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ACCESSORIES
&
ENRICHMENT

ADDITIONAL SUBSTRATES & ITEMS TO ENHANCE YOUR HAMSTER'S LIFE
WITHIN IT'S HABITAT.

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Aside from ​the main basic essentials, additional substrates and items should be included in the habitat to create extra opportunity for natural behaviour. However, any additional substrates should not replace the main ones.

DON'T BE AFRAID TO CLUTTER THE HABITAT!

THE BUSIER THE SPACE, THE BETTER THE MENTAL & PHYSICAL STIMULATION!

PAGE MENU:

 SUBSTRATES:     

OTHER:     

IMPORTANT TIP 

It is always a good idea to freeze natural substrates for at least 48 hours before use, except for those that have already been baked in your own oven, to ensure that most ganonies and nits will be killed (if you have a large freezer, you can even store these permanently in those conditions). This is particularly important for any commercial substrates since one doesn’t know what has crept in during manufacturing, packaging, transport,and storage.

Natural products can also harbour bugs, so should be treated accordingly, where advised.

It is a lot easier to freeze your substrates than it is to treat your hamster and habitat for infestation of some kind!

TOPPERS

HERBS & FLOWERS (forage mixes)

Hamsters are natural foragers, and these mixes are great natural enrichment and nutritional additions in sections of the habitat, or scattered over the bedding. These mixes are a variety of safe leaves, flowers & roots from herbs & plants, and some even include little treat foods.

COMMERCIAL/IMPORTED MIXES

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LOCAL MIXES

ROBYN'S HAMSTER SUPPLIES

HSA ONLINE SHOP

KERI'S CUSTOM CABINS

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"DIY FORAGE MIXES"

If you're a keen gardener with lots of space, herbs & flowers can also be easily grown and dried at home, but please check the safe & unsafe plants list below.

Obviously, with anything you grow for your critters, care needs to do so as organically as possible, i.e. no pesticides or harsh fertilizers, particularly 2 or 3 weeks before harvesting. 

A clean area away from dogs & cats (urine & faeces) is preferable.

Bugs should be picked off by hand or a natural repellent used.

Marigold and peppermint is known to be good at repelling, so may be useful as companion planting, whether you are going to use these in your mix or not.

Bear in mind that MOST CULINARY HERBS ARE VERY POTENT and tend to be a bit much for a hamster's sensitive nose, and can also cause stomach upsets. So, when making a mix, go very easy on these and concentrate on maximising the flower content instead. The stronger herbs can rather be fed in fresh form as occasional treats, if your hamster likes any.

Sticky pollens on flowers should also be avoided.

DIY TOPPER
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SAFE HERBS, FLOWERS & PLANTS

  • Alyssum, Asters.

  • Barley Grass, Basil leaves, Blackberry & Blueberry leaves.

  • Calendula, Cannabis leaves, Chamomile flowers, Chickweed, Cornflowers, Cress.

  • Dandelion roots/leaves/flowers, Dill leaves.

  • Daisies (Michaelmas, Gerbera/Transvaal).

  • Echinacea.

  • Fennel leaves, Flax/Linseed.

  • Hemp leaves/seeds/stems/flowers, Hibiscus flowers.

  • Marigold petals.

  • Nasturium petals, Nettle roots & dried leaves.

  • Oregano.

  • Pansy (Swiss Giant-Viola Hortensis), Parsely stalks & leaves, Peppermint leaves (SMALL AMOUNT only; not for pregnant females), Pet Grass, Phlox, Plantain roots & leaves.

  • Raspberry leaves (not for pregnant femailes), Red/White Clover Leaves, Ribwort, Rose petals, Rosemary.

  • Sage, Stinging nettle roots, Sunflower petals, Sweetpea petals.

  • Thyme (small amount, but not for pregnant hamsters).

  • Wheat Grass.

