Pet hamsters are the best–until they bite!
Much to your dismay, your super cute fur ball can unexpectedly turn into a dust bunny with teeth at a moment’s notice.
But why do hamsters bite?
Like other prey animals, hamsters bite as a defense mechanism. If they feel threatened or scared in any way, they will chomp down on the nearest finger, hand, or object.
Let’s look at how to stop hamster biting altogether and why your pet might take a nip at you.
Table of Contents
Why Do Hamsters Bite?
Hamsters bite for a few reasons. Consider some common causes below.
Take a second to imagine you are a fluffy, tiny, virtually helpless rodent. You’re curled inside your home, and suddenly, a giant hand is coming towards you. It smells unfamiliar, and it’s trying to pick you up. What do you do?!
There’s only one thing you can do–attack it!
That’s the world your pet hamster lives in. Unfortunately for you, you’re the hand on the other side of this story.
Hamsters only really have one defense, and that’s to bite. They don’t have sharp claws, but they do have sharp teeth. Their instinct is to bite in hopes of deterring predators.
Until they are familiar with you, they are more likely to bite.
Stressed hamsters are scared hamsters. The most common cause of their stress is their habitat. That’s why it is important to give them a hamster-friendly enclosure to sleep and live in. Hamsters need more space than expected (a minimum of 24x12x12 inches) and many places to hide to feel safe. They become stressed if they don’t have a place to escape.
Another cause of stress is the lighting and noise of their room. Pet hamsters can feel stressed in a loud, busy, and overlit room. Since hamsters are nocturnal creatures, they don’t fair well in constantly bright and loud spaces.
Low-traffic and quiet rooms can reduce stress levels in hamsters.
Sickness Or Pain
If you’ve only recently noticed your hamster biting you, it could mean something is wrong. The older your pet gets, the more likely it is for them to be in pain, including arthritis. If you can, test this theory by petting down their back, head, and each limb to see if any of these areas are causing them to bite.
There are many different breeds of hamsters, and different breeds have slightly different temperaments. For example, dwarf hamsters are widely known to bite their owners. As a smaller breed, they are faster, more agile, and more willing to take a chunk out of your finger. It’s thought that their size makes them more likely to bite because they feel defenseless. For example, the larger Syrian hamster is less likely to bite but can react to sudden movements.
Does A Hamster Bite Hurt?
Your pain tolerance will dictate how badly a hamster’s bite hurts. Many say it’s not that bad, while others describe it as excruciating. It’s common for bite pain to last a few minutes and then stop hurting. You may also get a small bruise where their teeth penetrated your skin. Otherwise, it’s unlikely you’ll feel much pain.
What To Do If A Hamster Bites You?
Any bite wound requires medical attention. Wash the wound with copious amounts of soap and water and monitor it for any sign of infection. Infections are often caused by commensal bacteria from your hamster’s mouth.
Should You Worry About Rabies from Hamster Bites?
Small rodents like hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, rats, and mice rarely are infected with rabies and are not widely known to transmit rabies to humans. Don’t worry too much about rabies if your hamster bites you, especially if they’re kept in their enclosure, and you’ve had them for a while.
What Are The Side Effects of Hamster Bites?
If your hamster has commensal bacteria in its mouth, or you have it on your own skin, it could cause an infection. Other rare but possible infections from a hamster bite include Francisella tularensis and lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus.
What Are The Signs Your Hamster Is Carrying A Communable Illness?
Hamsters act differently when ill. Some of the common signs of an illness include the following:
- Decreased appetite
- Decreased activity level
- Weight loss
- Discharge from nose, mouth, and eyes
- A dull or dirty coat
- Increased aggression levels
- Abnormal posture
If your hamster displays any of these signs, it could be time to seek a vet’s attention. Also, illnesses can spread quickly if other rodents are present in the household. Keep your home free from rats and mice to reduce your hamster’s risk of getting sick.
How to Prevent Your Hamster From Biting You
Want to know how to stop your hamster from biting? Consider a few helpful tips to put an end to their biting.
Get To Know Them
Hamsters, like humans, need to build up trust with their owners. They are naturally nervous in new environments. As a brand new pet, you should give them a week or more to get to know their new home.
The transition period can be rough for hamsters when they first start living with you. One tip is placing a tissue or other item with your scent inside their cage. Remember, hamsters have strong senses of smell. Once your scent fills the cage, they’ll see it as a safe place.
Also, sitting beside your hamster’s enclosure and talking to them is a great way to get them used to you. Once they know who you are and that you’re not trying to hurt them, they’ll feel less threatened. Let them hear your voice, in whatever capacity, to reduce their stress levels.
