Cage Rage in Hamsters: The Complete Guide - PetHelpful - By fellow animal lovers and experts
Updated date:

Cage Rage in Hamsters: The Complete Guide

I am a long-time pet owner experienced with a range of domesticated animals from dogs to horses, mice to snails.

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.

Symptoms

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.

Treatment

It is possible to treat and even cure cage rage.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Spend time with your hamster.
  7. 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.

Prevention

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.

Cage Requirements

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.

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.

Comments

Wintercampbell on September 04, 2020:

Hi. Not quite sure what's wrong with my hammy!! Seems to be manic, looks like shes lost weight and is nipping!

Any ideas??

Marifer Muñoz on September 03, 2020:

Hey i think my hamster she is a dwarf has Cage Rage but she lives a big cage and she has plenty of toys. Just today she started acting strange i dont know if its because today rained and there was thunder. so i dont know if the thunder scared her and thats why she started biting me or if she has Cage Rage can someone please help me.

Danni on August 27, 2020:

“Too big for a robo”

“This article is to the best of the authors ability.”

Well, the author has no ability. There is no such thing as “too big” for any type of hamster. Especially a robo who has a higher activity level than a Syrian.

This author doesn’t know what they’re talking about and needs to educate themselves.

michael on May 11, 2020:

my sisters hamster is acting a little strange because if you put any part of your body in his sight he will lunge at you what should we do?

Vika on April 26, 2020:

My syrian hamster is very sweet and playful. He runs in his ball every day, and my boyfriend and I will sit with him and pet him every day as well. He is very friendly; he even follows me around in his ball, and never runs away when we take him to picnic with us. But he loved finding new ways to get out of his large hamster cage and hide in our apartment, always finding a new way to do so. He was always seemingly very happy to be found, and never minded going back in his cage. Because he was always outsmarting us in escape routes, we ended up buying him a glass cage to save our nerves. We are college students with not much money, so it is one story, with a wooden hide house for him to chew on and sleep in, a wheel and a plastic cup for water and one for food. He is still a very good boy, but at night he tends to stand on his hide house and dig at the roof, as though he is trying to get out, until it gets too loud and we have to remove the hide house from his cage for the night. This has been going on for weeks. There are no behavioral problems towards us, but I am worried about his wellbeing. I just want to make sure he is happy and that this behavior is not abnormal. Does this sound like a case of cage rage?

Ivy the Beast on January 24, 2020:

My hamster won’t mind if I give him treats, but when I put my hand near the cage or inside, he will lunge at it.

LilMissEpic on November 15, 2019:

Hey @Hammielover! What are the dimensions of your larger cage? Syrians require a bare minimum of 450 square inches (1143 square cm) of floor space. If you don't have one already, I would definitely recommend getting your beautiful Syrian a 40 Breeder (40 gallon) or 50-55 gallon tank. These have great floor space for a Syrian to run around in! I would also recommend making sure she always has access to a wheel, for a Syrian it should be at least 10 inches (25 cm) in diameter. Also add a TON of bedding to her enclosure! the more deep it is, the more she will burrow and feel safe in her home. You are already putting in lots of effort to try to make her happy, and I applaud you!! Try to do these, or make a DIY bin cage (you can find tutorials on youtube!) to give her the space she needs. There might not be instant results, but she will slowly adapt and calm down.

Hammielover on October 25, 2019:

The bigger cage didn’t help, she is still biting the bars and climbing them, we gave her lots of things to play with, I just scattered food around for her to find and there’s hamster relaxation music on right now but I don’t know what to do...

Hammielover on October 24, 2019:

Will giving a Syrian hamster a bigger cage help? I had two Russian dwarf hamsters before Peanut (the hamster), and she has to make do with most of their stuff. Lately she has been a bit aggressive, biting my finger (it bled for a full five minutes) and growling and squeaking while biting the bars. Twice every day, we put her in a big yellow bowl to run around the room, and it calms her down for a while, but then she starts up again. Me and my mum are going to get her a bigger cage today, but will it help?

Daisy on September 29, 2019:

My hamster is a dwarf hamster called tiger and he keeps ripping up his toilet paper rolls to shreds as soon as I put them in. He usually just nibbles the edges and then leaves it. I play with home everyday and put him in his wheel 3 times a week. He is not aggressive to me or anyone else but I think he might be stressed because he was put with his brother when we first bought him but we had to separate them because my hamster was being bullied by his brother. His cage doesn't have bars, and the measurements are 43cm by 16cm and it is 18cm in height baring in mind he is a dwarf hamster. What should I do?

