We all like to give our pets some cuddles, and we revel in those precious moments when they show us signs of affection too. And just like other pets, hamsters can be very affectionate. But when they lick us, is it because they want to show some love, or is it something else?
Hamsters may lick their owners as a sign of affection, but it can also mean they smell food, are used to hand-feeding, or have a salt deficiency. In the case of the latter, you first have to confirm whether your hamster does have a salt deficiency and address it appropriately.
The rest of this article will discuss why hamsters lick their owners and what you need to do if your hamster is showing signs of a health issue, so you can better understand your hamster’s behavior.
Like dogs and cats, hamsters enjoy and often crave the attention and affection of their owners. They like gentle pets and being physically near. This is also why hamsters sometimes do lick their owners–they are simply reciprocating the love that you show them.
But if your hamster doesn’t seem to be comfortable around you yet, don’t fret. It’s perfectly natural for your hamster to take some time to get used to you, especially if you’ve just recently gotten it as a pet. There are ways to build your hamster’s trust and make it more comfortable (and cuddly) around you.
When you’re meeting someone for the first time, you don’t immediately trust them, do you? Just as we size up strangers before deciding whether or not to trust them, a hamster will not automatically like you.
They typically need about a week to warm up to you. During this period, it’s normal for your hamster to flinch a little or give a slight grimace when you try to pick it up or hold it.
Thankfully, it doesn’t have to stay that way. Here’s what you can do to gain your hamster’s affection:
Your hamster will spend most of its time inside a cage, so you have to make sure that it likes being there. To make sure that your hamster will enjoy its cage, prepare one that is spacious enough to allow it to play and run around.
A cage that is too small can cause a hamster to become agitated and anxious to get out. The most common sign that this is happening is if your hamster bites aggressively at its cage.
If you’re in need of a good hamster cage, I recommend this Favola Hamster Cage (available on Amazon.com) because it’s very spacious and comes with built-in features such as a wheel and a few hides.
Also, make sure that you put its cage in a safe place. Your hamster’s cage should not be in a place where it can fall, or a place that is too bright or too dark.
The U.S. experiences really hot summers, especially in warmer states like Florida, Texas, and other areas in the south and southwest.
It’s important to keep your state’s climate in mind when considering hamster cage placement. This is because direct sunlight can be very uncomfortable for them.
Make sure to put the cage somewhere bright enough to see without being excessive. Hamsters have poor eyesight, so a dark environment will make it difficult for them to see things clearly.
It can also make them anxious and potentially aggressive to handlers. It’s much like we humans feel disoriented when we’re in a place where it’s hard for us to see.
Another great way to ensure that your hamster’s environment is comfortable is to invest in good bedding that will keep its cage soft and clean. I recommend this CareFresh Confetti Bedding (available on Amazon.com) because it’s very soft and will keep the cage dry and odor-free.
If your hamster is comfortable in its environment, it will be easier for it to warm up to you, as it perceives that its environment is an extension of yourself.
Letting your hamster smell you is a great way to allow your furry friend to get used to you quickly.
To get them accustomed to your scent, try putting a clean hand inside the cage a bit, just enough for it to be able to sniff your fingers. Do this slowly to give your hamster time to size you up and know that you’re safe.
At first, your hamster may bite (or attempt to bite) you. That’s okay. This just means that it doesn’t trust you yet and is perfectly normal behavior in a new hamster.
Sometimes, your hamster may also accidentally bite you if it’s in a room that’s not well-lit or if it mistakes your finger for food (which can happen if you don’t wash your hands after preparing its food).
So when doing this, make sure that your hands are clean and that you did not previously touch any food. This way, when your hamster does approach you, you’ll know that it’s smelling you and not the food.
Handling your hamster often is a great way to speed up the introduction process. It’s crucial to make an effort to hold it and cuddle it often.
Holding your hamster is such an effective way of building a bond between you and your pet. The more you hold your hamster, the more it will trust you. Who knows? You might even get a lick or two.
However, you have to be gentle and careful when holding your hamster. They are quite jumpy by nature and are easily startled by sudden movements.
Being rough or pushing your hand into the cage suddenly may make your pet feel frightened of you, further lengthening the introduction phase or, worse, making it unable to warm up to you at all.
Giving your hamster treats is another way to show your hamster some love and encourage it to be affectionate towards you.
Feeding your hamster appropriate treats is a great way to create a bonding experience between you and your precious pet. However, it’s important to avoid overdoing it because your hamster may lose its appetite for normal food.
In addition to this, overfeeding your hamster may create unhealthy hoarding habits. Hoarding has the potential to cause health problems such as a cheek abscess.
It’s normal for hamsters to hoard food, but because it’s part of their survival instincts to hoard as much food as is within reach, your pet may keep hoarding more than it can actually accommodate.
