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Hamsters are solitary animals, they like having their own space. In the wild, many species of hamster live miles apart and only meet up for reproductive purposes. Sometimes hamster owners feel their hamster may be “lonely” or “need a friend”. This is from projecting human emotions onto the animal. Humans are a social species, so it can sometimes be difficult for us to accept that some animals have a want and a need to be completely alone. Responsible hamster ownership requires making sure your hamsters are well cared for, and in a suitable environment, which includes making sure they are housed correctly.
There is some confusion that the dwarf species of hamster should be kept in pairs or groups. Pet shops usually advertise dwarf hamsters as a social animal and will often sell them in pairs. However… while it is true that purebred Winter White and Campbell’s dwarf hamsters can live together (in same species and same sex groups), the same cannot be said for hybridised hamsters, which are sold in Irish pet shops – even if incorrectly marketed as “Winter White” or “Campbell’s Dwarf”.
Therefore you should NOT house your dwarf hamsters in pairs or groups unless you have purchased them from an ethical breeder, and have papers to prove the hamster’s pedigree.
If you already own a pair of hamsters who were sold to you by an unethical breeder or pet shop, please separate them as soon as possible, even if they seem to be getting along fine. Fights can escalate very quickly and one or both hamsters could end up seriously injured or be killed.
Do not put your hamsters at unnecessary risk. Do not wait until it is too late.
Syrian hamsters and Chinese hamsters are extremely territorial and should NEVER be housed in pairs or groups, regardless of their breeding. They only live in groups as young pups while they rely on their mother for feeding, and on their litter-mates for learning. By 8 weeks old they are independent and are ready to live on their own.
If a solitary hamster comes into close contact with another they can and will often fight to the death; so please avoid close contact, or the opportunity of close contact, between pet hamsters.Even without fighting, housing hamsters together causes them a lot of discomfort, they must compete for food, the best nesting spots and use of the wheel. Constant fighting can be very stressful for the hamsters, and stress levels play a very important part in the overall well-being and health of your hamster.
Pet shops are also known to sell pairs of the opposite sex together, which eventually results in accidental litters and owners who are stuck not knowing how to properly care for them.
Due to the lack of purebred dwarf hamsters in the country, Hamster Info Ireland recommends housing ALL hamster species alone to ensure their safety and for minimal stress.
Hamsters experience stress just like the rest of us, but obviously, having different living arrangements and anatomy, exhibit stress behaviours a lot differently to us. The easiest way to tell if your hamster is stressed is how they interact with their cage. If they’re happy – they shouldn’t be doing any of the following:
Bar chewing and bar climbing are the most tell-tale signs that your hamster needs more enrichment. They may be small, but their brains need a lot of stimulation! Hamsters explore with their teeth, nose, and whiskers, if they have nothing to chew, smell or feel, they’re going to get bored.
Bar chewing is dangerous because if you let them persist, they will wear away the fur on the top of their nose and eventually the skin. It can also cause their teeth to become damaged and broken! This is the last thing a hamster needs; their incisors are so important!!
Bar climbing is when a hamster climbs up their cage and even across the top! If they fall, it can cause major injury and even brain/spinal damage.
Another way hamsters exhibit stress is cage gliding. This is when the try to scale their enclosure, up and down, repeatedly.
All of these signs even look like they’re trying to escape!
If you’re hamster is displaying these behaviours, you need to think about a few things:
Is your enclosure big enough?
The minimum requirements aren’t just there because it’s what the hamster needs space-wise, they exist because that’s the minimum amount of floorspace you need to be able to provide enough enrichment for your hamster.
Is your substrate deep enough?
Your hamster needs to be able to burrow and create tunnel systems in their enclosure. They’re not going to be able to do it if they have a dusting or even a few centimetres of shavings on the ground.
Is your wheel big enough?
Wheels need to be big enough so that your hamsters back don’t arch. It should be straight, from head to toe! The wheel must also have a solid flooring, wire/mesh wheels can cause irritation on the feet, called bumble foot.
Have you provided enough enrichment?
Make sure your hamster has plenty to do, chew, play with and stimulate their brain! Chew toys come in all shapes and sizes, foraging materials can be found on zoo plus, Get Zoo and Rodipet (stocked at Shauna’s Pet Shop), check out our shopping guide to browse all your options. Providing as much enrichment as possible is a sure-fire way to keep your hamster happy!
Have a look at the video below to see how you can make boredom breakers at home:
The most important thing to remember when you’re trying to tame your hamster is that they may not want to be handled. Some hamsters simply prefer not to be touched. Please keep this in mind when you’re starting the process, you need to accept the fact that you may never be able to handle your hamster the way you’d like to. Your hamster might not like being cuddled so much, but if they don’t mind being picked up for a quick health check – then don’t push it further than this. Health checks are important, so if you and your hamster can manage that much, you’re both doing great.
To start the taming process, it’s recommended that you get your hamster used to your presence as much as possible before sticking your hand in their enclosure and frightening them. Instead, sit by the enclosure for a while each evening and talk to your hamster, this allows them to get used to your voice as well as your presence. Once they seem comfortable with you around, then you can start feeding treats from the palm of your hand.
Tip: Always wash your hands before every handling session.
A hamster might nibble or bite if your hands smell interesting to them.
Rubbing your hands in your hamster’s substrate can also help you smell familiar to your hamster.
Keep your hand flat in the enclosure on top of the bedding with a treat readily available for your hamster to reach. Do not try to lift or handle them yet. They need to get used to you being in their space as well as get used to your scent. It is so important to keep calm, especially if they nibble or even bite – that’s why you should wash your hands before all handling sessions. If your hamster bites, don’t pull away quickly, this will scare them. Remain calm and they will let go. Parents should always be present if a child is trying to handle a hamster.
