Hamsters do not generally enjoy being stroked or cuddled, and they can be skittish about being handled. However, there are plenty of other ways to build a bond with them—most of which are edible. Treats truly are the way to a hamster’s heart, but some hamsters may be hesitant to accept them from your hand.
So, why won’t my hamster eat from my hand? Your hamster may be frightened or suspicious, depending on its past experiences. If it is very young or newly adopted, it may just be completely overwhelmed. It’s also possible that your hamster’s not interested in the treat being offered.
This article will thoroughly explore the various reasons your hamster may be hesitant to eat from your hand. It will then give you some tips and tricks intended to win your hamster’s trust and have it eating out of your hand in no time.
Your Hamster is Afraid of Your Hands
Think about how you must look from your hamster’s point of view. You are many times larger than it is. Your hands often move quickly, arrive unexpectedly, and are capable of grabbing and lifting it without any notice. No wonder hamsters are often frightened of hands! This is the most common reason a hamster will refuse to eat out of your hand.
Unused to Handling
Your hamster may be afraid simply because it isn’t used to being handled. Your hand is an unfamiliar thing that your hamster’s instincts tell it could be dangerous. Most hamsters are only four to eight weeks old when they are rehomed. Unless they have been handled every day, they haven’t had much of a chance to learn that hands are nothing to be afraid of and offer yummy treats.
A hamster also may associate hands with unpleasant experiences in the past, like being grabbed or picked up when it didn’t want to be. If you purchased your hamster from a pet store, it likely associates hands with the last thing that happened—being scooped up, put in a box, and then ending up in an unfamiliar place.
Hamsters have very poor eyesight, so your hand just looks like a big dark something moving toward your hamster—scary! A hamster’s first response to something that could be dangerous is to run and hide. If your hamster does this every time you reach into the cage, it won’t have a chance to see that you are just trying to offer a treat.
Good Sense of Smell
On the other hand, a hamster’s sense of smell is very good, and your hand may smell suspicious. Hamsters use their sense of smell to explore the world and learn about their surroundings. If your hand smells like another pet or something else your hamster finds unfamiliar and frightening, it could cause it to be even more skittish.
Your Hamster Doesn’t Like the Treat
Another reason your hamster may not eat out of your hand is that it doesn’t really want the food you are offering. It may have already eaten its fill, or it could be that the scent of the treat you’re offering doesn’t tantalize it.
Foods Hamsters Won’t Eat
Hamsters are naturally omnivores. In the wild their diet would include grains, seeds, and nuts, fruits, vegetables, and even insects, frogs, and lizards. It seems like they would be interested in just about any treat, but this is not always the case. Following is a list of some of the foods your hamster may not find appealing.
- Food it has never tried before, like unusual fruits and veggies
- Food that is stale or tasteless (like outdated treats, pellets, or bread)
- Seasoned food intended for humans (like microwave popcorn)
Loss of Appetite
A hamster that is refusing to eat treats that it normally likes or that has stopped eating its regular food may be cause for concern. Loss of appetite is a common symptom of illness or stress. Before you get too concerned, however, here are a few things to consider.
- Is your hamster eating from a hoard it has stored somewhere in its cage?
- Could your hamster be bored with the treats or food you regularly offer?
- Does your hamster show any other signs of illness?
If your hamster is losing weight, behaving unusually, has diarrhea, sniffles, thinning hair, or shows any other symptoms of illness, it’s best to check with an experienced exotic animal vet.
Teaching Your Hamster to Eat From Your Hand
Almost any hamster can be taught to eat from your hand, and all you need to teach it are a few minutes each day, a treat it won’t be able to resist, and plenty of patience. It’s best to give your hamster a few days to settle in after you’ve brought it home as it will be most skittish and easily stressed during this time. After two or three days, you can begin training.
Remember, your hamster can’t see very well and won’t immediately realize that the thing reaching down into its cage is your hand. If you move too quickly, it will just assume that it’s a big, scary predator preparing to eat it!
Move slowly around your hamster’s cage and whenever you are handling it or offering a treat. Even if your hamster nibbles on your finger, try not to jerk away too suddenly. This will only reinforce its fear.
Choose a Good Time
Hamsters tend to be grouchy if they’ve just been wakened from sleep. They’re also more likely to retreat back to their nest and stay there. The best time to teach your hamster to eat out of your hand is in the evening or morning when your hamster is already out and about.
You may have to offer a treat several days in a row before your hamster builds up the courage to eat it from your hand. Don’t give up! Make sure you’re giving your hamster time to check out your hand and get used to it being in the cage before ending a session.
Hold very still and let it sniff your hand and the treat. It’s a good idea to wash your hands before each training session as well so your hand won’t smell like another pet or like food—your hamster may try a nibble by mistake.
It’s easy to occasionally get impatient and try a shortcut, like just scooping your hamster up whether it is scared or not. Unfortunately, this will quickly ruin any progress you’ve made in teaching your hamster to trust you. Unless it’s an emergency or you need to take your hamster to the vet, try not to give it any bad experiences that will increase its fear of your hands.
Offer Something Tantalizing
While it’s important for your hamster to eat a nutritious pellet mix and fresh veggies and fruit, if it’s not especially interested in them, it’s okay to use some hamster “junk food” to tempt your hammie to eat out of your hand. Seeds and nuts are a favorite, and many hamsters also enjoy yogurt drops that can be purchased from a pet store.
The Best Treats to Offer Your Hamster
Since hamsters are omnivores, there are a ton of treats they may enjoy. With trial and error, you should be able to figure out what your hamster can’t resist—but don’t be afraid to mix it up now and then. Hamsters like variety just like everyone else.
What to Give
Hamsters enjoy all kinds of vegetables, fruits, and berries. Fruits and berries do need to be given in moderation as too many of them can cause diarrhea. They also love different types of grain, seeds, and nuts.
Fatty treats like nuts and sunflower seeds also should be offered in moderation as they can lead to obesity. You can also offer a few pieces of unsweetened cereal, a little boiled egg, mealworms, or store-bought yogurt drops as treats.
What Not to Give
Try not to feed your hamster sweet, salty, or processed foods like chips, crackers, candy, or cookies. Never offer chocolate, coffee, or anything alcoholic. Your hamster’s tiny body won’t be able to handle the effects of the caffeine and alcohol, which could be very dangerous for it.
The most likely reason a hamster won’t eat out of your hand is just that it hasn’t learned to trust you yet. Giving it a few days to settle into its home and then patiently continue to offer treats from your hand every day.
Remember that from your hamster’s point of view you are big, fast-moving, and a little scary. Be patient and move forward as slowly and gently as possible, and before you know it, your hamster will be happily nibbling its favorite treats from your hand.