Hamsters are curious animals that love to explore, so it’s only natural to supply your active hamster with toys to keep them physically and mentally stimulated, including toys that encourage running, digging, burrowing, and chewing.
A hamster wheel is a classic toy that comes in various sizes to accommodate dwarf to normal-sized hamsters. When buying a hamster wheel, look for options that are proportional to the hamster’s body size. This will allow safe running without causing tension on their spine.
An alternative to the hamster wheel is a running disc. The disc allows hamsters to run longer distances comfortably. The solid running surface is flat to prevent bending of the hamster’s spine and may reduce the risk of injury since there are no metal rungs to get caught on.
A hamster ball is a clear, enclosed sphere your hamster can use to roll around on the floor for exercise and exploration. While these toys are popular, there are a few precautions you should keep in mind.
Hamster balls may cause stress thanks to hamsters’ poor eyesight. In addition, there is a risk your hamster might injure themselves in a free-rolling ball if there are obstacles on the floor or stairs.
Keep a close eye on your hamster if you choose to provide them with a ball. The size of the ball should match the size of the hamster. There are a variety of sizes to accommodate dwarf to normal-sized hamsters.
Hamster Chewy Toys
Hamsters love to chew on things, so it’s always a good idea to provide a non-toxic chew toy. Wood toys are a good option, as long as the wood is pesticide/chemical free (not pressure-treated or painted). Avoid wood from cedar or evergreen trees due to their aromatic oils, which can cause respiratory irritation.
Blocks and shapes can be made from hardwood such as oak, maple, or untreated kiln-dried pine. Wood from some fruit trees (e.g., apple, pear, kiwi, grape) may also be used, but citrus (e.g., lemon, orange, grapefruit, lime) and stone fruits (e.g., cherry, peach, plum, nectarine, apricot) species should be avoided.
Soft wood made from pine and yew trees are not recommended as they can splinter when chewed. Man-made boards such as plywood are also not useable as the glues used to bind the boards are toxic.
Rubber or foam chew toys should be avoided as well, as these can create an intestinal blockage if your hamster swallows bits of material. Metal toys or wood toys that are fastened together with metal pieces also should be avoided because metals are toxic when ingested.
If you don’t want to use a wood toy, your hamster will likely enjoy chewing on recycled cardboard tubes from the center of paper towels or toilet paper.
Hamster Housing and Climbing
An ideal hamster enclosure is a well-ventilated cage that allows plenty of space for burrowing, exercising, and hiding. The cage should be at least 19x19 inches square and 6 inches high. A solid base is preferred instead of a wire mesh floor, which may injure your hamster’s feet.
Hamster cages are available in metal, glass, and plastic. Horizontal bars should be ½ to ¾ inches apart. The cage should also provide easy access to refill food and water and for routine cleaning. Plastic shelters may provide a dark place for daytime sleeping. Lacking a floor, the shelter can be lifted off the bedding to allow pet parents to check on their hamster.
Organic ropes (made of hemp, sisal, and cotton) are safe options for climbing and playing. Wood, fabric, or plastic ladders are safer than those with metal rungs, which may injure the feet. A narrow gap between the rungs will help prevent injuries such as a slip or fall.
Suitable alternatives for climbing may also be found in the bird section of the pet store, even though they may be marketed for birds.
Hamsters have poor sight, but they’re naturally curious and like to climb, so make sure any climbing toys are safe. Ladders with large gaps between the rungs may cause injury if your hamster’s feet get caught on the rungs. A large tunnel and/or a flexible bridge are good options that mimic a hamster’s natural habitat.
Fleece is safe to use in accessories such as hammocks or hiding huts, but care must be taken to watch for chewing behavior. Flannel should not replace the bedding as it is essential for hamsters to burrow into loose material.
Hamster Sand Bath and Digging
Hamsters clean themselves by licking their body. Additionally, your hamster will likely appreciate the occasional sand bath, which provides a similar experience to hamster cleaning practices in the wild.
As for digging, sterilized potting soil that is free of fertilizer is recommended. This product is offered in some pet stores and differs from garden center potting soil options.
DIY Hamster Toys
If you’re handy, you can easily make toys your hamster will love. One popular idea is to create a popsicle stick fort. These can vary in size and complexity and must be made with non-toxic glue.
Cardboard tubes and cut-outs are another way to enrich your hamster’s environment to encourage foraging behavior at feeding time. Additionally, a homemade obstacle course can inspire exercise with creative activities that can be explored during free play time or used for food-motivated training time.
Featured Image: iStock.com/Shantell