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I recently got a Syrian hamster at the age of seven weeks. Now, at the age of three months, he is not curiously nibbling me, but actually biting until I am bleeding (three times already). What am I supposed to do?

Background story: We had a rather unpleasant first day: he desperately attempted to escape his cardboard box we got him in (see also the opening scene of Jurassic Park). Later that night I tried to reconcile and have him on my hand. Unfortunately he jumped of and we had a chase. Short story, lot of poo, lot of screaming and a trauma for the both of us.

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Weeks passed and things got better. I gave him food out of my hand, gave him treats after being in the big ball and all, and I could even pet him while he was eating. This was the moment where I thought I could try to hold him (with one hand covering him a bit), so I could have him in my hands out of the cage. But this is the point where it all changed. He became very vicious when I held him and bit me very hard. From that point on, I couldn't even put my hand in the cage without the hamster biting me.

Is there a chance that he stops this behavior, or is the possibility to bond gone?

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I wouldn't say the possibility of bond is gone. I hate to say this, because I want to be as positive as possible, but when I worked at a pet store there were 2 things we for sure ALWAYS recommended when taking a hamster home: 1) don't hold him on the first night, so he/she doesn't associate you with the stress or become more stressed and 2) don't hand feed him because he'll associate your hand with food, nibbling and biting, and may expect the food- as he would expect food in his bowl- since that's where he's seen food before. BUT, with all that's said I think you can try a fresh start.

Maybe give him a week with little to no handling, give him a break, in a sense. Move things around in his cage so he has a change in scenery and routine, so he doesn't expect his environment to always be the same. Next time you do handle him, maybe try sitting on the floor with him with your legs forming a border and let him explore you and your scent without your hands as part of the equation (except to take him out and put him down) but try to let him know that you two can co-exist without food in hand and so he's free to move around. Anytime you hold him or interact, don't push- simply let it go if he squirms, it's a sign he's had enough and will likely bite if you fight it, just gently place him back in his cage. After testing the floor theory maybe let him on your lap and explore other parts of you- one of my hammies I had, loved to just chill in my hoodie pocket or in the hood. A dark hiding place makes them feel safe.

When you change his bedding and give him fresh food and water, do it with him outside of the cage, in a separate box and in between feedings remove the bowl and fill it outside of the cage and place it back instead of putting your hand in and the food coming from you.

After some time of doing this regularly, from time to time just rest your hand in his cage and see how he takes it. If he runs from your hand, don't chase him, just leave it still so it's non-threatening, and encourage him to explore without picking him up, after a few times of doing this you can pick him up by keeping your hand flat and gently lifting up when he gets on your hand. Keep these visits brief and eventually you'll be able to make each time a little longer until he's used to you taking him out and NOT getting food until he's back in the cage.

Always wash your hands well before handling him, and before it becomes a habit try Keeping a bottle of hand sanitizer near the cage as a reminder to clean off smells and residue from your day. They have a great sense of smell and you want to keep smells from food, other environments and other people off your hands so he doesn't smell you and get freaked out by a threatening or Yummy smell.

Good luck and update us on how things go in the coming weeks.

Also, there will be more bites in the future, when he does, put him back in the cage and wait until the next day to try again, to give him time to calm down and disassociate.

  • Hi, thanks for all the tips. I'll definitely try them out. It is odd though, everywhere I looked on the internet they told me to do give the hamster food out of my hand so that he associates my hand with something positive, not a large predator. – Robin Kramer Oct 30 '17 at 20:29
  • Yeah, well some people may read my advice and think it's rubbish... That's what happens with the internet, but most of my answers I try to base on my personal experiences, and/or professional experiences or knowledge. You can always update us on how it works out, and if it doesn't we will start from scratch, but so far the food in hand hasn't led to a happy outcome (probably for both of ya). Oh and your welcome, and welcome to PetsStack – Christy B. Oct 30 '17 at 21:03
  • I forgot to mention this too @RobinKramer , but about putting him in the ball- if it seems to be something he enjoys try to set times throughout the week where it's JUST ball time: JUST take him straight from cage to ball and right back in cage, so he doesn't always think he's going to get a snack or handled Everytime he's taken out of the cage. This will especially help since he doesn't seem keen on hand time yet. If he doesn't always expect a similar exchange when the hand comes in the cage, this will help too... Switching it up, while being a positive outcome, out of the cage. – Christy B. Oct 31 '17 at 3:42
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    So, small update. Last week we redecorated 3 times or so, filled the bowl from outside and further had little interaction. He goes in the ball without the need for food really easily. And just today I put in my hand and he climbed on it normally like before the biting incident so that was great. He did try to nibble the heel of my hand, so I blew in his face which made him stop and we had a short but nice interaction. Did not have the gut yet to have him between my legs, because of the handeling. Project for later. – Robin Kramer Nov 6 '17 at 20:02
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It might have been a mismatch of expectations. These two rules of thumb were helpful for me as a hamster owner:

  • Don't expect a hamster to be cuddly

  • Hamsters can be very interesting to watch and interact with

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