A useful cage, and one used by many breeders, is the type comprising what resembles a ‘cat litter’ tray with a wire top clipped to it. Hamsters love climbing and will get plenty of exercise in this type of cage.
Also on the market are the all or nearly all plastic cages, comprising a number of compartments linked by tubes (often known as modular caging). These look attractive and will stop draughts, although are expensive to buy if a suitable size is used. The cage may need to be taken apart to get the hamster out until it gets to know its owner and will come to its owner's voice. These cages do, however, come into their own if you also have a cat or dog as the hamster is protected against claws. Poor ventilation and condensation may be an issue if your hamster chooses to nest in the tubes.
Glass or plastic aquariums can also be used but a lid made with 1 cm x 1 cm wire mesh is required, as the standard hood has little or no ventilation, and so condensation can form. The lid can be made by making a wooden frame that just fits outside the tank and fixing the wire to this. