After dogs and cats, hamsters rank pretty high on the list of popular pets in the US, and they’re pretty equally distributed from New York to California. Their popularity stems largely from their appeal as a kind of “starter” pet– they don’t live for decades, don’t need tons of attention and maintenance, and don’t take up a lot of room.
A hamster cage measuring 450 sq in (2903.22 sq cm) should be the absolute minimum for your hamster, and depending on the breed of your hamster, that may be too small. If you live abroad, the recommended minimum size is even bigger, but in the US, 450 sq in (2903.22 sq cm) is the accepted minimum.
There are many options to consider aside from the size of the cage. Let’s look at some of those and how you might decide what’s suitable for you and your hamster.
Several layouts can meet the 450 square inches (2903.22 square cm) minimum, but experts recommend a rectangular shape instead of a square. Rectangular cages mean a longer stretch of the floor for the hamster to travel, and the critters don’t mind living in a narrower space.
A 450 square inch (2903.22 square cm) cage is a little more than three square feet (0.27 square meter), or a 1′ x 3′ (0.3 x 0.91 meter) cage. However, as a square, this cage size would present the hamster 1.73 feet (0.52 meter) of width and length.
While the non-US-based National Hamster Council recommends the largest cage possible, the California Hamster Association sets the minimum at 450 square inches (2903.22 square cm). That doesn’t mean you have to stick strictly to that size, of course. These are simply guidelines from different parts of the world.
Of course, this minimum has some caveats with it. If you have a small hamster (and only one), 450 square inches (2903.22 square cm) works.
However, some hamster breeds are larger than others, and you shouldn’t cram multiple hamsters into the minimum space recommended for one animal.
Read How To Keep a Hamster Cage From Smelling
While the smaller breeds like the dwarf hamsters are most commonly kept pet hamsters, there are several other breeds, including:
- Campbell’s Russian dwarf hamster
- Chinese hamster
- Chinese striped hamster
- European hamster
- Gansu hamster
- Syrian golden hamster
- Greater long-tailed hamster
- Grey dwarf hamster
- Roborovski dwarf hamster
- Winter white dwarf hamster
Each has its distinct features, but the main breeds kept as pets are:
- The Syrian golden hamster
- The Chinese hamster
- Campbell’s Russian dwarf hamster
- The winter white dwarf hamster
- The Roborovski dwarf hamster
The Syrian golden hamster grows to be between five and nine inches (12.7 and 22.86 cm) long and weighs up to five ounces (141.75 g). It will live between two and four years.
The Chinese hamster isn’t a dwarf hamster, but you wouldn’t know by looking at its two-ounce (56.69-g) body. They can live up to three years and grow as long as five inches (12.7 cm).
A Campbell’s Russian dwarf hamster can live up to three years and weigh as little as one to two ounces (28.34 to 56.69 g). They will not grow longer than four inches (10.16 cm).
The winter white dwarf hamster is another tiny guy who will only weigh up to two ounces (56.69 g). Living as long as three years, the winter white dwarf hamster will grow to about four inches (10.16 cm).
The Roborovski dwarf hamster is the smallest of this group, tipping the scales at a measly one ounce and reaching two inches (5.08 cm) in length. They can live up to four years.
Thinking about the lengths of the pet hamster breeds, you can see that they benefit from areas that, to them, are large expanses. If you were two inches long and lived in a space 18 times as long as you, you’d hardly feel claustrophobic.
Read How Much Does a Hamster Cage Cost?
It’s worth noting that hamsters need at least 450 square inches (2903.22 square cm) of uninterrupted space. They need to be able to run around and play— you know, hamster stuff.
What some hamster owners do incorrectly is buy up some habitrail modules and make an extensive layout of tubes to rival New York City’s subway system for the hamsters to explore.
One example of these kinds of modules is the GNB Pet Hamster Tunnel and Playground (available on Amazon.com). It comes with 94 pieces and is relatively inexpensive.
It can make a nice addition to any hamster cage; however, it shouldn’t be your primary way of “adding space” to the cage. The enclosure itself should meet the minimum requirements for size without all the extras.
Here’s a YouTube video about Habitrail OVO Cage Tour:
Again, I’d like to reiterate that your hamster may love scurrying around in those things, but they do not provide continuous space. Therefore, if you have those tunnels and things, they don’t count toward the 450 square inches (2903.22 square cm) of uninterrupted space.
But if you have the space to have an adequately sized enclosure to which you attach tunnels and other fun areas for your little friend, more power to you.
Read How Big Should a Hamster Cage Be?
Types of Enclosures
There are three main types of hamster cages, though one could argue that just about any secure box could work. However, most of us want to be able to see our hamsters and maybe even get them out to play with them. And no matter what kind of enclosure you choose, it’s got to have proper ventilation.
Perhaps the most common hamster habitat, the wire cage is relatively inexpensive and indestructible. It allows for excellent airflow, which is great unless your home is unusually hot or cold. In colder times of the year, airflow could make your pet so cold that he goes into hibernation.
Another issue with wire cages is the potential for injury. Wire cages allow a hamster to stick its leg through the wire, and that can result in broken bones if he feels stuck, panics, and tries to jerk his leg back out.
Many wire cage manufacturers add a plastic coating to the wire for aesthetics, but since hamsters chew all the time, they face the real possibility of chipping off some of that coating and swallowing or choking on it.
Finally, a wire cage offers the hamster a possibility for escape. Hamsters are intelligent, and given enough time, most of them will figure a way to warp some wires and squeeze out of the cage. At best, you’ll spend time searching for your friend. At worst, your cat will have had hamster sushi before you know the little fella escaped.
