Once upon a time I bought lots of expensive hamster toys – and the hamsters ignored most of them; they preferred the boxes the toys came in!
You don’t have to spend a fortune providing enrichment for your hamster’s environment. Recycling common household items can provide hours of fun for a hammy, and they’re easily replaced if they become damaged. ‘Cage themes’ may look attractive to the human eye, but hamsters don’t mind if something’s pretty or not. In any case, my hams rapidly alter their cage set-ups to their own purposes. I call this ‘hamstering’ a cage layout – and, after one night, my freshly cleaned cages always look well hamstered!
Here are some of my tips for recycling things into hamster toys.
The main limit to changing cardboard packaging into hamster enrichment is your imagination! The main thing I use cardboard for is making nest boxes and tubes for hamsters to run through/chew. Large sturdy boxes can be turned into a shelf with under-shelf nesting for a dwarf hamster. By cutting holes into boxes and inserting tubes between them, you can build a maze complex for a dwarf hamster.
For Syrian hamsters, make sure you slit cardboard tubes lengthwise to prevent them getting stuck
Some boxes last for just a day or two (especially when up against a duprasi’s awesome chewing powers), but others become much loved cage furniture. One Chinese hamster loved her iHouse (an iPhone box converted into a hamster house) and kept it pristine throughout most of her life, until it went with her to her final resting place.
Cardboard tubes and plain white paper can be turned into Christmas crackers, and stuffed with treats or nesting material. For an active cheeky hamster, you can enrich feeding time by putting the hamster mix in a small cardboard box. A pill packet is a good size, but make sure you’ve removed any tablets and instruction leaflets. You can poke a couple of small holes in one side of the box to let out the scent of the food and encourage the hamster to chew the box to forage the food.
I’ve recently bought a new book on making hamster toys which shows a lovely climbing tree made out of cardboard – all I need is some time to make it.
Paper bags, egg cartons, cleaned takeaway cups are other favourites with my hamsters. The cardboard sections at the end of printer toner packaging makes a fun castle for dwarf hamsters. I like to have a poster tube in the hamster room as they make great traps for catching escaped hamsters when baited with smelly tasty food and lifted up at one end (see photo below).
The bonus of cardboard is that when it is dirty or chewed, it can be quickly and cheaply replaced (and doesn’t need to be cleaned!) As you become known as someone who likes cardboard boxes and tubes, you find yourself being presented with them by friends and colleagues.
Old mugs and teapots find a new lease of life in my hamster room. Many of my dwarf hamsters nest in freebie mugs (such as the ones that come with Easter eggs) or old mugs/teapots that have been slightly chipped or cracked, but where the chip isn’t sharp. In Summer, these ceramic things can be put in the fridge and then in the cage, providing a cool area for hot hammies. They are also easy to clean or even put in the dishwasher.
Recycled Food Bowls
My favourite hamster food bowls come filled with cheesecake in the supermarket – recycling’s a hard job but someone has to empty the pudding out! After a thorough wash, these small glass desert bowls make great bowls for water, wet extras or hamster mix. Ramekins can also be used as food bowls if you have no culinary need of them.
Plastic takeaway tubs, when washed well, can be turned into sand baths for dwarf hamsters. They do need to be checked regularly for signs of chewing, and I don’t leave them unsupervised in with my duprasi as they can get sharp when gnawed. I prefer ceramic bowls for the duprasi sand baths (a large dog bowl is great for them).
So, these are some of the things I use. What are your favourite recycled hamster toys or enrichment?