Cage Rage in Hamsters: The Complete Guide
This article is designed to inform and educate new or existing hamster owners about a serious condition called cage rage. It can cause serious harm to the emotional and physical harm of the hamsters and trigger a long list of behavioural problems.
Facts About Hamsters
- Syrian "golden" hamsters are most at risk.
- Roborovski hamsters are small and pose the least risk; however, they can suffer terribly with stress itching and overcrowding.
- All species of hamster can suffer from cage rage.
- In extremely severe cases the hamster may never recover.
- It is caused by cruel living environments.
- Many cages sold in pet shops or online are extremely unsuitable and even dangerous.
- Thorough research needs to be done so people purchase the correct housing to prevent this from happening.
What Is Cage Rage?
Cage rage is a genuine psychological disorder that any animal that lives in a cage can suffer from. It can range in severity from early onset where it is fairly mild-moderate to extremely severe, causing deranged and dangerous behaviour to you, other hamsters and the hamster itself.
It is caused by the animal being kept in a cage far too small. Syrian hamsters in particular at a very high risk as many people keep them unsuitable living environments. It is important to always follow RSPCA guidelines. Syrian hamsters can grow quite large and require a lot more space than people realise; thus, cage rage is commonly mistaken for natural aggression.
This type of disorder can be incredibly stressful for the animal as well as making it difficult for you even to feed them, handle them or clean them out. Many hamsters with this condition will guard their cage doors and not let you open them. Stress can shorten the lifespan of a hamster as well as increase the risk of developing serious health problems as time goes on.
The symptoms can vary, and in the early stages, it can be harder to identify cage rage.
- Frenzied excessive bar biting that can last for hours at a time.
- Biting you, especially if you put your hand into the cage for any reason.
- Excessive marking of territory—produces bad smells even shortly after being cleaned.
- Increased aggression inside and outside of the cage.
- Hamster may lunge at you or anything you put into the cage, e.g., a stick.
- Destroying personal items, e.g., toys, nest, etc.
- Highly aggressive behaviour towards you or anyone that intrudes the cage often leading to a frenzied attack.
- Squeaking, squealing or spitting when approaching the cage.
- Very difficult to clean the animal out.
- If the hamster is kept with a cage mate they may suddenly attack them or show extreme aggression and corner them not letting them out.
- Hamster is very anxious, worked up and agitated.
- Ruined teeth from extreme bar biting.
- Climbing around the cage restlessly even for hours at a time.
How Can I Tell If It's Really Cage Rage?
Many people mistake their hamster for being nasty, aggressive or just destructive. Hamsters by nature are not aggressive animals, now will they destroy their toys or nest without reason. When it comes to cage rage, a hamster becomes frenzied, aggressive and anxious.
- Bar Biting: Some hamsters will chew the bars when they want to be fed, some will do it if they have nothing to keep their teeth down on and some do it just because they want to. In these cases, the hamster won't chew for long periods of time, do it enough to damage their teeth and it can often be stopped by feeding, handling or bringing them out to play for a while. If you have tried the above and your hamster is still biting the bars continuously, doesn't seem to want anything, and is doing it in a frenzied rage for hours at a time, it's a sign of cage rage. Bar biting is not a normal behaviour and is often a sign of emotional distress.
- Biting: Hamsters do not bite you unless you are doing something wrong. A hamster that is not tame and has not been handled much is likely to bite you on occasion. Hamsters with cage rage often become aggressive with no explanation and can eventually become impossible to handle, will lunge for you when you feed them and may sit at the cage opening and bite you when you try to open it. This behaviour is especially worrying if your hamster was previously peaceful. Hamsters bite because they are threatened and angry, not because they are mean.
- Racing: A hamster with cage rage will race around a lot, be climbing the walls and will be very possessive over their cage. Often the racing is accompanied by lots of urinating or rubbing their scent glands everywhere to mark their territory. You may also notice your hamster scratching their scent glands excessively to release more scent. A hamster that is continuously racing around is not at peace.
- Cage Aggression: If your hamster is possessive over their cage, is difficult to handle and often tries to attack you when you open the cage, it is a strong indicator the hamster is suffering. Hamsters are not possessive or aggressive over their cages towards humans. Syrian hamsters are insanely territorial and will not allow another Syrian onto their property; however, having them in the same room does not increase aggression. Other hamster species' are not as territorial, and in the case of Roborovski hamsters, they are not really territorial at all. Hamsters do not view you the same way they view other hamsters so will see little to no reason to display territorial aggression unless something is very wrong.
