If you are a concerned hamster owner who wants the best for their furry friend, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll tell you the hard-to-chew truth about typical hamster cages and what the minimum size should be.
Your hamster may be tiny, but in the wild, it can easily cross over five miles in a night. How does that translate into cage size? Let’s find out.
The majority of hamster cages are too small for hamsters. When hamsters are confined to small spaces, they exhibit more stress-related behaviors. These behaviors are a cry for help from the hamster.
These include monkey barring or climbing up the walls of the cage. Not only are the cages too small, but the attached wheels are also too small. When the wheels are too small, the hamster has to arch their backs while running, which leads to back pain.
Read: Why Is My Hamster’s Pee Red?
Bare Minimum Cage Size for Hamster
The bare minimum cage size for hamsters should be 450 square inches of floor space. Studies conducted on hamsters show that the smaller the cage, the more stressed the hamster.
We recommend aiming for something that has over 600 square inches of floor space, like the Prevue 528 Hamster cage. We understand this is difficult as these cages are often out of stock or unavailable online.
Nor do your local pet stores stock hamster cages that large. Keep in mind that the external measurements are not the same as floor space. The floor space is the area your hamster can run around in.
Another thing to consider for your hamster cage is the depth of its base. Hamsters naturally barrow in the ground. The cage you use should be deep enough to fill with adequate bedding. With enough bedding, your hamster can dig and burrow to its heart’s content.
Standard pet store cages have bases barely three inches deep. That is not enough for your hamster to get enrichment from their bedding. To facilitate burrowing, at least one section of the cage base must be five or six inches deep.
What to Do if You Can’t Find a Hamster Cage Big Enough
You might be able to find a cage that fits the minimum cage size for hamsters. However, finding something that fits our recommendation for over 600 square inches is tough. Many hamster users have opted to use large fish aquariums for their hamsters instead.
An excellent plus point of using a glass aquarium as a cage is the infinite depth to add bedding. This solution is an easy way to provide your hamster with enough space to play
How to Choose the Right Wheel Size?
The correct wheel size for your hamster is one in which your hamster can run with their back straight. If you notice your hamster’s back curve to fit inside the wheel, often seen in large Syrian hamsters, it’s too small. Syrians need wheels as large as eight or eleven inches.
Those take up significant floor space. If the cage is too small already, there will be almost no space to play once the wheel is added. If you have a dwarf hamster, you do not need such a large wheel, but they also deserve ample space to move around and not feel confined.
Remember not to buy wheels made of bars or mesh. Your hamster’s feet can get caught in them or cut by them. You should get smooth plastic, wooden, or cork wheels so your hamster doesn’t injure itself.
Read: Can You Be Allergic to Hamsters? [Symptoms and Treatment]
Do Not Buy Small Cages
Most hamster cages are cute and colorful but too small. They have tubing and many fittings attempting to provide your hamster with enrichment, but all these things are meaningless if your hamsters don’t have enough room to scurry around or dig.
As much as your children ask for attractive, colorful cages, you will not be doing your hamster any favors by buying them.
Suppose you buy a regular 175-square-inch hamster cage with a base only three inches deep. You fill the cage with bedding, an igloo, a wheel, tubing, chew toys, a food dish, and a water bottle. Look at it now.
There is no room to move around or use the toys properly. Stuffing a hamster here when the minimum size is four times larger is just cruel.
We don’t blame you if you’ve been using these small cages up until now. The pet trade benefits greatly from misinformation and wants to sell its small cages. It isn’t until you join hamster forums and hang out with the hamster community, do you realize how small your cages are.
Stereotypical Stress Behaviors in Hamsters Caused by Small Cages
Hamsters are very energetic animals used to running very far. You know that from seeing your hamster run around in its wheel at night. Since they are so small, people think they don’t need that much room.
Here are some stress behaviors observed when hamsters are crammed in something smaller than the minimum cage size for hamsters.
Wire chewing is sometimes considered common behavior in hamsters to wear down their teeth. While a little wire chewing is healthy, a lot is a sign your hamster is under great stress.
Hamsters will sometimes chew on the wires until their gums bleed. That is because they aren’t chewing per their chew instincts but trying to chew their way out of the small cage.
If your cage is the right size, your hamster will leave the walls alone if you give it enough chew toys. In a small cage, no amount of chew toys will make them stop chewing the walls to get out.
Wall climbing or monkey barring is commonly seen in hamsters with small cages. Hamsters are not natural climbers. While scaling the walls of their tiny enclosures, they often fall and injure themselves.
They still continue to climb the cages despite the danger. That is because they feel confined and wish to escape the cage. If it were in a large cage with ample enrichment, it would never be desperate enough to climb since climbing is against its nature.
Cage pacing is when a hamster frantically runs back and forth in the cage for an extended period. This behavior looks very strange to the observer. The hamster is under a lot of stress and isn’t behaving logically.
It feels confined and bored and will run until it’s exhausted. The desperation leads the hamster to run back and forth like this instead of in their wheel. It is a cry for help from the hamster, saying it needs more space.
When a hamster is under too much stress from confinement in a small cage, they reach a point where they stop frantic stress behavior. Instead, they become lethargic. They won’t run, play, or move much as if they were sick.
It looks like they are depressed. It’s sad to see your hamster not running, burrowing, or playing.
Read: How To Tell if a Hamster Is Pregnant [8 Signs]
How to Add Enrichment to Your Hamster Cage?
Now that you have an adequately sized cage, you must fill it with items to enrich your hamster. When your hamster is surrounded by things it can do for fun or stimulate its mind, it will be happy. You can provide several kinds of enrichment for all pets, including hamsters. These include:
1. Feeding Enrichment
Encouraging the animal to use its mind to get to their food
2. Sensory Enrichment
This type stimulates the pet’s senses: hearing, sight, touch, taste, and smell.
3. Physical Habitat Enrichment
Provide supplies to enable animals to perform behaviors common in the wild.
4. Social Enrichment
Interaction with other members of the same species or the owner.
Here are a few ways to add enrichment to your cage for a happy and healthy hamster.
In the wild, hamsters wouldn’t wait for a dish of food to be periodically replenished. They would search for food themselves. To encourage foraging, sprinkle your hamster’s main diet throughout the cage. Make snacks like fruits and vegetables harder to reach or hang them up.
You can also sprinkle hamster-safe herbs and flowers around the cage to provide a fibrous snack along with interesting smells for your hamster. You can also add dried plants with seeds, known as sprays in the hamster community, to the cage.
In most cases, you may not be able to provide more than six inches of bedding depth for your hamster. However, if you get the opportunity to custom-build a cage for your hamster, allow it to enjoy as deep bedding as possible, even over ten or fifteen inches deep.
Your hamster will create burrows with multiple chambers, and you will never see any stress-related behaviors.
Sand baths are necessary for all healthy hamsters. Hamsters clean themselves well, but sand baths help remove excess oils from their coats. Add a dish and fill it with reptile sand without any added colors or calcium.
Remember not to use dust since it can get stuck in the hamster’s respiratory system and cause issues.
To wrap everything up, space equals happiness regarding hamster enclosures. It’s challenging to find enclosures, even the minimum cage size for hamsters. You might have to modify fish aquariums or get custom-made cages, but it’s all worth seeing your happy hamsters.
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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