Enrichment for hamsters
Hamsters require enrichment that stimulates them both physically and mentally, and what interests and stimulates them must undoubtedly be related to the food, smells, and textures they feel under their paws. So, if you want to encourage your hamster to be active and avoid boredom, give him enrichments and boredom breakers that have treats, seeds, and nuts as their ultimate goal.
What exactly is pet enrichment?
Enrichment for a captive pet is providing him with ways to stimulate him mentally and physically in order to make his life in a cage or a free-range pen much less boring and to provide him with a better mental and physical well-being.
There are several types of enrichment for pets:
- Food-based enrichment, which means stimulating the animal to use its food by encouraging it to search for food and earn rewards such as treats.
- Sensory stimulation, by providing scents, etc. to stimulate the animal’s 5 senses, sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste.
- Physical stimulation, by offering physical enrichment such as toys, climbing things, etc.
- Social stimulation and enrichment, by providing the pet with a companion or interaction with you or any other animal.
What kind of enrichment do hamsters enjoy?
Hamsters are primarily interested in food, which should be the foundation of any enrichment you provide.
To keep your hamster entertained, stimulate it to run, search, and think, and the only way to keep a hamster positively occupied is when it wins food at the end.
Your hamster will go to great lengths for a few extra seeds to take back to his nest and increase his stock; this is what stimulates them in their natural habitat; they spend all night foraging and collecting food, bedding, and nesting materials, and returning all of this to their burrow.
They also spend time cleaning themselves and bathing in sand.
The following are the best ways to enrich your hamster:
- Forage and sprays enrichment
◆ Forage as hamster enrichment
If you want to easily stimulate your hamster’s mind and body, simply use his own food, making him search for it in his enclosure and earn it rather than simply serving it to him in his food bowl.
The best part is that this hamster enrichment is simple to provide; here’s how to make enrichment for your hamster using his food:
- Sprinkle and scatter his dry food around his cage to encourage him to seek it out, using his keen sense of smell to locate every seed and food.
- You will then scatter his dry food, seeds and dried herbs, leaves and flowers throughout his cage, avoiding the spots and corners where he urinates.
- This will also create new smells in the cage, which will stimulate his sense of smell in addition to the smell of the bedding and his urine.
- Fresh food and vegetables should not be hidden in his bedding to avoid mold. You can make skewers out of pieces of vegetables and peanuts, for example, and hang these skewers to give your hamster something to do and encourage him to go up and eat them.
◆ Sprays as hamster enrichment
These are plant pods that still have their seeds; plant these dry stems in the hamster’s bedding and encourage him to pick his own seeds directly from the stem; this is an excellent enrichment.
You can use a variety of plants for this; here are the most well-known sprays among hamster parents:
- Unflavored Millet Sprays (Yellow and Mohair)
- Oat Sprays
- Pagima Green Sprays
- Amaranth Spray
- Flax Sprays (only one stem per week)
- Black or White Sorghum Sprays
- Quinoa Sprays
- Wheat Spray
Many of these sprays are only available on the internet and must be imported from outside the United States.
- Bedding enrichment
◆ Bedding’s thickness and quality
The thickness and quality of your hamster’s bedding are directly related to its stress level.
I recommend tunnel and underground chamber beddings because your hamster will stop digging if the bedding collapses on him and his tunnels collapse as well.
Choose paper-based bedding and make sure to compact it well to make it more stable.
You can also reinforce the Hemp shavings, Aspen bedding, or Carefresh with fine hay to make them denser and prevent your hamster’s tunnels from collapsing.
Furthermore, the thicker the bedding, the less stressed your hamster will be. Hamsters typically live underground, digging tunnels and chambers up to 30 inches deep (90 cm).
After food, the best enrichment for your hamster is to provide at least 15 inches of bedding (38 cm).
The thicker the bedding, the happier your hamster will be, and it will cause less stress and barbiting.
