Hamsters are surprisingly intelligent and active, and they need enrichment and stimulation to keep their physical and mental health in check.
Hamsters spend a majority of their time in their cage. Having lots of interactive and stimulating toys in the cage is the difference between the cage feeling like a home or a prison to your hamster. Make sure your cage is an appropriate size (minimum 450 square inches of unbroken floor space. Width times length equals square inches), and that your hamster’s wheel is big enough for them (back shouldn’t be bent at all).
The cage, wheel, and toys are key components in your hamster’s lifestyle and enrichment. If you have a good sized wheel and a large, semi-crowded cage this will already be making your hamster very happy.
However, you may notice despite your best efforts your hamster is still trying to escape. This is quite normal. In the wild a hamster’s territory is up to 10 square miles, and there’s no way you can mimic that in a domestic environment.
While we may not be able to provide ‘enough’ space for our hamsters, we can still do our best to keep them happy. Here are my tips and tricks for enriching your hamster in and out of the cage.
Hamsters are very food motivated, and we owners like to use this to our advantage to enrich our hamsters. There are a few ways to use food as enrichment:
- Scatter feeding is a very beneficial method of feeding, and it promotes a hamster’s natural foraging behaviors. There are two main ways of scatter feeding. You can put the food in little piles around the cage, or full on sprinkle it everywhere. Be sure your hamster is able to find all the food and that they’re getting enough to eat. What some people do is they feed their hamster every other day twice as much food so they have time to find everything.
- Foraging toys are primarily for getting your hamster to think. Hamsters may not be as intelligent as rats, but they are capable of chewing food out of wooden or cardboard contraptions. These toys also wear down those ever-growing teeth.
- Tricks are something I personally haven’t put the effort into teaching my hamster, but it is possible to teach a hamster some simple tricks. When teaching a hamster you must be rewarding every correct move, and what better way than using their seed mix? Pick out the bigger pieces of food from their usual amount of mix and use them to treat your hamster. If you have any leftovers make sure to give them to your hamster later with the little stuff because they still need every component of their seed mix.
- Hanging seed mix treats are also a fun way to get your hamster busy and fed. ErinsAnimals an awesome tutorial for this toy that you can see here.
Hamsters don’t play the same way cats and dogs do. They’d much rather explore their surroundings. It is good to handle your hamster for a few minutes so they stay accustomed to you, but I know Beanie gets impatient after a few minutes of handling and adores her free roaming time.
I love free roaming Beanie; I just take her out, play with her for a few minutes then she’s happy to just run around! I wrote a post about my experiences and one on how to get started free roaming, so if you’re interested in learning more about free roaming be sure to check those out 😀
Many people just can’t free roam their hamsters, and that’s totally fine. Nevertheless, your hamster needs to get out of their cage for at least half an hour a day, and there’s a solution!
Playpens are wonderful if you are unable to free roam your hamster; they’re really cheap to make, and usually they can fold up for easy storage during the day. Playpens can be as big as you want, and you can make them out of different things, such as solid CNC grids and cardboard. You can also purchase wire playpens, but I’ve seen too many escaping hamster videos to feel comfortable buying one, and they’re really expensive, too!
More Food-Motivated Toys
As mentioned before, hamsters are foraging animals, and we can use this to our advantage when entertaining our hammies.
Mazes are great entertainment when you have your hamster out in the evening. Never leave your hamster alone in a maze, or leave a maze in their cage. Mazes are quite simple to create with cardboard and glue, and there are several tutorials on YouTube. Currently I don’t have a DIY post for mazes, but I hope to have it available soon 🙂
Thick corrugated cardboard is awesome in-cage entertainment! You can wet the top layer of paper, peel it off and use the compartmented sheet of cardboard as a foraging toy. Simply sprinkle seed mix into the tray and your hamster will have to chew up the cardboard to reach the food.
Hamsters and other small pets aren’t too difficult to entertain when you give them a variety of toys to keep them busy. I hope this post was helpful if you are looking for new ways to occupy your small pet.
If you have any more enrichment ideas feel free to share them in the comments section down below!
If you’re interested in more hamster-related content be sure to like this post and follow the blog, and I’ll be back on Tuesday with more small pet care, DIYs, recipes, cage setups, stories and more, have a ham-tastic day!