How to Hand Tame a Hamster

By kleo

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Hamsters can sometimes be a bit wild before they get used to humans. If you have a new hamster, follow these tips to tame your hamster. Once your hamster is tamed, you should be able to handle him and take him in and out of his cage easily without being bitten.

What to Expect when Taming

It can be frustrating taming your hamster if you don’t know what to expect, so read this section first to set your expectations.

Taming hamsters from breeders, pet stores, and rescues

Hamsters that are from reputable breeders will probably not need much taming because they should have been handled since birth. This is one of the great benefits from adopting from a good source.

However, if you bought your hamster from a pet store (not recommended!), you may need to spend some time teaching your hamster that human contact is a good thing and not something to be afraid of. Pet stores do not train hamsters from a young age to get used to humans and handling, which is why many pet store hamsters bite, and is one of the many reasons you should not buy from a pet store.

You may have also adopted your hamster from a rescue where your hamster might not have been treated well in his previous home. In that case your hamster may also need some time to be tamed and get used to human handling.

Taming Different Hamster Species

Some hamster species are more easily tamed than others. Typically Syrians are the easiest to tame. Roborovski hamsters are especially difficult to tame and may not ever be as tame as other species of hamsters can be. For some Roborovski hamsters, they will be a better pet to watch than to handle.

Hamsters bite when scared

One thing you should know about hamsters is that they can bite a lot harder than you would expect. It really hurts! It’s important to take the taming process slow so that your hamster feels comfortable and doesn’t bite you. Try not to be scared that your hamster will bite while you are training, because if you make any sudden movements jerking your hand away, you might scare your hamster instead! Your hamster won’t bite as long as you go through the process slowly and at your hamster’s pace.

If your hamster does bite you, don’t take it personally. It doesn’t mean that your hamster doesn’t like you. It just means that your hamster got scared and didn’t know what else to do. As prey animals, they can get scared easily. Don’t let it discourage you from the taming process. Just be patient and go a little slower. Eventually you and your hamster will get there and you will be happy you did.

Can hamsters become un-tame?

After you’ve tamed your hamster, it’s important to handle him daily to reinforce the trust you’ve built. If you don’t handle your hamster for a long period of time, he can become untamed again and you will have to follow these steps again to regain his trust. This is especially true for dwarf species of hamsters.

How long will it take to tame my hamster?

It may take up to a month to tame your hamster, so be patient and take things slowly. There is always a huge temptation to go too fast when taming because you are so excited about your new hamster and want to bond right away. However, it will be better for both of you in the long run if you stay patient and go at a pace that is comfortable for your hamster.

The amount of time it will take will depend on your hamster’s species, background, personality, and age. Some hamsters may be tamed quickly, and others slowly.

Follow the steps below to start taming your hamster.

1. Give your hamster a few days to settle in

Don’t start taming your hamster right away. If your hamster is brand new, give him 3 full days to settle in and get used to his new surroundings. Moving to a new environment can be stressful to hamsters and you want your hamster to be as relaxed as possible when you start taming him. Leave your hamster 100% completely alone for the full 3 days after you’ve brought him home.  It’s tempting to want to start interacting with  your new hamster right away, but your hamster will be much happier and easier to tame if you give him some space at first.

Handling your hamster in the first 3 days can cause your hamster to stress out so much that they can develop wet tail, which can lead to death. It sounds extreme, but hamsters are prey in the wild and it’s very stressful for them to be picked up by humans if they are not used to it, because it feels just like a bird swooping down to capture them for food.

It’s a good idea to put your hamsters cage in an area where there are people around so that your hamster will get used to having people moving and talking around his cage. However, don’t put the cage in a spot where there are too many loud distractions like a loud TV, loud vacuum, or people / children that might be yelling or playing loudly. Loud noises can be stressful to hamsters, especially new ones that are settling in.

2. Get your hamster used to your scent

This step is optional, but it’s a good idea to get your hamster used to your scent before you start handling him. It’s one less new and scary thing for the hamster to take in when he’s getting used to your hand. One way to do this is to take some toilet paper (or tissue paper as long as it’s plain and doesn’t contain lotion or other scents) and stick it in your sock for a few hours. Then take the toilet paper and put it in the hamster’s cage. Hamsters love to play and nest with toilet paper because it is very soft to them. Your hamster will probably tear up the toilet paper, store it in his cheeks, then bring it to his nest. Your hamster will now be used to your scent when you start handling him!

Give your hamster 2 full days to get used to your scent without any further handling.

3. Set up a separate play area for your hamster

It’s best to begin taming your hamster outside of his cage. This is for two main reasons:

1. If your hamster is territorial, your hamster won’t feel like you are invading his space.

2. If your hamster has a bad experience, he won’t associate it with his cage.

Best Places for Taming Hamsters

You can set up the separate play area anywhere as long as it is somewhere your hamster can’t escape. Here are some options:

1. The bathtub. Make sure the drain is plugged and there is no soap out that your hamster could ingest.

2. A storage bin. Many hamster owners use these storage bins as cages, but if you have an extra storage bin you can use it as a separate play area.

3. A playpen. You can purchase a playpen area to set on the ground that will keep your hamster in an enclosed space to play in.

Within the play area, add some toys and hiding spots so that your hamster can explore and have somewhere to hide if he doesn’t feel safe.

3. Take your hamster out of the cage

After your hamster has settled in for 5 days (the first 3 days with no handling, days 4-5 just getting used to your scent), you can begin taming your hamster. Wait until your hamster wakes up naturally, after about 8:00 PM. If you wake your hamster up earlier than that, your hamster will be very cranky and will be less likely to learn to enjoy your company!

