Hamsters are quite content to be kept as pets once they bond with their owners and have enough toys.
Unfortunately, as hamsters are crepuscular and most species can’t live with conspecifics, they spend much of their time alone in a cage, leading to stereotypic behaviors.
Hamsters grow bored, apathetic, and depressed without enough entertainment. They’re active throughout the night; if they lack enrichment, they’ll be unhappy and develop stereotypies. Also, fun-deprived hamsters grow increasingly stressed, putting their health at risk.
Hamsters must be entertained in their homes, or they’ll find unwelcome, often destructive, ways to pass the time. Fortunately, this amusement can be provided within a cage environment.
Do Hamsters Ever Get Bored?
Although not as clever as rodents like rats and mice, hamsters are relatively smart animals. Unfortunately, this means they can grow bored with life in a caged living environment.
If you keep a hamster as a pet, you must provide entertainment. This is important for Syrian hamsters, who live alone and don’t play with members of their species.
Your hamster will be left to its own devices much of the time. This won’t be a concern if you give the hamster enough to do and house it in a large enough cage.
If the hamster is left to grow bored and frustrated, it’ll engage in negative behaviors.
Signs A Hamster Is Bored
Left unmanaged, boredom leads to stereotypes and unwanted behaviors, like:
- Sleeping more than usual.
- Biting cage bars.
- Monkey barring.
- Grooming to excess, leaving bald patches.
- Eating more than normal and weight gain.
- Pacing up and down the cage.
- Attempting to escape.
Bored hamsters seek to create enrichment, which can sometimes harm their health and well-being.
Entertainment for Hamsters
Creating a fun and fulfilling living environment for hamsters is essential. This begins by making the cage hospitable and extends to fun toys and out-of-cage exercise.
Let’s look at the different boredom breakers every hamster needs:
Running on an exercise wheel comes naturally to hamsters, and it’s a great way to keep them fit and healthy. Wild hamsters run up to 6 miles a night while searching for food and water.
A hamster needs a large-sized wheel with sufficient room to move its body freely. If its body is overly cramped and contorted long-term, it’ll lead to spinal injuries.
If you watch a hamster at play, it’ll likely spend hours running on its wheel, and the wheel will always be returned no matter what additional entertainment you put in a cage.
Eventually, a hamster will grow weary of running and look for other ways to pass the time. However, a running wheel allows pet hamsters to expend pent-up energy in a confined space.
Wheels attached to the side of a cage save space but can be noisy at night. So, consider getting a free-standing silent wheel if the hamster’s running activity is disturbing your sleep.
Brightly-colored tubes are a staple of hamster cages. Hamsters love to explore tubes as they mimic how they burrow and traverse the world underground.
As with all hamster entertainment, the layout of tubes should be changed periodically. Hamsters memorize set routes and will be thrilled to learn they must negotiate a new labyrinth.
Tubes make hamsters feel safe, so ensure they’re sturdy and large enough to support hoarded food and bedding. Hamsters may sleep in their tubes or will keep a stash of snacks in them.
So, you’ll need to check tubes for rotting food, removing anything potentially harmful.
Obstacles and Hiding Places
Hamsters like clambering over obstacles, so you should put them in their cages to make life more interesting. The more items the hamster has to climb and jump over, the happier it’ll feel.
Any pet store that stocks small animal supplies will sell hamster-safe logs and other additions for a rodent pet’s habitat. These are half decorative and half functional.
If you get a climbing frame, so much the better, as hamsters like scaling objects. However, ensure that a hamster has 6+ inches of bedding to break any falls.
Get wooden tubes or igloos for hamsters to tuck themselves and hide away. Even used toilet roll holders will be appreciated. When hamsters feel afraid, they’ll take comfort in hiding.
Toys should be mixed up slightly at least once a week, as hamsters enjoy a new challenge.
Hamsters need to chew near-constantly to keep their long front teeth filed down. If you don’t provide chew toys, the hamster will turn its attention to cage bars and could break its teeth.
Pet stores sell wooden chew toys for hamsters, or you can use small plastic puppy toys.
Chewing is a way for hamsters to entertain and amuse themselves. This lends itself more to the other type of toy that hamsters need – destructive toys.
Hamsters love tearing things apart with their teeth and claws, which makes thin paper, cardboard, or tissues good additions to a hamster’s cage.
Hamsters want to forage for food, as it’s an instinctual behavior. While a hamster will gratefully accept a treat from your hand, like a piece of fruit or cheese, it’ll enjoy searching for and hiding food.
Most hamsters will fill their cheek pouches from their bowl, creating food stashes around their cages. Some food will end up in the bedding, tubes, and running wheel.
Consider scattering some food around the substrate to keep the hamster entertained at night. A hamster will enjoy utilizing its olfactory senses to find snacks in its cage, which it’ll hide.
If you can exhaust the hamster and sate its natural curiosity and desire to explore, it’ll remain contented.
Most people would place a hamster in a ball and leave it to roam around the house back in the day. However, PLOS One explains that balls can lead to stress and injuries in hamsters.
Instead, provide supervised recreation time for a hamster. This could include:
- Playing together and free-roaming in a hamster-proofed room.
- Allowing the hamster to run around a large, empty bathtub.
All activity outside the cage must be carefully monitored, and other predatory pets (cats, dogs, etc.) should be kept outside the hamster’s room.
Hamsters will seek any opportunity to escape and find new terrain to explore. If they escape, you need to know where hamsters hide.
Hamsters can make their own fun to an extent, but you’ll need to step in to keep them happy. This starts with getting a large cage so the hamster has enough room to explore freely.
Fill the hamster’s cage with toys, hiding places, obstacles to overcome, and opportunities to embrace wild instincts. This will keep the hamster entertained for longer, making it happier.