Hamsters are born runners. They may run up to six miles per night in a wheel or open space. Unless they are eating or sleeping, they are almost always scurrying somewhere or another. Although this is cute and entertaining to watch, it can also make hamster keeping a little tricky, especially if you’re trying to catch your hamster and it just keeps running away.
So, why does my hamster always run away from me? Your hamster could be skittish or scared. On the other hand, it may just be having so much fun, it isn’t ready to be caught.
This article will lead you through the various reasons your hamster may be frightened, causing it to run from you. It will also discuss how to allow your hamster to enjoy running around without losing it and supply tips on how to safely catch a runaway hamster without further frightening it.
Hamsters Are Easily Frightened
Hamsters are tiny, fragile creatures with a lot of enemies in their natural environment. They live life fully aware that they look like a tasty snack to most predators. Even though they may be perfectly safe in your home, their instincts can still cause them to view any sudden movement or large being as a potential threat.
Young or Shy
A hamster that has had very little handling will be especially shy. This is often the case with young hamsters or a hamster you have just brought home. In an unfamiliar setting, being reached for by an unfamiliar person, it’s no wonder your hamster is frightened. These hamsters generally just need time to settle in and lots of patient, hands-off interaction to build their trust.
Even if your hamster knows and trusts you, it may not always realize that the big, scary thing it is running from is you. This is because hamsters have very poor eyesight. Since they are most active at night, dawn and dusk, sight is one of their weakest senses.
They can only see a couple inches away in dim lighting, and if light is too bright, they won’t be able to see anything. A sudden movement or object will be indistinguishable to your hamster and therefore frightening. Your hamster’s first instinct will be to run.
You can keep a tame hamster from freaking out and running by giving it a chance to figure out who you are, using its other senses. Move slowly and talk gently to your hamster. Let it touch and smell your hand before trying to pick it up.
Nervous or Startled
Your hamster may have trouble calming down if something has startled it or continues to make it nervous. Loud noises, lots of movement, the presence of another pet, or being chased can put your hamster in survival mode, causing it to scurry away and run no matter how well it knows you or how gently you coax it.
If your hamster is out of its cage and freaking out, you may need to use one of the methods discussed below to safely catch it and return it to its home. If it is already in the cage, it’s best to make sure it has a place to hide and just leave it alone until it calms down.
A hamster will also be more prone to running from you if it’s recently had a traumatizing experience. Perhaps you recently brought it home from the pet store, and the last thing that happened to it was that it was grabbed and put in a box. If your hamster was recently frightened in some way, give it some time to settle down before trying to pet or pick it up again.
Hamsters Just Want to Have Fun
Another reason a hamster may run from you is that it just doesn’t want to be picked up. Hamsters aren’t the most cuddly animals in the first place, and if your hamster is enjoying exploring or hiding out, it won’t want to be interrupted.
Signs of Happiness
So how can you tell if your hamster is frightened or just enjoying itself? A hamster that is happy and enjoying itself will be alert and busy. It will be interested in the things it comes across, pausing to sniff or nibble on things and eating treats or tucking them into its cheek for later.
It may sit occasionally to wash its fur or decide where it wants to go next, but it won’t remain frozen or continue to wash its face incessantly.
Signs of Stress
A hamster that is frightened or stressed will be more abrupt in its movements. It may scurry constantly from one hiding place to another, creep slowly along a wall, or freeze in one place. Constant face washing can also be a sign of nerves or stress. A very frightened hamster may also roll over on its back or throw up its front paws and bare its teeth, preparing to defend itself.
How to Safely Catch a Runaway Hamster
Chasing a hamster that runs from you will only frighten your hamster and make things worse. Quickly grabbing it is not only likely to earn you a sharp bite, but it will also terrify and possibly injure your pet. Fortunately, there are safer, less traumatizing ways of catching a hamster that insists on running from you.
In the Cage
If your hamster is running from you in its cage, and you want or need to pick it up, you can try placing a treat in your open hand and waiting for your hamster to step into your hand to get it.
This may take several days of practice for a shy or traumatized hamster, but eventually it will come around. If you need to move things along more quickly, try placing the treat in a box and putting the box on its side in the cage. Your hamster won’t be able to resist this setup for long. You can also try lifting out the section of tubing or the hideout your hamster has run into.
Out of the Cage
A hamster that is loose and running outside of the cage can be a little harder to catch, but it’s still possible to do so gently and safely. Remember to move slowly so as not to frighten your hamster or accidently injure it.
Try to corner it with the help of friends or using objects that you have around. Then place a familiar box or hideaway near the hamster and wait for it to climb inside. You can also try placing your hamster’s cage on the floor with the door open. A tired or frightened hamster will be glad to climb back into its home.
Tips for Contained Runaround Time
Hamsters love the opportunity to get out and explore, but you want to do this safely and make catching your hamster as easy as possible.
First, make sure that there is nowhere your hamster can hide that you won’t be able to retrieve it, like under a couch or appliance. Also make sure to keep an eye on your hamster the entire time it is out. The following resources also may help keep runaround time safely contained.
If you feel comfortable using a runaround ball for your hamster, and it seems to enjoy running in it, this is a contained way to let your hamster explore. However, there are precautions you will need to take with a ball as well.
– Make sure it’s big enough for your hamster. A ball in which your hamster must continually bend its back is both uncomfortable and dangerous for its health. Some hamsters are stressed by being placed in a ball no matter how large it is. If your hamster is one of these, it’s best to come up with another option.
– Make sure it has plenty of ventilation and keep it clean.
– Keep an eye on it. You don’t want the ball being kicked by an unsuspecting person or your hamster tumbling down the stairs in it.
– Don’t leave your hamster in it for long—no longer than ten to fifteen minutes at a time.
You can also allow your hamster to safely explore inside a pet playpen. Just be aware that some hamsters can be pretty good climbers. You’ll need to keep an eye on your hamster even when it is inside the pen.
Try putting boxes and cardboard tubes and other interesting things for your hammie to explore inside the pen. You can also sit inside the pen and let your hamster climb onto your lap.
Hamsters often run away because they are startled or shy and it is their first instinct to protect themselves. They are also busy, active little creatures that rarely stop moving. You can catch your hamster and keep it close by moving slowly, offering treats, and providing hideaways where it will feel safe. You can also let it run around in an enclosed and monitored area.