How To Pet A Hamster (Hamster Handling 101)

How To Pet A Hamster

Cuddling with a hamster is a lot different than cuddling with a cat or a dog. One can easily injure a hamster by mistake if unfamiliar with small animals and how they should be handled. If you recently brought home a hamster or are researching hamster care to prepare for your new pet, it is important that you learn how to handle them properly. 

How do you pet and handle a hamster? Before petting a hamster, you should first gain his trust by letting him explore, come to you, and encourage him with treats. When you pick him up, allow him to step into your hands rather than reaching for him from above. When petting a hamster, use one finger to gently stroke his back, belly, or the top of his head.

Before reaching for your hamster, read on for more helpful tips on handling your pocket pet the right way. Below we will detail how to earn trust with your hamster (arguably the most important piece), how to physically pick up your hamster in a safe and respectful manner, how to gently pet your hamster, and how to read your pet’s body language. 

How To Pet A Hamster: Gaining Their Trust

If you have recently brought home a new hamster, you will need to work on gaining trust before you attempt to pet or hold him.

If you have had your hamster for some time but have gotten off on the wrong foot, you will need to “reset” your relationship and go back to the basics to earn this trust. You can build trust with your hamster by following a few simple steps:

Don’t Touch Your Hamster 

For the first few days, that is. When you first bring your hamster home, place him in his cage and let him be. He may spend this time exploring, he may spend this time hiding, or he may spend this time doing a little bit of both.

You don’t want to compound the stress he is under by reaching in and picking him up while he is still becoming accustomed to his new surroundings. 

Important, however, is that you allow your hamster to begin getting accustomed to you while he is exploring his space. Sit outside of the cage as much as you can while speaking gently to him. This way he will get used to your voice and your scent, all from the safety of his enclosure. 

Allow Your Hamster Autonomy 

You want your hamster to want to spend time with you. Give her some control of the situation by allowing her to say yes or no to you. When you first start reaching into her cage to pet her, she may run away and hide. Let her do so. When she is ready, she will come to you, and until then you will slowly earn her trust by showing patience and respecting her.

Give Your Hamster Treats

Food is the love language of hamsters (some of us humans can identify with them in this way). If you have a hamster that is especially shy, chances are you can win him over with treats.

Offer him a blueberry, cucumber slice, small cracker, or other safe treats to encourage him to come to you. Likewise, after you’ve spent time with your hamster outside of the cage and you put him back, offer another small treat. He will come to look forward to his time with you. 

How Should You Pet Your Hamster?

Your hamster may enjoy being pet on the back, belly, top of the head, or under the chin. You will be able to tell where your hamster most enjoys being pet by her behavior – if his body language suggests he feels relaxed and if he is not attempting to move away from your touch, you can assume that he enjoys the petting (more on hamster body language below). 

When you first begin petting your hamster, let him get used to your fingers before placing them on him. Reach into his cage and keep your hand still in a relaxed position.

Let him explore your fingers by smelling them and/or nibbling on them before you reach out to touch him. This may help him feel more comfortable.

When you pet your hamster, stroke gently with just one finger (or two, if petting the back of a larger hamster). It is very important to closely supervise if you have a young child with a hamster – it is difficult for children to regulate the pressure they are using when petting an animal, and a hamster can be easily injured if handled roughly. 

How To Pick Up A Hamster

To understand how to pick up a hamster, it is helpful to try to see the world through your hamster’s eyes. Not all hamsters live in safe enclosures – several species of wild hamsters live in prairies, woods, and deserts around the globe.

These animals have many natural predators, coming from both land and air. Hamsters are instinctively cautious of anything coming toward them from above. If your hamsters are not yet comfortable with you, and you reach your hand into their cage and attempt to grab them from above, they will very likely run away from you (or bite you).

So what is the best way to pick up your hamster? Put your hand, or hands, inside of the cage in front of your hamster. You will ideally wait until your hamster climbs into your hands before you securely lift her out of the cage.

Make sure that you cup your hands so that she cannot escape through your fingers – hamsters have terrible depth perception and will walk right off of your hands, putting themselves at risk unintentionally. 

If you have a hamster who refuses to climb into your hands regardless of how patient you are, you can try placing a coffee mug or other similar object into your hamster’s cage with a treat enclosed within. When your hamster climbs into the mug, lift it up and gently drop her into your hands. 

Do Hamsters Like Being Pet And Handled?

Whether your hamster enjoys being handled will depend on his past experiences and his personality. If you are patient and gentle with your hamster, following the steps outlined here, there is a good chance your hamster will genuinely enjoy the time he spends with you.

If he has had negative experiences in the past with humans (treated disrespectfully, dropped, or handled roughly), it will likely take him longer to feel secure with you than otherwise. These hamsters may take extra “enticing” in the form of healthy treats, and an even slower approach. 

That said, some hamsters will be naturally friendlier and more curious than others. This may come down to breed, but can also come down to the individual personalities of each animal. The larger Syrian (or Teddy Bear) hamsters tend to be friendlier and more receptive to handling than the smaller dwarf hamsters.

It would be a good idea to consider how you would like to interact with your hamster before deciding on a breed. Though it would be nice to try handling multiple hamsters before choosing one, most of the larger pet stores will not allow you to pet any of the animals before purchasing. 

How To Tell If A Hamster Likes Being Pet

You should be able to determine whether your hamster likes being handled by his body language.

If your hamster spends his time stretching or grooming himself while you are holding him, you can safely assume that he feels relaxed and safe with you.

This should be the ultimate goal and can take time – while not impossible, it would be unlikely that your hamster will display these relaxed postures while you are holding him for the first time. 

If his ears are pricked forward and he is highly alert, you can assume that he feels insecure and may need a slower approach. Be very patient, and keep his outing with you short – feeling unsafe is stressful for your pet, and you will want to keep your visits shorter until he feels more comfortable.

If his ears are pinned, he is showing his teeth, or he is taking a “boxing” stance, he feels threatened, and it would be a good idea to back off and try again later. If you do not respect his space in this situation, there is a high chance you will be bitten (and yes, speaking from experience, those small hamster teeth are sharp and can absolutely break skin).

Petting And Handling Your Hamster The Right Way 

Hamsters are so small and fragile, and working with them can seem daunting. Though you may initially be nervous about handling your tiny pet, if you are patient and go about it the right way, you will be rewarded with a long and trusting relationship with your hamster.

Ready to learn more about owning and caring for hamsters? You can check out my articles below or find my latest articles here!

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