Hamsters don't always enjoy each other's company, but believe it or not, they're very social animals who love spending time out of their cages and being handled by their owners. Taming and holding your hamster are excellent ways to bond and play, and can also help identify any health problems. But don't forget that your hamster may never have been handled before, so you need to be patient before taking the plunge.
Hamsters are very helpful animals who often enjoy being held as much as we do. Most hamsters can be tamed quickly with regular, gentle handling, but in order to build total trust, I recommend that you follow certain procedures when taming your hamster. This will minimize stress and anxiety and reduce the risk of finger-biting.
Perseverance (and a good dose of bribery) will pay off if you follow these basic steps to taming your hamster, and in a few weeks (or even months), your anxious, furry ninja will become a cuddly, happy hamster.
1. Start by helping your hamster settle in
Take a moment to put yourself in your hamster's shoes. Imagine suddenly being torn away from the bright lights and familiar smells of the pet shop, only to find yourself plunged into a new cage, with unfamiliar eyes staring back at you. That would be pretty scary, wouldn't it? That's the scenario your own hamster will have experienced when you first take him in. So be patient with him, give him time to settle in, adapt and explore his new environment.
As a family who has recently gone through the taming process, I know it's almost impossible to stop little hands from opening the cage to give their new best friend a cuddle. But believe me, the more time you give your hamster to relax, the quicker the taming process will be.
I advise you to give your hamster at least 2 to 3 days (if not more) to familiarize itself with its new environment. Talk to him regularly during this period so that he gets to know your voice, and check that he's happy to do normal hamster things, like eating, drinking and playing in your presence.
As tempting as these cute furballs are, don't rush this first step in taming your hamster, as it's important that he starts to trust you right from the start.
2. Give your hamster a few treats
When your hamster begins to show signs of curiosity towards you, for example by approaching the bars, you can start to coax him by offering him a treat. However, you must wait until he's fully awake, and never encroach on his personal space, such as his nest or litter box. So remember, always take things at your hamster's pace.
To start with, try giving him extra treats through the cage bars and, once he's happy to take them from your fingers, you can try placing your hand calmly inside - offering more treats from the palm of your hand.
Make sure your hands are clean and try to keep them as still as possible, as any sudden movement could frighten them. Don't worry if your hamster seems a little reluctant at first - if you continue the process little by little, he'll soon get used to your smell. It's also a good idea to mix up the snack you offer him, as this encourages him to try new foods and, if you choose something he's not interested in, he'll be less inclined to venture out.
Another good way to bond with your hamster is to place toilet paper you've handled in its cage for it to nestle into.
3. Start playing with him
Find a safe, secure place to hold, play and bond with your hamster outside its cage. This could be a large box, a play pen or, as we prefer, a bathtub.
Make sure the area is comfortable for you and your hamster, and offers a soft landing if your hamster decides to jump. Carefully coax your hamster into a container or cup using a tried-and-tested treat. At this stage, your hamster should be curious enough to jump straight into the container.
Carry him carefully to your safe play area. Once in the bath, settle him gently and let him run around, sniff you, climb on you and get to know you. Take tubes and hamster toys so they can romp, climb and nibble.
4. Learn how to hold your hamster properly
The next step is to get your hamster used to being held. Some people find this frightening, as untamed hamsters are often nervous. So if you're anxious, I'd advise you to wear gloves at first, so you don't have to worry about being bitten.
Once he's familiarized himself with the safe play area, I suggest you slowly place your hands in your hamster's path and let him run over them when he's on the ground. If he's happy to do this a few times, wait for him to climb on and gently encourage your hamster to move from one hand to the other, while supporting his back and bottom. Remember that hamsters can move quickly, so hold them low at first, while supporting them.
If he seems comfortable in your hands, you can try stroking him in the palm of your hand, with a small brush or a finger.
Once your hamster is happy to be held, the last step in taming it is to get it used to being held calmly.
It's very important that you pick up your hamster without panicking it, so don't lunge or grab it. Hamsters are notorious for having poor eyesight, and any rapid movement is likely to startle them.
When he shows signs of confidence and runs happily over your hands, start lifting him higher into the air before putting him down again so he understands that he won't hurt himself. You need to support his bottom with a cupping motion, so that he feels secure. If he starts to wiggle his feet or squeak, put him back on the floor immediately. Don't squeeze him too hard when he moves, and don't press him to stop.
Repeat this process regularly and for longer periods and they'll eventually get used to being held, to the point of sitting contentedly in your hand and reveling in being cuddled.