Hamsters are usually quite content to be kept as pets once they bond with owners and have enough toys.
Unfortunately, as hamsters are nocturnal and most species can’t live with conspecifics, they spend a lot of time alone in a cage, leading to stereotypic behaviors.
Hamsters grow bored, apathetic, and depressed if not provided with sufficient entertainment.
They’re active throughout the night, and if they lack enrichment, they’ll be unhappy and develop stereotypies. Also, fun-deprived hamsters grow increasingly stressed, putting their health at risk.
Don’t equate a hamster’s small stature with limited reasoning or cognitive thought capacity.
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?
When the intelligence of different pocket pets is discussed, hamsters are rarely mentioned among the smartest of our furry friends. This is unfair, as hamsters are smart little animals. Unfortunately, this intellect means hamsters can grow bored of life in a cage.
If you’re going to keep a hamster as a pet, you need to ensure you’re providing enough entertainment. This is particularly critical for Syrian hamsters, who must live alone while keeping nocturnal hours. Your hamster will be left to its own devices much of the time.
This won’t be a concern if you provide the hamster with enough to do and house it in a large enough cage. If your hamster is left to grow bored and frustrated, it’ll attempt to escape.
Can Hamsters Die from Boredom?
No hamster has ever felt so fed up that it simply died on the spot.
Boredom makes hamsters stressed. As explained by Hormones and Behavior, stress makes hamsters more aggressive than usual. This, in turn, can place a hamster in danger. If a hamster bites you during handling, you’re likelier to drop it. This can lead to bad falls and fatal impact injuries.
A stressed hamster will also take more chances than usual. Your hamster may show increased desperation and determination to escape a cage, placing itself in harm’s way to get out. This could lead to injury or over-exertion.
Don’t neglect how stress places pressure on a hamster’s heart. Small animals don’t cope well with prolonged periods of emotional disquiet or discomfort.
Signs Your Hamster is Bored
We’ve established that a discontented hamster is in danger, but that raises another question. How do you know if a hamster is bored?
Left unmanaged, the boredom leads to stereotypies, such as the following.
- Sleeping more than usual. A happy, healthy hamster will be active and inquisitive.
- Climbing and biting cage bars.
- Grooming to excess. Hamsters love to be clean but should not bite and pluck at their fur to be the point of leaving bald patches.
- Eating to excess, leading to weight gain, especially when the hamster is not as active as it should be.
- Pacing up and down in the cage but not interacting with toys or obstacles.
Hamster Boredom Breakers for A Cage
Every hamster will have its own idea of fun, and you’ll learn how to keep your pet amused as you spend time with it. There are essential items that every hamster cage needs to stave off boredom, including:
- A running wheel so your hamster can stretch its legs
- Tubes, so your hamster can explore
- Enough substrate for your hamster to burrow and hide in
- Toys for a hamster to chew and destroy
This is just the bare minimum your hamster needs. You’ll also need to provide additional entertainment and, more importantly, allow your hamster time outside the cage to explore and exercise.
Creating Entertainment for a Hamster
So, you need to create a fun and fulfilling life for your hamster. This begins by making the cage as hospitable as possible but also extends to playtimes and out-of-cage exercise.
The first way to stave off boredom for your hamster is through variety. Don’t assume that your work is done once you have set up a hamster cage. You’ll need to deep clean the cage at least once a week.
Take this opportunity to move things around so that when you return your hamster, its home looks and feels different from before. Even after this, your hamster will spend a lot of time alone in its cage while you sleep. It must have enough to do in these instances.
Let’s take a more detailed look at what every hamster wants and needs to keep boredom at bay. You need to pay attention to this, as your hamster will likely wake up each day bursting with energy and looking for entertainment.
Running on this apparatus comes naturally to hamsters, and it’s a great way to keep a small animal occupied. Running on a wheel also satisfies the natural instincts of a hamster.
Hamsters would potentially run up to 6 miles a night underground while searching for sustenance in the wild. When we consider the tiny size of hamsters, covering 6 miles takes a lot of running.
Old-fashioned wheels attached to the side of a cage save space in a habitat but can be noisy. Consider a free-standing silent wheel if you sleep in the same room as your hamster.
Do Hamsters Get Bored of Their Wheel?
If you watch a hamster at play, it’ll likely spend hours running on its wheel.
