Although digging was found to be important in captive rodents, most golden hamsters are provided with only little material to dig. In this study, the influence of different bedding depths and acute stressors on the behaviour and welfare of golden hamsters was analysed. Forty-five male golden hamsters were assigned singly to three experimental groups with 80, 40 or 10 cm deep wood shavings. Behaviour was evaluated by continuous running wheel activity and video recordings, a series of stressors was applied after 7 and 8 weeks. Burrows, if constructed, were mapped monthly. Additionally, adrenals, testes and body mass as well as hormone levels of corticosteroids and testosterone were measured at euthanasia. Hamsters kept with 10 cm deep bedding showed significantly more wire-gnawing and a higher running wheel activity than the hamsters in the other groups. In 80 cm deep bedding wire-gnawing was never observed. Stressor application showed no significant immediate influence on behaviour. All hamsters in 40 and 80 cm bedding constructed burrows which they occupied. The body condition (body weight/body size(3)) was significantly higher in the animals kept in deep (80 cm) compared with those housed in low (10 cm) bedding cages. The relative testes weights were significantly heaviest in the medium treatment group. No significant differences could be detected for the adrenal glands and testosterone levels. In this study, we showed that cages with at least 40 cm of bedding seemed to enhance the welfare of golden hamsters, although those in 80 cm bedding had more body fat compared with the other groups. However, deep bedding which is appropriate for burrowing can be recommended for golden hamsters. (c) 2005 Elsevier B.V All rights reserved.