Hamster Behavioral Problems


Hamsters sometimes become aggressive, without any immediately obvious cause. However, there is nearly always a good reason for the behavior. It may simply be that the hamster has not been hand-tamed. This is a simple and important process. A new hamster will not have any familiarity with the human hand, and will act defensively – i.e. aggressively – as a result.

To find out how to tame your hamster, see the Holding a Hamster page of this guide.

Even if your hamster has been tamed, problem behaviors may still arise. These are triggered by illness or fear. Knowing a little hamster psychology will help you work out what the underlying issue us.


hamster biting
Hamsters may bite if they are stressed, afraid, or ill

Why Do Hamsters Bite?

If your hamster bites you when you hold it, there are several potential reasons:


  • Your hamster has not been tamed

    If your hamster has only just been brought home, or has never been hand-tamed, it’s probably biting because it’s frightened of you. When you put your hand in the hamster cage, the animal will instinctively think the hand is a predator.


  • You are not holding your hamster properly

    If you grab your hamster suddenly, it may bite out of fear. Move your hand towards your pet slowly, and then he won't be scared. Hamsters may also nibble you if you’re not holding them correctly. See the Holding a Hamster page for a guide to hand-taming.


  • You have woken your hamster too early

    Hamsters are active in the late evening and at night, and will become disorientated and stressed if you wake them during the day. If they are confused and scared, they are likely to bite. Always play with your hamster during its natural waking hours in the evening, night or early morning.


  • Your hamster is mistaking you for food

    Hamsters’ eyesight is very poor, and will usually nibble first and ask questions later! So, if you often stick food through the cage bars, and then do the same with your finger, the hamster will not immediately spot the difference.


  • Your hamster is unwell

    Some medical conditions, such as mange or a wound, make a hamster very sensitive. Being handled will be painful for them in these circumstances. If your hamster suddenly objects to being handled, when formerly he was quite happy with it, it could be indicative of a health issue. Examine your hamster visually, or handle it wearing protective gloves if a visual check doesn’t reveal what the problem is.


  • Circling or 'Twirling'

    A hamster that runs in circles continually is possibly be suffering an ear infection, or a brain injury. Take your pet to the vet for a diagnosis and treatment.


    Fighting

    If your hamsters fight, you’ll need to separate them, perhaps even permanently. If the fights are frequent, or if one aggressive hamster is preventing another from accessing food, you will have to intervene.


    Syrian hamsters should never be kept in the same cage in the first place, after the age of six weeks when they mature. They are very territorial, and their fights can be fatal. Dwarf varieties sometimes turn on each other for no apparent reason, although it is often to do with not having enough space. If they fight, you will need a second cage in order to keep them apart.


    hamsters may fight
    Hamsters may fight, even species that can usually live together happily

    Remove the hamster that is being aggressive and keep it in the separate enclosure for a few days. If the animals still fight when reunited, they will have to be permanently separated.


    Sometimes hamster fighting is just an occasional bickering. If no blood is drawn, and if the flare-up appears to have died down, keep a close eye on your hamsters to make sure the fall-out is over. You can often stop these squabbles by having separate food bowls and water bottles for each hamster.


    Severe scratching

    The occasional 100-mile-an-hour back-leg scratching is normal. But if your hamster is continually scratching, even drawing blood in the process, he could have a health problem such as mites or mange. Give your pet a thorough health-check to try to determine the cause.


    If you have started using a new type of bedding recently, this may possibly be the cause. Switch back to the old bedding for a while and see if the scratching persists. If the cause of the problem doesn’t become obvious, take your pet to the vet for a 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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