How do I tame my hamster?
How do I hold my hamster without being bitten?
First of all, a lot of people think hamsters are an "easy" first pet, and a good choice for small children. I enjoyed the hamsters I had as a kid, and my daughter has loved hers, but the fact is they have a lot of downsides.
They might be OK for some families, but they're buggers for biting and, escaping, and dying. They're solitary, territorial and nocturnal. Your kid will want to interact in the afternoon after school, and the ham probably won't be awake until the kiddo is headed to bed.
This should go without saying, but: like any pet, give it a fair bit of thought before you bring them home.
Alright, so you're undeterred. You'd like to build a rapport with the little critter. You want to be able to handle him or her easily. Read on.
Tip #1: Choose Wisely
The best options are baby hamsters, or adult hamsters who are already tame. (Adult pet shop bought hams are rarely tame.)
Keep in mind, they are usually short-lived - it is common for them to only live a couple of years. An adult might not have long left on the clock.
Anecdotally, females can be more territorial and stroppy than males. The friendliest ham I ever had was a female, mind you, so this is only a very general rule. All the same, from this point on, I'll assume you've picked a male.
Hamsters are solitary creatures. The breeder or pet shop might keep several babies together, but eventually each ham will need an enclosure to himself. If the ham is living the solo life already, he might be more tricky to tame. If you're a first time ham enthusiast (a "ham-ster" if you will) leave that little dude for a more experienced owner.
Pictured: a friendly ham. NB: do not slice your ham.
Tip #2: Scent Trails
Before you bring your ham home, set up his cage. (See tip #5.) Run your hands through his bedding and substrate so that he can begin to get used to to your smell from the moment you bring him home (without you having to shove your huge fleshy talon in his terrified little face). After the first 24 hours, there's likely to be times when you do need to put your hand in the cage - pause to repeat the process. Keep a respectful distance for now. This whole "letting him smell me" malarkey usually just freaks them out.
Pictured: Your hands
Tip #3: Do Not Touch
For the first 24hrs minimum, if not the first 2-3 days. Make sure the whole she-bang is set up before you bring your adorable ham-ling home so that you don't even have to put your talons in the cage at all for the first full day or so.
There are some who would say not to touch your new pet for a week at least, because they need this time to settle in.
There is a lot to be said for this argument, because hamsters are extremely prone to stress. But this must be balanced against the importance of capitalising on the vanishing valuable window of hamlinghood to tame the little fella. In my opinion, some brief careful handling can be done before the first week is out.
Tip #4: Do all you can to minimise stress
Keep his food, bedding and substrate the same as he is used to. Ideally, he should have a little bedding from the breeder or pet shop in the box he is transported in.
For the first couple of weeks, do as little dicking about with the cage as possible. You might be tempted to do lots of cleaning and whatnot - hamsters loathe this.
Once you start handling him, keep it short and sweet.
Tip #5: Clean Hands, Whole Hands
Hamsters have crap eyes, so scent is a major sense for them. If you smell like food, you could get nibbled. Wash them, ya grot.
Tip #6: Move slow
Hammies are natural prey animals, with all the associated instincts and skittishness. Predators move fast. You're not a predator.
Tip #7: Respect The Nest
Don't disturb him in his bed. There are almost no reasons to do this.
Related: make sure he gets enough sleep. Hamsters are not what you might call morning people. Let him wake up in his own time as much as possible. Lack of sleep will shorten his already short life. We all get grumpy when we are tired.
Tip #8: It's good to talk
Don't under estimate the value of sitting near his cage and talking softly. It's a good way to get some kids to read.
Tip #9: Get in the Bath Together
Sit with him in an empty bath so you can get used to each other. He is perfectly safe - he can't escape.
Not with water, you fool. Pop the plug in so he doesn't get a foot caught in the plughole. If he is still in a starter cage, just take the metal top off and put the plastic base in the bath. You get in as well. You're in the bathroom, so you probably have a few empty loo rolls - scatter some of those around, with some hidey-holes and maybe treats. Let him come out in his own time and explore his surroundings and you. Let him discover you're just a big, slow-moving, safe blob.
Tip #10: Handling Technique
The first few times: this should be while in the bath (see #9). Wait until he climbs into a hide or tube and lift that, rather than try and catch him.
Keep it brief - remember he is a silly little stress-head. Maybe wear gloves if you're nervous. This will take the brunt of a nip if he does try that (unlikely if he's a baby and you are kind and respectful). It'll also mean he is less likely to pick up on your nerves or smell food on your hands.
Over time he will get more comfortable running over your hands. He is starting to realise that you're a benign giant. At this point, you can pick him up directly - it's still early days, so keep in mind he'll be less threatened by cupping and scooping than finger-talons swooping down out of the air to grab him. It's important to build a bit of trust before this point so that he doesn't just leap out of your hands. Make sure he's secure. My daughter has a lovely way of phrasing this - hold him close to your heart.
Bonus tip: Treats
I would give treats after handling, at least at first. This way your hamster won't mistake your finger for a peanut. Appropriate diet and what treats are safe for hamsters is another post for another day.
Thank you for reading!
This is not my usual content, so if you prefer something else, have a clumsy metapor about poo.
Very well written. Keep up the good work!
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