Why is my hamster biting me?

Close up of child's hands holding hamster
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you’re the proud pet parent of a little hammy who you love more than anything, but they keep trying to attack you every time you go near them, then you may have found yourself asking the question ‘why is my hamster biting me?’

Believe it or not, this is a more common phenomenon than you might think and it doesn’t necessarily mean your hamster is aggressive or that you’re not doing a great job of being a pet parent.

Even if you’ve invested in one of the best hamster cages, filled it with plenty of toys for your little one to keep themselves occupied with and you provide them with a nourishing and delicious diet, your hammy may still lash out when you come near them.

The good news is, that most of the time the reasons why your hamster is biting you are quite easy to figure out, and even better? It’s fixable! That’s right, armed with a few tips and tricks you can put a stop to your body being used as a chew toy and develop a loving and peaceful relationship with your pocket pet.

Below you’ll find five of the most common reasons that hamsters bite, as well as a range of tips and tricks you can use to help put an end to this unwanted behavior once and for all.

Why is my hamster biting me?

There are several common reasons why hamsters bite and being aware of them can help minimize the risk of your hammy lashing out when you come near them.

1. Type of hamster

Believe it or not, the type of hamster you have can actually play a part in how likely they are to bite you. Dwarf hamsters are more inclined to bite than Syrian hamsters and this is because of their smaller size. They tend to be more defenseless than their larger siblings because they can’t move as quickly and therefore feel more vulnerable.

Dwarf hamsters are also known for being more territorial than Syrian hamsters when it comes to their habitat, so biting could be a way of them trying to protect their home from what they see as an invasion. That’s not to say that a Syrian won’t also bite, but they’re not as hyperactive as Dwarf hamsters and are known for being friendlier. 

2. It doesn’t mean they’re aggressive

If your hamster is biting you, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’ve just struck it unlucky and got a nightmare for a pocket pet, but that’s not necessarily the case. Biting doesn’t automatically mean your hamster is aggressive.

Something that you might not know is that hamsters don’t have particularly strong or coordinated forepaws, so they tend to rely heavily on their dexterous jaw to move objects around. If your hand is in their cage, they could well be biting you simply as a means of trying to move your hand out of the way.

3. They don’t like being handled

Some hamsters simply don’t like being touched or handled in any way and may bite if you try to pick them up, not because they’re aggressive (as mentioned above), but because they’re feeling stressed or frightened. It’s important that you respect your hammy’s limits and don’t try to push them past what they’re comfortable with.

4. Your scent

One thing that a lot of us who own pocket pets may not be aware of is just how much our scent can act as a trigger for biting behavior. Hamsters have a very acute sense of smell and if they pick up any residual smell of food on your hands or the scent of another hamster, this can cause them to bite.

5. They may be injured or unwell

It’s possible that your hamster has taken a tumble off their exercise wheel and sprained their foot or is just feeling a bit under the weather. Not all injury or illness is obvious and it could be that you’re touching them somewhere that hurts. If you suspect your hammy may not be well, make sure you take them to the vet straight away for a check up.

How can I stop my hamster from biting me?

Hamster looking out of their cage

(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you’re getting bitten every time you try to go near your hammy, then you’re likely desperately in search of some tips and tricks to help you get closer to your pocket pet without the risk of injury. And the good news is, there’s plenty you can do to reduce the likelihood of your hammy lashing out.

1. Build trust slowly

It can be tempting to want to rush right in there and smother your new hammy with love, but just like we humans can take time to warm up to strangers, our pocket pets need that same time to warm up to us. 

If your hamster is a new addition to your family, give them some time to get used to their environment and adjust to the changes. Don’t try and handle them at all during the first week, but do stay close by. 

You may find it helpful to sit by the cage and talk to your hammy so that they can get used to the sound of your voice. Placing a tissue or one of the best hamster toys in their cage with your scent on it can also be a great way of getting them used to you. 

2. Use treats

We’re not sure about you, but food will get you almost anywhere with us and the same often applies with our pocket pets. We mean, seriously, if someone offered you your favorite treat, how could you not fall in love with them? It’s impossible!

Vegetables and nuts are a great treat choice, although don’t overdo the latter given how high in calories they are. Hold out the treat and allow them to nibble it, but don’t try to touch them as this could scare them and cause them to engage in the very behavior you’re trying to get them to stop.

3. Don’t disturb them if they’re sleeping

Trust us, you do not want to wake a sleeping hamster. In fact, we can’t think of many pets or people that enjoy being woken from a deep slumber to be held or played with, it can cause a major cause of the grumps and could well lead to you being bitten.

4. Be gentle

It’s important that all your movements when you’re around your hamster are calm, slow, and gentle. If you’re wanting to initiate contact, proceed at a cautious pace. Take some time to sit by the cage first and perhaps let your hammy smell your hand before you touch them. 

The best way to try to get your hammy to engage is to hold out your hand and let them come to you. If they hop into your palm, great, if they won’t come near you, don’t try and force it. Let interactions happen naturally, on their terms and at their pace.

5. Wash your hands

Always, always, always wash your hands before you go anywhere near your hamster. Remember, they have an acute sense of smell and will pick up on the scent of food or other animals. 

Kathryn Williams
Freelance writer

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has been a member of the PetsRadar family since it launched in 2020. Highly experienced in her field, she's driven by a desire to provide pet parents with accurate, timely, and informative content that enables them to provide their fur friends with everything they need to thrive. Kathryn works closely with vets and trainers to ensure all articles offer the most up-to-date information across a range of pet-related fields, from insights into health and behavior issues to tips on products and training. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with her family (which includes one super sassy cat), drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.