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what is cage rage in hamsters?
Behavior

How To Stop Hamster Cage Rage (in 5 Easy Steps)

Last Updated on: 4th January 2024, 08:13 pm

Cage rage is a common psychological disorder that can affect any animal.

However, it’s more likely to afflict pets restricted to a cage for long hours, if not constantly. Hamsters are especially prone to cage rage due to their territorial nature.

Caging an animal alone won’t give it cage rage. Instead, this psychological disorder is caused by failing to meet a hamster’s care and enrichment needs in an enclosure.

What Is Cage Rage In Hamsters?

Cage rage happens when hamsters are kept in sub-optimal living conditions, such as:

Cage rage is most likely if these factors are combined. It’s easy to identify cage rage in a hamster, as its personality will change abruptly, manifesting as aggression, anxiety, and agitation.

Although it seems like an isolated problem, cage rage shouldn’t be underestimated, as the hamster will not get over it. It’s risky to you, the hamster, and other companion hamsters (if applicable).

A raging hamster is likelier to bite or scratch you, making you hesitant to touch them, provide food or water, and clean its cage.

Unfortunately, these reactions are likely to exacerbate cage rage, as a lack of socialization, a dirty cage, and insufficient resources can stress a hamster further.

The hamster will endure stress from this condition because it’ll feel boxed in, unclean, threatened, and helpless. This can result in a hamster being constantly alert, feeling that nowhere is safe.

These emotions raise the hamster’s cortisol levels (the stress hormone).

According to Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, hamsters have low cortisol levels. Persistent exposure to stress can thus affect hamsters more severely than other animals, leading to a weakened immune system and a shorter lifespan.

hamster suddenly aggressive

Signs of Cage Rage in Hamsters

All hamster species can experience cage rage, but Syrian hamsters are most at risk due to their size and territorial nature. Conversely, Roborovski hamsters are at the least risk of cage rage.

A hamster is experiencing cage rage if it displays these symptoms:

Hamster Suddenly Aggressive

Hamsters with cage rage may squeak and scream when people approach their cage. They’ll attack cage mates (if they have any) and corner them inside.

Lunging

Raging hamsters will lunge at you and objects inside the cage to conserve their limited space.

Excessive Marking of Territory

A hamster will mark its territory immediately after you clean its cage to discourage others from taking more of its space away.

Destructive Behavior

Cage rage will motivate hamsters to destroy toys, bedding, and other objects to express their frustration.

Hamster Won’t Stop Biting Cage

Bar biting is a symptom of stress, but hamsters with cage rage will bite the bars for hours. Unfortunately, this can lead to damaged or broken teeth.

Stereotypic Behavior

Stereotypic behavior refers to repetitive habits that have no apparent goal or function.

According to Laboratory Animals, stereotypic behavior in caged animals includes bar biting, pacing, and repeated vocalizations.

Climbing And Racing

Hamsters with cage rage will restlessly climb on objects and run inside the cage. This can be accompanied by monkey barring, scent marking, urinating, and rubbing scent glands on objects.

Are Cages Bad for Hamsters?

Cages aren’t inherently wrong for hamsters, as they’re necessary to keep them secure from other pets or from accessing unsafe portions of your home.

Likewise, a cage ensures they won’t be stepped on by accident, eat something they shouldn’t, or create messes in secluded corners that you may struggle to find.

Wild hamsters aren’t limited to small areas like cages, but that doesn’t mean they can’t adapt to them. Hamsters are used to tunneling for most of their day, where they’re safe within tight burrows.

A cage that allows a hamster to explore, climb, dig, and forage will meet all its simulation needs. Even if it doesn’t have the same territory it would outdoors, it should have what it needs to thrive.

The key is providing the hamster with a large enough cage and enrichment. The recommended cage size for a single hamster is 40 x 20 inches.

Also, it should have a running wheel, climbing toys, domes, bedding for digging purposes, and other distractions. Hiding food around the cage will also help the hamster remain busy.

Getting a multi-level cage will entertain the hamster, but it’ll take more cleaning.

Hamster Stressed In New Cage

If the hamster manifests the above symptoms but only when placed in a new cage, it may not be experiencing cage rage.