No matter what additional entertainment you place in a cage, the wheel will always be returned. You’ll likely wonder, “do hamsters ever get tired of running?”
After a while, a hamster will grow weary of running and look for other ways to pass the time. You’re likely just fast asleep when this happens. When a hamster wakes up, it’s full of energy. It needs to burn off this vigor, hence the running.
Let’s assume that your hamster wakes at 7 pm, and you head to bed at 11 pm. Now, imagine that you woke up at 7 am and went to the gym. The exercise and endorphins will likely keep you going until late morning, but you’ll need a rest by the afternoon.
The same applies to hamsters. After burning off their initial rush of energy, small animals will take a break from running on their wheel.
Your hamster will rehydrate, find a snack, and consider different ways to amuse itself until bedtime.
Brightly colored tubes are a staple of hamster cages all over the world.
Hamsters love to explore tubes as they mimic how the animal would burrow and traverse the world underground in the wild. Apply as many tubes as you can to a hamster cage.
As with all hamster entertainment, the layout of your tubes should be changed periodically. Hamsters memorize set routes and will be thrilled to learn they need to negotiate a new labyrinth.
Tubes also make hamsters feel safe, so always ensure your tubes are sturdy and large enough to support hoarded food and bedding. Hamsters may opt to sleep in their tubes or will keep a stash of snacks in them. You’ll need to regularly check tubes for rotting food, removing anything dangerous you find.
Obstacles and Hiding Places
Hamsters love to negotiate obstacles, so you can place them in the cage to make life more interesting for hamsters. The more your hamster has to climb, duck, and jump over, the happier it will be.
Any pet store that stocks small animal supplies will sell logs and other additions for a hamster habitat. These are half decorative, half functional. If you can also pick up climbing frames, so much the better – many hamsters will love this.
Hiding places are also crucial to hamsters. Get wooden tubes or igloos for your hamster to tuck itself away in, though even used toilet roll holders will be appreciated. Even when the night is quiet and they are all alone, hamsters take comfort in hiding.
Toys in a hamster pen should be mixed up and varied at least once a week – hamsters like the novelty of something new. Overall, hamster toys come into two categories – things to chew and things to destroy.
Hamsters need to chew near-constantly to keep their long front teeth filed down. If you don’t provide chew toys, your hamster will turn its attention to cage bars. Pet stores will sell wooden chew toys for hamsters, or you can use small plastic puppy toys.
Chewing is also 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 paws. This makes thin paper, cardboard, or tissues a great toy. Leave a phone book in its cage if you want to keep your hamster amused for hours.
When you go shopping for hamster cage supplies, there’s no doubt that you’ll pick up a nice bowl for your pet’s food. Fill this bowl with muesli and watch your hamster steadfastly refuse to eat from it.
The fact is that hamsters want to forage for food. This, again, comes down to wild instincts. While a hamster will gratefully accept a directly provided treat, like a piece of cheese, it’ll prefer to hunt down its regular nourishment.
Most hamsters will fill their cheek pouches at their bowl, then create food stashes all around their cage. Some will end up in the substrate, some in the hamster’s bed, and some in the tubes. When you deep clean a cage, this food will end up in the bin.
To avoid distressing your hamster and keep it entertained at night, consider scattering some food around the substrate. Keep some in the bowl as a precaution, but your hamster will enjoy following its keen nose to track down snacks in the cage.
Hamsters are fussy about how they set up their cage, especially bedding. You could spend hours carefully preparing hamster bedding, only for it to remove everything you have done and remake the bed.
In the spirit of keeping a hamster entertained, consider just leaving bedding on a cage floor. This way, the hamster can move the material and prepare its bedding exactly to taste.
Exercise Outside the Cage
If you can exhaust your hamster and sate its natural curiosity and desire to explore before locking it up for the night, your hamster is likelier to remain content.
Instead, enjoy supervised recreation time with your hamster. This could include:
- Create a sandpit for your hamster to play, burrow, and bathe in.
- Allowing your hamster to climb the stairs.
- Allowing the hamster to run around a large, empty bathtub.
All activity outside the cage must be carefully monitored. Hamsters will seek any opportunity to escape and find new terrain to explore. If they do 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. Pack a hamster home with toys, hiding places, obstacles to overcome, and opportunities to embrace wild instincts. This will keep your hamster entertained for longer, making it happier.