Hamster biting cage? Here’s what to do

Hamster biting cage bars
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Hamster biting cage and you’re not sure why? These adorable pocket pets have very long teeth, which grow continuously throughout their lives so it’s no surprise that they love to chew and gnaw on things. This behavior is perfectly natural as it helps them keep their teeth ground down to the right length. 

However, it’s important to make sure they’re chewing on the right things – and this doesn’t include their cage bars. If there’s paint missing on the bars or they’re scratched or bent out of shape, you’ll need to take action. Your hamster could need more space – make sure you’ve researched the best hamster cages – or they could be bored – so stock up on the best hamster toys.  Find out the reason for this behavior and how to stop it to make sure your furry little rodent friend is happy and healthy. 

Why is my hamster biting their cage?

While biting is a natural behavior for hamsters, it won’t distinguish between things it should gnaw at and things it shouldn’t, such as its cage, so if it is biting its cage you’ll want to find out the reason so you can find a solution. 

You may ask yourself why you need to stop your hamster biting its cage. The main reason is that this can lead to broken, cracked or damaged teeth, or worse, painful mouth infections or injuries. Depending on the type of cage you’ve bought, the metal or paint could be toxic to your pet if ingested. You don’t want your hamster to be stressed, bored or unhappy as this could result in other health issues. Plus, it could be trying to escape – something you definitely don’t want. 

Let's take a closer look at some of the most common reasons why your hammy might be biting their cage:

Boredom

If your hamster is biting its cage it may be bored or looking for a bit more attention from you. You’ll need to make sure your pet is getting enough mental and physical stimulation. This means providing it with a big enough cage so it has enough space to exercise, lots of enriching toys and ensuring you are making time to play with them. 

It may depend on the species of hamster you have, but the minimum size for a hamster cage should be 24 x 12 inches (61 x 31.5cm) and about 12 inches (30.5cm tall). If you change their cage and they’re still biting the bars, try a glass aquarium tank. 

If you want to make sure they’re getting enough exercise, let your hamster out of its cage at least three times a week (although once every 24 hours is recommended). This should be in an enclosed area that has been hamster-proofed – remove any electrical cords, clear the space and close off any holes or escape routes. You need to spend time with your hamster. If you’re taking them out of the cage, go gently so they don’t feel like you’re invading their space. Offer up your hands for a nibble and use both hands to carry them out or use a small bowl or box that they can choose to climb into.

When you’re not around to play, make sure they have lots of safe items to chew and play with. Wooden toys are particularly good such as ladders, houses and blocks, or try rodent chew or food blocks. A hamster wheel or exercise ball inside their cage is a great way to let them exercise, but don’t put it in direct sunlight and only let them use the ball for 15 minutes at a time. 

Stress

Stress could be another reason why your hamster is biting its cage. Have you noticed any changes in its behavior? Again, it could be stressed if its cage is not big enough, if it isn’t happy with its bedding (cedar and pine bedding may irritate its lungs and skin) or if it doesn’t have enough toys to keep it occupied. 

If you have a pet cat or noisy children that don’t understand how to handle your hamster gently, these could also be making your hamster anxious. You may want to look at the placement of the cage. If it’s by a window, birds could be making your furry friend nervous or on the ground that big cat could look more menacing. Create a quiet environment where they’ll be happy.

Are you waking your pet up during the day to play or clean its cage? This is not a good idea. Hamsters are nocturnal mammals so you could be causing them upset by disturbing their sleep. 

Managing teeth growth

Hamsters need to chew to stop their teeth from growing too long, but sometimes the food you give them isn’t enough to keep their gnashers busy. If they’re biting their cage to try and manage tooth growth the behavior is healthy – just not the material they’re using. You can solve this by giving your hamster untreated, oil-free, paint-free wood to chew on. Wood from an apple or pear tree is ideal, but avoid cedar or pine as the oils in these can be toxic to your pet. If the wood isn’t working alone, try rubbing it with apple or carrot for taste or another alternative is hard-shelled nuts.

