We are led to believe that as most hamsters come from barren like countries, they burrow in order to escape the heat, hide their food, sleep and flee from predators.
Some owners replicate the same living environments for their pet hamster as they would experience in the wild, by nurturing their burrowing instincts. But do all pet hamsters burrow and how important is it to encourage this skill whilst in their cage?
Before we discuss why hamsters burrow, it is important to note, that the amount of burrowing a pet hamster engages in can range from enthusiastic and insistent to no interest at all – as we quickly found out!
Why do hamsters burrow?
Hamsters were first discovered in Syria (hence the name Syrian hamster), however, they were later found living in other European countries such as Greece, Romania and Belgium and even further afield in Northern China. Able to survive in these desert or rocky landscapes, they burrow underground in order to escape the extreme weather conditions, which range from scorching hot to freezing cold.
As the temperature is cooler underground, these wild hamsters can enjoy some reprieve from the midday sun, or escape the bitter frosts, only venturing above ground when the temperature is more bearable, and they are out of sight of predators.
In the wild, hamsters like to burrow down deep, creating a network of tunnels with steeply sloped entries. Inside these intricate hideaways, are a number of different chambers, used for eating, sleeping, and storage.
How to encourage your hamster to burrow
If, like us, you are curious to see whether your own hamster wants to dig and are eager to encourage their burrowing behaviors, then why not set up a burrowing area within their cage or in a sperate enclosure? Afterall burrowing is not only instinctive for our pet hamsters but is great exercise and stops them from becoming bored at night.
The first thing you need to check is whether your cage is big enough to allow for burrowing as you need to leave plenty of space between the top of the enclosure and the mountain of extra substrate.
If your cage is relatively compact, then you may want to buy or build a custom-made burrowing area outside of your hamsters’ home. Alternatively, you can separate the sides of the cage (like we did), so that one half remains unchanged and familiar whilst the other is perfect for pawing.
And when it comes to adding additional sawdust, this will depend on the size of your hamster. Whilst Syrians are bigger and like to dig deeper, Dwarf hamsters prefer shallow burrowing. For this reason, we recommend adding an additional four to seven inches of bedding in the area designated for burrowing, before sitting back and observing their reaction.
The hamster that didn’t dig
This is the story of what we did!
Having recently cleaned out our pet hamster Oscar, we were curious to see if he would engage in any burrowing himself.
We facilitated this by adding a deep layer of sawdust to one half of his bucket cage and by burying some of his favorite treats inside.
At first, he seemed excited by the change, leaping about and dashing from side to side through the tunnels. But alas, we are five days down the line, and not once has he shown any desire to dig!
Do all pet hamsters burrow?
So, after some extensive research (including our own), it turns out that not all pet hamsters are as inclined to burrow as others. Some, such as Oscar have little or no interest in digging at all, despite the fact we have left him clues as to where his treasure treats may be hidden.
After all, why waste hamster energy and take up hours of time doing hard manual labor, when the temperature inside is cozy, there is no real reason to fear predators, and there is an abundance of wheels and toys to keep them fit and healthy.
Plus, the benefits to us of Oscar staying over-ground, means we get to observe him more and watch him play whilst saving money on sawdust in the long run.
So whilst some hamsters love to dig, others just can’t be bothered. Our Oscar is definitely in the latter of these two camps, so, for now, we will be saving the sawdust and providing him with plenty of other ways in which to exercise.
The important thing to understand is that all pet hamsters are different, and whether your hamster is a burrower or not, you don’t need to worry. It’s not unhealthy for them if they do not want to delve, nor is it unusual if they do nothing but burrow.