Whenever cute cuddly little animals are featured on some mass social media site like say Reddit for instance (but they are by far not the only offenders and obviously it's not every single user ever that has this same opinion) people tend to react first foremost to how cute and cuddly they are, and then depending on how educated they are about the animal, comment on the animal's demeanour and how good they are as a pet.
Oh wait no they don't.
They squee at the cuteness and then destroy the reputation of said animal via their own misguided experience. Oh that's right. I'm talking about hamsters, folks. Every single goddamn time a hamster rises up to the front page, there's someone proclaiming that they are nasty, vicious, sociopathic animals that bite all the time, eat their young, and are basically the spawn of satan. They are horrid animals not to be trifled with. Then many others agree and the cycle continues. People begin associating an animal with certain flaws and despite how little they deserve such treatment, they are now infamous for whatever it is they do.
Let me start by saying nature is by default, vicious. It does not give one little fuck about whether or not something an animal does is cute or friendly. Animals need to survive and they have all found their own little ways of surviving. A lot of the time the result isn't pretty. For hamsters, it's when they judge the chances of their young surviving the next few days. How much food have they stored? Is the weather decent? Are predators constantly about? If this risk is far too high, they cull the weakest of their lot. The sustenance they obtain from the weakest make them stronger and give them a better chance of raising the survivors. The littlest ones too brittle to withstand the next storm are spared from drowning. That's just how life is for the little critters.
So now they are pets. They haven't been pets for many generations. The Syrians, the largest kinds, have been the longest but not even for a full century have these hamsters been tamed. The dwarf kinds are even more recent than that. They will still retain a lot of their instincts from the wild, including the culling of their young. Humans are foreign, strange beasts to them with an unknown, threatening scent. If they had even the slightest hint of those humans on their young, they would cull them in an instant. There was no way they could survive what attack those large hairless giants had. Or perhaps they are okay with their human owner. They've been handled for a while and trust the food the human provides them from their fingers, but maybe that food isn't enough. They know they themselves will give birth to the young soon, but the proportion of their food has been the same as always. The human is often inexperienced and has no way of telling if their little critter might have babies, especially if they've misidentified the hamster's gender or the pet store did. Suddenly the little pups are here, but with what food they are able to consume, it isn't enough to keep all of their little young alive. They don't realize the human would probably up their food content, so they cull the babies or at least some of them.
Or maybe they DO have enough food, but they live in a tiny, tiny environment. The exercise machine touches the walls and takes up most of their flat, and they cannot possibly see how they could share this small bachelor pad with five or six more rugrats running around. They do not know what the world is like outside this small room, so they cannot possibly realize the strange human may relocate the babies when they are old enough and thus, they cull. Whatever reason a hamster has to eat their young, it is always an instinctual reason. They were not given such survival methods because Satan or God thought it was humorous to see the humans gawk in horror at their cute little pet committing the grave sin of cannibalism. They were given such methods because that was the only way to ensure the safety of their strongest young, who may end up growing up to mate with the next generation and pass their mighty genes along.
As for the biting, well what the hell would you do if a massive thing stretched out their colossal claw above your head? A smart person would take such a dangerous movement to be life-threatening at first. There was no way to tell this massive thing was friendly, and if you guess wrong you'd be flat as a pancake with no second chance at changing your mind. Obviously a little frightened hamster would squeak, hiss, run, hide, and especially bite as a means of defence. Hamsters are prey. Their ancestors had their lives cut short endlessly due to so many factors that it only makes sense these reflexes and reactions originate deep in their DNA.
