Are Hamsters Mean? What You Need To Know

Are Hamsters Mean?

If you are considering adopting a hamster, you may be wondering about their temperament – are hamsters nice, or are they more likely to be mean?

Are hamsters mean? Hamsters are not inherently mean. They are vulnerable prey animals and will react defensively when they feel threatened. Most hamsters are easily tamed if handled consistently and with patience.

Nature vs. nurture – these two factors are often considered at odds with one another, but in reality, they work together to form the character of a person or animal. The behavior of a hamster is the product of both his past experiences (nurture) and his genetic composition (nature). Read on to find out more about the nature of hamsters and how you can attempt to nurture them into tame and trusting pets!

Why Hamsters May Be Considered Mean

How you feel about the temperament of hamsters will most likely depend on your own past experiences with them. You may have handled an especially friendly hamster in the past – one who greeted you at the door of the cage and happily climbed into your hands.

Or you may have handled, or possibly been bitten by, a seemingly aggressive hamster in the past. Before casting judgment, it’s important to understand more about hamsters.

Hamsters are very small, have few natural defenses, and are generally considered to be easy pickings for their natural predators. To survive in the wild, they must at all times remain aware of any potential threats – and they will do everything they can to get away when faced with one. For this reason, most hamsters are skittish around unfamiliar people, especially if they have been mishandled in the past. 

There are two reasons that people may consider a hamster to be mean: their behavior toward humans, and their behavior toward one another. We will attempt to look at each of these issues through the lens of a hamster.

Are Hamsters Mean To Humans?

If we consider the term “mean” to imply cruel or unkind behavior, we cannot say that hamsters fit this descriptor. Almost all hamsters who have had a negative or no experience with humans will be fearful when confronted with them.

A fearful hamster will react one of two ways when a human tries to pick her up – she will either try to run away (flight) or she will stand her ground and use the only defense that she has (fight).

Neither of these behaviors can be considered mean or even aggressive – but are rather, these are defensive behaviors. 

Is A Hamster Being Mean When They Bite Humans?

If a hamster is going to face down a threat, he will probably use the only real defense that he has – his bite. Hamsters are small, but they have sharp teeth and a comparatively strong jaw. When confronted, some hamsters may bite – this might be a warning nibble, or it might draw blood.

A hamster who bites a human is feeling fearful. If one is patient and slow, going back to the basics of introduction, most previously fearful hamsters can learn to trust a human. This will involve allowing the hamster her own space, teaching her that her space and feelings will be respected, and taking slow and careful measures to re-introduce her to human interaction and handling. 

There is another reason a hamster may bite, and that is the scent on your hands. Hamsters have an incredible sense of smell – which they rely on for their very survival in both finding food and sensing predators.

If you try to pick up your hamster immediately after handling another animal, your pet will smell that animal on your skin, even though you probably won’t. This may confuse your hamster, who will sense a possible threat and may react with a bite. 

Of course, we mentioned that hamsters use this sense of smell not only to perceive threats but also to find food. If you pick up your hamster right after eating a snack or preparing a meal, your hamster will smell that food on you and might mistake your finger for a pretzel stick or a baby carrot.

This will most likely feel more like a nibble rather than a real bite. Bottom line, if your hamster is biting because of a threatening or tasty smell on your hands, the easy solution is to wash your hands thoroughly with unscented soap before you handle your hamster. 

Some Hamster Breeds Are More Likely To Be Mean Than Others

There are a few different species of hamsters sold as pets. Some of them are more likely to make friendlier pets than others. If you’d like the best chance at adopting a hamster with which you can interact and bond, it may be a good idea to look at the species available at your local pet store. 

Syrian Hamster – the Syrian is considered to be the friendliest of the hamster species. They are quite a bit larger than the others (with the rest all considered dwarf hamsters), and they are generally docile and receptive to human handling. They are also bigger and sturdier than the smaller species, making them an ideal first hamster for older, responsible children. 

Winter White and Campbell’s Dwarf – both the Winter White and the Campbell’s dwarf hamsters are typically easy to tame from a young age. Both can be receptive to human interaction if allowed a slow and patient introduction.

Roborovski (Robo) – the Robo is another dwarf hamster widely available in many pet stores. While they can make good pets if handled from a young age and with patience, they are considered to be the least social of hamster species and can be the most resistant to human handling.

This doesn’t mean that your Robo hamster is destined to be antisocial and defensive with you – there are plenty of cuddly Robo’s who have learned to enjoy the company of their humans (just see YouTube for evidence!). 

While the temperaments of the above hamsters are a general rule, there are many individuals who buck the trend. As stated, having a Robo does not mean you will be unable to handle your pet. Just as having a Syrian does not guarantee you a friendly hamster.

Most pet stores will not allow you to handle a hamster before purchase, so even if you have to roll the dice with the one that you choose, you can work with your hamster to gain trust and, ultimately, will need to be okay with accepting and respecting the individual personality of your hamster. 

Are Hamsters Mean To Other Hamsters?

Another reason that hamsters might be considered mean is their relationship with one another. Hamsters are solitary animals, preferring to live alone in the wild and only coming together for the purposes of procreation. They are highly territorial (some species more so than others) and will often act both defensively and aggressively when crossing paths with one another. 

Syrian Hamsters: The Least Social Species

While Syrian hamsters are your best bet if you would like a friendly pet, they are actually the least friendly when it comes to hamster-hamster interaction. Syrians are among the most territorial of hamster species and should never be kept together in the same enclosure.

If you have multiple hamsters (in separate enclosures), you will need to be especially careful about washing your hands thoroughly before handling a Syrian hamster. They can even experience stress if in the same room as another hamster because their heightened sense of smell will pick up the scent of a challenger. 

How Dwarf Hamsters Tolerate One Another

While all hamsters prefer to live alone if, given the choice, some (same-sex) dwarf hamsters can live together peacefully if kept together from a young age. The most tolerable species are the Winter White and the Campbell’s dwarf.

If you would like to have hamsters that can live in a colony environment, you may find the most success if adopting siblings (just make sure they are of the same gender, or they will begin mating at as young an age as 4-6 weeks).

Make sure to keep a close eye on them and watch for signs of fighting – even if your colony has been together for several months, they can suddenly become territorial, and if this happens, one or more will need to be separated. 

The Verdict: Are Hamsters Mean?

So what is the temperament of hamsters? Each hamster will be different – a product of not only his genetics and breeding but also his individual past experiences. Many hamsters will be friendly with humans. Some may be defensive and act out of fear. But whether your hamster is friendly or reactive, he is not mean. 

If you have a naturally friendly hamster, consider yourself fortunate. But if you have a fearful, skittish hamster, all is not lost. As is the case with other pets (and humans, for that matter), through patience and empathy, you can teach a previously fearful hamster to trust you.

Hamsters are hamsters, and work and understanding will not guarantee you a cuddly pet, but you should at least be able to earn enough trust not to be bitten whenever you offer a hand.

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