If you already have a dog and want to adopt a hamster (or vice versa), we have good news! A dog and hamster can, in fact, get along and live safely together in harmony.
If you’re worried about having such a tiny creature in the same space as your dog, though, you’re definitely not alone. Many people avoid adopting small animals for that very reason.
- 1. Understand Your Dog’s Disposition
- 2. Help Your Hamster Feel Safe At Home First
- 3. Teach Calmness by Example
- 4. Continue Your Dog or Hamster’s Normal Routines
- 5. Encourage Your Dog to Sit At a Safe Distance
- 6. Introduce Your Dog and Hamster by Scent
- 7. Choose a Tank Enclosure
- 8. Watch for Signs of Distress in Your Hamster
- 9. Keep An Eye Out for Hunting Behaviors in Your Dog
- 10. Never Trust Your Pets to Interact Directly
- 11. Have a Backup Plan Just in Case
- Helping a Dog and Hamster Get Along
And although a dog and hamster can live together peacefully, it’s still essential to have some strategies in place to ensure your hamster’s safety.
We’ve put together our top 11 tips for helping your hamster and dog live together safely in the same home.
Important note: It’s often best to simply keep your hamster in a separate room where the dog is not allowed. Some hamster owners believe that the presence of a dog or cat causes distress to a hamster, while others believe this isn’t the case. Ultimately, you can own both a dog and a hamster, but you’ll need to keep your hamster’s state of stress in mind.
1. Understand Your Dog’s Disposition
Consensus: Not all dogs will respond the same way to a hamster. Consider your dog’s pattern of behaviors to think about how they’ll react.
Most dogs can learn to live in harmony with a tiny pet like a hamster. However, it’s important to consider your dog’s specific disposition before adopting a hamster. Similarly, you should study up on a potential new dog’s disposition before adopting it if you already own a hamster.
At the most basic level, all dog breeds are predators, and hamsters are natural prey. Every dog has a natural instinct to hunt and the skills to follow through on those instincts.
Some dog breeds, however, are more inclined to hunt small animals than others. Specific dogs who have hunted or killed prey animals in the past are also more likely “strike” again.
Consider whether or not your dog (or the dog you’re considering adopting) frequently chases cats and other animals. If you see a squirrel while on a walk, does your dog remain calm or excitedly chase the animal up a tree?
If you’re considering adopting a dog, research the breed and ask the shelter or foster family what the dog’s disposition is like.
2. Help Your Hamster Feel Safe At Home First
Consensus: Don’t rush into introducing your dog and hamster. Your hamster should feel safe in their environment and around you first.
If you already have a dog and you’re bringing a hamster into the house, make sure you help your hamster feel comfortable in their new home before letting other pets get a look at them or be around them.
You can do this by putting the hamster enclosure in a separate room from where the family spends most of its time. Close the door to keep other pets out, and visit your hamster without other animals present.
If that’s not an option, you can cover the hamster enclosure with a blanket for the first couple days. Just make sure your dog doesn’t paw its way under the blanket to check out the new pet. It’s also essential to make sure that your hamster has sufficient ventilation in its enclosure.
If your dog doesn’t respond to commands like sit and stay, consider having them on a leash inside the house temporarily so that you can keep them away from the hamster cage.
3. Teach Calmness by Example
Consensus: If you show too much excitement about your hamster’s presence, so will your dog.
If you’re overly excited about the presence of your new hamster, your dog likely will be, too. You can help both your dog and hamster maintain a cool and calm attitude by remaining calm yourself.
When your hamster comes out of its burrow in the evening, for example, you might want to greet them and immediately approach the enclosure.
However, this can startle your hamster and teach your dog that it’s OK to get worked up about the hamster’s presence. Instead, wait a few moments before calmly sitting beside the cage and interacting with your hamster.
4. Continue Your Dog or Hamster’s Normal Routines
Consensus: Make sure neither of your pets feels ignored, and try to follow their normal routines.
When parents have or adopt a new child, their firstborn child can feel ignored and neglected. The same thing can happen when you adopt a new pet. Whenever you bring a new pet into the home, it’s important to give your other pets the same level of care, attention, and affection they enjoyed before.
If you always walk your dog in the evening when you get off work, don’t forgo the walk to spend time with your new hamster. If you always hand-feed your hamster before you head off to bed, don’t trade in that quality time for cuddles with a new puppy.
Stopping your normal routines with the pet you already have can cause them to feel an even greater sense of change than they already do, which can make it harder for your pets to become comfortable with each other.
5. Encourage Your Dog to Sit At a Safe Distance
Consensus: Using positive reinforcement to help your dog understand their new friend’s boundaries works best.
Scolding your dog when they go too close to the hamster cage may work for some pups, but it can create a negative association with the hamster in your dog’s mind. It also doesn’t help to satisfy your pup’s curiosity about this new tiny friend. Instead, it’s a good idea to try positive reinforcement.
With your dog on a leash, walk them up to about six feet away from the hamster enclosure, tell them to sit (if they know that command), and give them a treat. If they try to go closer to the cage, gently but firmly say, “No,” redirect them to the correct “observation point,” and give them another treat.
