This week we’ll be discussing why you should have a natural setup for your hamster, providing some tips for creating a more naturalistic setup, and briefly talking about how to set up a natural enclosure for your hamster 🙂
Check out the posts and sources linked at the end to learn more about the mentioned topics!
Why a Natural Setup?
Hamsters haven’t been domesticated for very long in comparison to cats and dogs. They still demonstrate many of their natural instincts in their domestic lives, such as burrowing and foraging.
Domestic hamsters are very high-energy animals, since wild hamsters are required to run many miles every night to collect food.
They awaken at night to avoid predators, or sometimes around dawn and/or dusk.
These natural behaviors should be encouraged in your domestic hamster’s instinct-driven life. Naturally setup enclosures provide enrichment and stimulation for hamsters, resulting in a mentally and physically happier and healthier hamster.
What Makes a Natural Setup?
There are several ways to provide a more natural setup and lifestyle for your hamster. By following just a few of these tips your hamster’s life and happiness will be dramatically improved. I do recommend trying to do most (if not all) of these tips. Please do research on specific items before exposing your hamster(s) to any new materials and/or routine changes.
- Provide a large territory. Hamsters in the wild have enormous territories as large as 10 square miles. They run around during the night guarding their territory from trespassing hamsters and searching for food and nesting materials. In a domestic environment, a hamster’s cage is their territory. The minimum cage size is 450 square inches of unbroken floor space (measure width multiplied by length to calculate floor space). Your hamster’s cage is their territory; please provide the largest cage possible!
- Secondly, providing an appropriate wheel is essential to your hamster’s mental and physical health. Even if you have a large territory for your hamster, a good wheel is a necessity. The wheel needs to be large enough that the hamster’s back is not bent when running (no smaller than an 8″ wheel; Roborovski dwarfs can be an exception). The wheel can not be too large unless the hamster cannot push it. The second quality of a good wheel is it being solid-surface. Wire barred or mesh wheels are common sources of injury in small animals, and also cause foot infections. A good, large, solid-surface wheel offers your hamster a safe way to get out their energy, making them overall more content.
- Sprays, herbs, and dried flower petals can be a nice addition to your hamster cage and promote your hamster’s foraging instincts. Sprays are basically dried, raw seeds, not yet picked from the plant. There are a plethora of hamster-safe sprays, such as oat, flax, and wheat sprays. There are also a number of herbs and flower petals which are hamster safe. Herbs and petals can be combined and sprinkled around your hamster’s cage for them to forage for and nibble on, as well as adding some colour to the cage. Sprays, herbs, and flower petals can be purchased online, or sometimes from pet stores. Always research the specific herb/spray/petal to make sure it’s hamster-safe.
- Having deep substrate for burrowing is also super important! Wild hamsters create burrows between 3-10 feet deep, with winding passages and chambers. Hamsters are actually really organized little creatures, and will make specific ‘rooms’ for sleeping, storing food, etc… in their burrows. By providing plenty of deep (8+ inches) substrate for burrowing they can practice this behavior, which is very enriching for your hamster. Studies have shown that hamsters with deeper substrate (16+ inches) demonstrate fewer to no boredom behaviors (differing from hamster to hamster).
- Scatter feeding your hamster’s seed mix is another way to naturally enrich your small pet. Simply sprinkle their usual amount of food around their cage, and they can forage for their meals. Working for food makes your hamster feel rewarded for their hard work, and keeps them entertained. It is recommended that you don’t scatter feed daily, since your hamster may need extra time to gather their food. Instead, feed them every 2-3 days, and the same amount you would in that time.
- Foraging toys are a great way to work your hamster’s brain. There are tons of foraging or puzzle toys, which are usually filled with food or treats. Your hamster then has to chew open the toy to get the loot. These toys also help with dental needs, since hamsters must chew things to keep their ever-growing teeth trim.