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UNSAFE HERBS, FLOWERS & PLANTS

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  • Acorns, Arum Lilies

  • Bindweed, Bluebells, Bulbs, Buttercups (plants/flowers)

  • Carnations, Catmint, Catnip, Chervil, Chilli, Chives (all types & parts), Chrysanthemum, Clematis, Coriander seeds, Crocus

  • Daffodil, Deadly Nightshade, Dianthus

  • Elderberry leaves, branches & flowers, Evergreen plants

  • Ferns, Freesias, Fuchsias

  • Garlic, Geraniums 

  • Iris, Ivy, Ixia

  • Laurel, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Lemon Grass, Lemon Verbena, Lilies

  • Mustard

  • Oak (acorns, leaves, branches, etc.)

  • Pelargoniums 

  • Ragwort

  • Snapdragons

  • Succulents (vygies, cacti, etc. - not much known about the safety but the general message is to rather avoid these)

  • Tomato leaves & flowers

*** IF IN DOUBT, DON'T USE IT ***

SAFE/UNSAFE PLANTS
PLANTS INSIDE
SOIL

GROWING PLANTS INSIDE THE HABITAT

GROWING PLANTS IN THE HABITAT:

  • Be really careful about what plants you use, as some are toxic and others will have toxic parts and would require careful maintenance.

  • Your habitat should also be REALLY well ventilated as plants make moisture/humidity, resulting in mold growth and an increase in bacteria that will cause to health and respiratory issues for the hamster, and even ringworm. 

  • A plant brought in from outside or a nursery should be washed (roots & leaves), re-potted, and "quarantined" indoors for two weeks.

  • Be aware that your hamster will most likely chew or dig up the plant, so may be good to have several back-up plants. Rocks or large stones may protect the plant from being dug out of it's pot, but hamsters can be surprisingly strong!

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Includes good clarification about using a Spider Plant (sometimes called Hen 'n Chicken in SA).

SOIL

Safety of growing mediums will also need consideration.

  • Avoid using soils from a nursery, as they contain fertilizers, manure, and fumigation. We are investigating brands of commercial potting soil in SA for the "cleanest", but nothing has been found as yet. 

  • NEVER USE SOIL/SAND DIRECTLY FROM YOUR GARDEN. It can contain the above additions, as well as traces of fecal matter from other animals, bugs & nits, bacteria, etc. 

  • Coco peat (preferably frozen for 48 hours before use)is currently the safest.

It may be safer to grow a safe NATURAL PLAY PEN for your hamster to enjoy during play times. This way you can maintain the cleanliness

  • A large plastic storage bin with drainage holes drilled into the bottom could work well.

  • Make the lid with the same ventilation as for a bin cage to allow ventilation and to prevent other animals getting in.

  • Keep it growing in a safe clean location away from birds (you do not want feces, mites or lice dropping in!

Please note there are too many risks in letting your hamster play

in the great outdoors!

FAKE PLANTS (plastic/silk/fabric) in the habitat.

  • Remove immediately and opt for safe dried plants if your hamster nibbles on the fakes. Chewed off bits of plastic will be harzardous if ingested, and dye on fabric plants could be toxic (unless there's a label stating the dye is child/pet safe)

  • Replicas of spiky plants have really sharp hard points, which could cause injuries. In this case, you could trim the points with a pair of scissors to make them more blunt and smooth them further with sandpaper.

  • A simple alternative to get the greenery theme that you may be craving in your natural habitat is to use a picture at the back of the habitat. If you look at this pic of Kevin Campbell's tank, he has used dried plants and grasses, and the only greenery is in the backdrop picture. 

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MOSS

SPHAGNUM MOSS

This appears to be the nicest and safest moss to use in your hamsters habitat for some natural texture, and to cover certain items to make them look pretty or fill in gaps.

You do need to freeze it for at least 48 hours, or bake in the oven before using, to remove any insects, eggs or bacteria before putting it in the habitat.