Each time you give a treat, shower your pup in praises. They’ll soon catch on that you want them to sit in that spot when they want to look at the hamster.
6. Introduce Your Dog and Hamster by Scent
Consensus: You can help your pets get used to each other gradually by introducing them to each other’s scents.
Hamsters and dogs both rely on scent to understand their environments. Unfamiliar smells can instill fear or anxiety in both animals, and familiar smells inspire comfort and exploration. So it makes sense that becoming familiar with each other’s smells is an important step for a dog and hamster to become friends.
You can help with this process by handling your hamster (once they’re comfortable with that) or simply handling some of their bedding. Let your dog smell your hands afterward, but ensure you’re not handling your dog or letting them lick your hands before you wash up.
Similarly, spend some time petting your dog and then let your hamster approach your hands and take a sniff.
Again, don’t touch or handle your dog and then your hamster, or vice versa, without washing or sanitizing your hands first. Only allow them to smell, not touch.
Learn more: Hamster Cage Size Minimums Around the World
7. Choose a Tank Enclosure
Consensus: A glass tank provides more protection and security to your hamster than a cage with bars.
There are various reasons to choose a tank over a standard cage for your hamster. They provide much more digging room, prevent messes from ending up on your floor, and they provide more security against other animals in the household.
If you have a tank enclosure for your hamster, your dog won’t be able to paw at the bars and possibly touch the hamster with its nails.
Still, it’s important not to allow your dog to paw at the tank, either. The glass simply adds another layer of protection and security to help your pets interact cautiously.
8. Watch for Signs of Distress in Your Hamster
Consensus: If your hamster is acting frightened or is easily startled, they’re likely not comfortable with the dog’s presence.
When you’re introducing a dog and hamster, you should always keep a lookout for any signs of distress in your hamster.
If you notice any of these signs, it’s important to take a step back and let your hamster become comfortable again. Keep your dog at a distance and ensure your hamster feels safe.
Watch your hamster for any of these signs that they may be distressed:
- Easily startling when you approach
- Only leaving burrow or hide to eat and drink
- Not eating or drinking
- Pacing back and forth or other repetitive motions
- Ears pointed forward with mouth open and cheeks puffed
- Nervously or quickly emptying cheek pouches
- Chattering teeth
- Freezing in place
9. Keep An Eye Out for Hunting Behaviors in Your Dog
Consensus: Dogs are natural predators, so it’s essential to make sure they’re not displaying aggressive behaviors or signs that they’re hunting the hamster.
Just as you want to look out for distress in your hamster, you should watch your dog for any predatory behaviors. Dogs have a natural instinct to hunt small prey animals. Some breeds show more of this hunting instinct than others.
No matter what kind of dog you have, it’s possible that they may think your hamster is prey, which is dangerous for the hamster.
Some signs that your dog is a little too interested in your hamster include:
- Staring intently without looking away
- Pawing at the enclosure
- Alert, ears raised
- Lifting a paw and “pointing” at the hamster
- Mouth opening and closing or puffing
- Licking lips and snout
- Barking or growling
10. Never Trust Your Pets to Interact Directly
Consensus: Dogs are predators and hamsters are prey. You cannot feel safe letting them interact face to face, no matter how well-behaved your dog may be.
You’ll often see pictures of a dog and hamster behaving as “friends” and interacting very closely. You can see images of them nose to nose, or even a hamster sitting on top of a dog. Unfortunately, these kinds of interactions just aren’t safe for your hamster.
No matter how used to the hamster your dog gets and vice versa, one animal is still a natural predator of the other. You can never know for sure what a dog is thinking, and they may get a “wild hair” one day and decide to pounce. This kind of event is devastating for the hamster (often resulting in serious injury or death), the owner, and the dog, who will know that they’ve done wrong.
11. Have a Backup Plan Just in Case
Consensus: It’s important to know what you’ll do if your dog and hamster don’t become comfortable around one another.
Some things in life just aren’t meant to be. Your hamster and dog growing together as friends may be one of those things.
If you’re several weeks into owning both a dog and hamster and it’s just not working out, you should have a backup plan in place. Rehoming one of your pets obviously isn’t ideal, and for most people, it would be heartbreaking. So before you adopt a new dog or a new hamster, think about what you’ll do if they just don’t get along.
The worst thing to do in this situation is to ignore the problem. If your hamster is showing signs of distress when your dog is nearby, or if your dog continues to show predatory behavior towards your hamster, it’s essential to act.
You don’t want to keep your hamster in a state of anxiety, which can be detrimental to their health. And you don’t want to take the risk of your dog knocking over the enclosure or otherwise harming your hamster.
A backup plan would ideally involve a separate room where the hamster can be safe away from the dog, but that you visit often.
Helping a Dog and Hamster Get Along
Ultimately, it’s your responsibility to ensure that both your dog and hamster are happy and safe in your care. Although the tips above will help you own a hamster and a dog safely, it’s always essential to keep your eye on the pair when they’re together.
Don’t get too relaxed when your hamster and dog are near one another, and don’t let your hamster roam free where your dog is out, too. It is possible for a dog and hamster to live in harmony, but you should always remember that one is a prey animal and one is a natural-born hunter—no matter how cute and cuddly they happen to be.