When I first got my Teddy I only knew a little about hamsters, so I made a few mistakes while taming him. Here I want to show you what to do to make sure you tame your hammy, and not get bitten in the process.
My Teddy is a golden Syrian hamster, but this guide will work with any kind of hamster breed. Be warned through, that the Dwarf types are harder to handle and tame because they are so small.
So how do you tame a hamster ?
In short, you can tame your hamster by building trust with it. Getting the hamster used to you, slowly starting to feed him from your hand, and only touching him for short periods of time at first is a great way to start.
Most hamsters will be scared when you pick them up, so you need to build up to that slowly over the course of a few days or even weeks.
That is the most basic, and important piece of information I can give you about taming a hamster. Everything else is just patience.
But I’ve made you a guide on everything you need to know and do when you try to tame your hamster. Here’s a quick rundown, and we’ll cover each entry in detail in the rest of the article.
- Give the hamster some time, it might take a couple of weeks
- Make sure the hamster has enough space in his cage, and a hideout
- Get your hamster an exercise wheel for all his energy
- Do not annoy the hamster, they’re not lighthearted like puppies
- Make sure your hands are clean before handling the hamster
- Make a habit of talking to your hamster
- Start by giving the hamster a small treat through the cage bars
- Place your hand in the cage, with a treat on your palm
- Feed the hamster from your hand daily
- Put some food in your other palm, so he will cross over your hands
- Gently lift the hamster when you give him a treat in your palm
- Lift the hamster higher, and place your other hand over him
- Start ‘walking’ your hamster over your hands
Before we get into every entry on that list, let’s talk a bit about hamsters. They’re not bred like dogs to trust humans from the get-go, and they won’t jump on you to show affection. So reading a hamster’s reactions will be different from any other usual pet.
This is another reason to take things slow, and make sure you have enough patience with your furry friend.
What to know before you try to tame your hamster
A few things you should consider, and it’s for your own good, as well as the hamster’s. Remember that hamsters are very different from many pets, and they will seem aloof most of the time.
Some hamster breeds are harder to tame
Actually, almost every other hamster type aside from the Syrian is harder to tame. This is because they are so very small, and will not sit still for very long.
Smaller hamsters, like the Dwarf types – more on that here – are fast, very hyper, and some of them are nearly impossible to hold.
This means that when you’re trying to pick up your hammy, he will jump off and scurry away faster than you can move.
It also means that they will not be still in your hands for more than a few seconds, so you will have to keep moving your hands. Which will make it much easier for the hamster to fall out of your hands, and they can hurt themselves.
There is also the issue of short-term memory. Dwarf types can forget interactions within 24 hours, so it’s best to interact with them daily. Syrians have a longer memory, and will remember you for up to a week. Still, all hamsters need constant stimulation.
Be patient and consistent
Taming your hamster will take some time. It might take a few days, or it might take even a few weeks. It depends on several factors, but it’s mostly the hamster’s personality, and your patience.
True, there are some hamsters that never want to be handled. And there are hamsters that scare very very easily and will shy away from you. If that is the case for your hammy, there’s not much you can do. They each have their own personality.
For example my Teddy isn’t the cuddliest fluffball around. He’s curious and will come up to you, but doesn’t like being handled too much, and won’t really let you pet him. He’s fine if you pick him up for a minute, but if he’s in his cage and you try to pet him – no.
The point is that your hammy’s taming process might take longer than expected. Or, the end result might be different from what you wanted or expected. But it’s important to be consistent and patient.
Even after you’ve tamed your hamster, it’s important to keep touching and petting it, and also talking to it. Hamsters can forget, so they need constant stimulation.
Now let’s get into the whole process, and how to start.
Give the hamster some time
Your hamster might take to you fast, or it might never get attached to you. Keep trying, and be consistent with the attention you give him.
Remember that Dwarf hamsters might take more time to get to know you well enough. Syrians will usually take less time to tame, and won’t be prone to biting or nipping as much.
That being said, all hamsters need some time to get used to you. The smell of your hand, your voice, everything needs some time to get used to.
Progress slowly from each step to the next, and do not try to pick up the hamster as soon as you brought him from the pet shop. Instead build up to actually being able to hold your hamster.
