Why Give Hamsters Naturalistic Lifestyles?

In the dead of night a wild hamster scours his 10-square-mile-territory, collecting little scraps of almost anything, usually food or bed related things such as feathers, soft grasses, seeds, and insects. After filling his cheek pouches, the little hamster makes his way back to his burrow. Occasionally he encounters a fox snooping around. Unfortunately, he must silently remove his finds from his pouches in order to make a stealthy getaway. The hamster memorizes the spot, hoping the loot is still there when he returns a few nights later. The average hamster makes several trips like this during one night, finding food, water, and bedding.

In the depths of the earth he’s created intricate tunnels and rooms, up to 10 feet deep. Hamsters are very organized creatures, sorting their things into separate ‘rooms.’ Bathroom, bedroom, food storage room.

In captivity hamsters are provided with everything they need by their owners. A territory, food, water, substrate, and nesting material are things they no longer have to search for, which is why so many domesticated hamsters live in boredom.

By providing a more naturalistic setup and lifestyle hamsters tend to be less bored and have a happier life. Let’s talk about a few ways to provide a more naturalistic lifestyle for your hamster!

Today we’ll be covering:

  • Scatter Feeding
  • Natural Toys
  • Deep Substrate
  • A Large Cage
  • Wheel
  • Water Bowl

Scatter Feeding

Scatter feeding is by far the most enriching and natural feeding method. There are two main ways to scatter feed: pouring little piles of food around the cage and full on sprinkling it everywhere. Your hamster gets to scavenge for their food as they would in the wild, and it’s an amazing way to keep them busy! I have used both methods and they both work very well, however I do recommend feeding them every other day, and twice as much so your hamster has time to find all the food.

Natural Toys

Natural toys are very beneficial since, unlike with plastic toys, your hamster can chew them without the risk of getting plugged up if they eat it. They are usually made of wood and/or cardboard. Remember, you want to be encouraging your hamster to chew hard objects (just not cage bars!) because their teeth are always growing and need to be ground down with chewing.

I have quite a few tutorials for natural DIY hamster toys and huts, which are linked at the end of this post 🙂

Deep Substrate

Substrate is a requirement for hamsters. They need at least six inches of substrate for burrowing, but by adding more depth your hamster can create better, deeper burrows like they would in the wild. Rule of Thumb: substrate can never be too deep. Personally, I like Beanie to have at least eight inches of depth in her substrate. Some hamsters may need encouragement to burrow, and by partially burying some tubes or huts they will usually dig out of those and make tunnels of their own.

A Large Cage

Yes, hamsters can live in shoe-box-sized cages, but you could live in a closet too if someone was feeding you regularly, and you wouldn’t be happy. Hamsters aren’t happy in cages they can just fit in.

The bare minimum for a hamster cage is 450 unbroken square inches of floor space. To calculate the square inches of a cage you times the width by the length. Any additional floors or levels do not count towards the square inches (this is a mistake I’ve made).

A cage that big may sound expensive, but surprisingly, they’re not! Most if not all appropriately sized hamster cages are the same price or cheaper than the tiny pet store cages. Some good examples are the Prevue 528, Ikea Detolf Hamster Cage DIY, the Super CritterTrail, and the Sterilite 200 Quart Bin Cage, all ranging from $20-$170 with over 500 square inches of floor space.


In the wild hamsters get a lot of exercise collecting their food, but in captivity, even if you scatter feed, they don’t get nearly as much exercise as they would in the wild. Your hamster has the same amount of energy as a wild hamster, since all domestic hamsters are just descendants of wild hamsters.

Since domestic hamsters don’t have the huge amount of territory wild hamsters do they don’t get as much exercise guarding their space as a wild hamster. They need a way to burn off all that natural energy, and the best answer is the hamster wheel.

Having a wheel is very important for hamsters. What’s even more important is having an appropriate wheel. Wheels go by two things: size and style. The wheel needs to be big enough in diameter that your hamster’s back is not curved. Beanie is about five inches long, and ridiculously, her wheel is 12″ in diameter. As crazy as it may seem, her wheel is the perfect size for her; when she runs in it her back is straight, and that’s what matters.

The second criteria: style. The three main styles of wheel are flying saucers, wire wheels, and solid surfaced wheels. Flying saucers are usually not preferred because they take up so much floor space. Wire wheels should not be used. They are rarely well made, cause many injuries, and result in bumblefoot.

Solid surfaced wheels provide the safest exercising experience. Although they are usually more expensive, they prevent common injuries that occur when hamsters use other wheels (caught limbs, broken limbs/toes etc…). Some great wheels I would recommend are the Comfort Wheel, Wodent Wheel, and the Carolina Storm Wheel.

Water Bowl

Beanie’s eight ounce bottle was really easy and simple to use. I would just check it daily and refill it every Saturday. However, sometimes it would clog for no apparent reason, leaving Beanie with no water source. This worried me, and so I switched her to a water bowl.

I love using a water bowl for Beanie. Sometimes it can be a pain, but overall it’s totally worth it.

Water bowls usually need to be cleaned every other day due to substrate getting in it and it running low. With all the refilling, the water in the bowl is fresher, which is just pleasant for the hamster 🙂

Water bowls also simulate a more natural drinking posture. Your hamster is no longer craning their neck to drink. Instead, they’re lapping it up like a wild hamster would drink from a puddle.

Overall, I think bowls are a more natural way for hamsters to drink, and totally recommend them to those who are going for a more naturalistic lifestyle for their hamster.

Final Thoughts

It always amazes me how easy it is to improve your hamster’s life just by providing more natural surroundings and care. All it takes is a little willpower, money, and research.

Something I always find sad is that people believe they can’t change, and that they can’t give their hamster the life they deserve. They’re wrong. You can change for the better.

Nobody starts out as a great pet owner; I certainly didn’t! A good pet owner doesn’t start out good; a good pet owner acknowledges their mistakes, fixes them, learns from them, and educates other owners.

I hope this post was educational and informational. 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!

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