Selecting your hamster’s habitat is a very important decision, and there are quite a lot of options depending on your personal preference. Before you begin your search, it’s important to understand the size requirements for your hamster’s floor space. A hamster of any species requires an absolute minimum of 450 square inches (you can calculate this by measuring the length and width of the bottom of your cage on the inside, and multiplying those two dimensions together). However, it is recommended that you aim for 600 square inches if possible. Hamsters are very active creatures and run kilometres everynight. They also prefer to have distinct areas for food, sleep, activities, and a bathroom. Bigger is almost always better, and ensuring your hamster has a big enough habitat means that your little friend will live an enriched life!
Now that you know the size you’re looking for, we can explore your options.
The Dilemma with Store Bought Cages
Sadly, there are no hamster cages found in stores in Canada that meet the required floor space. No matter how many small cages you attach with tubes, the space would not be sufficient. Floor space must be one uninterrupted base. The only in-store option for a cage is the Critter Nation, however it requires modifications in terms of trays, and may not be suited for dwarf hamsters.
That being said, Crittertrails, Habitrails, and other modular/small set ups can make great additions to one large cage, or even work as a temporary travel cage. You can also take them apart and use the panels for ventilation for DIYs!
Several people in the hamster community house their hamsters in home made bin cages. Below is a list of some bins available in Canada and their sizes:
Bins also require some type of meshing, either with metal grates or hardware mesh, and to attach the mesh, you will need zipties, wire cutters and a tool to cut through plastic. Bin cages are great because of how highly customizable they are. You can use tape to accent them, or zip ties, or even rainbow coloured playpen panels, instead of hardware cloth/mesh! The playpen panels are great, however because they are barred, though they can allow bar chewing, so we recommend only using them on the lids. There are lots of tutorials online on building a bin cage. We build them by measuring a hole for ventilation, taping around the exit, using a jigsaw to cut out the holes, and affixing the sanded down mesh or panels to the inside of the bin. Then we drill them in place.
Bins are appealing as they are lightweight, cost effective and you can get very creative with them. Seasonally you can also get Christmas tree bins from places like Wal Mart and Canadian Tire.
Aquariums & Terrariums
Tanks can make excellent habitats especially if your hamster enjoys to chew! There are several size options depending on how big you’d like to go, and they can usually be found used on Kijiji for a very reasonable price, and pet shops do carry these in stock. A 40 gallon breeder tank (36 inches x 18 inches) is the size typically recommended and can be found at Petsmart for just over $100. Other great sizes are a 75 gallon (48 inches x 18 inches), and anything larger. There are great DIY options for lids, or you can purchase a lid from a pet store, where a mesh or metal lid would be appropriate.
Other DIY Options
If you want to put your creative skills to good use, there are several great options for that that people have been perfecting for years.
The options for your hamsters habitats are essentially limitless, and it’s important that you choose an option that fits your style, abilities and budget. Nearly all of the options listed above are more cost effective than the tiny cages we see advertised for hamsters, so don’t let the size of these habitats scare you, and if you ever need help, there are a lot of people who are eager to do so.
When in doubt, ask for help on our Facebook Group and our members would be happy to help you!
So, you’ve got your hamster habitat and now you’re wondering what to put into it to meet your hamsters needs. Assuming your cage meets or surpasses the minimum cage size of 450 square inches, you have lots of room to decorate! First things first, listed below are the basic things that all hamster cages should have regardless of species:
A Wheel or Saucer
Wheels should have a solid base (no wire, mesh, or rung type wheels). This ensures safe running. Larger is always better for wheels, especially as hamsters run tiny marathons every night.
Dwarfs Require: 6.5” Minimum, 8”+ Recommended
Syrians Require: 8” Minimum, 10”+ Recommended
High Quality Substrate/Bedding
There are many different types of bedding for an owner to choose based on their preferences. Some work best for holding tunnels, or for being dust free. Owners must avoid pine and cedar beddings as the phenols from the oil cause respiratory damage in hamsters. As well, fibrous bedding, such as cotton, polyester, foam, and kapok all pose entanglement issues as well as intestinal blockages.
Besides a good quality wheel and bedding, there are plenty of others things you can add to enrich your habitat!