Hamsters are very energetic — in the wild they can cover more than five miles in a night — so it's important that they have lots of space to explore, which is packed full of interesting enrichment.
If using a cage ensure that it's wire constructed as hamster love to chew. Beware of the 'hamster starter kits' often sold in pet shops. The cages sold as part of these kits are rarely big enough for a hamster to live in. Try to ensure that your hamster's living environment has lots of levels for him to explore and move between.
The ideal hamster cage
Syrian hamsters can live in either a very large hamster cage or a large aquarium with a suitable mesh roof. Hamsters like to climb and roam large areas so providing your hamster with lots of different platforms will increase the amount of space he has to explore and help to keep him active. Wood Green recommends that the cage should be at least 80cm wide by 50cm high and at least 35cm high for a single Syrian hamster or a pair of dwarf hamsters.
Dwarf hamsters (like the Chinese, Winter White, Campbell and Roborovski) may be able to live comfortably in a converted plastic box with sections cut out and replaced with mesh for ventilation. An aquarium with a mesh roof can also work well. Again there should be plenty of different platforms to increase the amount of space that your hamster has to move around in.
What should I add to my hamster's environment to make it more interesting?
Enrichment for a hamster is key — try to add, move around and change the items in your hamster's environment every week to ensure that it is an interesting place for your hamster to live.
Use a small, clean plastic takeaway tub filled with organic soil to create a digging pit for your hamster. Digging and burrowing is something he would naturally do in the wild and the soil will help to keep his coat clean too.
Remember to also include a few houses or hides for your hamster to build a nest inside and sleep in. Hamsters also love tunnels and tubes (in the wild they live in a maze of underground tunnels and nesting areas) — you can buy enrichment items like this from your local pet shop and even use items from around the house such as empty toilet rolls or cereal boxes. Plastic children's toys (with no small parts) can also be ideal — use your imagination!
If you buy a hamster wheel make sure that it is large enough for your hamster to be able to use comfortably and easily. Choose a solid plastic wheel as hamsters can get their feet caught in the metal or mesh ones.
You could also try hiding treats in small plant pots or boxes. If you're feeling extra creative, you could even make a maze out of cardboard pieces.
Hamsters also love to gnaw and chew — fruit tree branches and twigs can fulfil this need.
Should I buy a hamster ball?
The exercise balls often used for hamsters are not a great idea. Rather than finding them a fun form of exercise, your hamster is much more likely to find them very stressful. If you have already bought a hamster ball why not remove the lid and convert it into a nest instead? He will find this much more enjoyable.
What bedding should I use for my hamster?
Chopped up or shredded paper is ideal bedding for your hamster. Soft paper should be added to the nesting areas too. Dust extracted shavings are also good to use for bedding, you must always check that any shavings are labled as dust extracted, because normal shavings can be quite dusty and can cause breathing problems and parasite infestations.
Your hamster's cage should be spot cleaned every day and thoroughly cleaned out every week using a mild pet-friendly disinfectant — remember to clean all the toys too.