Why do hamsters chew on cage bars?

Making a break for it or something else?

These friendly yet small pets are popular. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, roughly 1.1 million American households have a hamster. They are unique creatures with unique habits. The irritating clicking sounds of hamsters chewing on their cage can keep pet owners awake at night and disrupt pet parents’ quiet times. Are these habits normal? Safe? Necessary?

So why do hamsters chew on cage bars? Hamsters can chew on cage bars due to stress and boredom. But not all reasons are bad. Hamsters only grow one set of teeth and unlike human teeth, hamster teeth never stop growing. Hamsters need to continually gnaw or their teeth can become so long, they can’t eat or close their mouths and can eventually die. 

Tan hamster chewing white hamster cage bars

Limiting stress

There may be things in your pet’s environment that are stressing him or her out you didn’t even realize. Things like extremes in temperature, other pets ????????, children, or sounds can be hard for them to handle. 

Since hamsters are typically awake at night, verify the temperature in your home, especially at dusk and dawn when these creatures are most active. Be aware if your hamster’s home is located next to an air vent or sunny window as these may impact temperature. 

If your pet’s living quarters is too small, it may contribute to their stress also. For specific recommendations on living quarters, visit the RSPCA. In this scenario, they will chew in an attempt to “tunnel” and create a larger living space. 

Sounds or other pets may stressing them out. This can be avoided by moving their cage to another room, away from over-stimulation. If you have other pets and invite a hamster into your home, be sure to observe all direct and initial indirect introductions. Especially cats. Accidental or unsupervised introductions can be disastrous. 

Providing healthy and safe alternatives

It is important to provide your pet hamster with healthy alternative chewers. Cage bars can be an unsafe option as they will not “give” and may injure or break your pet’s teeth. Better options include non-glossy cardboard (with no glue or adhesives), untreated wood, specially designed chewers, and fresh vegetables. 

Cardboard and wood are sometimes swallowed but most of the bits are added to the nest. Swallowing some is OK but discuss with your veterinarian if you are concerned your pet is eating too much of it. 

For the most part, they use it to build nests because it is soft, adjustable, and has their scent on it. 

Not all vegetables are safe for hamsters, so do appropriate research here before feeding your new pet. 

Keeping your hamster occupied 

In the wild, hamsters are very active creatures and in captivity, will maintain the same active behavior. 

Running wheels are a staple for this behavior and can be purchased in many styles for all cage types including free standing, over-the-top for terrarium style cages, and wheels with a positional lock on the back that fits in between metal bars for standard cages. 

Exercise balls are a fantastic way to keep your hamster busy and allows them an opportunity to explore new spaces safely. 

In the wild hamsters also dig and create underground tunnels. Adding tunnels and crawl spaces will best mimic their natural environment while also keeping them engaged in play.

I can’t handle the sound!

If the above suggestions aren’t enough to get them to stop chewing on their home, another idea is to try a different living arrangement for your furry friend. 

A bedroom isn’t a great spot for a cage since they are awake at night and I suspect you don’t want to be. Taking it further, perhaps a plastic cage or glass terrarium may be more suitable. 

Individual hamsters, like individual people, will have individual habits. Some will chew more than others and each will have their own preferences for different things to chew on. 

My hamster doesn’t chew as much as I expected when I got him. I used to have gerbils and they chewed a LOT. 

Conclusion

This strange habit is normal (to some extent) but your pet may need assistance ensuring their safety. Their teeth grow continuously but are small and delicate. 

There can be several reasons chewing on cages happens. It can be redirected or avoided entirely with the appropriate environment. 

The sooner you can tweak your hamster’s habit, the better for her or him and you. 

References

American Veterinary Medical Association – U.S. Pet Ownership Statistics

The Spruce Pets – Lianne McLeod, DVMChoosing the Best Cage For Your Syrian Hamster