Freezing seems to retain the colour nicely, but baking may unfortunately remove much of the green that you may have been hoping for (but will still provide a pretty texture).

Available from many shops and online shops that deal in reptiles and hydroponics, and even from some local nurseries (used for bonsai and orchids...but do check for any additives!).

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COCO PEAT / PALM PEAT

This makes fabulous additional bedding that can be used in place of a sandpit.

It is also a nice warmer alternative to a sandpit during cold winter months (sand in a potty will still be necessary).

 

Coco/Palm Peat can be purchased as compressed bricks from nurseries or loose in bags from some reptile shops – not to be confused with coco husk, which tends to be somewhat splintery, or coconut fiber with long strands that poses a tangling risk (although the fiber isn't dangerous since the hamster could easily chew it to free itself, it may panic and still bite itself, or gnaw the foot or leg off instead).

 

Start preparing about a week before you need it because it takes REALLY LONG to dry, unless you're prepared to run your oven for several hours:

  • Soak the brick in a large bucket of water. Takes a few minutes for the water to penetrate and then it's easy to break it up.

  • Swirl it to let the dust fall to the bottom as a sludge.

  • Squeeze out as much water as you can from the top floating matter. Squeezing the water through a muslin/mutton cloth is helpful and easier to get out the maximum amount of water.

  • Line a crate or large tub with newspaper and place the damp peat into this. Leave it in a sunny place to dry out, agitating regularly to churn up the damp lower layers, and replace the newspaper every day to absorb more moisture....it'll take about 5 to 10 days to dry, depending on the weather! (Make sure it's not in wind or it'll blow away as it dries....if your car stands in the sun, that's an excellent place).

  • When it is almost all dry, give it a final blast in the oven to remove the last bit of moisture, and in order to properly sterilize and kill off any live organisms. Keep an eye on it so that the dry parts don't burn! 

OR,  if you let it completely dry naturally, you can give the oven a miss and freeze it for 48 hours instead before putting into the habby.

  • If you're in a hurry, and are willing to use a lot of electricity to dry it, bake in SHALLOW layers in oven dishes at 180degC until dry. Stir regularly and DON'T LET IT BURN as it dries (and be careful not to burn yourself on the hot steam that it emits as you stir it!).

Loose coco peat is also available in buckets in some nurseries and hydroponics shops. This would also need to be swirled in water to remove the dust and treated as above.

Ready-washed coco peat (Plain SPIDER PEAT) is available in some reptile and exotics sections of shops. A little more expensive than the brick but will save you the laborious task of squeezing out the water. It is damp in the bag and will simply need to be dried in the oven, per the instructions above.

Please make sure you get the type WITHOUT VERMICULITE/PERTLITE (often also advertised for landscaping too).

If you aren't up to all this effort, check out  CHIPSI SNAKE below.

A 650g brick will give you about 7Lt

 of usable washed substrate.

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COCO PEAT
SPIDER PEAT

CHIPSI SUPER & SNAKE

If you're not up to the laborious task of preparing coco peat CHIPSI SNAKE ("Digging Substrate") is for you! Same soft texture and consistency, and ready to use, with hardly any dust at all.

Since the structural integrity isn't all that great, it doesn't hold tunnels very well unless you really compact it well, and is therefore not ideal as a main bedding substrate (softer paper bedding is better as a main substrate).

However, it is great to use as an alternate texture in a fun digging zone, or can be layered with the paper bedding. They love it, particularly Dwarf hamsters!


CHIPSI SUPER is slightly more coarse and more suited for use with rats.

Some bits can be a bit sharp and spikey, so we recommend the Snake/Digging substrate as the safer, better option for hamsters.

We do recommend first emptying the bag into a container or tub first and giving it a shake to sift the finer, smaller pieces to the bottom first, before placing in the habitat.

Be aware - it claims to be 60L (3.4kg). However, in reality, it appears to only be about half that.

