Table of Contents

Enrichment for Your Hamster Enclosure

Enrichment plays a crucial role in the well-being of most animals, typically involving interactions with their own species, interactions with humans, and interactions with their surroundings.

However, solitary hamsters have unique needs. They can't derive enrichment from socializing with their own kind, and some may not find enough stimulation from interacting with humans (as not all hamsters are fond of human interaction). As a result, their primary source of reliable enrichment lies in their environment (Taxonomist 2017). Therefore, it becomes our responsibility to provide hamsters with an environment that is enriched to the fullest extent possible to ensure their mental and physical health.

An enriched environment is an environment that allows the hamster to perform natural behaviors and allows them to be more active. It should also increase the hamster’s control over their environment and be stimulating.

Hamsters that are kept in housing without any added enrichment develop an increase in aggression, a lack of appetite, and depression (McClure & Thompson 1992), and giving them certain enrichment items helped alleviate the behaviors. In a study conducted by Bethell and Koyama in 2015, it was found that hamsters who have a more enriched environment are often happier as they make more positive and optimistic decisions than those who don’t.

Necessary enrichment for any hamster enclosure

  1. An appropriately sized wheel

    Hamsters have a natural instinct to run, simulating the long distances they travel in the wild while foraging for food. Providing them with a spacious, safe wheel is essential to satisfy this need and ensure their physical activity.

  2. Gnawing or chewing materials

    As rodents, hamsters continually grow their teeth throughout their lives. To keep their teeth healthy and prevent overgrowth, hamsters require suitable and safe chewing materials that facilitate natural wear and maintenance.

  3. Multi-Chamber House

    A multi-chamber house replicates the complexity of a hamster's natural burrow, providing a stimulating and comfortable environment. Some hamsters, like winter whites and Campbell dwarves, actually prefer to inhabit burrows that have already been built and greatly benefit from a multi-chamber house. Please read FiveLittleHam’s post on choosing an appropriate hamster hide.

  4. Sandbath

    Unlike traditional baths, hamsters clean themselves through grooming and sand baths. Access to a spacious sandbath is vital, allowing hamsters to roll in the sand to maintain their fur's cleanliness and health. Roborovski hamsters, in particular, benefit from even larger sandbaths.

  5. Deep Bedding

    Deep bedding is a fundamental requirement for all hamster enclosures. It enables natural behaviors such as burrowing, nesting, and exploring. For more details on this crucial aspect, refer to our chapter on bedding.

  6. Water Bottle or Water Dish

    Hydration is essential for hamsters, and they need access to clean water. A suitable water bottle or dish, which should be regularly cleaned and refreshed, is indispensable for maintaining their health and well-being.

  7. Stilts and Platforms

    Hamsters will be burrowing under your enclosure, so stilts and platforms that hold up your hamster hides and heavy accessories are absolutely necessary. If your hamster’s tunnel collapses, you do not want these heavy objects falling on him.

Other Hamster Enrichment Items You May Want to Consider

  1. Cork Logs and Birch Logs

    These make great burrow starts and as areas where your hamster can go to hide.

  2. Grapevine

    Great for adding texture to your enclosure. Hamsters can also chew on this safely.

  3. Birch leaves or other safe leaves

    These make great nesting materials and are safe for hamsters to chew on.

  4. Large Stones

    These would be great for adding more texture to your environment, or for putting in a shallow water dish so your hamster doesn’t step in. Avoid stones that are small enough for your hamster to pouch.

  5. Herbs and Flower Mix

    More great textures for the enclosure, and a natural way to add variety to your hamster’s diet. Some herbs will even add pleasant smells.

  6. Peat Moss

    Can be used as nesting material for your hamster.

  7. Various ceramic hides

    Ceramic hides are safe since hamsters cannot really chew on them, the material also makes it easy to clean. Find hides with large entrances so that your hamsters will not get stuck in them if their cheek pouches are full. These are also good at keeping cool during warm days.

    Minimum hamster hide suggestions sizing taken from FiveLittleHams

    Syrian Hamsters - 7cm diameter (2.75 inches)

    Dwarf Hamsters - 6cm diameter (2.40 inches)

    Robororovski Hamsters - 5cm diameter (2 inches)

  8. Terracotta Pots or Terracotta Hides

    From personal experience, my hamster enjoyed these as they kept his nails trimmed when he scratched at them. You can also put coconut soil in it to encourage digging.

