Bar Chewing in Hamsters

Hamster chewing on metal cage bar

Getty Images / Sethislav

Hamsters, like other rodents, love to gnaw on things and cage bars are no exception. Chewing is a natural and normal behavior in hamsters, but things like cage bars can be harmful. Finding safer alternatives for your hamster to chew on and understanding why your hamster has been bar chewing can help prevent major issues.

Why Do Hamsters Bar Chew?

There are a few main reasons why hamsters may chew on their cage bars.

  • Wearing down their teeth - Unlike people, hamsters have teeth that grow continuously throughout their little lives. Because of this, they need to chew on things to keep them from getting too long and causing problems. Sometimes the food that is offered to a hamster doesn't provide enough chewing action so they look for other items in their cage that they can gnaw on.
  • Boredom - If there aren't enough toys to play with or chew on, a hamster may begin bar chewing due to boredom. Hamsters need mental and physical stimulation just like other pets and if they are isolated to a small, rectangular cage with nothing to do they could resort to this activity.
  • Stress - Hamsters may start bar chewing to alleviate stress caused by a variety of factors in their environment. Common examples of stressors include cats that are overly interested, children that don't understand how to be gentle when handling, cages that are too small, and bedding made of cedar and pine that can be irritating to a hamster's lungs and skin.

Why is Bar Chewing a Problem?

Although it is natural, and even essential, for hamsters to gnaw on things, chewing the bars of their cage should be discouraged for a variety of reasons.

  • Tooth trauma - Hamster teeth can be broken, cracked, or otherwise damaged if they chew on hard cage bars and this can result in pain, inappetence, and infection. Even if a tooth doesn't obviously appear broken, damage may have been done under the gumline and veterinary treatment may be required.
  • Toxicity - While it is always recommended to look for the safest and securest type of cage for your hamster, some are painted and made of metal that can be toxic if ingested.
  • Indication of stress or boredom - Bar chewing can occur as a symptom of boredom or anxiety. Allowing your hamster to be chronically stressed or bored is not healthy or fair and can lead to bigger behavioral or health problems. You should be looking to better manage their environment to avoid this issue.
  • Escape - If a hamster is successful in its attempt to chew through the cage bars or damage them enough so it can fit through them, it may escape. A hamster outside its cage can be in great danger of starvation or injury from other pets, people, furniture, and more.

Treatment and Prevention

There are a few simple ways to keep a hamster from chewing on its cage bars.

First, you'll want to ensure that there are plenty of safe items for your hamster to chew on in its cage. Wooden toys like ladders, houses, and rodent chew or food blocks are great options and can be easily replaced as necessary.

Next, make sure your hamster has an exercise wheel and other items to climb, explore, and have physical fun with.

Finally, make sure your hamster isn't stressed. Small cages may need to be replaced with larger types and you may need to move where the cage is located. If the cage is by a window, birds outside may appear threatening to your hamster and if the cage is close to the ground or if you have a cat that can get to it, it may need to be moved so your other pets don't scare your hamster.

Noisy or excitable children can also be a source of stress, you may need to put the cage in a quiet room and handling should be done gradually, positively, gently, and with adult supervision.