Dog treats, such as a hard biscuit once a week, can also be used. Just ensure you’re buying garlic-free treats as treats with garlic can cause digestive problems. If you have some extra cardboard around the house, such as an empty toilet paper or paper towel roll, this will work as a chew toy too. You can cut holes in it to show your hamster it’s for gnawing and this will not only help with their teeth, but it will provide added stimulation. 

Chewing for pleasure

As well as looking after their teeth, chewing is also fun for hamsters. If this is the case, follow the same advice so that they are still able to enjoy chewing, but staying safe at the same time. Try to avoid feeding them through the cage bars as this may worsen the problem. 

How to stop your hamster chewing their cage?

Hamster chewing wheel

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Once you’ve established why your hamster is chewing the bars on its cage, you can work on stopping this behavior. As you have already read, depending on the reason, there are lots of solutions from buying a bigger cage to providing your hamster with lots of toys and attention and ensuring they have a safe and happy environment. If none of these solutions work, you could try a bite deterrent spray. This is sprayed on the bars to stop your hamster from being tempted. Just make sure you take them out of their cage to apply it and make sure it’s dry before returning them inside. 

What is hamster cage rage?

If your hamster is biting its cage, you don’t necessarily need to worry. However, if they’re showing increasing changes in behaviour, they could have hamster cage rage, so it’s important to be aware of this. Hamster cage rage is a serious psychological condition, which can cause your hamster emotional and physical harm. It is caused when their living conditions are unsuitable, so if their cage is far too small, leading to excess stress and the disorder can result in lasting damage to your pet including a decreased lifespan. While the condition can affect all species, it affects Syrian hamsters in particular due to their size. 

How do I know if my hamster has cage rage?

So how can you tell when your pet has this disorder? If your hamster is just biting its cage bars, it may be fine, but if its behaviour becomes excessive and frenzied, it could be something else. Hamsters don’t usually bite unless you’ve done something to upset them, so if they start to bite you more or become aggressive, lunging or attacking without warning and guarding the cage doors, this could be cage rage. They may show repetitive, agitated behaviour such as shaking, racing, pacing or climbing around their cage for long periods. They may spit, squeak or squeal making it difficult to feed or handle them or clean the cage out. Other symptoms include changes in their sleep patterns, urinating and drinking more frequently, destroying their toys or bedding and hoarding food.

How do you tell if your hamster is stressed?

Stressed behavior may look like the start of cage rage, so it’s important to stay on top of it. If your hamster’s behaviour changes this could be a sign of stress. Look out for hyperactive or compulsive behavior or aggression. They may start making different noises, hiding, shaking or tensing up and freezing. Their sleeping, eating and drinking patterns may change and they may show signs of hair loss or excessive salivation. If your hamster doesn’t want to be held or is trying to escape this also could be a sign of stress. 

What can I do to avoid hamster cage rage and stress?

The key to avoiding hamster cage rage is to ensure you research the correct type of housing for your hamster and do not buy an unsuitable cage from the pet store. The advice is similar to general cage biting. Make sure your hamster’s cage is large enough and suitable. You want to look at structure, ventilation and space. Avoid tubes, tight spaces, plastic so they don’t overheat and small sleeping spaces. Check that they’re getting enough enrichment and exercise inside the cage and outside at least three times a week with plenty of suitable toys and attention.

Zara is Editor on bookazines and covers a range of topics from cookery to travel and animals. Her latest first edition, What Your Dog Wants You To Know, is the ultimate guide to understanding your dog’s body language.  Former editor of World of Animals magazine, she has over 8 years of experience in publishing inspiring children and adults about the wonders of the animal kingdom as well as teaching them about their pets. She also has over 5 years experience working with vets, wildlife experts and animal behaviourists in her comms roles for various animal charities.  A keen animal lover, Zara can often be found researching her next wildlife destination to travel to. Having just moved into a bigger house she is currently looking at which dog and cats breed would suit her new family so she can fill her house with pets.