Having Fun with Your Hamster
The first rule of having fun with your hamster is to work within his schedule. Hamsters are most active in the evening and the night, and it's important to allow them to sleep during the day. If you disturb your hamster while he is sleeping he will resent it and may be increasingly resistant to any type of handling. Instead, wait until your hamster wakes up on his own before you initiate play.
A hamster's sense of smell is much keener than his eyesight. Wash your hands before you handle your pet so that you don't have lingering food smells on your fingers. If you touch your hamster gently and speak softly while you clean his cage, he will soon recognize your voice and your scent. Hamsters groom themselves quite completely, but you can try brushing your hamster gently with a soft-bristle toothbrush daily if you like. This light grooming period can be a good time to get to know your hamster and to do a quick health check. Check to make sure your hamster's eyes are clean and not cloudy, his ears are clear, and his coat dry and in good condition.
Eating is a favorite pastime for hamsters, as is collecting and stashing food of all sizes. It can be amusing to watch your hamster gather grains or crumbs strewn across a table. You can offer your hamster fresh dandelion greens or iceberg lettuce and watch him fold whole sheets of the food into his large cheek pouches. He is capable of carrying up to half his body weight in food in these pockets. Your hamster will stand up on his back legs to take a piece of food from your fingertips. You should not offer your hamster potato chips, salted nuts, chocolate or citrus fruits. If you do invite your pet to the table, beware that hamsters have little instinctual fear of heights. A fall can seriously injure your pet.
Reinventing the Wheel
Wild hamsters run up to five miles a night collecting food in the desert. Their caged brethen have a lot of excess energy to burn, so many hamster setups come equipped with a plastic or metal wheel that rotates freely around a fixed axis. Your hamster will likely spend a large portion of his night running in this wheel. You can grease the wheel with a little olive or vegetable oil to reduce its noise.
The wheel is the classic hamster toy, but it should not be the only source of entertainment you provide for your hamster. If you buy your hamster a plastic exercise ball, he can have free reign to explore your house or apartment for short periods of time. These balls come in a number of colors and sizes (even glow-in-the-dark varieties), so be sure to pick one that will accommodate your pet. Pick a ball with ventilation slots and wash it out with soap and warm water after every use. Allow the ball to dry out completely before you use it again.
You and your hamster can have fun with lots of simple toys you have in your house right now. Your hamster will enjoy crawling through cardboard tubes and chewing through the corners of a brown paper lunch bag. You can stack large wooden blocks to make a slide or a maze for your hamster. Try giving him wooden spools or branches to chew on and climb over in his cage. You should never force a toy on your hamster. His natural curiosity will drive him to explore any new play object you give him.
Every time you play with your hamster or give him a new toy, you should put his safety first. Make sure the exercise ball you pick is appropriate for his size. Check your hamster's wheel to make sure it rotates smoothly and doesn't have any rough edges. Keep in mind that every plaything will be used and misused by your pet. Each toy should be durable enough to handle some abuse without splintering into small pieces that could be swallowed or become lodged in a cheek pouch. Remember that interaction with dogs and cats – or inexperienced human handlers – can be very stressful for your hamster.