Available at many shops now, or in convenient smaller bags via

Keri's Custom Cabins and HSA Online Shop

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CHIPSI SUPER

CHIPSI EXTRA XXL

IF YOU'RE LOOKING FOR A BARK TYPE OF ZONE.

This is great to use on its own in a zone where other substrates may pile up too easily, e.g. blocking a wheel, since it may not pile as easily.

Or you may simply want a decorative natural looking floor section: Mix with one of the leafy forage/bedding topper mixes above and a little Chipsi Digging Substrate 

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CHIPSIXXL
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~ Picture courtesy of Wagon Wheel Farm ~

If you are adamant about providing a hay-like substrate for your hamster,

grow & make your own "DIY HAY".

PET, BARLEY & WHEAT GRASS can be easily grown and dried at home, which is lovely and stalk-free.

Simply purchase pet grass seeds from your nursery, or barley seeds from a health store or farmers' co-op.

Grow the seeds in a tray/s of clean soil and coco peat.

Cut it back when it gets to 10-15cm height (let it re-grow).

Place in a 150degC oven until dried (about 20min).

Cut it up slightly if you want to.

 

You should be able to get 3 harvests from the growing tray before having to plant new seeds.

Ordinary lawn grass, dried, tends to bring out the sneezes, so avoid this. However, you can feed a few fresh blades to hamsters.

HAY

COMMERCIAL HAY SOLD IN SOUTH AFRICA

IS UNFORTUNATELY TOO HARD & STALKY.

The soft "2nd cut" or "3rd cut" hays used by hamster owners overseas would be used to make layers in the main bedding substrate, or in an additional zone.

Unfortunately we only get the very hard, poky, 1st cut hays here in South Africa, and the hard stalks pose a risk to our hamsters eyes when they try to burrow in it.  

Therefore, hay is not recommended for hamster habitats in SA.

CAUTION: Hay, even if frozen prior to use, has a tendency to attract mites if used as an abundant main bedding substrate. It also breaks down quickly, creating a fair amount of dust, isn't very absorbent, and would therefore need to be changed at least once a week.

HAY
DIY HAY
STONES
DRIFTWOOD

STONES & ROCKS

Hamsters will love digging in between rocks & large stones,

or climbing on and over them.

Stones & rocks also help to keep the nails trimmed!

Use them to add extra adventure:

  • A zone in the habitat.

  • As pathways or barriers between different substrate zones.

  • Random "boulders" in digging pits (peat/sand/Chipsi).

Cleaned river stones (fist size or larger) and flat rocks are ideal.

  • Avoid very small stones that could get pouched.

  • Avoid very sharp ones that could cut/scratch the feet & body.

  • If you decide to make a heap of heavy rocks, make sure they are securely placed so that none will shift and possibly trap/squash a little foot or leg.

HOW TO STERILZE

ROCKS, STONES, TERRACOTTA POTS & TILES, BRICKS, ETC.

 

  • A good scrub in hot soapy water and rinse.

  • Place in a pot of clean COLD water (putting a cold stone into boiling water could cause it to explode)

  • Bring to boil and let them bubble away for 20-30 minutes. 

  • Let them cool and dry thoroughly before placing in the habitat.

WOOD

DRIFTWOOD, LOGS AND STICKS

These look wonderful in the hamster's habitat, but are also great for keeping nails trim as they scramble over and climb these natural sculptures.

Good entertainment too!

However, before you think it's just an old dried out piece of hard wood, be aware that not all are safe. Many of the pieces we buy, or pick up, will still contain tannins and toxins (particularly where they are not safe woods), so it is important to treat any piece properly before putting into the habitat:-

  • Soak for a few days (5), changing the water every day until any/most "colour" leaches out (if you have a toilet cistern that you can fit them into, that is a good place to soak, since the water gets regularly flushed and refreshed ...without any cleaning aids or loo fresheners, of course).

  • Give it a good scrub with a hard brush (or toothbrush for crevices).