- Natural toys also play a part in a natural setup. Natural toys are usually made from wood, grass, hay, cardboard, or rock. Natural toys provide different textures for your hamster to walk on and explore, adding another element of enrichment to their enclosure. Natural toys can be things made from wood, or you can purchase/find and sanitize ‘raw’ wood for your hamster to climb on and hide under.
- Live plants are something very few people add to their hamster’s cages. Live plants must be chosen carefully after much research to ensure they are not harmful to your hamster, however many plants and herbs are very beneficial to small animals. They can help with digestion, clean the air, be an optional little fresh snack, and provide colour and texture to the cage. One thing to note when having live plants in a cage is that they need to be potted and the pot should be topped off with some pebbles to prevent your hamster from burrowing into the roots of the plant, or eating the roots, which could be harmful to your pet.
- Chew toys are a requirement of small animals. Their teeth grow constantly, and by providing safe chews, their teeth will stay nice and trim. If your hamster does not have access to chew toys their teeth will become overgrown, and require a trimming procedure done by an exotic veterinarian. There are many types of chew toys, the most popular being wood chews or safe dog chews. To encourage a reluctant hamster to chew, try smearing peanut butter into the chew. Some hamsters will chew things when they know they need to, and will not require encouragement.
- Use multiple and/or natural substrates in your hamster cage, such as organic soil, paper-based substrate, safe wood shavings, corn bits, coconut soil, and sand. These are all wonderful substrates for hamsters that provide texture and enrichment to their home. Usually you’ll have a main substrate with an additional substrate or two. The main substrate needs to be 6+ inches deep and hold burrows decently. Most secondary substrates don’t hold burrows, but can be provided in a small section of the cage, or in a dig-box.
- A chambered hideout is actually a hamster-necessity in some countries! I really recommend purchasing or DIYing a chambered hideout for your hamster. Chambered hideouts provide a place for your hamster to nest/sleep, hide food, groom, and ‘do their business’ in a private and organized place, as a wild hamster would in a burrow.
- Rocks and/or pebbles should be added to an area to prevent overgrown nails. You can purchase rocks/pebbles, or get them from outside and sanitize them. Please research proper sanitation methods to ensure your hamster isn’t exposed to anything harmful.
Setting Up a Natural Enclosure
Once you have decided and gathered what natural materials you want to use in your hamster’s enclosure, it’s time to set up your hamster new and improved enclosure!
In preparation for the upgrade, try putting the natural toys in your hamster’s current cage/setup. This will get their scent onto the toys, making the transition less stressful.
Empty the old cage/set up the new cage, and wipe it down. Put down 6+ inches of substrate, and start putting things into the cage, starting with the necessities (wheel, 3+ hideouts, water source, rocks/pebbles).
Fill in any ‘blank’ spaces with some plants, wood pieces, dig boxes/sections, and toys. Have climbing, hiding, and foraging toys. Provide variety. Hamsters prefer semi-crowded places, because they feel safer. Fill in the gaps, but leave walking room.
Setting up a hamster cage is a skill. It takes practice to set up a beautiful and enriching cage for a hamster. I’m still working on this skill! If you’re looking for natural enclosure setup inspiration, I recommend looking up German hamster cage setups (they’re amazing!).
Natural enclosures are incredibly enriching for small pets, and they’re the best option. Mimicking your hamsters wild environment promotes their natural instincts, making them overall happier and healthier.
I hope this post was helpful and informative! It was really interesting to do the research for this post, and I recommend looking at the sources and posts I have linked below to learn more about natural enclosures. If you know of any other resources feel free to share them in the Reply section at the bottom of this post!
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!
- All About Hamster Enrichment (Victoria Raechel)
- How to Make a Natural Hamster Enclosure (Victoria Raechel)
- Best Hamster Cages of 2021 (Victoria Raechel)
- Setting Up a Naturalistic Hamster Cage (ErinsAnimals)
- Safe Plants For Natural Hamster Cages (ErinsAnimals)
- How To Use Soil In Hamster Cages (ErinsAnimals)
- Natural Cages (Hamster Hideout Forum)