New surroundings unsettle hamsters and take a while to settle into. You’ll know this is the case if the symptoms don’t last for several days.

If they do, the new cage is unsuitable. You should get a larger cage and add enrichment toys.

What To Do About Hamster Cage Rage

Cage rage doesn’t go away on its own, so you’ll need to take these steps:

Isolate Hamsters

Hamsters prefer to live alone since they often live solitary lives in the wild. You can sometimes house multiple hamsters together, but this will depend on the following:

  • Amount of space.
  • Species.
  • Hamster’s personality.
  • Gender.

The American Association for Laboratory Animal Science determined that male hamsters can be housed in groups of four, but females should be kept alone.

Otherwise, hamsters can be aggressive, agitated, and prone to accidents during handling.

If the hamster manifests cage rage around its companions, you must separate them. They may be compatible due to species, sex, or temperament.

By breaking them up, you can give them time to call down from the stress of being trapped with another hamster who dislikes them. In the end, housing them in different cages should resolve this issue.  

Larger Cage

In most situations, a bigger enclosure will solve the issue of cage rage.

Hamsters are naturally territorial, so even if they’re kept alone, they’ll feel trapped and hostile when they don’t have enough space to explore.

Choosing the largest available cage as a replacement is recommended.

Hiding Spots

Nesting boxes, shelters, and hideouts reduce hamsters’ stress.

If the hamster has somewhere to escape, it’ll pay less attention to how many hamsters are in its cage and how much space it has. The hiding spots will feel like a protected home where the hamster can retreat.

Ensure all hiding spots have one exit so the hamster can feel secure that no other pets will sneak up on it.

Likewise, if the hamster builds its nest in the cage, don’t destroy it while cleaning, as this can make them feel more vulnerable.  

Socialization

Hamsters with cage rage may need extra contact with you.

While some hamsters are upset by too much socialization, others are lonely or don’t know how to interact with others. This can make them defensive and mean.

Unfortunately, a hamster with cage rage will be difficult to socialize with. Handling it, exposing it to other hamsters, and removing it from the cage may result in aggression.

Instead, remain near the hamster’s cage and talk to it. Stay within its line of sight, and place treats within its reach without touching it.

hamster climbing cage and biting

Reduce Stress Levels

At its core, cage rage is a symptom of extreme stress. You can help a pet hamster calm down by eliminating other sources of discomfort, such as:

  • Providing toys.
  • Keeping the cage in a quiet room.
  • Socializing with the hamster.
  • Giving it a room to roam.
  • Removing other pets from the room.
  • Providing the right diet.

How To Avoid Cage Rage

Cage rage is easier to prevent than it is to treat, so you should:

  • Always clean the hamster cage weekly, especially if you have multiple hamsters.
  • Upgrade the size of the cage with each new hamster you add.
  • Avoid disrupting the hamster’s tunnels, nests, or hiding spots while cleaning.
  • Play with the hamster regularly and give them more out-of-cage time.
  • Provide it with a cage of the right size and design.
  • Avoid mixing hamsters of different sizes and species.
  • Most hamsters are loners and should be caged separately.
  • Separate any hamsters that begin fighting.

If you’ve followed these steps and the hamster is still aggressive, it’s likely the design of the cage is at fault. As mentioned, bigger is better when it comes to hamster cage sizes.

Also, there are certain cage traits you should always avoid, no matter their size:

Base Tray Too Shallow

Hamsters need to dig, so a shallow base tray will prevent the hamster from tunneling the burrows it needs to feel safe.

Tubes

Tubes provide enrichment, but not when they take up most (or all) of the cage’s floor space.

Opt for those hanging from the cage’s ceiling or bridge over the main floor. Likewise, avoid tubes that move straight up and down.

No Ventilation

Plastic and glass aquariums can be repurposed as hamster cages. However, you’ll need to create holes regularly or use a wire meshing as the roof to ensure ventilation.

Without ventilation, the hamster may be trapped with additional heat, smells, and humidity that cause extreme discomfort.

Additionally, hamsters accustomed to wire cages may become stressed when moved to glass or plastic cages, as they’ll have less ventilation and more reflections.