Start small, by feeding your hammy through the bars at first, until he is comfortable with your smell and associates it with ”good”.
Make sure the hamster has enough space
This is very important for a hamster. For any animal actually. Space is their territory, and how free they feel will have an impact on how relaxed they are.
So if your hammy is in a cramped up, tiny cage – like the square, bright colored ones they give you at the pet store – he won’t be hammy. Even if it’s a Dwarf hamster he still needs lots more space than those cages.
For more info on how to select the right cage for your hammy, you need to check out this article. You’ll get the minimum cage requirements as well, and know what to look for in a new cage.
Your hammy’s cage is important, and just as important is his hideout. That is what he will use to… well, hide, and sleep, and eat, and sleep some more.
So it’s important you actually get your hammy a hideout. Hamsters will use the bedding in the cage if they have no other option, but they will not feel okay.
For more info on a hamster’s hideout and how to make sure you get a good one, you can read this article.
Get your hamster an exercise wheel for all his energy
Hammies need a lot of exercise. Especially the smaller breeds, like Robo, Campbell, and Siberian are always on their wheel. The Chinese and Syrian can get lazier as they age.
A hamster with a lot of pent up energy will not be easy to handle, will nip at you, and will probably squirm in your hand much more.
So it’s in your interest that your hamster gets plenty of exercise. He needs to have where and how to run around, since hamsters can cover up to 9 km/5.5 miles in a whole night. Imagine keeping that hamster locked up !
Do not annoy the hamster
It’s important to remember that hamsters are not like other pets. They don’t take well to pranks or jokes, because they’re easy to scare and take everything seriously. They have to, if they’re expecting to survive.
So seemingly harmless things like tugging on his whiskers, or an ear, or waking up him suddenly won’t be welcomed. Hamsters are unfortunately much more serious than puppies, who will forgive you for holding their snout.
Best to leave the hamster be, he will come out of his hideout in his own time. So don’t try to poke or annoy the hamster in any way.
You are, after all, trying to build a good relationship with him. He is supposed to trust you, and his trust is very fragile.
Make sure your hands are clean
Hamsters are very sensitive to smell, so your scent will be very important. That also means that they’ll be very sensitive to whatever’s on your hands. Maybe moisturizer, or maybe you just peeled an orange, or you handled a tube of disinfectant.
Whatever the case, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly. Go for an unscented, or very very lightly scented soap when you handle your hamster.
Excessively floral or fruity soap – if it smells extra sweet – will make your hamster think you’ve actually got vanilla and coconut on your hands.
The hamster himself is very clean, so cleaning your hands afterwards will not be an issue. I still recommend you wash your hands after handling the hamster as well, but it’s not mandatory.
Make a habit of talking to your hamster
Your hammy will recognize your voice as well, since he is sensitive to sound as well.
So by making sure that your hamster recognizes your voice, you’re making the taming process go much smoother.
You can do this by talking to your hammy every time you see it. He won’t look like he’s reacting, but hamsters aren’t very expressive. Trust me when I say that he’s listening to what you’re saying, especially if he’s coming closer or looking your way.
Go for a soft, low voice since his ears are very sensitive and there is no point in being loud around him.
Talking to your hamster will help disarm some odd moments too. Like when he suddenly freezes, for example, or when he’s a bit scared of you. If you lower yourself to his level and talk to him you look much less threatening.
Start by giving the hamster a small treat through the cage bars
The steps before this one were more for setting the tone for your hamster. This is the first thing to do to show your hamster that you mean him no harm.
So take a treat for your hamster, it can even be something simple like a sunflower seed or a peanut. It needs to be large enough that you can hold one end of it, and your hamster can grab he other end through the bars.
Your hammy will come close, sniff the treat, and go for it right away. His love for food will override his fear of you, and he will come closer.
He might even touch your finger with a paw. That might seem like a small thing, but it’s actually your first contact for your hamster !
Do this often throughout the day, and keep doing this even after you’ve tamed your hamster. It will help keep your bond close.
For a clear list of what hamsters can and can not eat, you should check out this article right here. You’ll also find out the treats that are available for hamsters as well.