The best way to take your hamster out of his cage is to use a hamster ball, because it is a small enclosed space and your hamster won’t be able to jump out and escape. Because your hamster isn’t tame yet, just put the ball in the cage and wait until your hamster goes inside of it. Be patient and don’t force it. It might take a while, and you may even have to try it again the next day if you have a very skittish hamster. You can encourage your hamster to go inside the ball by placing some of his food inside.

Once your hamster goes inside the ball, pick up the ball and put the lid on. Take your hamster to the separate play area that you’ve set up and let them out of the ball. Give your hamster a few minutes to explore the new area. Then, put your hand on the ground in the play area. Wait until your hamster comes over to sniff your hand. Be very still and don’t move your hand suddenly, or you might scare your hamster. The hamster will not likely bite, especially if you have already gotten your hamster used to your scent.

4. Give your hamster treats

Show your hamster that you are friendly by offering delicious treats. Go slowly by following these steps and not moving to the next step until your hamster is comfortable.

1. The first time you offer your hamster treats, put your hand on the ground and leave the treat on the edge of your hand so that he can take it and run away to someplace safe. Do this a few times so that your hamster knows you are offering treats and that you won’t scare him.

2. Put the treat in the center of your hand so that your hamster has to crawl on your hand to reach the treat.

3. Raise your hand slightly off the ground so that your hamster needs to jump into your hand to reach the treat.

Some hamsters will become comfortable right away and you can breeze through these steps. Other hamsters may only be comfortable with the first step, so you will need to wait another day to move to the next step. If your hamster shows any signs of being scared, such as running away from you, hiding, or not coming over to your hand anymore, stop for the day and resume again the next day.

Best Treats for Taming Hamsters

Here are some good treats to use while training:

1. Sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. Hamsters love seeds! However, they are a very fatty food for hamsters and they should be fed sparingly. If you feed a mix with sunflower/pumpkin seeds in it, I would recommend measuring out their daily ration and removing the seeds to feed as treats instead of in their meal. That way, you won’t be overfeeding any sunflower or pumpkin seeds for the day.

2. Chicken. Hamsters are omnivores and because they aren’t usually fed meat in their daily diet, this will be an appealing treat for them. It’s also very smelly so it’s good at tempting hamsters to come out of hiding. Just make sure to cut it into small bite sized pieces for your hamster. The chicken should be fully cooked and unseasoned so that it’s safe for your hamster.

3. Fruit and vegetable slices. Vegetables are a healthy treat for hamsters, and fruit can be too if it’s fed sparingly. Too much sugar from fruits can be a bad thing, but if it’s fed in moderation for training it can be great for hamsters. For taming, it can be fun to cut a long piece and then hold onto one end while your hamster eats the other end. This will train your hamster that the food is coming directly from you. For example, cut an apple slice or a piece of broccoli and hold onto one end while your hamster nibbles the other end. Visit this list of hamster safe and unsafe foods to decide which other fruits and veggies can be used as treats.

4. Pasta (cooked or uncooked). This is another fun treat that you can hold onto one end while your hamster nibbles the other end. Pasta can also be fun for hamsters because it comes in different shapes and sizes. The uncooked pasta can be fun for them to gnaw on for their teeth as well.

5. Unflavored yogurt or peanut butter. This is a great treat for taming because they need to spend time licking it. Put some yogurt or peanut butter on a spoon or a toy and hold onto it while your hamster licks it off.

5. Start Playing with Your Hamster

After your hamster is 100% confident with taking treats out of your hand, you can start playing with your hamster. This might take 1 day or it might take 1 week. It’s very important that you don’t rush into this step, or it will take even longer to gain the trust of your hamster. Repeat steps 2-4 above every day until your hamster is comfortable. If your hamster at any point in time runs away from you, appears skittish or afraid, or hides, don’t move onto this next step! Put your hamster back in his cage and repeat steps 24 the next day.

However, if your hamster looks like he is starting to enjoy his playpen and is happily running over to your hand for treats, you can move onto this next step. For this step, you should bring your hamster to the playpen again and feed him a few treats. Once your hamster is feeling comfortable, you can start playing a game with him. Place an empty toilet paper roll or other similar toy in the playpen and wait until your hamster goes inside of it. Lift the toilet paper roll up slightly and put your hand on one side so that your hamster can jump out onto your hand. If you’ve been going slowly on the other steps before this, your hamster will start enjoying the game and crawling over your hand.

6. Let your hamster crawl on you

Again, don’t move onto this step until your hamster is comfortable with the previous step! For this step, you can sit in the playpen yourself and allow your hamster to crawl on you. You can scoop up your hamster with the hamster ball or with the toilet paper roll and allow your hamster to crawl out onto your hand/arms/legs. This way your hamster will also associate you with fun playtime, and not just fun treats (both are great motivators for hamsters to learn!).

7. Pick up your hamster with your hands

Some people prefer to pick up their hamsters with their hands instead of using a hamster ball, toilet paper tube, or other toy. You can do this, but only with hamsters that are tamed and comfortable with you. Some hamsters may prefer to always be scooped up in the hamster ball because it feels much safer. Other hamsters will allow you to pick them up with your hands with time. Do not attempt to pick up your hamster with your hands until you have spent at least a month hand timing him, otherwise he might try to bite! If your hamster squeaks or bites when you pick him up, that means he’s scared and you shouldn’t try it again until your hamster feels comfortable again.

Many hamsters enjoy being outside of their cages, and will learn to run into your hand if you place it in the cage, because that means they will get to go out to play and have treats! When your hamster starts doing this, you know that your hamster is tamed and feels comfortable with you.

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