Modular cages are plastic, and we already mentioned them earlier when we talked about Habitrails and similar products. These systems can help recreate a hamster’s natural habitat, as they do spend time in dens and might choose one of the small modules to use in the same way. However, you should still have the recommended amount of uninterrupted space.
One downside to modular cages is ventilation. If your hamster lives in many enclosed spaces as opposed to one, he’s still in an enclosed space. Modular cages can have low airflow and can overheat fairly easily.
A solution would be to have some of the modules be wire enclosures— maybe every third area off of a tunnel is wire. A setup like that would allow for air circulation and heat discharge.
Read Why Is My Hamster Biting the Cage
Vivarium (Aka an Aquarium With No Fish or Water)
It could be a great (and inexpensive) solution if you’ve got an old aquarium lying around. Glass cages are practically escape-proof, as there’s almost no chance your little furball will ever chew through tempered glass. You’ll be able to see and monitor him and watch what he’s doing.
But the lack of airflow can be a problem. No air blows through the glass, so your hamster can get hot down in there, not to mention the respiratory issues that can result from breathing ammonia fumes when hamster urine breaks down. If you have a glass cage, you’ll have to clean it regularly.
A good solution might be a wire top to the vivarium with holes for attaching tubes. This will expand the little guy’s house and give him a place to go if it gets too warm or urine-y.
Some hamster owners combine glass and wire cages so that there’s a glass tank on the bottom (great for colder days) and a wire cage on top (for when the hamster wants to get up and get some fresh or cooled air).
Whichever you choose will depend on your available space, how much time you plan to spend maintaining the cage, and your budget.
Read How To Clean Hamster Cage
Cages and Health
There’s more to having a cage than keeping your hamster in one place and not getting stepped on or eaten. Having an enclosure that’s the right size— or at least the minimum recommended size— helps keep your pet happy and healthy.
Hamsters, like people, can get bored. The solution is not to get them a friend, though. Hamsters are solitary animals, and if they’re going to live in pairs, most experts recommend they are same-sex pairs raised together from infancy.
But back to being bored— a bored hamster can demonstrate behaviors that look a lot like Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). If you see these behaviors, it’s a good indication that your hamster is not happy. Under the stress of dissatisfaction or a too-small cage, hamsters can be more susceptible to illness than happy hamsters.
A 1999 study showed that hamsters in smaller cages demonstrated less effective immune responses than their counterparts in larger cages. This establishes a direct link between cage size and hamster health, so getting anything but a too-small cage will give your hamster an advantage in staying healthy.
Healthy Hamster Behaviors
If your hamster is up all night skittering around and making a little hamster racket, he’s doing what he’s supposed to be doing.
He’ll also chew a lot. You should make sure he has crunchy foods and chew toys, like wooden blocks. Remember that a hamster’s teeth never stop growing, so if they stop chewing, they stop filing the teeth down. They can be so long that the little guy won’t be able to eat.
A healthy hamster will dig himself a burrow or two, so don’t feel like he’s sick if he’s digging a lot. Happy hamsters dig a place to hide in case they feel threatened.
Finally, another healthy hamster behavior is stuffing their cheeks. They’ll usually stuff them with food, but you might also see them gobbling up their bedding, such as this Monster Pets Bedding Material (available on Amazon.com), and storing it in their cheeks. They don’t do this for eating but for setting up another bedding area somewhere else.
Monster Pets bedding is great because it’s non-toxic, biodegradable, and contains no oils. So if you do see your hamster eating it, he should be just fine.
Signs of Illness or Stress
A lethargic hamster is usually sick or sad, and neither one is good. These are supposed to be upbeat little critters, so if they aren’t, something’s wrong. With no apparent health issues on display, try a larger cage to see if that fixes the problem.
You can also be sure your hamster is in a too-small cage if he’s constantly gnawing on the wire. He’s trying to break out because he needs more room.
If he climbs his cage walls often, or if you see him hanging from the ceiling, he’s telling you he needs a bigger cage. Constant pacing and aggressive behavior towards you also indicate a claustrophobic hamster. Again, continual stress makes hamsters sick just like it does to people.
Read How Do I Know if My Hamster Is Happy?
Your hamster needs to live in a clean, quiet, safe, and loving environment. Clean the cage regularly. He doesn’t want to live in filth anymore than you do.
Since wild hamsters are desert animals, it stands to reason that loud noises aren’t their favorite things. There’s not much sound in the desert, so if your hamster’s cage sits in a noisy room, he’ll feel the stress of that. If the hamster in your house is your kid’s pet, don’t let your kid’s drumset live in the same room as the hamster.
Getting your hamster out of his cage can help get him extra exercise in addition to helping him learn that you are safe and that he’s safe with you. Hamsters need love, too.
Before buying your hamster cage, be sure you know how big it should be. At a minimum, it should be 450 square inches (2903.22 square cm), and it’s better to have a long, narrow enclosure than a square one.
Your hamster’s health depends on how happy he is in his home, so if you get him some extras like tunnels and caves, remember that he still needs those 450 square inches (2903.22 square cm) of uninterrupted space. He’ll feel happy, healthy, and safe as long as he’s got that, plenty of food and water, and means of entertainment.
You may like the following Hamsters articles:
- How To Make Your Hamster Happy
- How Often Should I Hold My Hamster?
- Guinea Pig vs. Hamster vs. Gerbil
- Why Does My Hamster Roll On His Back?
- How To Make a Hamster Leash?
My name is Everly. I am a Milwaukee-based mom of 2 and have been a proud owner of many hamsters throughout my life. Like many of us, my introduction to hamsters happened when I was very young. My family saw several hamsters come and go through the years, and I enjoyed playing with them, but I never fully appreciated them until I grew up and my own children decided to jump on the hamster bandwagon. At that point, I was determined to learn all I could about caring for these adorable pets. Read more