If you've ever had a hamster, you've probably familiar with a couple of situations. The first is his chewing a hole in his cage to stage a daring escape and prompt a search and chase throughout the house. The second is his keeping you awake night after night with the cling-clang melody of his nocturnal cage-biting. Hamsters have a good reason for biting the cage bars, so don't think he's necessarily doing it just to annoy you.
Hamsters are nocturnal animals, and they're good about entertaining themselves. But they still want a little love sometimes. If your hamster is chewing on the cage bars, it's oftentimes because he wants your attention. Hamsters should get individualized attention every day, even if it just means taking him out of the cage for a little cuddling or time in the exercise ball -- during his waking hours only; don't wake him regularly. Staying inside his enclosure all the time can lead to something like cabin fever. In such a case, a hamster won't hesitate to let you know he needs some attention.
Love of Chewing
Plain and simple, hamsters love to chew. It may not seem like a particularly intellectually stimulating way of entertaining oneself, but to the hamster, it just feels good. This is due largely in part to their biology, particularly the teeth. Unlike your teeth, which remain the same essential size and shape your whole life, a hamster's teeth constantly grow. Hamsters grind them down constantly by regular chewing. Chewing on a hard object, like his cage bars, is an evolutionary imperative that keeps his choppers in good condition if no more suitable source for gnawing is available.
Because hamsters sometimes can't resist chewing on their cage bars, you should keep a hamster in a cage with metal bars. Make sure that the bars are nontoxic so he doesn't do any damage to himself when he wraps his gums around them. Wood and plastic cages can be attractive, but are also susceptible to being chewed through, leading to avoidable escapes. If you don't want him to have any bars to chew on, a glass enclosure such as an aquarium is an acceptable alternative, so long as it gets enough fresh air. A secure wire top will suffice.
A hamster has to chew -- he doesn't have a choice in that matter, or his teeth will get too long. He doesn't have to chew on his cage, though, and you don't want to encourage it. So give him something better suited for his gnawing habit. Once a week, give him a hamster chew stick or something as simple as a tree branch. This way, he has something he can dull his teeth on without making that familiar cling-clang sound all night long.
hamster eating image by cat from Fotolia.com
Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.