Find out how to provide these small, smart rodents with the des res they deserve
19 April 2017
If you visited this year’s Ideal Home Exhibition, you may be bursting with plans to spruce up your humble abode. But first, spare a thought for your hamster. According to a study published in Royal Society Open Science, the type of accommodation you provide has a big impact on hamster wellbeing.
Researchers from Liverpool John Moores University tested 30 hamsters to determine if enriching their environment – by adding toys and bedding to their cages – would change the decisions they made when faced with an uncertain choice.
What they found was that hamsters with extra toys and cosier bedding were more likely to make optimistic decisions than those with fewer luxuries – such as being willing to try out different drink bottles to see if the water was especially tasty. Less optimistic hamsters were more reluctant to try new things.
Scientists see optimistic judgements as an indicator of positive wellbeing in humans, so using the same methodology to indicate wellbeing in hamsters makes sense. After all, it’s the closest we humans can get to determining if our hamster is happy!
Here are our tops tips on creating an ideal home for your hamster…
When hamsters wake up at night they are very active and need plenty of space to explore, play, climb and exercise. Provide them with a cage that’s as big as possible, ideally with a deep plastic base (minimum 3-5cm) and wire top. Make sure the bars of the cage are narrow enough, particularly if you have a dwarf hamster, or these clever little escape artists might do a runner.
Multi-level living A multi-level cage with different platforms will make the most of the available space, giving your hamster more areas to explore. Wire sides will allow them to climb around the bars of the cage – a favourite pastime and great exercise.
Hamsters are very sensitive to high frequency sounds (known as ultrasound) which we cannot hear, and can find this stressful. House your hamster away from anything that can generate ultrasound, such as television sets, computer screens, vacuum cleaners or sources of running water. Keep them in a room where the lights are not left on till late in the night as they’ll be waiting for darkness to venture out and play.
In the wild, hamsters are extremely good diggers and construct deep, dark, underground burrows. Your pet hamster will appreciate a thick layer of bedding) in which they can dig and burrow to their heart’s content. There should be enough nesting material to make a proper, cup-shaped nest.
Your hamster needs a nesting box or shelter to retreat to, keep warm, feel safe and sleep in. A shelter should be big enough for your hamster to store food placed nearby, make a nest and comfortably move around. There are many options available, from wood arches and lodges to plastic huts. You can also use everyday cardboard items, such as empty tissue boxes. Your hamster will enjoy using them and chewing them up!
A ceramic dish filled with chinchilla sand will provide a sand bath to enable your fastidious hamster to keep their coat clean – although they may use it to double up as their toilet facility.
When it comes to toys and accessories and fun things to gnaw on, make sure your hamster has plenty. There are all sorts you can buy, including tunnels, climbing blocks, ladders, bridges, wooden chew blocks, rope treats), and star treats. You can also provide some yourself. Cardboard toilet rolls can be placed in the cage to tunnel through and cardboard boxes will be used to climb on or nest in. Or why not go all out and treat them to a cardboard pet castle, which will provide hours and hours of hamster-friendly fun.
Hamsters also appreciate a good quality running wheel. Select one that is the right size for your hamster – there’s quite a difference in size between dwarf hamsters and Syrians. They should be able to run with a straight back – if they have to bend backwards this can lead to back problems. The wheel must be a solid structure (not rungs) and be axle free, fixed close to the cage wall, so that your hamster’s feet or legs cannot get trapped and injured. The running surface should be non-slip.
Your hamster’s water bottle should have a valve-less sipper tube. Hamsters are not able to apply strong suction and can sometimes find it difficult to suck water from a traditional ‘ball-valve’ sipper tube. Rather than using a feeding bowl, scatter their food across the cage as collecting it will provide your hamster with another activity and encourages natural food-gathering behaviour.
Syrian hamsters like to go it alone whereas dwarf hamsters can live together. Russian Campbells may be kept in single sex pairs or groups, while Russian Winter Whites are often happiest in pairs. Chinese hamsters can be kept in pairs or groups, as can Roborovskis. In all cases, don’t mix males and females or you’ll soon hear the pattering of tiny hamster feet, and never mix the species, as it will result in hamster battles.
• Yawning: The hamster is pleasantly sleepy and comfortable
• Relaxed grooming, burrowing in the bedding, collecting food, lively acrobatics in the cage: The hamster is happy and content
• Sitting up sniffing the air: The hamster has discovered something new
• Extensive, relaxed grooming: Sense of comfort and being at peace
• Leaping into the air: Good mood, high spirits
• Stretching: Sense of comfort, feeling relaxed
>> For more helpful advice on looking after your hamster, including tips on toys, accessories and accommodation, visit The National Hamster Council’s website – the oldest organisation in the world for everyone with an interest in hamsters.
Sources: rspca.org, hamsters.uk.org, royalsociety.org