Is your hamster chewing on his cage bars ? So does mine from time to time, and I know it’s awful to hear, and bad for his teeth. I’ll tel you what I know about how to stop your hammy from chewing the cage bars, and how to prevent it.
Keep in mind that some hamsters simply have this habit, and will have their teeth on the bars (or anything else) often, just because. I’ll tell you what to do in those cases too.
So why do hamsters chew on the cage bars ?
Hamsters are rodents, so they will chew on everything by default. Still here’s a short, clear list of the main reasons your hamster is chewing on his cage bars:
- Small cage – this is often a big problem, since many hamsters are kept in tiny cages.
- Teeth growing – rodent teeth never stop growing, they must always chew and nibble on something .
- Anxiety/stress – hamsters can develop this habit as a way to cope with something.
- Need attention/curiosity – hamsters need to see and know everything, and will ask for attention.
- Habit – they’ve gotten this habit, and it’s going to be hard to unlearn it.
Hammies are known to be quiet pets, but having them chew on the bars is incredibly annoying. Aside from being a possible sign of something wrong, it’s also bad for their teeth. Only because the metal is too harsh for their teeth, and they’ll need something softer like wood to chew on.
We’ll cover that list in this article, so you know in more detail why hamsters end up chewing on the cage bars. But let’s first talk a bit about rodents and chewing in general, so we understand why this happens from their point of view.
About rodents and chewing in general
All rodents – hamsters, mice, guinea pigs, rabbits, squirrels, and so on – have an innate need to chew. Their teeth never stop growing. If they don’t keep an eye on the growth, it can be deadly.
So, rodents need to constantly chew and nibble on something. This is normal for them, and is a very good habit to have in order to file down their teeth.
But what about pet rodents ? Well, your hamster doesn’t know the sound of his chewing is awful to you. And still, his teeth are always growing and always need to be filed down.
Another thing about rodents, they like to try everything out with their teeth as well. Just like baby humans will put random objects in their mouth to ‘learn’ them, rodents will try out things too. It’s just that they’ll never grow out of that phase.
So be prepared for this happening again and again. However you can do a few things to lower the chances of your hamster chewing on the bars. Let’s get to those right now.
Get your hamster a larger cage
One of the reasons, maybe half the time, is that hamsters are kept in way too small cages. The hamsters end up feeling cramped and grumpy.
It varies from hamster to hamster type, but the absolute minimum is 24 x 12 inches, and about 12 inches tall. That’s 61 x 30.5 cm, and about 30.5 cm tall.
That is for an adult Syrian hamster, but I’d recommend it to be the minimum for a Dwarf type as well. Hamsters need a lot of space, they run around a lot, they sprint at the drop of a feather, and will burrow often. That requires more space than you’d think at first.
The small, square cages you can pick up at the pet shop – the ones that are most commonly sold when you get your hammy – are way too small. You can find a good guide on hamster cages here.
Always go for a bigger cage, with lots of floor space. Hamsters need that space and will become jittery and irritable if they don’t have where and how to run around.
Especially if you’re keeping two hamsters in a cage, this is crucial. They need to be able to hide from each other, run away, and have large spaces for themselves if they need to.
Otherwise they’ll end up chewing the bars, in an attempt to get away, or escape, or just let out that anxiety and stress.
A hamster’s teeth are always growing
This is what the problem is most of the time. Hamsters are rodents, so their teeth will always grow. So, they will always need to file them down.
There is not much you can do about this, other than giving the hamster chew toys. You’ll find a lot more info on that in the rest of the article.
Your hammy will always try to put its teeth on everything. Sometimes to chew, sometimes to try them out. But there are moments when they chewing will happen often. This is when their teeth get sort of growth spurts, and the hammies will feel the instinctive need to chew on something.
The best thing to do for a rodent, especially one that you’ve noticed is a big chewer, is to keep it in a large glass tank. There’s nothing to chew there, except for the toys.
Anxiety/stress is a common issue with hamsters
A hamster is used to hiding and being on alert all day, every day. That means that it’s prone to stress, an stress related illnesses. That also means that they will often need a way to release their stress.
Most of the time, the hamster will end up chewing on the hardest surface he can find – the cage bars. He will still use his chew toys, but the hard surface of the cage bars will still be interesting.
