Hamsters can, and will, bite their owners, which is why parents are sometimes hesitant about adopting this tiny pet. As you may already know, my pet hamster (technically my cousin’s pet hamster), bit me when I was a child. And it hasn’t scarred more than my finger.
If your hamster is biting you, it’s because they are feeling threatened, scared, or uncomfortable in some way. It’s their way of protecting themself. Here’s what may be at the root of it:
Why Does My Hamster Bite Me?
Hamsters bite out of fear, not because they are aggressive. If they have bitten you, they were feeling threatened and in danger for some reason, and needed to act to save themselves.
Hamsters are prey animals, not predators, so they don’t bite because they want to harm you. They only bite when they feel you are about to harm them.
Hamsters that have grown up in a loving environment around humans will rarely bite, even when you first take them home. Hamsters that have not been held often will be more timid and are more likely to bite until they get to know you.
To prevent your hamster from biting you, make sure to get them to trust you before you try holding them. If you’ve been away for a while, reacquaint yourself with them and make sure they are comfortable around you before you revert back to the relationship you used to have.
They’re Not Really Aggressive
Hamsters aren’t really an aggressive pet. If they have bitten you, don’t jump to the conclusion that they have a behavioral issue. More likely than not, they are scared or feel anxious for a variety of reasons.
Hamsters also tend to move stuff around with their jaw, so if your hand is in their cage, they may just be trying to get it out of the way.
They Don’t Like Being Held
Some hamsters just don’t like to be held and there’s not too much you can do about it. It could just be their personality, or they may have had tough experiences in the past. Whatever the reason, make sure you don’t overstep their boundaries.
If your hamster bites you when you try to hold them, back off and give them their space. When you want to interact with them, give them a treat and just spend time with them, without trying to pet or hold them.
Over time, your hamster will become more comfortable with you, and they may start to accept cuddles. Other hamsters will be happy to eat out of your hand or be pet in their cage, but will bite you when you try to pick them up, and that’s okay.
Accept your hamster’s personality as it is, and work on earning their trust. It will take a long time (we’re talking months), but it will be worth it, so don’t give up. There will be progress, but do know that you may never get your hamster to behave exactly as you would like them to.
They Don’t Trust You Yet
When you first bring your hamster home, they are not going to trust you, unless they are a completely easygoing individual who has no fear whatsoever. Remember, you are so much larger than your hamster that they will most likely see you as a predator at first.
It’s very important to take things slow with your new pet. Approach their cage slowly, don’t make any sudden movement and loud sounds, and let them come to you. Give them treats and be calm in their presence, and over time, they will understand that you mean them no harm.
You Have Startled Them
If you interrupt your hamster while they are sleeping or eating, or if you approach them from behind while they are busy doing their own thing, they will instinctively bite you. After all, you could be a predator. Why would you sneak up on them like that if you’re not?
Make sure your hamster is fully aware of your presence before you try to interact with them. That way, they’ll know it’s you and will no longer have the need to bite you.
You Smell Funny
If you have handled something unusual, like food, another animal or even a beauty product, your hamster may feel threatened by the smell and bite you in self-defense. Hamsters have a great sense of smell and will be able to detect everything, so make sure to come to them smelling more or less the same as often as you can.
This may mean you wash your hands with the same soap before playtime, so that they know to associate the smell with you.
You Smell Like Food
If you have recently handled a food item that your hamster likes or is usually served, they may mistake your fingers for said meal.
Hamsters have very bad eyesight, so they won’t actually be able to tell it’s your fingers and not food that’s suddenly entered their home. Consequently, they may bite you because you smell so tasty.
To prevent this type of biting, wash your hands before handling your hamster. You can also roll your hand in their bedding, to help you blend in with their environment. You can also wear gloves, if you find your hamster keeps confusing you with food.
They Are a Biting Breed
Dwarf hamsters are more likely to bite than Syrian hamsters, since they are so small and have had to fight off plenty of predators in the past. They are also more territorial, and may not look too kindly on your invasion of their home.
Syrian hamsters can bite too, but they are much more of a friendly breed and are not nearly as energetic, so might be a better choice if you are looking for a calmer pet.
They May Be Injured
If your hamster has injured itself while running in their wheel or has a stomachache, they may bite you if you touch them where it hurts. If you notice they are not their usual selves or if they seem to be in pain while moving around, take them to the vet for a checkup. It may just be a sprain, but do make sure.
They Have Cage Rage
Hamsters, like all animals that live in cages, can suffer from cage rage, which can develop when an animal lives in a space that is too small for them. These are the symptoms you should keep an eye out for:
- Extreme aggression towards you or other hamsters
- Incessant bar biting for hours on end
- Destructive behavior towards toys, bowls, bedding
- Squeaking and spitting when approached
- Running around the cage non stop
If you think your hamster has cage rage, get them a larger cage immediately, and make sure it’s getting plenty of fresh air and sunlight, but that it’s also not too warm or too cold.
Let them out to play a couple of times a week in an area they will be safe in, so they can stretch their legs and be exposed to a different environment.
Your hamster should calm down once they are given more room.
What Should I Do If My Hamster Bites Me?
If your hamster bites you, gently put them back in their cage and wash the wound with warm water and soap. Dry the wound and cover it with a band-aid or a bandage and keep an eye out for swelling.
Some hamster bites don’t break the skin, but if your pet has drawn blood, make sure to thoroughly disinfect the wound. Cover it and keep it dry, and make sure to catch any swelling or increasing pain. If the wound does not seem to be healing and is looking worse, seek medical help.
How Much Does a Hamster Bite Hurt?
Hamster bites do hurt. How much will depend on the size of the hamster and your pain threshold. Dwarf hamster bites hurt less than Syrian hamster bites, but they do tend to occur more often.
Hamster bites are painful, but they aren’t necessarily excruciating. If you have a decent tolerance for pain, it will be a momentary discomfort you won’t even care to remember.
How to Prevent Your Hamster From Biting You
Hamsters bite when they feel afraid or threatened. This means that changing your behavior can effectively stop the biting completely. Here’s what you can do:
- When interacting with your hamster, make sure the room is calm and quiet, that there are no sudden noises, lights or movements.
- Don’t pick your hamster up from above, as your hand will appear like a bird’s claw to them. Come up to them from the front and open your palm. Let them climb up on their own, and use your other hand as a shield to prevent them from falling.
- Wash your hands before approaching your hamster, preferably with a neutral, soft-smelling soap that is not too harsh. Remove any food smell or the scent of other animals.
- Avoid sudden movements and be slow and calm when around your pet.
- Don’t squeeze your hamster too hard and be careful not to drop them.
- Use a gardening glove if you need to pick your hamster up and they are still not comfortable with it. You can also let them climb into their exercise ball and scoop them up that way, or use a plastic up you lure them into. Always make sure they are feeling safe and reassured, and that the experience is not uncomfortable for them.
The more time you spend around your hamster, especially providing treats, the more they will trust you, and the less likely they will be to bite when you want to touch them.
Wrapping It Up
Hamsters can be great pets, as long as you learn to handle them correctly and give them plenty of time to establish some trust with you. Hamsters will stare at you and get up to all kinds of funny antics, so make sure you interact with them and work on building a great relationship.