- Hamster shows signs of stress: Cage Rage can cause a lot of stress on their physical and emotional health. A stressed hamster may be very agitated, sleep in odd patterns, too much when they are young, or very little and be active at most times of day. A ruffled coat and red stick eyes are signs of stress as are excessive hoarding of food, anxiety and drinking too much. This is because your hamster fears someone is going to claim their food and possessions.
It is possible to treat and even cure cage rage.
- Move your hamster into a much larger, more spacious home with plenty of toys and ventilation, e.g., a large bar cage. I will include some photos of suitable cages and sizing below.
- Allow your hamster out at least three times per week for exercise and handling. You can purchase pens or allow them to walk about with you on the sofa or bed.
- If bar biting is a serious problem and the teeth are very damaged, opt to put them in a large clear plastic or glass tank with a mesh lid preferably with at least two floors. Teeth do repair and grow back in most cases, but it can take time.
- Avoid any cages with tubes, tight holes, small sleeping boxes or plastic that sweats. Not only are they extremely unhygienic and difficult to clean, but hamsters are also at the highest risk of stress, injury and cage rage in ones like that.
- Make sure any toys or wheels you give your hamster are large enough and suitable. Large plastic closed rat wheels or large saucer wheels are a great option.
- Spend time with your hamster.
- Give the hamster a larger nesting box with a large hole to exit from; alternatively, you could allow him or her to build a nest openly in a corner of their cage which gives them plenty of space and prevents them from feeling trapped. Many nest boxes are not large enough for Syrian's anyway.
Sometimes just moving them into a much larger cage can make a difference within hours, severe cases can take several weeks to improve, and rarely it never fully goes away. Cage rage is one of the most preventable problems in hamsters.
Cage rage is not only one of the most common hamster conditions, but it is also the most preventable.
Syrian hamsters grow on average to be 5.5-6 inches in length, but it is not uncommon for them to be even larger than that. Due to their size and their highly active lifestyle, they require a lot of space and stimulation to prevent boredom, stress, behavioural problems, cage rage and health issues. Syrian hamsters should ALWAYS be kept alone as they are extremely territorial. Avoid placing two hamster cages together hoping they will talk to each other. They won't. It will increase stress and aggression levels, and you will find they mark their territory more and will smell much worse. Females are especially aggressive towards other hamsters.
- Avoid cages with tubes, tight spaces or small nest boxes.
- Avoid small tanks.
- Avoid single floor cages/tanks.
- Make sure all toys and wheels are a suitable size for your hamster.
- Bring your hamster out to play at least three times per week and try to handle them daily.
- Change things around in their cage occasionally to promote stimulation and add new toys.
- Hide treats for them to forage and find.
- Avoid feeding your hamster through the cage bars; they will quickly get into a habit of bar biting to look for food and ruin their teeth.
56.7 x 30 x 22.5 cm is an excellent sized cage (there is an image below in suitable cages, the top image, of what this size refers to) it is suitable for all types of hamster but can be quite large for Roborovski hamster's unless kept in a group of 2-4 hamsters.
You typically want to buy the largest cage you can afford, look for structure, ventilation and space rather than how funky it would look in your bedroom and how much fun you think it looks. Would you want to be squeezing through pipes to get to your tiny box bedroom and toilet combo? No, so neither does your hamster.
A large wheel size, suitable for rats and large hamsters is perfect. Make sure it is plastic and has no open slats where legs and even necks can and will be trapped and broken, even with larger hamsters this does happen. You can also choose a large saucer wheel for a modern twist.
Wooden toys are essential to help prevent bar biting and keep their teeth down. Hamsters love to chew, and their teeth never stop growing!
The cage should never be cramped with stuff giving little floor or climbing space. Hamsters are very active and require lots of room to have fun in.
Anything you give them should be 100% secure and not easily broken without flexible bars or bars more than 1cm apart. In an appropriate cage with strong bars or a large tank with a lid, escapes are rare.
Suitable Cages for Syrian HamstersClick thumbnail to view full-size
Unsuitable CagesClick thumbnail to view full-size
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.