Place your hand in the cage, with a treat on your palm
This is the biggest step your will make. Your hamster’s never had your hand in his cage before. He will ignore it for a lot of time if you just put it there, plain.
He will also become curious and come to sniff and nibble at it. And if you’re not used to it, and he’s not careful, it might turn into a bite.
So best to get your hand in his cage with a treat on your palm, and just keep it there for a few minutes. Your hammy will come to investigate it immediately. He will recognize your smell, but will probably not trust you just yet.
You might see funny things like your hammy straining his neck to get to the treat but not touch your hand. He will give in one day, and actually place a paw on your hand. Whoa, big move there !
Feed the hamster from your hand daily
Keep giving your hamster food from your hand as often as possible. You can even give your hammy his full serving of food from your hand.
A full serving for a Syrian is 2 teaspoons of dry food, and one teaspoon for Dwarf types. This is for a daily feeding.
If you feed him daily from your hand, you’ll feel his little paws on your hand more and more often, and you’ll notice they are cold. That’s normal for them, and they’re fine.
Just be careful, because when your hammy will be close to finishing the food from your hand he will go for the lines of your hand. That’s where food will pool, and your hammy will go looking for it. He might nibble at your hand for a bit, but he won’t bite.
Unless you suddenly pull your hand away in shock, in s=which case you will scare him, and he will definitely bite then.
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Put some food in your other palm, so he will cross over your hands
Now you can try putting some food, or more food, in your other hand. So when you place your one hand in your hamster’s cage with a bit of food, he will touch it. He might even climb onto it.
Then, place your second hand with a bit of food next to your other hand. Your hammy will learn to walk across your hands like this, and he will trust them.
Again, do this repeatedly, many times throughout the way and it might take a while but your hamster will learn to trust you.
If you want, you can even make a sort of board with your hands for your hamster to walk on. Place just a bit of food at the end farthest from your hamster, so he will have to cross almost both hands in order to get his food.
Gently lift the hamster when you give him a treat in your palm
Once you have your hamster comfortable with every step until this one, you can try to gently lift him. Do this in his cage, or glass tank, and do not lift him high.
The reason behind lifting your hamster just a couple of inches off the ground is to get him used to the movement. Hamsters scare very easily, so he needs this training part.
Place your palm with a bit of food inside the cage, and when your hamster’s climbed into your hand, slowly lift the hand. Your hamster will probably walk away once he feels your hand moving, that’s okay.
Keep trying. This is why he needs training. You might find that he jumps off your hand if you keep him up for more than a couple of seconds.
So make sure you put him back in a short amount of time.
Lift the hamster higher, and place your other hand over him
If your hamster is used to everything until now, then great. This step will be a bit more challenging for him, since you won’t be putting him back down soon.
So once your hammy is safely in your hand, place your other hand on him, and lift him higher that usual. Do this for a short amount of time, and do not do it very fast.
It will be new for your hammy, so make sure he is comfortable with every step up to this one. Be sure both your hands are safely cupping the hamster when you lift him.
If the hamster falls from a higher place, he will hurt himself. So it’s best to not keep him up for too long.
Start ‘walking’ your hamster over your hands
Once your hamster is comfortable being held, you can start moving your hands so he can walk over them. It looks a lot like you’re washing your hands.
Do this in your hamster’s cage at first, since he will probably move faster than you imagine. You need to make sure that if your hamster will jump out of your hands it will land somewhere soft, like his cage.
And this was the final step in training and taming your hamster. If he is comfortable being picked up, and will run over your hands when you hold him, he’s pretty much tame.
Now, all hamsters are jittery and will not sit still so do not judge your hammy too hard for not staying calmly in your hand. When he wants to be let go it will be obvious, and he might just jump. So always be very close or over your hamster’s cage.
A word from Teddy
I know taming one of us hammies can be a bit difficult. But it’s worth it when you talk to us and we look right at you. I for one don’t like being handled for more than a minute, but maybe your hammy loves hugs, who knows ? We all have a personality of our own.
If you want to know more about us hammies, you can check out the articles below. You’ll find info on how much water us hamsters need, what room temp we need to be comfortable, and even why we eat our own poop !