Approach Their Enclosure Slowly
Sudden movements are scary to hamsters and trigger their instinct to bite. Before you lower your large, scary hand inside their cage, think about how it makes them feel. By approaching their cage slowly, you can relax your hamster.
And if you plan to pick up your hamster, let them smell you first. Perhaps they aren’t feeling like being held or socializing; that’s okay! Respect your hamster and let them be until they do feel like being touched.
Whatever you do, don’t force your hamster to hang out if they don’t want to. Start slowly by placing your hand inside their cage for a few minutes daily. They’ll let you know when they want to spend time with you. Trust your pet, and they’ll trust you.
Give Them Treats
Who doesn’t like someone who pays for dinner or a sweet treat? If you’re a hamster and someone brings yummy treats like veggies, nuts, or cookies, you will start liking them.
Try it with your pet hamster. Give them a treat or two a few times per week by slowly opening the cage door, letting them smell your treat, and do not touch them until they start chowing down on the treat.
Keep in mind that if you scare your hamsters, they might bite you. We’re trying to get out from under that, so avoid moving quickly or petting them when they don’t want it.
Be Soft & Delicate
Rough movements = scary predator. Soft, gentle, delicate movements = friend!
As you build trust with your hamster, it’s time to handle them without them biting you. Hold your hand out and let the hamster climb into your palm to avoid a hamster bite. If they’re not feeling it, try again at a later date. If they climb into your hand, pet and play with them a bit. Make it fast and fun, and set them down in their cage if they try to squirm away from you.
Do this over and over until your hamster enjoys being held by you.
Don’t Wake A Sleeping Hamster
Let sleeping hamsters lie. Seriously. Don’t wake up your hamster to hold them. No one likes being woken up abruptly. It’s threatening and annoying.
Even if you feel you’ve made progress training your hamster to like being held by you, don’t jump into waking up your hamster. Go slowly and keep your interactions to a minimum to avoid a regress in their training.
Play with your hamster in the nighttime or early morning hours only.
Reduce Your Reaction to Bites
Yes, your hamster may bite you, especially if it’s your first hamster. Your job is to stay cool and calm. Don’t overreact when it happens. Do your best not to yell or scream at your hamster when they bite. Your pet simply responds to an action you took, so don’t blame them.
The more you work with your pet, the better they’ll be and the less likely they will bite you. Over time, you’ll have one of the best little fur buddies you could hope for.
How Long Does It Take A Hamster To Get Used To You?
The answer depends on your hamster. Their personality, age, and breed all factor into this process. Some hamsters are naturally more personable and enjoy being around humans, while others find it stressful.
Some signs that your hamster is starting to like you include:
- A noticeable decrease in stress and fear around you.
- Excitement to see you by running towards the door or cage opening.
- Stretching or burrowing when they see you approach.
As you bond with your pet hamster, they’ll bond with you, too! You can look forward to a time when they’re excited to see you heading for their cage. You can get to that stage in your relationship with time, some treats, and lots of patience.
Bonus Tips for Training Your New Hamster
#1. Wear Gloves
Wear gloves when handling a new hamster. If your hamster is injured or needs help from a tough spot, you may have to forcibly hold them. Use gloves in this situation. Be gentle and expect them to struggle or even bite when you’re holding them.
#2. Go At Your Hamster’s Pace
All good pet training goes at a comfortable pace for the animal. Pick up on any signs that your hamster is ‘getting it’ before you move to the next step. Avoid moving too quickly to scare or traumatize your pet.
#3. Schedule Your Training Session on Their Schedule
All training should take place when your hamster is active and alert. Follow their sleep and wake cycles, paying attention to when they’re most alert for all your training sessions. And stick to a regular schedule for the best results.
#4. Use Redirection
Hamsters are known to chew on things to grind their teeth. Sometimes this can cause an accidental bite. If your hamster is biting something it shouldn’t, try saying “no” and moving it away from you or the object and giving it an appropriate object to chew on, like chew sticks covered in honey.
#5. Keep Sessions Short
Your training sessions shouldn’t exceed 15 minutes each. Anything longer than that could stress your hamster. Be kind to them and ensure they understand that you’re there to get to know them, not stress them out.
Avoid Getting Bit By Your Hamster & Keep Them Happy
Educating yourself about the dangers of hamster bites, why hamsters bite, and how to stop them from doing so is important to keep them happy. And a happy hamster is a happy pet owner!
Whether it’s your first week with your hamster or if you want to understand them better, we hope this article helped you find the answer you were looking for. If it did, please share it on your socials to help us educate other hamster owners.
For more hamster tips, check out our blog!