A few reasons hamsters can develop anxiety and stress can be:
- being scared too often – they’re very easy to startle
- being bullied by their cage mate – common problem, read this then
- new home – baby hamsters can sometimes adapt very slowly to their new homes
- poor housing – small cage, improper bedding, not enough food, no exercise, could be many things
What you can do is to try and make life easier for your hamster. So if your hammy is scared often – by a sudden noise, or the dog looking at them, you need to read this article. Do keep in mind that hamsters scare easily, so some things just can’t be helped.
If your hammy is bullied by his cage mate, then you need to separate the two. You can find out more on that here. This is a problem that can come up seemingly out of nowhere, even for hamsters that looked like they were getting along. Always keep an eye on them if you’ve got a pair,
Your hamster needs your attention, or is curious about something
Hamsters are incredibly curious, and will want to check out everything. Even if they’re scared, they will still try to investigate that sound.
Most of the time they investigate or hear things out because they’re listening for predators. But a pet hamster will have the bravery to walk up to the cage bars and try to see and hear and smell why that bag is making those sounds.
He will sometimes ask for your attention, even if you’re doing something else and didn’t notice he woke up. In these cases it’s best to give the hamster a bit of attention, but be careful.
If you hear chattering teeth, and you see him very aggitated and jumpy, do not touch him directly.
A hamster with chattering teeth is not a playful one. He is curious, but has a burst of energy that makes him hard to handle, and prone to biting.
Best to play indirectly with him. Like a bit of paper towel through the bars, and a piece of cardboard in his cage, like you would play with a cat.
Some hamsters develop a habit of chewing on the cage bars
Unfortunately this is a habit very hard to kick. Mostly because it’s sort of addictive for hammies. They love the sound and feel of their teeth on the bars, as much as it might make your cringe.
So getting your hamster to let go of something he loves will be incredibly difficult. The best option for this is to remove the bars completely.
That means again, putting the hammy in a glass tank. For hamsters that developed a habit of chewing the bars, no matter how large their cage will be, they will find the corners and chew on them.
A few things other people have tried – blowing on the hamster, using a paper towel on his nose, or even citrus oil on the bars – do not work. They’re only temporary reliefs, only for a few minutes. The hamster will start chewing again, this time with a vengeance.
And in some cases, if you’ve got two hamsters in the same cage, they can copy each other. If one of them starts to chew on the bars, then the other will probably follow suit. If that’s the case, you will probably need to separate them. or move them both in a glass tank.
Sometimes, there’s not much you can do. But you need to try everything else before moving him to a glass tank.
What you can do about the hamster chewing
Here’s a few things you can actually do about your hammy chewing on the cage bars. They will work, some temporary, some permanently, depending on your hamster, and the reason he is chewing.
My Teddy still chews the bars every now and then, for a couple of minutes. I usually distract him, and move him to a different room at night anyway, so I do no hear him when I sleep.
Chew toys for the hammy
You can help your hamster by getting or making him some chew toys, and leaving them randomly around his cage. This means that your hamster will have plenty more opportunities to chew on solid things inside his cage.
Often, your hammy will need something wood-based to chew on. The cage bars are too hard for your hamster’s teeth, even if he likes chewing on them.
So you’ll need to provide him with some chew toys. You can find a whole article dedicated to hamster toys here, and you’ll get store-bought and DYI ideas as well.
Mineral chews are actually not that useful for your hamster. They’re marketed as a chewing aid, and are supposed to bring more mineral content to your hamster’s diet.
But the truth is, hamsters don’t need more minerals if they’ve got a good diet already. A pre-made food mix will take care of that.
Distract the hamster
You can distract the hamster, and this will work most of the time. As in, after you stop paying attention to the hamster it will probably not chew the bars for a few hours, or at least enough time for you to fall asleep.
Exercise the hamster
Exercising your hammy is probably the best way to get him to distract him. You can do this two ways.
First, you can use his exercise wheel. If it’s a wheel he can see through, like a wire mesh one, you can use a bit of paper towel to guide your hamster through his cage, into the wheel.
Then, your hamster will try to get to the paper towel or your hand. But if you place it directly in front of him while he is in the wheel, the hamster will end up running trying to get to you.
You can do this several times a day, or whenever your hammy seems restless. Do let him get to the paper towel every now and then, to keep things interesting.
Second, you can exercise the hamster by putting him in his exercise ball – you can find out more about that here. Once he’s in the exercise ball, let him roam the house as much as he likes, but make sure you don’t go over 30 minutes per session.