  9. Dig Box With Different Substrate

    Adding an extra dig box with a substrate that is different from the rest of your enclosure will give your hamster different textures to dig through.

    See our list of safe substrates.

  10. Safe Plants

    Consider adding safe plants to your enclosure such as spider plants or cat grass that is surprisingly easy to grow. You can safely enjoy adding this to your enclosure for greenery and your hamster will enjoy chewing and uprooting the plant.

Unsafe Hamster Items You Should Avoid

Despite looking tempting and cute, many of these items are unnecessary and even dangerous. Please consider not including them in your enclosure. For a more in-depth article, read FiveLittleHam’s article on Products to Avoid for your hamster.

  1. Salt Licks & Mineral Blocks

    If you are feeding your animals a proper diet, salt licks and mineral blocks can lead to them taking an excess in minerals that they do not need. This could be harmful for them in the long run and could damage their kidneys. If your hamster suffers from any deficiencies, it is best to seek advice from a vet.

    Watch SomethingAnimal’s video to learn more.

  2. Softwood Hides

    Some items that are made from softwood hides (particularly ones with a the dark bark) have been reported to be leaking resin despite being labeled as resin free. This plant resin (not to be confused with plastic resin) is dangerous because it can get caught inside your hamster’s cheek pouches and fur.

    Other risks have been found to be that these hides tend to be poor in quality, and have loose nails, screws, staples, or even splinters that could injure your hamster. There have also been reports of hamsters getting stuck in these hides since the entrances tend to be too small. When looking at wooden hides, it is best to check for the kind of wood they used, and to stay away from hides with dark bark.

  3. Wire Wheels / Mesh Wheels

    Hamster running on wheels made of metal wires and mesh are dangerous because while the hamster is running, the hamster’s legs can get caught and fractured (Carter 2008). This could lead to your hamster needing amputation or even euthanasia. Instead, opt for a wheel with a solid surface such as plastic or cork.

  4. Wheels with Rungs

    Hamster wheels that have elevated rungs are also dangerous as hamsters can trip on the rungs, or get injured by using them. The rungs are too elevated for a hamster, and the gaps are often too far apart. This makes it uncomfortable for your hamster to run on. If you have a wheel like this, it can be modified with cork.

  5. Kapok Bedding

    We do not recommend the use of Kapok bedding for hamsters. Kapok bedding has fibers that are hard to ingest or can make it easy for a hamster to be tangled in them. It can also cause blockages which can lead to your hamster’s death.

    One such hamster who unfortunately suffered a painful death is Poppy, and her post-mortem report showed that she ingested the bedding and it had raptured her colon.

    Read this in-depth post from about the about the risks of using Kapok and other fluffy beddings. Strongbrew Hamstery also created an article with an experiment that shows how kapok can cause blockages or choking. See our post on hamster substrate for alternative bedding you can use.

  6. Fluffy Bedding/ Hamster Wool

    For reasons similar to Kapok, we cannot advise against using any Fluffy Bedding or Hamster wool. These products have fibers that make it easy for a hamster to get tangled in them and these fibers are also tough enough that hamsters cannot easily break out of them which can lead to strangulation (FiveLittleHams 2018).

Helpful Guides on Setting Up a Hamster Enclosure

  1. [Youtube] Victoria Raechel - How to PROPERLY Set up a Hamster cage
  2. [Youtube] Plüschraupe - Hamstergehege einrichten + Gehegtour • Setting up a hamster cage + Cage tour
  3. [Youtube] Victoria Raechel - How to Set up a Hamster Cage on a Budget
  4. [Youtube] The Hamster Room - Hamster Cage Setup (Natural + Enriching)
  5. [Youtube] Plüschraupe - What a Minimum Sized Enclosure for a Dwarf Hamster Could Look Like
  6. [Youtube] Pancake The Hamster - How to Set Up a Natural Hamster Cage
  7. [Article] Fivelittlehams - How To Set Up A Natural Enclosure


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