Madison on August 11, 2019:

I have a Syrian hamster and he always climbs the walls of his tank I have a 20 gallon tank for him and he just stands on his back legs and just stares at something for a bit and then goes back to what he was doing idk what is wrong can someone please tell me?

lucie on May 12, 2019:

i had my Russian dwarf for awhile now, i'm not sure how long, he has been lunging at me in the morning when i change his bottle and food. i have tried taming him many times such as putting him in the bath with a few toys and i will often stick my hand in but he just kept biting. he had drawn blood and yesterday he had marked my arm. my parents suggested gloves so i tried but he still kept biting through them. when i clean my Syrian (who upstairs in my bedroom) cage i always give her a carrot for being patient and behaving well. my Russian (downstairs in living room) just screams at hides. He is hardly active at night or even in the day, when i put him in the ball for around 5 minutes he keeps on digging. i don't know what to do, i have tried many things and it just ends up with him biting, screaming or lunging at me. the odd things i have noticed is that he drinks a lot of water and it often being changed. i have everything in the cage for him such as chew toys, wheel, hide outs (3) and even them sticks that has seeds and such. i'm not sure what to do, i have tried everything and got nothing in return. i do wash my hands before handling him and try rubbing my scent onto tissue so he could get use to my scent but nothing at all! i don't know if i should give him back because he hasn't settled down or what...

Debbie on March 26, 2019:

We have a robo hamster, Millie. She is showing signs of cage rage...climbing the cage, biting the bars, running a certain path in her cage, and biting even when just feeding her. After recent research, we know her cage is too small. I am looking at getting her a new cage. Since robo hamsters are so small, I am asking for help to find one she wine be able to escape.

Catrin. on March 09, 2019:

56.7 x 30 x 22.5 cm That is far too small for a Syrian. Wood Green Animal shelter recommended the minimum size to be 80x 50x40cm. You can get This in the Alaska cage for £32.

Mine are in a Mamble 100 which is 100cm long. It seem odd you’d recommend such a small cage.

Eve on January 09, 2019:

My daughter has had her hamster for about 6 months. We accidentally left the window open. He doesn't feel stiff but I can't see him breathing or feel a heart beat. How do I know for sure if he's dead or hibernating?

Brooke on December 23, 2018:

I recently bought a winter white dwaf hamster. He is housed in a bar cage that is 630 sq in. He is constantly bar chewing and squeaking and every time i try to feed him or tame him he lunges and bites me. What do I do?

John on December 09, 2018:

have a Dunjarian Striped hamster named Felix, I recently cleaned his cage (I put some of his old bedding in top so it’s okay) and now he’s running around like a mad man! Digging tunnels, climbing on his things, I’m worried about him! I have a glass Aquarian for him, the dimensions are, 20 in x 12 in. Is that too small? I’m worried!I

Yes that is too small. I would get a 20gallon tank or bigger.

Worried on December 08, 2018:

I have a Dunjarian Striped hamster named Felix, I recently cleaned his cage (I put some of his old bedding in top so it’s okay) and now he’s running around like a mad man! Digging tunnels, climbing on his things, I’m worried about him! I have a glass Aquarian for him, the dimensions are, 20 in x 12 in. Is that too small? I’m worried!

Scarlett on August 20, 2018:

I moved my hamster into a very large cage a couple of weeks ago and ever since then he has on and off chewing of the bars he has lots of chew sticks,comes out for an 30/45 minutes daily for a run in his ball and in his play pen then a fuss at the end of it and he loves all of that, he also has treats in his cage,and the small animal carrot patch that he loves to chew on he is still a baby so finds alot of things exitable,he has 2 wheels that he spends hours on,2 houses, the plastic tubes that he loves to sleep in and stashes all his food in there,he is also not drinking at all,but pees alot he is only 8-9 months old

Claire on August 01, 2018:

Please help! I’ve just brought a dwarf hamster from a lady who has no time to look after him. When she dropped him off she showed him to us and he sat happily in her hand. A week later and he is so aggressive, goes for me when I change his food and doesn’t sleep much. His cage is big with a clear tube running around the outside. He is constantly chewing at the tube! How do I help him?

Parker on July 21, 2018:

There really is no size cage that is too big for any hamster. The minimum cage size is 450 square inches, but bigger is always better. Especially for dwarves, which this article stated that the cage listed was too big, a larger cage is essential to having a happy hamster. Syrians, in addition, benefit from a larger cage. I would recommend a 40 gallon breeder aquarium or a large bin cage if you cannot afford a tank. I currently am taming a cage aggressive male dwarf hamster. I have found huge success in using the "bathtub method," which involves putting a towel down in the tub and putting a wheel and hide in as well. My hamster is already improving and not biting as much. All I had to do was handle him in a different environment. Remember to reward your hamster after portraying good behavior with a small and healthy treat. It is ideal to have a smaller treat because you are most likely going to be using quite a few treats. Hope this helps!

