How Can I Get My Hamster to Trust Me?

Updated on May 9, 2018
poppyr profile image

Poppy is a proofreader and Dragon Age fan. She lives in Tokyo and has two hamsters named Zelda and Hemingway.

A hamster is an inexpensive pet that is easy to take care of and suitable for children. They are very sweet and can be tamed reasonably quickly and easily, but what happens when upon bringing your new fluff ball home you notice that they are terrified and won't approach you? Even after some time goes by, the little guy or gal might still be shy, jumpy, or afraid of you.

Shy Zelda
Shy Zelda | Source

I bought a boy and a girl hamster and because the shop owner wasn't very gentle or patient, they were extremely jumpy and nervous. Although it took some time, they are now very friendly and sweet! So, how can you get your hamster to trust you? Here are some things to do and not do to turn your nervous pet into your new best friend.

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1. Get an Adequately Sized Cage

Make sure your hamster has an adequately sized cage, ideally with several floors and plenty of space to run around. Wild hamsters run miles and miles every night, and if he or she has enough space, she'll be happy.

My hamster became a lot friendlier after I gave her a larger cage with three floors and plenty of space. I recommend the fantastic three-floor Hamster Haven by Prevue to keep your hamster busy and happy climbing and exploring. I used it for my first hamster and there was plenty of space for him to run around and climb.

Zelda and Hemingway in their cages
Zelda and Hemingway in their cages | Source

2. Let Her Get Used to Her Surroundings

When you bring your new hamster home, she might be in a new cage. Your home smells completely different from the pet store or her previous home. She is surrounded by new people who smell different. If she's young, she might be away from her nest mates for the first time.

All of these are nerve-wracking for a hamster and the first thing she needs is some personal space in which she can feel safe. The last thing she wants is to be handled and bothered.

Leave her alone for several days to get used to her new home and the smells that surround her. During this time, she can spread her own scent around the cage, build a nest, and maybe hoard some food.

3. Establish a Routine

Change the water and food daily, but don't touch her yet. Don't worry if she is startled at first. She will start to get used to your hands coming in and out of the cage and learn that your presence means fresh water and new food. If need be, add tissue paper or extra bedding. Do this at the same time every day, if you can. Late evening is ideal as hamsters are more alert at night. She will start to get used to you showing up every day to give her fresh food and water, and you might start to see her come out of her nest to watch you or run to the food bowl as soon as you're done.

Zelda and Hemingway enjoying some treats
Zelda and Hemingway enjoying some treats | Source

4. Let Her Come to You

It is very important that you let the hamster come to you first. Do not chase her or forcibly grab her or she might get frightened and bite you. Wash your hands thoroughly first. Put a treat on your hand and lay it flat inside the cage. She might come and sniff at your fingers, and she might nibble; don't be startled if she does this. She is likely testing if you are food.

If you are lucky, she might crawl on your hand right away and eat the treat. She might sniff at your fingers and then ignore you, which is fine as well. Put the treat closer to the edge of your hand where it is easier for her to reach. She might not feel comfortable crawling onto your hand completely just yet.

Do not:

  • Grab her
  • Make any sudden movements
  • Make any loud noises
  • Chase her around the cage

Once she feels okay with sitting on your hand, gently stroke her back with your free hand. After doing this two or three times over a few days, try bringing her out of the cage still on top of your hand.

One of Zelda and Hemingway's babies
One of Zelda and Hemingway's babies | Source

5. Do Not Punish Your Hamster

Unlike other animals such as dogs, hamsters have no concept of bad behaviour and do not understand punishment. Most of the time, hamsters do "bad" things out of either fright or boredom.

If your hamster is biting you, distract it with a toy or a treat. A nibble generally means that they're testing out your scent. My last hamster, Shakespeare, constantly licked and nibbled my hands as a sign of affection. If your hamster bites hard, it means they're scared and don't want to be on your hand. Hamsters are naturally prey animals and get startled quite easily.

Time will tell what makes your hamster bite. Reinforce good behaviour with treats, and stop doing things that makes your hamster stressed.

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6. Learn Your Hamster's Personality

Hamsters don't like sudden loud noises or movements. Your hamster will trust you if they know you're gentle and speak quietly.

What does it mean if my hamster squeaks?

Hamsters can make noises for several reasons. Zelda always squeaks at Hemingway when they're together when she's feeling grumpy. A hamster can make a frightened sort of screaming sound if they're really scared; if your hamster does this, stop what you are doing and leave it alone for a while.

Hamsters can also make happy little chirping noises, but all hamsters are different. Hemingway never makes any noises at all, although Zelda is very vocal when she likes to be. Learn your hamster's personality, and you'll start to understand what they are comfortable with.

