No one likes to be bitten. (At least I don’t think so.) Big teeth, little teeth… they’re all teeth and they hurt. But honestly, hamster teeth, as small as they are, can bring tears to anyone’s eyes. They’re painful, to say the least. Let’s face the facts, though; some hamsters do bite. And if you find yourself constantly saying "my hamster bit me," it’s important (for both you and your hamster) to squash the habit ASAP.
Understanding why your hamster is biting is absolutely key. It’s all about making them feel comfortable. Biting is a defense mechanism. Hamsters bite because they’re scared or feel threatened. It’s actually a natural reaction, and stems from them being prey animals; they need a way to protect themselves.
So where and how do we start to make them feel like they’re in a safe space?
Let 'Em Get to Know You
Like humans, hamsters need time to build trust, too. They’re going to be nervous when acclimating to any new environment. So, if they’re a new member of the family, it’s important to give them time (a week, maybe) to get used to their new home.
During the transition period, touch them as little as possible. Place a tissue with your scent into the cage. This is a great way for that initial introduction because hamsters rely heavily on their sense of smell (their eyesight definitely isn’t 20/20). When your scent fills their cage, likely, they’re going to associate it with safety.
Talk to them. Sit next to their cage and tell them about your day. Ask them what they did. I don’t care how silly this may sound… it can do wonders. They’re going to start to realize that your presence isn’t a threat. Sing. Read. Do whatever. Just let them hear your voice.
If You're Approaching the Cage, Go Slowly
No one likes being startled. It can be downright terrifying. So, when getting ready to put your hands in your hamster’s cage, do it slowly.
If you’re planning to pick them up, I highly recommend letting them smell you first. Maybe they’re not in the mood for socializing, and that’s totally okay. (I mean, as humans, we’re not always in the mood for socializing either, so we can’t really blame them.)
Never force interaction. Continue putting your hand in the cage for a few minutes every day. When they’re ready to play, you’ll know. They’ll start to interact. Promise.
Build Trust, Offer Treats
And the trust building continues. I, for one, cannot think of a better way to build trust than by offering treats. (Personally, if someone offered me a free butter pecan ice cream cone, I’d trust them right away.)
Likely, with any pet, including hamsters, they’re going to be more friendly if they get some special treats. Veggies, nuts, even cookies. Remember though, treats should be moderated.
When you’re offering a treat, open the cage door slowly, make sure your hammy can smell and see it, and don’t try to touch them after they start munching. If they’re not totally comfy with you yet, you’ll probably scare them. And scaring leads to biting… which is the habit we’re trying to break.
You’re getting there. The trust is building, and you’re forming a relationship. Now comes the hard part… trying to handle your hamster without him biting you.
This step is super important. Never grab your hamster from the top… this puts unwanted and uncomfortable pressure on the back. They’ll likely bite you, and that’s what we don’t want.
Hold out your hand and let them climb onto you. If they don’t, try again later. If they do, start petting and playing with him. But don’t overdo it. In the beginning stages of a human/hamster relationship, a quick pick up session is best. If your hamster starts to squirm, place them back into their cage. Don’t force the process. It’s traumatic.
Keep repeating this process. Baby steps. Practice makes perfect.
If They're Sleeping, Leave Them Alone
Never, ever, ever wake up your hamster to hold if they’re sleeping. Would you want to be woken up from a deep sleep to play? Probably not. Unless you’re a five year old and the offer is hide and seek.
If you do wake them, they could see your action as an attack and it’s possible to regress in “no biting” training. Keep interactions to nighttime or early morning (they’re crepuscular).
Bites will probably still occasionally happen, even when you’ve completed your training. It’s natural and built into their DNA. As humans, we need to respect that. The most important thing to remember is not to overreact if and when it does happen.
Don’t yell. Don’t scream. Don’t huff and puff. They’re not aggressive animals, so their natural instinct to bite you was not their fault. Sorry. But it was yours. (I know sometimes it’s hard to admit when we make mistakes.) Your hamster, though, is simply responding because they thought something you did was threatening.
No bite training is a process, and every process has hiccups. Bites are going to happen. But don’t give up. The more you work together, the better results you’ll see. And eventually, ya’ll are gonna have an awesome, trusting, best friends forever kind of relationship. Whether it’s sooner or later, you will. And once that happens, you’ll realize that every bite, as much as they may have hurt, were totally, absolutely, 100 percent worth it.