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Why Does My Hamster Bite Its Cage?

 
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: September 2, 2018
Why Does My Hamster Bite Its Cage?

If you have adopted a hamster as a pet, you've likely seen it biting its cage from time to time. Even if you haven't seen it, you may have heard a hamster biting its cage at night, the metal bars reverberating the sound through your room. It is common practice for many hamsters, but it if it is done with too much regularity, it can indicate a problem. This is especially so when happening for long periods of time. Not only can it imply stress, but ingesting the metals or hazardous materials of the bars can cause physical health issues.

If you ever wonder why does your hamster bite its cage, AnimalWised is here to help you understand what may be the cause. If they have not yet begun biting their cage, then we can also show you how to best prevent it from happening in the first place.

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The main reasons hamsters bite their cage

While hamsters may bite over long periods or only intermittently, the most common reasons why a hamster bites its cage are due to:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Boredom

While their psychology may not be as complicated as most humans, it can be all too easy to overlook their emotional well-being. If your hamster is stressed or anxious, biting its cage is likely to be only one of its symptoms. Other symptoms of stress in hamsters include:

  • Nervousness
  • Compulsive behavior
  • Aggression
  • Hyperactivity
  • Excessive grooming
  • Inactivity
  • Apathy
  • Alopecia (loss of hair)

While a hamster may bite its cage due to stress or even boredom, we may not know what is causing them in the first place. It is important to understand the necessity of environmental enrichment for rodents. In the wild (or in the city), hamsters and their rodent cousins have free reign and can investigate their environs at will. In a cage, their exploratory behavior is limited to an often tiny area. This is why letting your hamster out of its cage, whether in a hamster ball or in a cordoned off area, you can help reduce boredom and open up their worlds.

Exploration can help problems of boredom, but there are other ways to keep our hamster friends occupied. Although hamster cages are often small, there is usually enough room for some devices to help with both mental and physical stimulation. A hamster wheel can help them to spend nervous energy without having to be supervised. Cardboard tubes can be used as makeshift tunnels and chew toys are great for occupying them, especially if chewing the bars of their cage is becoming an issue.

Food in general can be an adequate distraction to a stressed hamster. Giving them appropriate treats including fruit and vegetables can also help keep them mentally and physically well. Ensure these do not include food which is forbidden to hamsters.

Dangers of hamsters biting their cage

While hamsters biting their cage already show them to be in danger of mental stress, there are other concerns to consider. Their nervousness may lead to aggression which means they bite you or any other creatures they come in contact with. Their stress may also be the symptom of an underlying pathology which needs to be addressed. This could be due to their cage not being cleaned regularly enough or even being cleaned too thoroughly. Hamster make nests for their home, so they need to have some bedding left over to ensure their scent remains.

When a hamster does bite their cage, the metal bars may consist of various metals including aluminium, copper, zinc and iron. The excessive ingestion of metals to such a small nervous system as is that of a hamster can cause problems. Also, the paint which is often used to cover the cage bars may contain plastic particles and/or toxic substances which can cause harm to your hamster. In small doses, they may not even pose a threat, but a particularly stressed hamster might eat and ingest a lot.

Hamsters can also break their teeth on the hard metal of the cages. This can cause them pain and you may even see a hamster with a bloody mouth. Although this is dangerous, it is not just a bloody mouth which is of a worry. If one tooth breaks, another will continue growing over it. This can cause serious dental problems which affect the overall health of a hamster.

Why Does My Hamster Bite Its Cage? - The main reasons hamsters bite their cage

Other reasons a hamster bites its cage

Although most hamsters will bite the bars of their cage due to boredom or stress, they are not the only reasons. One important one is actually a healthy practice. Just like rabbits, a hamster's teeth do not stop growing. This means they need to file them down lest they become to large for their little rodent mouth. In their natural habitat, hamsters will do this by biting on solid pieces of tree or rock to control their dentition (the condition of their teeth). Their hamster brethren will show them how to do this in the wild, but without such supervision, they may bite their cage instead.

On the other hand, hamsters may also bite their cage as their diet is deficient in their essential nutrients. If a hamster doesn't get the right amount of vitamins and minerals, they may bite their cage as a way to seek out these nutrients. Seeking out additional nutritional supplements is not a common cause, but it does reiterate the importance of supplying an appropriate and adequate diet for your hamster. Doing so will ensure their general well being. Again, avoiding food which is harmful to them is also very important.

Additionally, some underlying pathologies can cause your hamster to chew their cage. This then results in the symptoms of stress, anxiety or aggression. If your hamster has an enriched environment, a suitable diet and is generally well taken care off, it may be worth investigating.

Tips for preventing a hamster from biting its cage

Now that we know why a hamster bites its cage, we should want to know ways to prevent this from happening. Here are some ideas to do just that:

  • Play with your pet: spending time playing with your hamster can give them the opportunity to have the attention they need as well as release some of their hyperactivity. Don't let yourself get tired enough by long days to not spend time with your hamster. It will mutually relieve your stress as well as keep up their health.
  • Enrich their environment: if your hamster doesn't have anything to keep them occupied in their cage, then this will need to be rectified. They need to be able to expel energy as well as have their basic needs met. This means, toys to exercise, chew toys and levels to let them climb about while still being in their cage. Some hamster cages will also have elaborate tunnel systems which can mimic their natural environments.
  • Dental care: providing chew toys, pieces of wood or even hard food such as nuts will help maintain a hamster's dentition. This means they will stop biting the metal bars instead.
  • Change cages: metal bars can provide enough air as well as allowing them to clamber up and down them. However, if a hamster still bites their cage despite preventative measures, then you may need to look for an alternative. Some plastic hamster cages don't have bars to bite and also often have built in tunnels for enrichment. Better still, a large glass terrarium cannot be bitten by the hamster, but does provide a lot of space for them to explore. Just ensure you have toys and platforms inside to keep the occupied.
  • Hygiene: keep the cage clean. A dirty cage can cause great stress and lead to nervous habits such as biting metal bars.
Why Does My Hamster Bite Its Cage? - Tips for preventing a hamster from biting its cage

Can a hamster bite through its cage?

Even the most nervous hamster will be unlikely to be able to bite through metal bars. The bars are made of stronger stuff, so in the battle of materials, it is the hamster's teeth which will likely wear out first. However, if the metal bars of a cage have been worn or stressed, then it is possible. They may be able to grind them down enough to break through parts. However, this is unlikely and will probably need to have sustained some damage before the hamster gets to it.

If the hamster cage is plastic, it is also possible they can crack brittle parts. This is why you will likely need to change a plastic cage if it becomes broken at any point. Hamsters won't be able to get purchase on glass to bite it, but if the glass cracks it can be damaging. They can get a bloody mouth from cutting themselves or even get serious problems from ingesting broken shards.

If you want to read similar articles to Why Does My Hamster Bite Its Cage?, we recommend you visit our Behavioral problems category.

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