Hamsters are lovely, low maintenance pets that bring fun, joy and laughter to the whole family. They are also extremely cute.
But hamsters, as cute as they are, can bite, and I have learnt that the hard way. It’s not that they’re vicious animals, far from it, but they do tend to bite when they’re frightened, but we will look at some more reasons why hamsters bite and what you can do about it later on in the article.
So go on, what does a hamster bite feel like?
It felt as if our hamster was nibbling at my finger which I didn’t feel much at first, but then the hamster bite felt like a sharp, clamp-like sensation at the end of my finger. After quickly retracting my finger out of his cage, I realised that the hamster’s teeth had punctured the skin and drew blood. I then felt a smarting/stinging sensation for a while afterwards.
I think it hurt more because it was at the end of my finger and the ends of your fingers tend to be quite sensitive. I’d never been bitten before by any animal and when it drew blood, I must admit, I was a little apprehensive.
I asked questions like, “do I need to see a doctor and get some antibiotics”, “would I get rabies as a result of this bite”, “do I need a Tetanus injection” etc etc.
So having been bitten myself and ‘survived’, here’s what to do if you find yourself in this unfortunate situation.
What to do if your hamster bites you and draws blood?
Firstly, it’s important to note that hamsters don’t set out to hurt you, although it can be rather painful.
And because hamsters have very long teeth (have a look next time your hamster yawns), it is normal for them to puncture the skin.
But don’t be afraid of your hamster, because although they do bite, it tends to be because they feel threatened in some way.
Now let’s have a look at some things you should do if you get bitten:
Release your hamster gently
When I was bitten by our hamster, he didn’t cling on to my finger, but if your hamster is hanging off the end of your finger then it’s important not to shake your hamster to get it to let go of its grip on you.
Simply lower your hamster into its cage and if necessary, you can use your other hand to gently pry it off.
What you mustn’t do is shout at your hamster (as tempting as it may be) because this will only scare it, it’ll start to perceive you as a threat and make it more likely to want to bite you again.
Treating the bite
Hamster bites can sometimes be quite deep and because they have a lot of bacteria in their mouths like we do, you need to put the affected area under the cold tap for a couple of minutes.
This is exactly what I did and after a couple of minutes, I dried my finger and put a plaster on the wound. I haven’t had any problems since.
If you are suffering from a large bite and the wound is quite deep, then you may need to use an antiseptic solution like povidone-iodine 1%.
You should then monitor the wound and if in a day or two, the wound looks infected or looks swollen, you may need to visit your doctor for a course of antibiotics.
A lot of people worry that they are in danger from a hamster bite and that they are in danger of contracting rabies.
However, according to Dr. Ron Hines, veterinarian, there has never been a human case of rabies caused by a hamster bite.
In addition, if you are bitten by a hamster, then according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), you will almost never require post exposure treatment for rabies.
In the Mumsnet Forum, one person reported that they contacted the NHS in the UK and were advised that you would be ok so long as you have had the Tetanus vaccine.
Why do hamsters bite
So why do hamsters bite? Well, if your hamster is tame and is handled regularly, then usually there is little reason for a hamster to bite you as they aren’t scared very easily at this point.
However, let’s look at some of the reasons why your hamster might bite you, so that you can try and avoid a nasty nip.
Hamsters bite when frightened
If you don’t handle your hamster regularly, or you have just bought your hamster and is now in a new home, then your hamster could bite you if you try to pick them up.
Hamsters are prey for a lot of animals and they’re not used to being picked up. They tend to only bite when they feel threatened and feel the need to protect themselves (along with their ability to run off, they don’t have much defense).
Mistaking you for food
Hamsters don’t have the best eyesight and they often rely on their sense of smell to navigate.
Hamsters have sensitive noses, so if for example you poke your finger into your hamster’s cage, you might be mistaken for food.
To avoid being bitten in this manner, it’s wise to wash your hands first before putting your hand into your hamster’s cage or even touching your hamster.
This will remove the scent of food from your hand and reduces the chance that your hamster will mistake you for a tasty snack.
If you use unscented soap (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned), then that will also allow you hamster to smell your natural scent and use it to recognise you in the future.
When hamsters sleep, they often go into a deep sleep, and so they are more prone to biting if they are startled or woken up from a deep sleep.
Instead, play with your hamster when it wakes up naturally, which is usually at night. If you are going to pick your hamster up, make sure they are awake and fully aware.