Your hamster may not dig his own tunnels, and this enrichment will fail, so you will have to encourage him to dig, especially if he is a dwarf hamster, who prefers to find ready-made tunnels and simply occupy them.
Artificial tunnels, such as hay cardboard tunnels (bury it in the bedding, leaving only the tunnel entrance visible) or cork logs, can be used to create the tunnel entrance and encourage your hamster to dig on his own.
You never know when your hamster will begin tunneling and digging chambers in the bedding; simply prepare his enclosure with a good layer of bedding and let him decide when he will begin digging.
◆ Varying the substrates is an enrichment for the hamster as well
To stimulate your hamster, reserve 20% of the enclosure surface and use other healthy substrates to change things up from paper-based bedding.
Your hamster will enjoy feeling textures other than paper under his paws; he will enjoy walking on sand, bathing, and digging (natural instinct that you will satisfy by installing a dig box as enrichment too).
You can use different substrates to delimit a space in the hamster’s enclosure, such as:
- Coconut Fiber
- Pillow and Sphagnum Moss
- Kaytee Corn cob bedding (if your hamster does not eat it)
- Cork Granules
- Beech Chips
- Sandbath – An excellent enrichment for hamster
The sandbox is a large container (use a baking dish) that you will fill with a good thickness of safe soft sand like chinchillas (if it is not dusty) or soft reptile sand (without additives) or children’s playsand (avoid dirt, dust, and powders) that your hamster will use as a bathroom.
The sandbox is an excellent enrichment that will not only keep your hamster entertained as they clean themselves and take several sand baths per day, but it will also keep them clean and remove excess oil from their fur.
Don’t forget to build a small hideout in a corner of your hamster’s sandbath to give him confidence and security.
- Hamster enrichment with branches
Another way to enrich the hamster is to provide it with tunnels, tubes like the cork log whose diameter exceeds 2 inches for dwarf hamsters and at least 3 inches in diameter for Syrians (the same measurements for hideout entrances), and branches to mimic as much of its natural habitat as possible.
This enrichment will also include safe places to hide, obstacles to overcome, and a new texture to walk on (wood)
Natural materials such as cork, bamboo roots, birch and terracotta tubes, or fine wood will be chewed and scratched by your hamster to wear down his teeth and nails.
- Platforms and hideouts for hamster enrichment
You can place a wooden tray on your hamster’s bedding and then place some seeds, the hamster wheel, and other items on it without fear of it falling on your hamster if he tunnels under it.
The hideouts are a necessary enrichment for your hamster; he uses them to hide when he feels threatened or stressed; he can also take naps in them; and it is often the entrance of the tunnels that your hamsters will dig; these tunnels frequently end up in one of the hideouts, which will actually play the role of subway stations.
Hamsters dislike open spaces because they are constantly afraid of being attacked by a raptor when they are out in the wild.
This is a natural fear, and you should provide your hamster with a variety of hideouts made of various materials such as terracotta clay, wood, cardboard, ceramic, and so on.
Install at least one multi-chamber hideout in the enclosure, followed by a few smaller ones in the other corners.
Make sure the hideouts’ entrances are wide enough to avoid hurting your hamster when it has jowls full of seeds.
Hamsters require enrichment to forget their confinement in an enclosure.
Begin by providing him with a large enclosure (at least 1000 square inches), followed by a layer of at least 15 inches of paper-based bedding.
Then include hideouts, a wheel, hideouts, a sandbox, and a plethora of toys and chews.
Remember to scatter his food around to stimulate his sense of smell, and to provide him with sprays to stimulate his natural foraging instinct.
All of this is the bare minimum you can do to keep your hamster from becoming bored in his enclosure and to make life in captivity more bearable for him; keep in mind that hamsters typically require hundreds of square inches of territory.
If you want more helpful advice on looking after your hamster, including tips on food, toys, accessories and accommodation, add a comment below to let us know!
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