Hamsters are fearful animals due to their lowly position in the food chain, so they can become defensive. The most common grievance among owners is that their hamsters are prone to biting.
You may even find your hamster bites for no reason. For example, a hamster may snap at your fingers when you attempt to pet it, feed it, or change its bedding.
This defensiveness doesn’t apply solely to new hamsters. So, you may be petting a bonded hamster and get bitten for reasons you find difficult to comprehend.
This applies to hamsters of all ages, as baby, juvenile, and adult hamsters may nip at your hands or fingers. While this action may seem inexplicable, all hamsters bite for a reason.
Why Do Hamsters Bite Their Owners?
Here are the main reasons why hamsters bite:
1/ Breed And Gender
Certain hamster breeds are naturally more aggressive and defensive than others.
For example, dwarf hamsters are more likely to bite than Syrian hamsters because their diminutive size makes them feel vulnerable. So, it doesn’t take much for dwarf hamsters to feel threatened and bite.
According to Aggressive Behavior, female dwarf hamsters are more territorial than males. For this reason, they’re likely to bite if there’s any encroachment into their territory.
Exercise more caution if you place your hand in the cage of a dwarf hamster. Although consistent training and socialization will reduce how often your hamster bites, it may still do so if it detects a threat.
2/ Feels Threatened
You can tell if a hamster is frightened by observing its body language. If you notice that it retreats away as you approach it, the chances are that it’s scared of your presence.
This may be due to your size, smell, or the hamster’s relationship with you. If you rarely interact with the hamster or tell it off too firmly after the last bite, it may come to fear you constantly.
This is more common with hamsters that haven’t been raised in captivity because they haven’t had sufficient time to acclimate to humans and are prone to startlement.
However, even if a hamster appears comfortable around you, it can still get scared. For example, if you suddenly wake it up from sleep, it could feel irritated and become hostile toward you.
If your hamster goes too long without eating, it can feel hungry and desperate. Consequently, if a hamster smells food on your fingers, it might attempt to nibble on them.
To avoid this situation, wash your hands before touching the hamster. Moreover, avoid using soaps with fruity scents to prevent the hamster from mistaking your hand for food.
4/ Strange Smell
Most hamsters are cautious and constantly looking for threats in their environment. Wild hamsters deal with many predators and learn to avoid danger by smelling for pheromones and other scents.
A hamster may become aggressive when confused by cologne or another smell, even when well-trained and tamed. The hamster may recognize you but distrust the strange odor it detects.
This is common if you’ve recently handled another pet, like a cat. A hamster will pick up on these pheromones due to its strong olfactory senses and feel unsafe.
So, always wash your hands before touching a hamster. If you have any strongly-scented clothes, consider changing them before approaching your hamster.
5/ Unfamiliar Person
If you’re meeting a hamster for the first time, expect it to be more jittery and fearful.
It won’t know who you are and will be confronted with many new smells. It won’t know if you’re safe to be around, and it may be confused by the odors that cling to you.
So, avoid handling the hamster, give it time to realize that you’re not a threat, and trust you. Spend time with the hamster, and don’t handle it until it’s calm around you.
6/ Doesn’t Like Attention
Some hamsters like handling and affection, while others prefer to keep to themselves. So, your otherwise tame hamster may be biting to warn you off due to irritation when you attempt to handle it.
You’ll know this if a hamster tries to get out of your hands. It may also bite whenever you attempt to play with it. When this happens, stop engaging the hamster and see how it responds.
Some hamsters warm up to you over time, while others prefer personal space. As time goes on, you’ll gradually learn which is the case.
Continue to provide for its basic needs, but don’t push it beyond its comfort level. For instance, if a hamster doesn’t mind eating from your hands but becomes nippy when you try to hold it, do what makes it most comfortable.
7/ Rough Handling
A hamster may bite as a defense mechanism if you roughly pick up, hold, or play with it.
Being such small animals, it’s easy for a person to squeeze the hamster too tightly while holding it. Likewise, you may pet it too roughly or pick up the hamster from behind.
Each action can be interpreted as an attack because predators often grab hamsters this way. The predators also have no qualms about squeezing hamsters to prevent escape.
To avoid triggering a hamster’s defense mechanism, always be gentle when holding or handling it. If petting a hamster for the first time, be aware that it’ll feel on edge and cautious.
Start by gently rubbing it on the head and paying attention to how it responds. Once the hamster feels comfortable around you, try holding it in your hands with a loose grip.
Do this repeatedly for a few minutes to see whether the hamster is warming up to you.
What Does a Hamster Bite Feel Like?
While a hamster’s bite won’t cause a serious injury, it can break the skin and cause bleeding. The pain from the force of the bite will be sharp and impossible to ignore.
According to Clinical Experimentation in Allergies, hamster bites can cause allergic reactions (anaphylaxis).
Wash and disinfect the wound to minimize the risk of infection.
Monitor the wound over the next 2-4 days to check it’s healing properly. You may need antibiotics if you notice any swelling, redness, or pus.
Can You Prevent Hamster Bites?
You may feel frustrated if you’re bitten every time you touch or play with your hamster.
However, there are ways to stop a hamster from biting that don’t involve punishment. Instead, it’s based on building trust with the hamster so it no longer feels scared or threatened.
After bringing a new hamster into your life, it may be tempting to smother it with love, affection, and cuddles right away. However, this isn’t recommended, at least not immediately.
A hamster will likely feel overwhelmed and scared, which can prompt a bite. Hamsters need time to get to know new people before they feel comfortable around them.
Instead, give it time to become comfortable with its environment and grow accustomed to you. Avoid handling it during the first few days, but stay close so the hamster becomes familiar with you.
You can sit next to its cage and speak to it in a soft tone. Doing so allows the hamster to associate calm, safe, and peaceful environments with your presence.
It also gets used to your voice and smells to recognize you in the future. Unfortunately, hamsters have poor vision, meaning they can’t see you well.
Aside from that, place some tissue or a toy with your scent inside its cage, as this will get the hamster used to your scent and teach it that you are nothing to be afraid of.
Hamsters naturally imprint on the people who meet their care needs. So, offering treats to your hamster will develop a bond of trust and good experiences.
The hamster may even recognize you as the bearer of good things and learn to look forward to your arrival and regular interactions.
Start by hand-feeding the hamster its favorite meals, like nuts. Hold the treat inside the hamster’s cage with a steady hand and allow it to take it from you.
Don’t startle the hamster by shoving your hand inside the cage or forcing the treat into its mouth because this could trigger a defensive reaction and cause it to bite you.
Avoid Sleep Disturbances
Hamsters don’t enjoy being interrupted when sleeping, so they can become irritable. To avoid bites, and to build trust, don’t attempt to play with your hamster when it’s ready to sleep.
When holding a pet hamster, ensure that all your movements are calm and gentle. Any sudden and rash movements can be startling for a hamster and lead to defensive behavior.
When initiating contact with a hamster, proceed cautiously while carefully monitoring its response.
If it shies away, don’t force the issue. Allowing interactions to happen naturally, without coercion, will help you gain the hamster’s trust, thus minimizing the chances of bites in the future.