Be patient! Remember that this process should go at the hamster’s pace, not yours.
With each session, your hamster should become more comfortable with you if they’re willing to be handled. They might start climbing on to your hand to take a treat, or even sit on your hand while they eat. Once you can see that they are comfortable with your hand being in their enclosure, you can start to lift your hand slowly. If they jump off, put your hand back onto the bedding and start again. You can repeat this a few times, but if you see that your hamster has lost interest or is a little skeptical, end the session and start again the next day – let your hamster rest!
Never grab your hamster from above. This imitates a predator and your hamster is more likely to bite! Always use a flat palm in front of them or scoop them from underneath.
Your hamster will learn that when they interact with you, they’ll get a treat. So they will likely start emerging from their slumber when they hear you. It’s always best to reward this behaviour so they know they’re doing a good thing. They should also be more comfortable each time you put your hand in their cage and might eventually start climbing up on your hand even without a treat. Again, this is something that should be rewarded anyway. Once you start lifting your hand, reassure them it’s ok with another treat – try to keep the treats as healthy as possible the more you feed them.
Eventually, your hamster will learn that being handled is a good thing, because they see it as treat time or play time. If you let your hamster free roam, it might make the taming process a little easier. Even if you lift them out of the enclosure in a mug, or box of some kind, they will eventually associate you, your presence, your voice and any equipment you use with playtime – which they love – so why wouldn’t they start loving you when you’re the one bringing them into the big wide world of the play pen, or the bathtub, or the hallway?
An untame hamster doesn’t mean a boring hamster. Try adding boredom breakers, enrichment or DIY puzzles and accessories like mazes to your hamster’s enclosure. It is fun to watch them interact with new things and you can learn more about their personality.
Some hamsters prefer not to be handled, and that’s OK. Even if your hamster doesn’t like being handled, that doesn’t mean they hate play time or interaction. Try to take them out each evening or so. They might still learn to be ok with you moving them from the enclosure to a play pen and they will learn to associate you with playtime. But you will have to accept that playtime might not mean cuddle time.
Keep playtime to short 10-15 minute sessions. Longer time spent out of their enclosure can stress out a hamster and they need access to food and water at all times.
Every hamster has an individual personality that is not based on gender, species or age. They are all unique, just like us. Some hamsters are very confident and become tame quickly, whereas others can take weeks or even months to tame. Hamsters are smart little creatures, adventurous and inquisitive. They love exploring, so as long as you give them things to explore, they will appreciate it. The key is to be patient, work at the hamster’s pace and make sure they are always comfortable.
The younger the hamster, the easier it will be to handle them. That’s why it’s always best to adopt from a loving breeder or a rescue. They will always ensure that the hamsters they have are well handled from a young age, or if they’re an older rescue hamster, their foster home will work with them as much as possible so they’re ready for their forever home.
If you have any questions about taming and handling your hamster, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us using the contact page.
HAMSTERS & OTHER PETS
It is important that hamsters have their own space, free of any stressful situations. If you have any other pets in your home, (including other hamsters) please make sure to keep them away from your hamster at all times. Allowing your hamster to interact with other pets can have dangerous consequences.
For example, cats tend to climb on top of hamster cages, and, as hamsters are small prey animals who are usually attacked from above, having a predator sitting on top of their cage is highly stressful for them.
Supervision means nothing, just because you are watching your pets, does not mean your hamster is not stressed or that an accident cannot happen. Some people will say, “My dog would never…”, “My cat is very gentle”. A hamster’s stress levels does not depend on the temperament of your other pet; A hamster is prey to most common household pets.
Despite the “obvious” danger of another pet hurting or killing your hamster, there are other dangers of having your pets interact:
- A hamster’s stress level will be significantly increased. This is natural as they are a prey animal. Stress affects their lifespan and overall health. Even if safe in their enclosure, the hamster does not know this and will still be very, very frightened if other pets are nearby.
- Your pet could pass bacteria, mites or other parasites onto your hamster.
- Your pet could accidentally hurt or kill your hamster by trying to play with them, rolling on top of them or stepping on them.
Remember, animals act on instinct. They do not have morals like humans do – no matter how much we might want to believe it. A cat does not know that killing a hamster is wrong. A dog does not know that you don’t want your hamster to become a chew toy. Even if they are generally a “good”, calm animal, and do what they are told, instinct can kick in in a split second, and then it is too late. Your pet doesn’t need to be a natural hunter to injure your hamster. Even pet rabbits can give a hamster a serious injury by biting. Therefore it is up to you to be responsible and protect your hamster from danger, no matter how small you think this risk is.
This image is from a viral video of a dog that’s clearly uncomfortable with a hamster being near it, and yet the owner keeps trying to introduce them. Both pets are upset, why put them through this?
Ideally you should keep your hamsters in a room where your free roaming pets aren’t allowed. Due to hamsters’ poor eyesight, their sense of smell and hearing is heightened and can therefore smell and hear other animals that are nearby even if not in direct contact with them. Loud noises such as dogs barking or the shadows of a cat moving around their enclosure can be terrifying for a hamster.
Very sadly, social media has added to a rise in owners putting their hamster together with their other pets in order to get a cute photo or video to share. Not only is this incredibly dangerous for the hamster, and putting it’s life at risk, it also encourages other people to do the same with their pets. Be honest with yourself: Is a photo really worth risking your hamster’s life for? Please do not “like” or “follow” accounts that upload this type of content. It’s important to stop supporting poor pet care.
Keep them safe!
Part of hamster ownership is ensuring your hamster is safe at all times.
Please be responsible and do what is in the best interest of your hamster.