Your hammy will need some water, and some food, and he can’t find those in the exercise ball. Also make sure that your hammy can’t fall down any stairs, or your other pets will not reach it.
A barking, curious dog, or a playful cat will scare the hamster, and will only distress him more.
Be warned though, exercise balls can be loud on their own. The hamster will bang it against the furniture, walls, the corner of your coffee table, the door, anything. So you can either proof an area to let your hamster run around, or make peace with the noise.
To proof the area, you will just need to cover the surfaces the ball can hit with some textile, like a blanket or towel, to absorb noise. Or, in the case of odd corners, you can just put a slipper in the way and the hammy will not be able to reach that corner.
Play with the hamster
You can also play with your hamster to distract it. But again, if his teeth are chattering and he has a sort of odd look about him, best to not touch him directly. Give him a puzzle toy – you can find an example here – or use a bit of cardboard to guide him through an obstacle course in his cage.
Or, you can pick him up if he seems fairly calm. Let the hamster run over your hands, talk to him, pet him, as you would normally. But if he seems like he’s about to jump out of your hands, make sure you’re every close to his cage.
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What to do if your hamster just can’t stop chewing on the bars
Sometimes, there’s not much you can do. If you’ve tried every little thing you can think of, and every other alternative you’ve found in this article so far, and your hamster is still chewing, then it’s time to do something else.
Move the hamster to a glass tank
Your hamster will not have anything to chew, if he’s in a glass tank. The glass gives him nothing to hold onto, just plain, smooth, straight glass he can’t do anything with.
In this case you will need to give your hamster ample wood-based toys to play with. He will chew on every little thing he can get his paws on. The hideout, the toys, the food bowl, in some cases even the water bottle.
So, make sure the glass tank is large enough to fit your hamster, or your hamsters if you’ve got more than one. And you can check out this article for bedding and hideout ideas made of wood.
As for where to find an actual glass tank, you can check this Amazon link for an example. It’s the minimum space requirement for a single hamster, and you can look at the reviews as well.
Honestly, I recommend getting a glass tank from a pet shop, or somewhere you can actually go and see the tank for yourself. That way the transport can be arranged by you, and you’re in control of whether the glass breaks on the trip home or not.
As you know, glass is difficult to safely transport, so it’s best if you’re involved as well. Still, you can check the link above to at least see what glass tanks have to offer, and the price range they’d be about.
Move the hamster’s cage to a different room
This is a last resort. If you do not want, or can’t afford or fit a large enough glass tank for your hamster, then this is your other option.
Glass tanks can’t be moved about as easily as a cage. But a cage can be moved temporarily or permanently to a separate room.
If your hamster keeps chewing the bars and he just won’t stop, no matter what, moving him to a different room will at least let you have your peace.
There are a few things to keep in mind though, before you move the hamster.The temperature of the room you move the hamster to needs to be constant. Hamsters need a range between 20-23 C/68-75 F to feel comfortable, and anything below or above that range can make them uneasy.
In some cases, if your hamster is exposed to sudden, very cold temperatures, it can hibernate. But since it’s sudden, it can be actually deadly for him, depending how long it lasts. You can find more info on hamster hibernation here, and how to save your hammy.
So be sure to check up on your hammy every day, to make sure he feels alright in his room. Make sure he is safe from other pets, or overly curious small children.
Is a hamster a good choice for a pet ?
In this case, after talking about all the ruckus a hamster can make while chewing the bars, you’d think no, they’re not good pets.
But the truth is, at least in my opinion, hamsters are actually good pets. They’re quiet most of the time, and will not bother you often. It’s just that they have some very specific necessities – like the chewing and temperature – that can make then a bit iffy.
A hamster isn’t as easy to tame – and keep tame – as a dog or cat, and does not respond well to being held wrong or annoyed. So for this reason I’d advise against getting your child a pet hamster, of any kind.
Children would need a more mellow, loving pet, like for example a dog that can take on the full force of a kid tackling him, or pulling his tail.
You can read more whether hamsters make good pets or not here – and get a more detailed insight on why you need to know yourself and your limits before you get a hamster as a pet.
A word from Teddy
I hope you got some good ideas here on how to stop one of us hammies from chewing the cage bars. Sometimes we just love to chew the bars, and sometimes we can stop if you give us an alternative. It depends from hammy to hammy.
If you want to know more about hamsters, and why we sometimes do odd things, like eat our poop or suddenly freeze, you should check out the articles below.