So you have a bar chewing hamster – what do you do? Here are some of my tips for managing a bar chewing hamster.
- Check the Wheel;
- Check the Cage Security;
- Check the Cage Choice;
- Check the Enrichment;
- Check the Entertainment;
- Don’t Forget the Water Bottle.
One thing that everyone knows about hamsters is how they love to chew, especially their cage bars. Bar chewing can be annoying for the human and even cause injury to the hamster. Hamsters who bar chew rub their noses against the bar above; this can just cause a bald spot, but at its most severe can cause wounds, scabs and even infections or scarring to develop on the nose. Bar chewing can also damage teeth, sometimes permanently.
Check the Wheel
Some of my hamsters have started bar chewing if their wheels have stopped working or they have outgrown them. Hamsters do love to wedge toys and substrate into and around their wheels to jam them up! Check the wheel of a bar chewer as fixing or replacing the wheel can be a simple solution to a chewer.
Check the Cage Security
Firstly, check your hamster’s cage is secure. You don’t want your cheeky chewer escaping while you are working on the rest. Check for any signs of chew damage to the cage, which often occurs around corners or where there are indented or raised areas. It
can only take a few hours for a hamster to chew a neat hole in a cage!
If you need help mending a chewed cage, visit this blog post.
As part of the security check, look at the doors and access points to the cage. For barred cages, I like to use padlocks or bulldog clips to keep the doors shut. With time and use, wire doors can become easy to push open from the inside. You could also use some pliers to bend the clip part and make it harder to open.
If you use a Perfecto-style tank with a sliding lid, remember that the mesh lid can be pushed forwards enough from inside by a hamster! You can secure it by slipping a bolt or padlock through the hook at the back, or taping the lid on (though the tape will need replacing regularly and is more fiddly).
Check Cage Choice
Think about the size of your cage. A hamster who is bar chewing often is expressing some degree of stress or dissatisfaction. Maybe your hamster is more active and would appreciate a larger cage. Maybe your hamster has a large cage but needs more enrichment in it or finds it too exposed. I’ve had both of these types of hamster!
If the cage size is appropriate to your hamster’s needs and you/they prefer a barred cage, consider one with narrower bars. This can reduce the associated bar rub injuries to the nose. Some bar styles seem to cause more injury to the nose. In my experience bars which are bare metal and slightly flexible (for example on the Alaska cage) tend to cause more bar rub injury than other coated or less flexible bar styles.
I wouldn’t recommend a plastic tank type cage or a wooden cage for a known bar chewer. Instead I prefer glass tanks with 6mm mesh lids, secured so they can’t be pushed up by a determined ham.
Check the Enrichment
A cage, no matter how large, is not enough. Providing enrichment – things for your hamster to do in the cage – is vital. I mentioned a wheel earlier and, while that is an enrichment item commonly associated with hamsters, there are many other enrichment items and toys you can provide. Toys from the pet shop that my hamsters enjoy are: wooden bendy bridges, swinging bridges or ladders and metal kebab treat holders. Not all enrichment items from a pet shop though; you may be able to find cheap or free hamster toys.
Make sure your hamster has suitable things to chew in the cage. Hamsters have continually growing teeth and need to wear them down. Gnawing is an important species-appropriate behaviour so it is important to give your hamster a safe way to do this. You can put something to chew in the area your bar chewer likes to chew, such as a bolt-on wooden chew or wooden clothes pegs clipped to cage bars. You could even attach a larger wooden toy to the cage using wire, though make sure any sharp ends are out of reach of the hamster.
Active hamsters often like new activities to keep them from being bored. I find cardboard toys the easiest to improvise and change around. Try asking fast food shops for an extra drinks holder – with a little rope it makes a fun hanging swinging bridge. It won’t last long, but the destroying is part of the enjoyment!
Enrichment feeding is another way to help keep busy minds occupied, especially when you are asleep. Visit this this blog post for more ideas.
Check the Entertainment
Many hamsters enjoy time to explore outside the cage (though not all – adjust according to the preferences of the hamster in front of you). This can give time for exercise and exhibiting natural behaviours or even learning trained behaviours that will stimulate the mind.
Make sure that your hamster isn’t training you; my first female Syrian Bella trained me very well to get her out each time she chewed! Give attention for behaviours you prefer, and not just for when your hamster bar chews
Out of cage time can include handling, or be just time for your hamster to explore new things in a safe environment. Remember to adjust activities according to your individual hamster’s needs. Some hamsters prefer more enclosed feeling spaces, while others are happy to run in a large area. I like to always provide a hidey hole for them to use if they need to feel more safe, like a bendy bridge made into a tunnel or a mug for a dwarf hamster.
I have both a playbox and a playpen which I use according to the hamster’s preference. I set up groundwork and confidence courses for them, an approach I have learned from Tellington T Touch workshops. I have also set up mazes and digging boxes. I enjoyed working on clicker training Ticci, a female Syrian hamster who died over Winter. That’s definitely something I want to explore again. Here’s a little video showing these entertainment ideas. All of them are SUPERVISED activities only and would not be suitable without human supervision.
The last thing to remember is the water bottle. A hamster who chews their bars may well direct their attention to their water bottle.
Some keen chewers may need a metal and glass water bottle not a plastic one. If your hamster chews their water bottle spout, emptying the bottle regularly, then they may need a water bowl. Spout chewing can lead to ingestion of excess water which is not healthy for a hamster.
I hope this helps to keep your cheeky chewers entertained and out of mischief!