Sometimes hamsters can exhibit worrying or aggressive behaviours, seemingly without cause. Acting this way is often not an indication of your hamster’s personality - there is usually a very good reason that the animal is acting this way. For example, some owners don’t understand that captive hamsters will need to be tamed in order to enjoy being handled by their owners, and that without the taming process hamsters can be very scared of interacting with humans.
Even if your hamster has been tamed, some problem behaviours can still arise due to illness or fear. Whatever the problem, it’s likely that some knowledge of hamster psychology will help you to understand what’s making your hamster act this way.
Hamsters can bite out of fear
If your hamster bites you when you hold it, then there are several potential causes. The list below includes some suggestions.
Your hamster has not been tamed
If you’ve only just got your hamster, or have had your hamster for a long time without taming it, then it’s likely that your hamster is biting you because it is a little frightened of you. In the wild, predators would grab hamsters, which is what your hamster may think is happening when you put your hand into its cage. For information on taming your hamster, have a look at our ‘How To Tame My Hamster’ section.
- You are not holding your hamster properly
If you grab your hamster without giving it time to acclimatise to your presence, then it can bite out of fear. Hamsters may also nibble you if you’re not physically holding them correctly, which can be very uncomfortable for your pet. If you’d like a guide on picking up your hamster, visit our ‘How To Pick Up A Hamster’ page.
- Your have woken your hamster
Hamsters are nocturnal, and will be very disorientated and quite upset if you wake them during the day. If they are confused and scared, then they are likely to bite you if you try to pick them up. It’s best to play with your hamster when it’s awake during the early evening and night, when it will be a lot more active and probably much more pleased to play with you.
- Your hamster is mistaking you for food
Hamsters have very poor eyesight, and are apt to try their luck when they’re unsure whether or not something is edible. If you often stick food through your hamster’s cage bars, then when you do the same with your finger, it will think that’s a tasty treat too!
- Your hamster is unwell If your hamster is suffering from a medical condition, such as mange, or a wound, then being handled by a human can be very painful. If your hamster suddenly takes a dislike to being handled, then this could the indicative of a health problem. Try to examine your hamster without picking it up, or, if this is too tricky, wear protective gloves. During health exams, it’s best to only hold your hamster just one or two centimeters above the floor in case it manages to wriggle free of your grip.
Circling or 'Twirling'
If your hamster is running around in circles, then it could be suffering from a brain injury or an ear infection. If your pet has just started twirling, then it’s likely an ear infection. If your pet has had an injury recently, or is quite young, then it could be a brain problem. You will want to take your pet to the vet for an accurate diagnosis, and possibly for treatment.
If your hamsters are fighting one another, then it’s likely that you’ll need to separate them, sometimes permanently. If the hamsters are fighting often, or if one hamster is preventing another from accessing food, then steps will need to be taken.
If you have two Syrian hamsters in the same cage, then you will need to purchase another cage and keep them apart. Syrian hamsters are extremely territorial, and the fighting can be fatal. If you’ve been keeping them together for a while, then be aware that even if they’ve been getting on fine previously, they can turn on each other very quickly, causing a lot of stress, and sometimes injury.
Hamsters housed together may fight, even species that can live together
If you have two hamsters of a species that can live together and they are fighting, then you should remove the hamster that is being aggressive and keep it in a temporary enclosure for a few days. When, on reintroducing it to its cage, they still fight, then they will need to be permanently separated.
If the fighting is only occasional, and blood is not drawn, then keep a close eye on how your hamsters behave towards one another. One tip to minimise outbreaks of fighting is to have one food bowl and one water bottle per hamster.
If your hamster is continually scratching itself, particularly so much so that it is drawing blood, then your hamster could have a health problem such as mites or mange. If you notice this behaviour in your pet then we advise that you give it a thorough health-check to try to determine the cause.
If you have introduced a new type of bedding recently and you suspect that this may be the cause, then try switching back to the old bedding for a while and see if the behaviour persists. If you can’t identify the problem or are not sure which parasite is causing the scratching, then it’s best to take your pet to the vet so that they can give a proper diagnosis.