a while back. But this was mostly because it took me a few weeks to tame him. This is when I found out that hamsters can lose trust in their owners sometimes. I had a period when I was too afraid to touch him, so I had to re-tame him.
But now Teddy and I are friends again, he only nibbles my hand when I feed him, and he doesn’t shy away like he used to when I reach for him.
Whatever I write here is what I’ve tried or found out with my Teddy, and I hope it helps you befriend your hamster faster than I did.
Your hamster might be hurting
Sometimes hamsters hurt themselves and it’s not obvious. Like maybe he fell from a level in his cage, or bit himself while grooming, or possibly sprained his foot in the wheel.
It could be anything. But sometimes it’s not noticeable straight away, like a whole mess of blood and fur. Sometimes it’s a slight limp, or maybe not even that.
But when you go to pick up your hamster, he might bite because you’re touching a very sensitive part of his body. If you had a sprained ankle and someone tried to pet it you’d hate it too.
If you notice anything like this with your hamster, call your veterinarian as soon as possible. Your hamster might be sick or hurt, and need medical attention.
Most of the time minor injuries heal by themselves, but with small creatures like hamsters you need to be very careful.
A few precautions when picking up your hamster
Most of the time the biting happens because the hamster is scared. And a few things need to be done properly before you try to pick up your hamster.
Make sure that when you handle your hamster there are no loud noises, flashing lights, sudden movements.
So no picking up the hamster under the Christmas tree with the fairy lights on with loud music, for example. Hamsters are easy to scare. A calm, quiet, predictable atmosphere will keep the hamster at ease.
Do not pick up your hamster from above.
As in, do not use your hand like a claw to close it around your hamster. You’re scaring him, since it feels a lot like when his ancestors were swooped up by birds of prey.
Instead, use a scooping motion. Come from the front, with an open palm and let the hamster climb in on his own. You can use a treat in your hand to make the hamster come closer.
Then, place your other hand on top of the hamster, like a shield. Hamsters are active and fidgety and they will not sit still in your hand.
Make sure your hands and clothes don’t have a strong smell
Perfume, fruits, motor oil, coffee, whatever you’ve used recently. When you wash your hands, avoid fruity soaps since your hamster will truly believe that’s an apple or strawberry you have on your hand, and will try to bite into it.
Avoid any sudden movements.
Hamsters can’t see very well, but they notice your movements. You don’t have to be extra slow, but do not be too quick with your hands.
Dwarf hamsters are more jittery
The smaller hamster breeds are a bit hyperactive, and will rarely sit still. An adult Syrian hamster like my Teddy might come up to you … normally, I’d say. But a dwarf will scurry and race every where. So, they’re harder to handle and bite easier.
If you’ve got long nails and if you’ve got nail polish on, avoid exposing them to your hamster.
This is because hamsters will nibble on everything that sticks out, so your nails are a great for that. And if the hamster chews on nails that are done up ? The nail polish is toxic for him, so make sure he doesn’t get his teeth anywhere near your nails.
This is something my girlfriend discovered shortly after we got Teddy. Luckily she wasn’t wearing anything on her nails at the time.
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If all else fails, you can use a garden glove
In no way is this a good way to handle your hamster on a regular basis. But if you’ve got a very difficult hamster, and you need to pick him up for a short amount of time (like checking his body for injuries or rashes) then you will need protection.
A gardening glove is great for this, since it’s made of thick, sturdy material the hamster can bite into without hurting himself or you. There are a few things to be careful about when you handle the hamster like this:
- be careful to not squeeze him hard
- be careful to hold him firmly enough, since he will wiggle his way out
- keep the handling very very short, very close to his cage in case he jumps
A hamster is a very light creature, and he’s hard enough to feel in your hand anyway. All that fluffy fur, combined with a light weight, you don’t really know where he starts and where he finishes.
But this is so very important with the gardening glove. You will not be able to feel him on your hands, but you will see him. So you must be careful to not squeeze him too hard, or hold him too lightly either.
A few other options when handling your hamster
Depending on why you need to handle your difficult hamster, you have a few other options aside from the gardening glove.
You can place the hamster in a tall, plastic cup if you need to weight him on a kitchen scale. Just place the Cut laid down in his cage, and wait for him to climb in on his own. Of course, you need to account for the cup’s weight.
You can use the hamster’s exercise ball if you need to move him from one cage to the other. Place a treat in his exercise ball, and wait for him to climb in. Then, scoop him up and place him in his new cage.
You can also use a series of tubes your hamster can climb into to get him from one cage to another. Just tap the place you want him to be, and he will soon try to find where the sound is coming from. Then you can block off the tunnels he went through once he is where he wants to be.
A gardening glove is never a good option for constant handling, but it works if you’ve got absolutely no other method of literally picking up your hamster for a good reason.
A word from Teddy
I hope you found what you were looking for. I know us hamsters can be a bit difficult sometimes, but we never mean you any harm. We’re scared more often than not, so there’s that too.
If you come to us with a bit of food and a slow steady hand, we probably won’t bite. So if you want to know more about the kind of food we can eat, or what kind of cage suits us best, check the articles below.