It’s also a good idea to let your hamster see your hand and arm before scooping them up.
Also, get to know your hamster. If your hamster doesn’t seem interested in interacting with you, then it’s best to leave it alone.
I thought I would include this reason, as this was the reason I got bitten.
Our hamster Richmond was in his hamster house. He was awake and so I thought that I would poke my finger inside to try and get him out so that we could interact with him (I didn’t know much about hamsters at the time).
This was a bad idea. I have since learned that hamsters are territorial animals and would have felt threatened by my finger, hence why he bit me.
Suffice to say, I won’t be doing this again any time soon!
Hamsters don’t like a lot of noise, they’re simply not used to it as there doesn’t tend to be a lot of noise at night in their natural habitat.
So, if you’re making too much noise, or your hamster is in a noisy part of your house, then your hamster can get frightened and may bite you.
Pregnant hamsters can get agitated before birth and so it’s best not to try and handle them around this time.
Like humans, hamsters have a lot of hormones coursing through their bodies, so when they are pregnant, you should give them plenty of space and treat them with respect.
Breaking up hamster fights
Certain hamster species should be kept alone, like Syrian hamsters for example, because they aren’t very sociable and tend to fight.
Other hamster species can be kept together, but only if they are of the same gender.
If you get this wrong however, hamsters can fight and if you try to separate them, then it’s likely that you will get bitten.
Usually, your hamster won’t intend to bite you in this situation, but could end up doing so during the commotion.
Rough handling by children
One final reason for hamster bites, is that if small children don’t handle them gently, they could cause the hamster to become upset.
Or, if the child is frightened of the hamster (and freak out), this could in turn, frighten the hamster and so the child is much more likely to be bitten, so it’s important that they handle the hamster calmly and gently.
How to stop a hamster biting you
In order to stop your hamster from biting you, it’s a good idea to try and work out why it’s biting you.
Unlike cats and dogs, hamsters are not tame from the get go, and can take a few weeks to a few months to become fully tamed and accustomed to you.
So until they’re tamed, they are going to be quite scared.
If it turns out that your hamster only bites you when putting your hand inside the cage, there’s a good chance that your hamster is cage territorial.
Quite often this is caused by having a cage that is too small for your hamster, so upgrading to a bigger cage (minimum 450 square inches) should do the trick.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, if your hamster bites you after you have eaten, then your hamster has mistaken you for food.
A hamster’s sense of smell is excellent, but their eyesight is quite poor.
Do you wake your hamster up or scare them in any way?
Hamsters, like humans, can get a little grumpy if you wake them up. Also, if you happen to scare your hamster, then biting is a way for them to defend themselves.
Talking quietly around your hamster and using slow (not sudden) movements, will help to prevent your hamster from biting.
If your hamster still bites, then chances are, you need to continue to tame your hamster. Here’s a couple of tips:
Consider using gloves. Some hamsters are simply not used to being picked up, so use gloves and get them used to it.
Use treats as rewards. As soon as your hamster realises that they will get a treat when they don’t bite you, they won’t bite anymore. Offer your hamster a little piece of apple.
If it takes it off you, great, you can then try and see if your hamster will take a piece out of the palm of your hand.
If you’ve just got your hamster and you have been bitten, then you need to spend time taming your hamster.
Hamsters are prey animals and so they are naturally very scared and timid.
When we first got Richmond, we didn’t attempt to pick him up for at least two to three days, and you should do the same.
Simply set up his cage, give him some food, water and bedding and let him get used to his new surroundings.
Your hamster is going to be very confused at first and so it will take time for your hamster to adjust to its new environment.
During this time, it’s a good idea for you to spend time talking to your hamster, that way he/she will get used to your smell and presence.
After a few days, try to pet them, but use the back of your hand, that way your hamster won’t bite you too badly because the back of your hand is flat and smooth and there isn’t much to grab.
Finally, you need to be patient with your hamster. It can take weeks or even months to tame your hamster to get them to stop biting, so don’t give up!
In this post, we’ve looked at what a hamster bite feels like, what to do if you are bitten and finally, we’ve looked at some ways in which you can prevent your hamster from biting you.
A biting hamster can really make you wish you hadn’t bothered and can make you resent your hamster, but hamsters are not aggressive animals, rather they are prey animals that are just really really scared and are often just trying to defend themselves.
So stick by your hamster, give him time to get used to you and soon enough you’ll have a loveable hamster which will bring a lot of fun and happiness to your family.