Hamsters are natural chewers and need chewing opportunities, but it’s a behavior that can sometimes get out of control. A hamster that obsessively bites or chews on her water bottle or the bars of her cage not only makes an annoying racket, but also could be showing signs that she is not entirely happy or healthy.
So, why does my hamster bite her water bottle? A hamster will bite, chew, and even jerk on a water bottle that is not releasing water because it has become empty, clogged, or stuck. Some hamsters just seem to enjoy chewing plastic. For others, chewing the metal nozzle may have become a habit or a stress-related behavior.
This article provides an in-depth explanation of the reasons a hamster may bite or chew her water bottle. With these reasons, we’ll include some tips on how to discourage water bottle biting and chewing by removing the foundational causes of this behavior.
The Water Bottle isn’t Working
Your hamster may bite, jerk, or chew her water bottle if she’s struggling to get water out of it. If she’s a young hamster or has little experience with the style of bottle you’re offering, it may simply be that she hasn’t quite figured out how to work it. Some water bottles are also prone to clogging or creating a vacuum that won’t allow the water to descend.
Water Bottle Amateurs
In the wild, hamsters would drink water from the ground and plants around them, just as other animals do in nature. Although most catch on quickly as babies, knowing water comes from a water bottle doesn’t come naturally to them.
If your hamster is accustomed to drinking from a bowl or the style of the water bottle you’re offering is different than what she’s used before, it may take her a bit to figure it out.
Biting and jerking the water bottle may actually work for your hamster as water is likely to drip out, giving her an idea of where it comes from. If she needs a little extra help, you can try dabbing a bit of a natural sweetener like maple syrup on the end of the water bottle nozzle to encourage your hamster to lick it.
Why a Water Bottle May Not Work
Water bottles can become clogged with bedding or mineral buildup, making it difficult for your hamster to get water out of them. Some will also develop a vacuum if the water inside reaches a certain level or the bottle is tilted a certain way. This vacuum won’t allow water to be released despite the nozzle being clear.
Obviously, a hamster will also be unable to get water from a bottle that has become empty. Make sure to check her water supply frequently and whenever you hear her jerking or banging the water bottle. Even if you refilled it recently, the bottle may have dripped or dried out in some other way.
Keeping a Water Bottle Working
You can make sure your hamster doesn’t go without water or get frustrated with her water bottle by checking it daily to make sure the water if flowing freely. The water bottle and nozzle should also get a regular cleaning to ensure it doesn’t get clogged by debris or mineral/algae buildup.
If your water bottle regularly stops working for no apparent reason, you may need to adjust the tightens of the lid or the angle at which the bottle hangs to decrease unwanted suction—or invest in a higher-quality bottle.
Your Hamster is Bored or Anxious
Hamsters definitely need the opportunity to direct their high energy and instinct to chew somewhere. A hamster that is bored or stressed will often turn to obsessive chewing to release its pent-up energy or anxiety.
Aside from the annoying racket such chewing can cause, the state of mind that leads to obsessive chewing is detrimental to your hamster’s health. Additionally, when this chewing is targeted toward things that aren’t really meant to be chewed, like metal cage bars or the nozzle of the water bottle, it can actually damage their teeth.
Eliminating Stress Factors
The first way to address obsessive biting and chewing of the water bottle is to eliminate stress factors as far as you are able. Common causes of stress in hamsters include the following:
- A cage that is too small
- A cage that is dirty
- Too many tunnels, not enough open space
- Incompatible cage mates
- Lots of noise/activity in the cage area
- Not getting enough sleep
- The proximity of another pet
- Inadequate enrichment
An inadequate habitat is a common trigger for many hamsters. Make sure your hamster has as much space as possible, a wheel she enjoys running in, a hideaway, and multiple toys and opportunities to explore and climb. Time spent outside of the cage with you is also important for your hamster’s mental enrichment.
Also be aware of the fact that hamsters are naturally solitary, especially Syrians, and are more likely to be stressed than entertained by the presence of a cage mate. While dwarf breeds get along better, you’ll still need to keep a close eye on them to be sure they’re not stressing each other out.
Some hamsters chew their water bottles to entertain themselves. This is especially likely to be the case if your hamster is chewing the plastic part of the bottle. Chewing is an instinctual and enjoyable for her. The best thing you can do in this case is try to distract your hamster with chewable alternatives.
Try moving the water bottle to a new area of the cage and replacing it with a safer object meant for chewing like a wicker ball, wooden block, or small cardboard box. You can also provide foraging opportunities like cardboard tubes stuffed with hidden treats and newspaper.
This will give your hamster something to work on and hopefully replace her interest in destroying her water bottle.
Chewing the Water Bottle Has Become a Habit
Once chewing the water bottle has become a habit, directing your hamster’s attention elsewhere can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Once you have removed stress factors and increased your hamster’s enrichment opportunities, the water bottle biting may decline. If it doesn’t, you may need to try offering water in a different way—at least temporarily.
Replace or Rearrange
If your hamster focuses mainly on the plastic part of the water bottle and it’s inside the cage, try moving it to the outside, with just the nozzle sticking through the bars. You could also try replacing a plastic bottle with a glass bottle with metal fittings.
Try a Water Dish
As a final resort, you may wish to replace your hamster’s bottle with a heavy water bowl. Stainless steel, ceramic, or heavy-duty plastic dishes work best. Water bowls do get contaminated more quickly and may need frequent cleanings and refreshes, but most hamsters take to them immediately.
After a few weeks or months, your hamster’s bottle biting habit may have subsided enough that you can return to using the water bottle.
Related Biting Behaviors
A hamster that has made a habit of biting or chewing her water bottle may continue to exhibit this behavior in other areas. She may take to chewing the cage bars or if you have a plastic cage, chewing escape routes in the corners or around tunnel connections.
Bar chewing and other obsessive behaviors like pacing, running loops, aggression, or odd sleep patterns could be an indication that your hamster is still unhappy or has an underlying health issue.
After checking with an experienced exotic vet to be sure you hamster doesn’t suffer from any kind of neurological issue, you’ll need to deal with these behaviors in the same way you dealt with the water bottle biting—by eliminating any underlying causes, making sure your hamster’s habitat is big enough, and distracting your hamster with cage enrichment and regular interaction.
On a side note, be careful not to accidently reinforce your hamster’s water bottle chewing behavior by running in and getting her out or offering her a treat each time she does it. She’ll see this not a distraction, but as a reward.
Unless you know she’s biting the water bottle because she’s not getting any water out and needs you to intervene, it’s best to wait until she turns her attention elsewhere, even briefly, before intervening. This will keep her from biting the water bottle to get your attention.
Hopefully, your hamster’s water bottle biting has an easy fix, like getting a water bottle that releases water more easily or swapping out for a water dish. If the cause of this behavior goes deeper, you may need to put in some more effort and time, but don’t get discouraged.
Hamsters are quirky, mysterious little creatures that we’re still learning how to share our homes with, and all you can do is your best.