  • Boil it for about 20 minutes to sterilize, and let it dry. If the piece is too big for your pot, place it in the oven at about 180degC until dry.  

  • You could also dry a boiled piece in the oven to double-sterilize.

SAFE WOODS LIST 

 

Note that these are in solid form as logs, driftwood, planks (shelves), toys, etc. and NOT in the form of shavings as bedding.

Aside from tannins & toxins, bugs, pollution, unsafe lichens, etc. will most likely have leeched into or attached to dry wood lying around in a forest or on the beach. Similarly, quite a few stashes of driftwood in pet shops are often covered in spider webs, dust, and other bugs crawling over them. Therefore, any loose piece of wood picked up, or bought, should be treated as described above, even if you know that it's a safe wood.It is best to be cautious and look for the safest kinds of wood for hamsters instead. 

Interesting to note that most pet shops do not know what kind of wood their driftwood stock is, but that these are usually MOPANI WOOD, which is not a safe wood. However, it is apparently safe as a piece in the habby IF intensely treated via the soaking and boiling/baking method.

Some of the woods listed are not necessarily South African or available here but, since importing and online shopping is on the increase, we have kept them on the list for referencing. 

IMPORTANT: IF IN DOUBT, DON'T USE IT!

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  • Apple

  • Ash

  • Arbutus 

  • Aspen 

  • Acacia Erioloba/Kameeldoring

  • Bamboo (NOT "Lucky Bamboo"). 

      Caution! Bamboo splinters easily.

  • Birch (White)

  • Black currant 

  • Chinese Dogwood 

  • Crabapple

  • Cottonwood

  • Cholla (not true wood)

  • Chinese gooseberry

  • Chinese fir

  • Dogwood 

  • Elm

  • Grapevine (most popular)

  • Hawthorne

  • Hazelnut

  • Horse apple 

  • Kameeldoring (Acacia Erioloba)

  • Kiwi

  • Loquat

  • Longan

  • Lychee 

  • Magnolia

  • Manzanita

  • Mulberry

  • Pine (not freshly cut)

  • Poplar

  • Pear

  • Pecan

  • Quince

  • Ribbonwood

  • Sicklebush (Sekelbos)

  • Sycamore

  • Willow : -

          - Goat, Weeping, or Pussy Willow

          -  NOT White Willow

It is always best to use and treat wood that is already dried out.

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safe woods
PINE CONES

PINE CONES

These are quite cool for hamsters to play with, and to dig treats out of. However, you should still sanitise them if you've picked them up off the ground, to get rid of resins, seeds, and any ganonies that may be lurking.

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FABRIC

For similar reasons to fluffy nesting, the risks are too great due to the fluff that they scratch up from fabric, as well as the resulting threads when they nibble and tear it up. Hamsters will instinctively try to make nesting material out of anything soft, so please don't give leave any kind of fabric permanently in the habitat. Make a tube swing if you want something hanging for your hamster to enjoy.

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Never use FABRIC

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If you are still adamant to use fabric, wool and fluff in the habitat, please read more:

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Toys

Your hamsters will enjoy playing with, investigating, chewing, and exploring various items, other than an empty toilet roll and a wheel! Try to provide as many things as you can.  Remember that your hamster does not mind clutter....the more interesting objects you can provide, the better his life will be within the confines of his habitat. 

Look at the DIY Stuff page for things you can make yourself.

Terracotta plant pots or ceramic beer mugs on their side in a sand/peat/chipsi pit, or among the bedding, will be good adventure places and are also great for keeping cool in hot weather. Woven grass hides too.

Other ideas: Champagne corks (real cork), gnaw sticks, hard seed gnaws, forage boxes, mazes, sterilized pine cones, etc.

Objects made from natural materials are always great and far safer than plastic.

Please avoid anything sold with Chinese writing, due to certain toxic materials and coatings that are mostly used.

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TOYS & BOREDOM BREAKERS

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