|Question & Answer
Chewing on Bars
By Jane Landis
|Q: Is it ok for hams to chew on bars?
A: Bar-biting is very common and would only rarely signal any sort of problem. If it's not an acute behavior change, I let the ones that like it enjoy the noise (they like making noise!) and the exercise, while trying to provide more comfortable alternatives. Some hams bite the bars because they're there. It doesn't mean they're not happy in their homes.
I've partially solved the noise for some hams by giving them a high quality stainless-steel spoon near the nest. Some go for that instead, and it's much quieter, since it doesn't reverberate through the furniture. I raid thrift shops for them, then bleach, wash and boil them. I especially look for high-end Oneida pieces, because I know they're well made and not just coated base metal.
I skip ornately carved ones that are hard to clean.
A folded towel under the cage can dull the noise also.
Some get interested in wood chews if you rub their favorite food on it to flavor it. Carrots and apples work well, or even a very thin schmear of peanut butter -- but not thick enough to scoop up and pouch.
Many of mine like a lab block wedged between the bars where they like to chew. A dog biscuit works too. I guess they like the challenge. The Syrians like the cornstarch-based Booda and vegetable-based Nylabones. I give them and the Campbells wheat, soy or potato starch-based ones. They don't show much preference for any brand over another, so I buy in bulk and shop for sales.
I don't buy any dog biscuit that contains garlic, garlic powder, charcoal, animal fats, BHA, BHT or artificial colors. For dwarf hams, I also avoid corn or cornstarch. Definitely avoid simple sugars (honey, molasses, dried beet pulp, etc.) because the prolonged tooth exposure to gnawing these causes tooth decay, which is on a sharp rise among domestic hamsters. If they prefer the biscuit to their more balanced and nutritious mix, you'll have to restrict its use.
A fun one we've tried lately is an edible Nylabone potato-based bone they can chew as is (very hard) or you can microwave to a crispier, lighter texture. These have been tremendous hits with all the crew.
Mine love hazelnuts. I give them a few days, and then help them along with a tiny crack, so they know there's a prize inside. So far the only one to get into one without help was a wee dwarf girl, who managed it in three days.
A hard roll crust that's sat in a warm oven till it's even harder is a real treat.
I've also had success with rolling up a toilet paper tube or piece of cardboard box tightly and wedging it in the bars for cardboard chewers, and wood chewers that went for bars were dissuaded by Popsicle sticks woven through and anchored
tightly. It wasn't just the chewing for them, it was the challenge, and once they win their prize and get it inside, they parade it around the first night, then annihilate it the next! Winning seems to focus them on the prize instead
of the bars.
Be careful when you wedge things in bars for dwarf hams that you don't spread the bars enough for them to work their way out of the cage.
I have one cage biter who knows the word "no" and responds to it. I train the bright, confident hams "No" by saying the word in a sharp tone and then blowing lightly on their face to stop whatever problem behavior we're working on. Some learn to respond to the word with the same squinty face they'd have made if I'd blown on them, even if I"m across the room. Very handy for edge-of-the-bed wanderers or finger tasters.
For some, it's just a favorite pastime. I've seen them running free and suddenly stop at their cage, chewing their way in!
Another trick is to pay an attention-seeking cage biter absolutely no mind until he stops, then scooping him up for cuddles when he's quiet. I've trained two that way, and very quickly.
Two hams who never bit their bars picked up the habit immediately when placed near a cage biter. I moved them and it stopped just as quickly, so it can be a learned behavior.