Poppy on July 10, 2018:

BTW you can buy great cages for great prices on a site called Bitiba that’s where I bought my hamster heaven metro pets at home charge £75 Bitba charge £55 plus free delivery highly recommend this site for all hamster lovers

Poppy on July 10, 2018:

My Syrian seems to be stressed lately and I just don’t know what it could be,her cage is the hamster heaven metro 80x50x50 and she has lots of toys,bedding,food,play time in my bath and 20 minutes every night in her ball to be honest she is pretty spoiled but she has been bar chewing and climbing around her cage a lot I can tell she is stressed I just don’t know what to do any suggestions?

Hammy lover on June 21, 2018:

My hamster only climbs and bites the bars when im changing his food bowl and i open the sweet smelling pack of delicious nuts. I find him quite clever as he knows how to shove the nuts by bringing his face close to his paw and pushing it in.

Cstring1975 on June 06, 2018:

We have a Syrian hamster we started off with 2 floor sized cage bought suggested by petstore clerk. We got her as a gift for daughter for Christmas. Shortly after we got another, this time a Teddy Bear hamster more friendly was told. We were experiencing a child thinking her first hamster hated her and cried everyday. We have never been able to hold her....ever. We called the humane society asking questions taking all advice to try different things, change to aquarium..... Get chew toys...get larger hamster house to put in...a ball. She had everything and still was not happy about being touched, let alone picked up. They continued to tell us after we explained what we were experiencing that some hamsters are just not friendly....one in every litter turn out to be hard to handle. After being told that we still have her but she has gotten worse. She is definitely in the list of cage rage 100%. I can't breathe from the smell...asthma kicks in. I literally cleaned her cage and smelt the same day. She bites and bites and bites the top of cage...the wire basket that held her bottle we had to taken out and just give dish of water. She literally bites everything... Everyone says to escape ...what more can we do...nobody wants her because of this behavior but we are and did try...feel terrible but just need her to stop can't handle it anymore... Bad for breathing and need to get rid of her....problem is we always end up keeping, how do we let her go. We were told long ago because of this behavior it needed to be put down...we never did. She is upsetting my whole house that she just doesn't like us....what else can we do, when we've tried too many times ...I'm concerned for smell and our health.

Chip on April 21, 2018:

I am very disappointed in the cages this article said were good for Syrians. They are far too small. Since these hamsters are the most energetic species of ham you can get, you would need a 30 by 23 inch cage and I have never seen a bar cage that large. DIY cages, bins and tanks are the best you can get for your hamster and if you don’t have the money for that you can’t get a hamster.

Angela on April 12, 2018:

I have a hamster that likes to lunge at me and bites me, I think it has cage rage and we don't have the money for a bigger cage and my mother doesn't want Nelson( that's the name of hamster) to get on the couch or any beds we do not have any spare beds please help me I want a pet but if I give Nelson away I won't have enough money for another hamster and I won't have a pet What do I do?

Cookeddog on February 15, 2018:

@TEA do you have a hamster ball, your hampster might need to play outside the cage or maybe your hampster is lonely and might need a partner to be with.

tea on February 06, 2018:

my hamster is sad and curls up what should I do I play with it and feed it ,clean water to and the cage is huge with a wheel I'm so confused

hamster pro 321 on December 19, 2017:

My mom helped me make a hamster cage out of a storage ben

Melanie on June 01, 2017:

Anyone know what brands the two cages above are? I'd love to purchase one of them. Thanks in advance!!

sarahtwinkle on May 24, 2017:

Hi Brianna

You're cage is too small, Please put Roofus in a bigger cage. I am an experienced hamster owner and the cage needs to be 100cm by 50cm and 50cm in height and thats not including platform space. You might need to buy a cage online as most pet shops are stupid and only stock too small cages. A large sized tank would be best for your species of hamster.

Brianna on May 10, 2017:

My robo hamster's cage is 38.1 X 24.1 X 38.1 cm, he is the only one in the cage. It has a raised shelf and a tunnel up to the shelf. As well as a food dish, exercise wheel, and a water dispenser. I just got this little guy, his name is Roofus. I don't want him to be uncomfortable, I was wondering if his cage is suitable for his species?

Elizabeth Larson on April 18, 2017:

Thank you

Garrett Harris on January 09, 2017:

I thought that our hamaster had rabies because it is easily agitated and would bite anything I put near it. I don't know much about them but I know how to take care of one and I read that it could be cage rage, pregnancy, or illness. Any advice?