While tubes replicate the tunnels that hamsters dig in the wild and are a good form of enrichment, they can dissuade hamsters from carrying out their instinctual behavior.
Cardboard and wooden tubes are recommended for hamsters. Chewing plastic leads to the ingestion of small fragments, causing internal blockages.
Also, tubes trap ammonia and rub a hamster’s fur off due to the friction of moving through them. They’re not well ventilated due to tiny breathing holes.
Tubes can be safe for hamsters, as long as you choose a size that prevents them from getting stuck.
If your hamster chooses to sleep in its tubes, you need to keep them out of the sun, as your hamster could overheat and dehydrate.
Are Tubes Good for Hamsters?
When it comes to finding the right sized tube for your hamster, you must measure them carefully to ensure it doesn’t get stuck.
Syrian hamsters need tubes with a diameter of 7 cm (approximately 3 inches) or more, while smaller dwarf species need 5cm (2 inches).
Tubes offer hamsters many benefits, including:
Laboratory Animal Medicine explains how hamsters live in deep tunnels in their native environment.
Most hamsters use tubes because they replicate tunnels, making them feel more at home in their enclosures. Hamsters also use tunnels to escape predators and move around more safely.
While captive hamsters don’t have predators to worry about, they don’t know this is this case. So, tubes can enable them to feel more at ease while they rest.
Hamsters like to sleep in warm, dark, and enclosed spaces where they feel safest.
Tubes enable them to recuperate their energy without fear after a long night of running on their exercise wheel, cleaning themselves in their sand bath, and foraging for food.
Tubes are a great source of physical and mental enrichment.
Hamsters enjoy running through them and climbing on top of them. Hamsters also gain enrichment from chewing tubes made with natural materials, like wood, bamboo, and tubes topped with delicious forage.
This has the added benefit of keeping their ever-growing teeth down to a healthy length.
Are Plastic Tubes Bad for Hamsters?
There are things to watch out for when using tubes in your hamster’s enclosure, including:
Because tubes replicate tunnels and burrows, they discourage hamsters from digging and carrying out their burrowing instincts. That’s why providing deep bedding is better than tubes.
All hamsters burrow, but they need an appropriate amount of bedding to get started. 4-6 inches is a good minimum, but some hamsters need 10 inches or more to start digging.
You can help your hamster start burrowing by submerging a wide tunnel into its bedding. Eventually, your hamster will learn to dig holes and tunnels by itself, meaning that you can remove the tubes.
Risk of Getting Stuck
As mentioned, too-small tubes increase the risk of your hamster getting stuck.
Hamsters come out between dusk and dawn, usually when their owners are asleep. If they get stuck while their owners are in bed, this will be a stressful experience, putting them at risk of dehydration.
Tubes Remove Fur
The constant friction of your hamster moving through its tubes will cause some of its fur to rub off.
This is most common with tubes that are too small for the hamster to fit through, although even the widest tubes can cause problems.
Prolonged use of a small tube may irritate the skin and make it sore. That’s why it’s always best to use the largest tubes you can find.
Lack of Oxygen
Plastic tubes tend only to have tiny breathing holes, which don’t allow enough oxygen to circulate inside.
The lack of oxygen is akin to a human sucking air through a straw. As you can imagine, this will affect the hamster’s long-term health and wellbeing.
Hamsters are prone to respiratory infections, so poor ventilation can trigger breathing problems and make hamsters sick.
Many hamsters pee in their tubes.
Tubes also don’t have enough space to hold bedding, which soaks up the urine. As tubes are hard to clean without removing them, ammonia builds up and cannot get out because of the small air holes.
There’s not enough oxygen to remove the ammonia and carbon dioxide particles without ample airflow, making the hamster inside the tube sick.
Not only that, but the holes aren’t large enough to allow poop to fall through, making the tubes unhygienic and dangerous very quickly.
Risk of Overheating
If you have a cage where a plastic tube runs along or outside the top, you mustn’t place it in direct sunlight.
Due to the lack of large ventilation holes, hamsters can easily become overheated, developing heatstroke and dehydration. Hamsters who sleep in their tubes may not feel themselves getting too hot and won’t know to escape the heat.
Can Hamsters Chew Through Plastic Tubes?
Some, though not all, hamsters chew through plastic tubes. This is caused by:
- Stress, most notably from tubes or an enclosure that’s too small
- Overgrown teeth that the hamster needs to file down
- A lack of enrichment within the cage
- The desire to escape their cage
Plastic is flimsy and easy to break, and sharp pieces can cut the hamster’s mouth and cheek pouches. Small plastic fragments can cause blockages if ingested, risking serious internal problems.
As a result, wooden and cardboard tubes are considered a safer option. Even if your hamster chews through them, they’re unlikely to hurt themselves.
You must also upgrade your hamster’s enclosure to one measuring at least 80 x 50 cm and provide more enrichment to keep your hamster entertained.
In the short term, discourage your hamster from chewing its plastic tubes by placing lemon juice on the section it’s biting. Alternatively, remove the tubes altogether and provide more bedding to encourage your hamster to dig down and create its own.
Are Cardboard Tubes Safe for Hamsters?
Hamsters can use cardboard tubes as long as they’re wide enough and aren’t made from harmful materials that are dyed, glossy, or waxy.
Cardboard toilet tubes are an excellent form of enrichment for dwarf hamsters, but they’re too small for Syrians. Large shipping tubes are a better option for larger hamsters.
When using a cardboard tube, be careful that it hasn’t come into contact with food. Bugs from fruits and vegetables can infest your hamster’s fur and bedding, while pesticide traces can make it sick.
Hamsters enjoy chewing cardboard tubes as much as they like sleeping and running through them. Hamsters rarely ingest the cardboard, though – they spit them out. If you can’t be sure of where your cardboard tube has been, clean it before giving it to your hamster.
Tubes aren’t a suitable or safe choice for all hamsters. Large tubes are an excellent form of enrichment, but you shouldn’t encourage your hamster to sleep in them. Avoid a cage that uses plastic tubes as its bedding area and opt for natural materials over plastic.