Monday, 1 April 2013

Totally addicted to bar chewing

Bar chewing in hamsters is a bit of a bizarre one. It's really not a good thing, as it can cause cause teeth to break or even be ripped out in extreme cases, yet it's something "everyone" seems to know that hamsters do. Whenever someone mentions that their hamster is bar chewing on one of the forums I frequent, the immediate response is 20 questions -- How big is the cage? How big is the wheel? What toys are there? Often it's a case of cage too small, wheel too small, hamster is bored out of its mind and chews accordingly. Sometimes it's not. Sometimes the hamster has learnt bar chewing means food, or playtime, or something else it wants. Sometimes a hamster can become addicted to chewing bars.

The Ferplast Mary, not exactly small!
Annie was in the latter category. With a spacious cage (80 by 50 centimetre Ferplast Mary "rat" cage), an eleven inch diameter wheel, and lots of things to play with and chew, she still chewed the bars! My first action was to mesh the cage with left-over six millimetre square mesh from making Darla's bin cage. While I only had enough to cover about two thirds of the cage, it actually stopped her chewing for a fairly long time, even in the areas that weren't covered. Then she started up again, chewing on the cage door, or the corner closest to the sofa where I sat, which looked a lot like "get me out!" bar chewing. For a while, a couple of the general remedies worked -- hanging chew toys in the area, weaving cardboard between the bars, coating the bars in olive oil. (I also tried lemon juice. She loved the taste, daft ham!)

It then got to the stage where she was chewing the bars anywhere she could, not just the door or near me, and had even started chewing the metal hooks that held up her cargo net hammock. It was this final development that made me realise it had probably become an addiction.

A friend of mine has a couple of hamsters who became addicted to bar chewing. One was a Roborovski in a converted rat cage, with really deep substrate, 100 by 50 centimetres of floorspace, and tonnes of toys. A second was a Syrian who became addicted twice, once when she was in a huge Rotastak set-up with a Savic Hamster Heaven, a Ferplast Mary and a three tier bin cage attached, and the second time when in her current two tier five foot long converted rabbit hutch. The first time, housing her in a barless setup for a couple of weeks kicked her out of the addiction, so I decided to try the same with Annie. Unfortunately, the only thing I had to hand was the old mini duna in the wardrobe or Darla's bin cage -- both too short for Annie's wheel -- and an eighty litre bin that had about the same floorspace as a mini duna but with enough height for her wheel.

She spent about a week in the bin (with the cage top of her Mary as the roof to provide ventilation), and in that week... she learnt how to wedge her wheel so that it couldn't turn, so she could climb up the back of it and chew the bars. My only option seemed to be getting hold of more 6mm mesh for her Mary, but that was easier said than done -- Wickes was the only store I could find that seemed to do it, and the nearest one was 5 miles away. Normally that'd be okay, but this weekend has also had some drama with the garage door key, resulting in my car being momentarily unavailable!

The Hagen Zoozone 2, a hamster paradise!
Then I found a gem at the local indoor market. A zoozone 2 -- 100 by 50 centimetres of "guinea pig"/"rabbit" cage, shockingly small for either but both larger than Annie's Mary and a tank style with bars only on the roof! Since it had been previously used (by a ferret for only one week, poor ferret!) I was offered it at just over half the recommended retail price, so I was not going to say no! The only thing it needed was the bars on the roof meshing, as the bar spacing is designed for guinea pigs and rabbits, so too large for a hamster. Off came the six millimetre mesh from the Mary, and on it went onto the zoozone lid!

I had to make a few other alterations because of Annie's metal-chewing habit. She's having to drink from a water bowl rather than a bottle after chewing the bottle spout so much she soaked her face and worried me about her teeth again, and anything that was hung with metal hooks is now hung with cable ties to prevent her chewing them, but I am loving the space and the fact that she can no longer damage her teeth on metal bars! I'm sure she'll find something else to exasperate me soon, but for now I am no longer anywhere near as stressed about her as I was!


  1. I am so relieved I don't have bar chewers though they will to get my attention but only for a moment. A ZZ2 is a wish list of mine. I do wish they sold them here!!!

    1. She still tries to chew the roof bars, even though she can't get her mouth around the 6mm mesh! The ZZ2 is lovely, if you ever see one over there then snatch it up!