Source

7. Enrich Your Hamster's Habitat

Once things have settled down and your hamster is coming to you, exploring your hand, and exploring the room, give your little friend some extra things to keep them from getting bored. If your hamster is bored, it might dig continuously in the same spot or nibble at the bars of its cage.

For a happy, healthy hamster:

  • Install a wheel. Make sure it is big enough as a small wheel can injure the hamster's back.
  • Give your hamster chew toys. Wood is perfect as they can gnaw at it. See if your local pet store has it.
  • Give it fresh vegetables. Cucumber, carrot, and lettuce is good. See what your hamster likes and dislikes.
  • Let your hamster ride in an exercise ball. This is a great way to get your hamster out of its cage for a while in a safe way. Make sure you don't keep her in the ball for longer than twenty minutes.
  • Give your hamster old toilet paper rolls. My hamsters love crawling inside them and chewing them up.
  • Add unscented tissue paper to the cage. Hamsters like to tear it up and add it to their nest for comfortable bedding.

If you provide a happy home and a calm environment, your hamster will look forward to playtime with you!

Zelda can't wait to play
Zelda can't wait to play

With these important steps, you will soon have a healthy and happy hamster that completely trusts you! Always be kind to your pet, feed them every day, clean their cage once a week, and soon you will go from giant stranger to beloved best friend.

Hamsters are really sweet creatures and it is worthwhile having one that trusts you. Good luck, and enjoy!

Questions & Answers

  • We have had our dwarf hamster for a week, but she nibbles me soft, then hard then harder, and she doesn’t like us near the cage and seems to scream. I have handled her and was told she is tame but feel she just wants to have no contact with humans. What do I do?

    One week isn’t nearly long enough for her to get used to you. Do you let her come to you? If she’s hissing or “screaming” when you approach the cage then it’s probably not a good idea to pick her up.

    Please read the article carefully because it sounds as though you’ve missed some steps. Don’t pick her up unless she comes to you and always be quiet around her cage.

© 2018 Poppy

Comments

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  • poppyr profile image
    Author

    Poppy 7 weeks ago from Tokyo, Japan

    Thanks, Mike :)

  • Mike Hardy profile image

    Mike Hardy 7 weeks ago from Caseville, Michigan

    Excellent article...as a former Gerbil owner your spot on.

  • Coffeequeeen profile image

    Louise Powles 2 months ago from Norfolk, England

    Thanks for the advice. I used to have a hamster years ago. He was very cute and I used to love holding him.

  • poppyr profile image
    Author

    Poppy 2 months ago from Tokyo, Japan

    Hi! Yes, they're very sweet! Thank you so much for commenting :)

  • nikkikhan10 profile image

    Nikki Khan 2 months ago from London

    Hi Poppy, your article is very interesting and loved the pictures of hamsters.I never had them as a pet but I love to watch them in the zoo.They are so sweet little animals, thanks for sharing about them.

  • poppyr profile image
    Author

    Poppy 2 months ago from Tokyo, Japan

    Hi, Flourish! Thank you for your lovely comment. I agree that plastic is much better than metal, and Zelda and Hemingway live separately. I bred them once and gave the babies for free to happy homes, which was a great experience.

    Lettuce is okay but you have to remove it within a day if they don't eat it all. Wet tail is usually caused by stress, but you're right that hamsters can also have diarrhea if they eat too much of the wrong thing.

    Thank you very much for your thoughtful comment. It is much appreciated as always.

  • poppyr profile image
    Author

    Poppy 2 months ago from Tokyo, Japan

    They are sweethearts! Very easy to take care of and can be quite cheeky, too.

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 2 months ago from USA

    These are such beautiful photos! You obviously love these two. In the US, most responsible pet shops will not sell a male and female together because hamsters and gerbils breed very rapidly (don't let them out at the same time to prevent that issue and space the cages enough distance if you know what I mean).

    I used to have hamsters when I was in college and my daughter was young. They always lived about 4 years for me. I found that one of the plastic exercise balls rather than the metal wheels was always preferable. I usually had one set up inside the case and used one for allowing them to travel around my home or apartment outside the cage. (I knew of too many hamster escapes through heating systems to trust them alone.) Also at that time, you could also buy plastic houses with large connecting tunnel systems that were reconfigurable. It was fun to build and watch them use it. I also gave them different textures of hamster-sized cardboard boxes that they could make their nests in. Just remove the top panel. It allowed them to make their nests darker during the day since they are chiefly nocturnal. I also tended to avoid lettuce, watermelon, and other very wet fruits and vegetables because they caused a wet rear end (diarrhea). Raisins and whole, unsalted peanuts were also appreciated snacks. Best of luck on loving your sweet little babies. They are so beautiful.

  • EricFarmer8x profile image

    Eric Farmer 2 months ago from Phoenix Arizona

    I had a pet hamster as a kid. I don't remember much about it. My mom was the one that really took care of it.

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