My young niece was recently bought a hamster. It’s very cute and at the time, everyone wanted to have a little cuddle of it. Four young pairs of hands later and the poor little thing looked a little stressed, to say the least. My son then piped up with a very reasonable question…
Do hamsters like to be held? The simple answer is they do not particularly like being picked up at first but if you take it slowly and let one get used to you it may eventually be happy to sit in your hands. One thing hamsters are not comfortable with is being picked up by lots of different people. So make sure you are kind to yours and limit the number of people you allow to handle it.
How to handle your hamster
In order to successfully hold a hamster, you must begin to hand tame him almost immediately. If you delay, you may find he will never be comfortable with being held. Hamsters are not like kittens and puppies in as much as you don’t socialize them by introducing them to a wide variety of people. It’s best if you limit the number of people who handle it and never allow anyone to just swoop in and grab it.
Step 1) Getting your hamster used to you
Do not handle him right away
When you first bring your hamster home, he will need a little time to get used to you before he will tolerate being handled and held. Wait at least 12 to 24 hours before trying to hold him. Crouch near your hamster’s cage and speak to him in a quiet, friendly voice. You can also get him comfortable with your presence by simply reading a book or watching TV in the same room as him. Make sure your hamster can see you and knows you are a friend, not a predator. Remain calm around him at all times.
Place your hand in his cage
Always remember that in their natural environment in the wild, hamsters are only ever grabbed by predators, so your hamster will need to learn that you are not a predator when you pick him up. Start by placing your hand in his cage and leaving it there for him to sniff and investigate. Relax your hand and let it hang limply so that you don’t startle him. Gradually lay your hand down palm up and hopefully, you will notice him become more comfortable with its presence.
Hamsters like to nibble, this is how they test their environment. If your hamster starts to nibble at your, gently slide your hand away. Do not snatch it away and shout, “Ouch,” as much as you might feel the urge to. Sudden movements will startle him and probably make him reluctant to approach your hand again.
Entice your hamster with treats
It is perfectly natural for your hamster to be extremely wary of your hand. If he seems nervous, try placing treats in your palm to entice him to approach you. When he is comfortable accepting treats like this, he will be far more amenable to being picked up. Ideal treats are those that your hamster would normally eat in the wild. He should enjoy, fresh vegetables (e.g. broccoli, cauliflower
Step 2) Picking up your hamster
Wash your hands
Hamsters navigate with their noses and strong smells can cause them distress. Wash your hands with unscented soap and thoroughly rinse and dry them before handling your hamster to help him feel more comfortable. Washing your hands is especially important if you have more than one hamster. The scent of one hamster on your hands could give another hamster the impression that he is about to be attacked.
Let your hamster see your hand
In the wild, a hamster’s best defense mechanism is to run. Any sudden changes in your hamster’s environment can be very frightening to him, so it is very important that he can see your hand approaching him in a slow manner. When you place your hand in your hamster’s cage, leave it there for at least a few seconds so that he can get used to it.
Cup your hamster in the palm of your hand
It is very important for your hamster to feel secure in your hands when you pick him up. Let him climb onto the palm of your hand and then cup your hand under him to support him. Cup your other hand next to the hand he is on so that he can rest securely in the palms of both of your hands.
If your hamster does not want to climb onto your hands you could use a scoop. Let him walk into the scoop before lifting him up. You can them transfer him carefully from the scoop to your hand, once you have him out of the cage. Tip: you can use a 1-liter plastic bottle cut in half as a scoop. Place the bottom half of the bottle in your hand, and let your hamster crawl into it. He will feel the warmth of your hand, but will not be able to bite your hand through the plastic, should he feel the urge to nip. Make sure the edges of the bottle are smooth so as not to cause him any
With time, your hamster will become more comfortable with being held and you will not need to lift him with a scoop.
Lifting your hamster out of his cage
Being lifted up can be very disorienting and frightening for your hamster. Before lifting him up, face him towards you in your hands. This will give him a focal point which will make him less likely to jump as you lift him up. Lift him up slowly and gently. Your hamster may start biting your hand as you lift him up. Hopefully, his bites will not be hard enough to break the skin but will be a warning signal that he is feeling alarmed. Again, try not to react to any bite and remain relaxed.
If he starts to bite, try gently blowing a puff of air at his face. This should make him take a step back and blink because of the smell from your breath, giving you an opportunity to free your hand from his teeth.
Hold your hamster in your lap or close to your chest
Keeping your hamster close to your body as you hold him will ensure he is safe and should also prevent him from trying to run or jump. Always remain low to the ground to remove the risk of your hamster leaping from a height and injuring himself.
Placing your hamster back in his cage
As your hamster is not used to being held, he’ll probably not want to be in your hands for long. If he seems agitated or is trying to bite you, gently lower him back in his cage. Hamsters can easily injure themselves if they fall so you should lower your hamster until he can easily walk out of your hands and onto the floor of his cage. Spread out your cupped palm and allow him to step off your hand himself rather than tipping him. Don’t worry if you’ve hardly held him for any amount of time before he needs to be put back in his cage. Holding him for a short period of time
Step 3) Precautions to take when holding your hamster
- Do not hold your hamster when he is sleeping. Hamsters tend to sleep very deeply. In the wild, they will burrow deep into the ground where they can sleep relatively undisturbed. If you wake him up suddenly to hold him, he could think he is in danger e.g. think you are a predator.
- If you want to wake him up, do so gently, e.g. by speaking softly to him. You can also rouse him by gently rustling his bedding.
- Do not lift him high off the floor. Hamsters are very prone to injuries from falling, so you should keep your hamster as close to the ground as possible when you are holding him. For his safety, do not lift him any higher than 12 inches (30 centimeters).
- If he tries to make a run for it, keeping him close to the floor will lessen the chances of him injuring himself if he jumps.
- Consider holding him whilst you are lying with your back on the floor, which will keep him very close to the ground.
- Avoid making kissing noises when you are holding him. Talking to your hamster in a calm and soothing voice will help him feel more comfortable with being held. However, kissing noises can actually frighten him.
- Never hold your hamster by the scruff of his neck or by one of his limbs. Holding a hamster by the scruff of his neck can put immense pressure on his head and also could be enough to cause his eyes to prolapse. You should never pick up your hamster by one of his limbs. Not only is this likely injure your hamster, but he will also be thoroughly disoriented by being lifted in the air by one leg.
- Do not punish your hamster. Hamsters do not know how to make an association between actions and consequences. Therefore, punishing him by shouting at him or physically punishing him will only lead to your hamster seeing you as the enemy. A firm but gentle ‘no’ should be the strongest punishment you use. Blowing in his face, particularly when he bites you, should be enough to deter him from doing it again.
So do hamsters like being held? Well, I think it’s fair to say we probably get more out of it than they do. However, if you follow the above simple steps, no harm will be done. Most of the above steps use common sense of course but, just because they’re small doesn’t mean you should take advantage of their size. Treat a hamster gently and respectfully and ensure he has a happy little life with you.