And no, I would not say hamsters are the most rewarding pet to own. They are not dogs that will run to your doorstep, eager to greet you inside. They are not cats who act as lazy, independent pompous creatures that remind their owner so much of themselves. They aren't even rats, who each have their own unique friendly personality and are dependent on a second rat companion for the full richness of their lives. But they are hamsters. They're cute, cuddly, and they're not difficult to tame. I cannot stress that enough. Of my thirteen hamsters I've owned, only three were not tamed. One was a dwarf hamster who sadly lived the shortest of the bunch and the other two were roborovski hamsters that I mostly viewed as opposed to held, as most robos tend to be kept. (One day I'll handle a robo hamster consistently...) The other ten were tamed. Most of them were fine being held the moment I got them because of how young they were, but the best story I have is of my current hamster, Esper.
Esper was a biter when I got him at first. He didn't look very young in the tank when I saw him. He wasn't a juvenile, but he also wasn't fully grown as he grew larger under my care after a few months. So it's safe to say Esper had been in that pet store for a while. I had asked the store lady if I could handle the hamsters, but she gave an excuse that they sleep in the afternoon and so it'd be better to come in the morning. While that is mostly true, the fact that a pet store clerk would not let you handle a pet to see what their temperament is like is a bad sign. It usually means the hamsters aren't handled regularly and aren't tamed, so they may bite. And well, if a potential customer is bitten they can't sell their hamsters, now can they?
Regardless of that red flag, I brought home Esper anyway. I decided to let him get to know me right away by letting him into my hand and then right after putting him in his cage. He bit. I left him alone in the cage for a week or so before I began the taming process. This process is one often recommended and there are numerous guides, whether written guides, video guides or the like, but there are many on the internet. There's stuff like spending time with the hamster in the same enclosed playpen, usually a bathtub. The best tip I used was wearing gloves. The hamster could bite all they want and realize it does absolutely nothing unless they like tasting leather constantly, which cannot be pleasant. I eventually was able to handle Esper with my bare hands after a couple of weeks, but he wasn't fully tame. For one thing, he confused a tendon in my wrist as something to chew at first, and that bled pretty profusely. A few days later he was eating a wet mealworm off my hand, and assumed the juices left on my palm were more of the mealworm, and nibbled on that.... yet more blood. But after putting on a band-aid and continually handling him for thirty-minutes each and every day, he finally associated my hand and my body as me, and never bit ever again. Even if my hand smelled like food, he knew it was me and never bit. Even if I enclosed him in both hands like a trap or whatever, he was never afraid. He didn't try to claw his way out. He knew it was me. He became incredibly familiar with me. I cannot tell you how wonderful it feels to bond with a hamster properly. Though it takes work, it feels so much better than just being able to hold a hamster right away.
I earned Esper's trust. He trusts me. I trust him. It has gotten to the point that Esper would relax on my hands, or sit quietly on the couch with me without running all over the place or whatever because he knows I'm there and that he's safe. He is eager to see me, like a dog, whenever I walk by the cage. It's probably because I might give him food, but sometimes it's because he wants to come out. He actually wants to spend time with me. He even licks me as he grooms sometimes. I partially think because he doesn't care since he's also grooming himself that his tongue might land on my hand, but then he just licks my hand without bothering to clean himself sometimes. The level of closeness I feel with Esper is awesome. I've never had such a level like this before. My other tamed hamsters could be handled, but they would never relax in my arms or lick me affectionately. I also never attempt to handle Esper when he's actually in the cage, so I respect the territory he has and that is probably another reason he is so relaxed and friendly towards me.
It's truly a special relationship. That's what having a hamster is like. I've never had a dog or a cat before and I'd love to have them, but for what I have right now, it feels pretty sweet. People who blame their pets for their pets' problems are not the type of people who can understand these animals and probably do not deserve to own them in the first place. For whatever reason it gets increasingly more difficult to understand this the lower the intelligence level you go for hamsters. I will be the first to say hamsters are pretty dumb, but they're not like goldfish you can only admire from afar. They can be held. They can be pet. They can be cuddled. And I know for sure, if you've earned their trust, they like you too. Such a thing with an animal that hasn't been bred to act a certain way for hundreds of thousands of years is pretty special indeed.