Hamster cheeks are actually surprisingly stretchy to make room for all the food a hamster stores in its cheek pouches.
But sometimes, too much-stored food and other debris can harden and get stuck inside the cheek pouches, making it difficult for a hamster to dislodge. When the debris stays inside the pouch for too long and rots, it can lead to an infection.
If you’re looking for good hamster treats, I recommend these Vitakraft Crunch Sticks (available on Amazon.com) because they also have a wood center that will help develop your little pet’s gnawing instincts.
If your hamster licks you, it could also mean that they smell food on your hands.
Hamsters are known for having surprisingly large appetites and are built with the need to eat very often. Even when they’re not truly hungry, they tend to hoard food. This ravenous appetite could be the reason why your hamster licks you when it smells food on your hands.
While this licking behavior is natural and instinctive, you should always ensure that your hands are clean to protect your fingers from curious nibbles and gnawing. While playful nibbling is nothing to worry about, they may accidentally bite you.
Biting can be problematic, which is why it’s crucial to handle your hamster with washed hands. But what happens if a playful lick turns into a harmful bite?
Hamster bites are often superficial and no reason for worry. But it can also lead to an infection when not taken care of properly. If your hamster bites you, here’s what you should do:
- Wash the wound immediately with lots of water and soap.
- Monitor the wound for any signs of an infection.
- If the wound seems to be infected, go to the doctor for treatment or ask for an antibiotic.
If your hamster continues to bite you every time you reach into its cage or when you feed it, you can try wearing gloves to protect your fingers. This will also keep it from smelling your hands and mistaking your fingers for food, which leads to unwanted biting behaviors.
It’s important to address hamster bites right away because they can often carry viruses and bacteria. In some cases, infected hamsters may also transmit rabies or Lyme disease and co-infections, which can turn chronic when not treated properly.
Superficial wounds should go away in a matter of days, but if you don’t see any improvement or notice that your wound is worsening and experience other symptoms, see a doctor immediately.
If your hamster is used to hand-feeding, this might contribute to their urge to lick you.
If you often hand-feed your hamster, it will eventually think that every time you put out your hand, you have food or treats. While this isn’t necessarily a problem, your hamster will develop a habit of waiting for you to hand-feed it before it eats anything.
If you notice that your hamster is not eating, it might be a good idea to cut back on the hand-feeding so it gets used to being more self-sufficient. You can also seek help from a vet for advice regarding this issue.
When a hamster aggressively licks its owner’s hands, it can mean that its diet does not contain enough sodium, which can lead to your hamster displaying behaviors that signify unwanted salt cravings.
Human sweat contains high levels of salt. Because of this, if your hamster has a salt craving, it might lick your hand a lot more than usual.
If you suspect that your hamster has a salt deficiency, you should provide it with a salt lick in its enclosure. I recommend this Lixit Salt Wheel (available on Amazon.com) because it comes with a hanger for easy installation.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that salt can be addictive to a hamster. This means that your hamster might not leave its salt lick alone unless you remove it from the enclosure entirely. Salt deficiency is harmful to its health, but too much salt is also a health hazard.
Additionally, salt licks should not be seen as a permanent solution. Instead of constantly resorting to salt licks, it’s a better idea to offer a more balanced diet to your hamster that contains all the necessary vitamins and minerals. Your hamster displaying signs of a salt deficiency means that it’s not getting enough of it from its food.
If you’re looking for hamster food that has all the vitamins and minerals necessary for a healthy hamster, I recommend Oxbow Essentials Hamster Food and Gerbil Food (available on Amazon.com). It’s packed with all the ingredients necessary for a well-balanced diet, so you don’t have to worry about your pet getting enough salt.
If your hamster’s salt deficiency is becoming a problem, it’s a good idea to seek professional health advice from a licensed veterinarian.
Related Hamster articles:
- Why Is My Hamster Breathing Fast?
- How Much Does It Cost To Take a Hamster to the Vet?
- Why Is My Hamster Scared of Me?
- How To Clean Hamster Poop
- Why Is My Hamster Losing Weight?
- Why Is My Hamster Acting Weird?
Hamsters can display a lot of strange behaviors, including licking.
Hamsters can lick their owner’s hand as a show of affection. But sometimes, they manifest this behavior because of a long-ingrained habit, an appetizing smell in the hand, or a diet that needs more salt.
It’s crucial to understand your hamster’s behavior so you can provide it with medical attention when necessary. Hopefully, this article has helped you better understand your hamster’s needs.
My name is Everly. I am a Milwaukee-based mom of 2 and have been a proud owner of many hamsters throughout my life. Like many of us, my introduction to hamsters happened when I was very young. My family saw several hamsters come and go through the years, and I enjoyed playing with them, but I never fully appreciated them until I grew up and my own children decided to jump on the hamster bandwagon. At that point, I was determined to learn all I could about caring for these adorable pets. Read more