Congratulations, you’ve just brought home a hamster. You’re all ready: The cage is set up with its paper bedding, there’s food in the dish and water available — and even a few toys scattered about for your new addition to the family.
Just one problem: Your hamster seems terrified of you. But why? Doesn’t she know that she’s in a new, happy home?
With the help of The Pet Owner’s Guide to Hamsters: Everything You Need to Know About Owning a Happy and Healthy Hamster by Matthew Debanks, let’s take a look at some reasons your hamster may be afraid.
When you first bring your hamster home, she is in an entirely new place. New smells, sounds and sights surround her. She may also be separated from her litter mates for the first time in her life. All of these factors can scare a hamster.
The Humane Society of the United States recommends that, for the first few days of your hamster’s homecoming, keep a light cloth over her cage. Debanks concurs, adding, “When you first bring your hamster home, you should not attempt to touch them for at least a few days, and generally it is a good idea to give them a week or so. This will allow them to get used to their new cage and their new surroundings.”
Giving your hamster some time and space allows her to explore her new environment without being overwhelmed by the stimuli of the outside world.
You may not think you’re all that big, but to a hamster, you’re bigger than anything she’s ever seen. Put yourself in her place: Imagine walking down the street and a skyscraper suddenly coos at you and bends over to pick you up.
I don’t know if you’d scream, but I know I would.
“Before you handle your hamsters you first need to tame them,” says Debanks. “If the hamster is not yet tame and you attempt to handle them, they may bite you. Remember that this is a purely defensive response and is because the hamster is scared, not because they are aggressive.”
It will take time and patience, but eventually you hamster will get used to your smell and sounds and get more comfortable with being picked up and held.
Hamsters don’t always take to change well. If your hamster suddenly seems stressed after a long period of relative calm, think about what might have changed recently in her surroundings:
- Did another pet come into the house?
- Have small children come to visit lately?
- Has her routine changed?
- Did she get a new cage/dish/water bottle?
All of these things can affect your hamster. If she is suddenly shy, be patient and figure out what might be the cause. It can be many factors, even something as small as moving her to a different room. Give her some time and love, and she will settle back down.
It’s not just humans — even hamsters’ own parents can scare the living daylights out of them:
Do Not Disturb
Hamsters can get stressed or scared if you wake them up.
Sometimes, of course, it can’t be helped — a sudden backfire out in the street, a loud noise, you need to move their cage, etc. But don’t wake your hamster up just to play.
“If you wake up your hamster to play with them, then they will be grumpy, so you need to allow them to wake up on their own before you start to play with them,” advises Debanks.
Hamsters are fantastic additions to any household, but they do take patience, care and understanding on your part to make them feel safe. Discourage other people from handling her — she may bite out of fear, and it’s not unlikely that a startled guest could drop your hamster. Better to play it safe and only let visitors take in the sight of your cute, big-cheeked pal instead of handling her.
Give your hamster some time. Let her set the pace, and try not to stress her out by exposing her to too much, too fast. Eventually, she’ll come to know, trust and love you.