Biting the cage is a common hamster behavior, but it’s not normal. Bar biting has several negative effects, as it causes broken teeth and painful sores around the nose.
Cage biting usually indicates a problem within the environment. Small cages lacking enrichment may cause hamsters to chew the bars out of boredom.
Also, hamsters need to chew on things to file down their teeth so, without chew toys, they’ll bite the bars. Stress is another cause of bar biting.
While bar biting is a stress-related stereotypy, some hamsters chew on their cages to get their owners’ attention. Hamsters who love being outside their cage are more likely to do this.
However, if you allow it to continue, your hamster will eventually escape.
Why Do Hamsters Bite Their Cage Bars?
Of all hamster species, female Syrians are most likely to chew their cages. That’s because they’re more aggressive and require much more space than other hamsters. As a result, they can’t be housed in wooden or plastic cages because they tend to chew holes through them.
That doesn’t mean males won’t chew their bars, though. It depends on the conditions their owners keep them in because, we’ve mentioned, bar biting most commonly occurs due to a problem within the environment, such as a lack of enrichment. Other causes include:
Wear Their Teeth Down
Hamsters must keep their teeth worn down. As described by Cell Reports, hamsters’ teeth never stop growing and become too long if they’re not frequently filed down. Overgrown incisors are a serious problem because they poke through their gums and tongue, causing painful sores.
Hamster cages must have chew toys that enable them to wear their teeth down. Fibrous foods also work well, such as Whimzees they can chew. If hamsters don’t have these things, they’ll chew on the bars to shorten their teeth.
Hamsters are small animals, but they still need lots to do. Hamsters don’t have the same enrichment opportunities in captivity as in the wild, so they rely on their owners to provide a large exercise wheel, deep bedding, and toys.
Without these things, they’ll chew on their bars for physical and mental stimulation.
Many pet stores sell cages that are unsuitable for hamsters to live in permanently.
The result is that hamsters become frustrated by the lack of floor space and bite the bars. This is also a way for them to attempt to escape unsuitable conditions.
Hamsters must have a minimum of 450 square inches of floor space. However, as Animal Welfare describes, bigger is always better and hamsters, particularly female Syrians, tend to do well in cages measuring at least 100 x 50 cm.
While boredom and a small cage are some of the most common causes, so are:
- Loud noises
- Bright lights
- Fluctuating temperatures
Hamsters are sensitive to stress. That’s because it weakens the immune system and makes pre-existing health conditions, such as heart disease worse. Stress is also related to Tyzzer disease as it causes the bacteria responsible for the condition to grow. Tyzzer disease is often fatal.
Depending on how bonded your hamster feels with you, you may find your hamster biting bars for attention as you walk into a room. This is a friendly greeting, but it can still cause harm.
Similarly, some hamsters chew on their bars when it’s time to come out to play. Hamsters are creatures of habit, and they tend to wake up at the same time every night.
If you don’t stick to a routine, your hamster may become agitated enough to bite the bars until you let it out.
What’s Wrong With Hamsters Chewing Their Cage Bars?
Cage chewing isn’t only annoying to watch and listen to, it risks permanent damage to your hamster’s cage. But that’s not all, as there are serious mental and physical health implications to consider.
Over time, your hamster can sustain some painful issues. These are the reasons why you must stop your hamster from chewing its cage bars:
Hamsters that chew their cage bars are at risk of cracking or breaking their teeth. Not only is this painful, but the teeth don’t always grow back.
Broken teeth can also become infected or develop lacerations of the palate. The latter results in a hole, or an abnormal fistula, connecting the mouth to the nasal cavity. Symptoms of oral-nasal fistulas include sneezing and nasal discharge.
In severe cases of obsessive bar biting, teeth become misaligned and grow into your hamster’s brain, killing them. However, rest assured this is rare.
When hamsters chew their cages, they stick their noses through the gaps to get a vertical grip of the bars. As a result, they develop painful sores around their nose.
They also experience bald patches from where the repetitive action of chewing wears the fur away. Because hamsters are prey animals that act on instinct, they won’t stop chewing unless their owners take steps to stop it.
Your Hamster Could Escape
Metal cages will keep your hamster enclosed for a short while, but if you notice your hamster frantically chewing its cage over and over, there’s a high chance it’ll soon escape.
Once hamsters get out, they’re difficult to retrieve because they tuck themselves away into the tightest spaces. They also refuse to come out, especially if they find a warm spot with easy access to food.
Toxic Metal Risk
Most pet store cages are made with safe metals and paints, but some can be dangerous if your hamster ingests the material. Even if the paint is non-toxic, it’s unhealthy for your hamster to swallow paint fragments. They can cause blockages and internal health problems.
How To Stop a Hamster Biting Its Cage
Some hamsters will never stop chewing their cage bars unless they’re moved into a tank with solid sides.
Glass or acrylic tanks are viable alternatives to barred cages. However, before you take this measure, you can try discouraging your hamster from chewing its bars with the following techniques:
Put Oil On the Bars
While this is a messy solution, putting oil on the cage bars deters hamsters from chewing them. That’s because they hate the taste and texture of oil.
However, if you’re going to opt for this solution, be careful with the type of oil you choose. Extra light olive oil or coconut oil are the best options because they’re low in fat and cholesterol. Don’t choose anything that smells too strong, and make sure the oil’s completely natural.
Pour a small amount in a shallow dish and place a bit at a time on the bars your hamster bites by dabbing your finger into it. Don’t allow the oil to drip off your finger, though, as the rest of the cage will become oily.
Spray With Bitter Apple
Many pet stores sell bitter apple spray, which deters hamsters from chewing its cage bars. It’s safe to use, but hamsters will remain as far away from it as possible due to the potent taste and smell.
Be careful not to spray your hamster, bedding, or any of its hides and chew toys. Doing so will take away your hamster’s natural smell and stress it out even further.
It’s a good idea to remove your hamster and its accessories from the cage before covering the bedding with cardboard or another material.
Cover the Bars
Another way to stop your hamster from chewing its cage bars is to prevent access by covering them with a safe material, such as a seagrass mat or cardboard.
By obstructing your hamster’s ability to chew the bars, it should soon give up. Even if it chews the softer materials, it’s at less risk of hurting its teeth.
It’s a good idea to keep your hamster’s nose pointed down so that it’s distracted from the bars. The best way to do this is to scatter feed your hamster and spread a foraging mix across the substrate.
Other suitable forms of enrichment include:
- Surface-level hides
- Textured substrates
- Items to chew on, such as dandelion roots and unshelled monkey nuts
The moment your hamster becomes bored, it’ll start chewing on the cage bars again. You might also want to consider switching your hamster’s toys around occasionally to keep its mind sharp.
Bar biting isn’t a behavior that you’ll want to allow your hamster to continue. The risk to your hamster’s teeth is too great, and it’ll eventually result in higher levels of stress.