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Hamster Behavioural Problems


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.


hamster biting
Hamsters can bite out of fear

Biting

If your hamster bites you when you hold it, then there are several potential causes. The list below includes some suggestions.

  1. 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.


  2. 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.


  3. 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.


  4. 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!


  5. 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.


Fighting

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 may fight
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.


Severe scratching

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.

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Comments

Leanne, 29 May 2020

Hi, I have a golden Syrian hamster who has just turned 2 and a half years old, he's a lovley character and he's such a sweet animal very chilled, dosent mind being held never bites. All of a sudden as from yesterday he has become highly distressed and is scratching and running around the cage and chewing on bars ( never done this before). Iv checked his teeth they are a good size, his fur is in good condition with no bald patches, his eyes are bright and sparkly, checked him over for lumps couldn't find anything, eating and drinking fine urinating fine, his claws feel a little sharp, he's going bonkers in his cage, I don't understand we have no other pets, I would take him to a vet but covid 19 is making this difficult. I feel so sorry for him, I don't know how to help him.x


Leanne, 29 May 2020

Hi, I have a golden Syrian hamster who has just turned 2 and a half years old, he's a lovley character and he's such a sweet animal very chilled, dosent mind being held never bites. All of a sudden as from yesterday he has become highly distressed and is scratching and running around the cage and chewing on bars ( never done this before). Iv checked his teeth they are a good size, his fur is in good condition with no bald patches, his eyes are bright and sparkly, checked him over for lumps couldn't find anything, eating and drinking fine urinating fine, his claws feel a little sharp, he's going bonkers in his cage, I don't understand we have no other pets, I would take him to a vet but covid 19 is making this difficult. I feel so sorry for him, I don't know how to help him.x


Dana, 21 April 2020

We have had our dwarf hamster for 3 months and he would always let us pick him up, play with us, and he never bite me. One day he started randomly climbing on his bars (which he never did before) chewing on them, running around and started biting me, so we looked for new cages and new toys for him, we ordered a bunch of stuff and looked in his cage and he was suddenly dead. His feet looked a little blue but we don’t know if it was heart disease. Very sad night for my daughter and I.


Mackenzie, 16 April 2020

I got my hamster from a previous owner and it’s about a year and a half now a long haired Syrian and was always so energetic and exited and kept me up all the time until about just a couple of months ago seemed to have what looked like a strike so I read up on it and it said she might be going into hibernation which isn’t supposed to happen, then two days later was fine so I’m very confused then about a week or two later the same thing happened again and I did everything heat pad under cage heater in room I mean everything and she seemed to be fine again until today she is now acting different again but is twisting her back and walking weird and keeps falling asleep everywhere like while she is trying to walk on her wheel or when drinking water and she isn’t eating much either help someone I don’t want her to die.


Dorothy, 10 April 2020

I have had my dwarf hamster for 7 months and she has always let me pick her up and make a fuss of her, but suddenly a week ago, as soon as she sees me she rushes back to her bed and if I try to pick her up she bites me. Does anyone know why this is? Could it be a health problem? It is very upsetting.

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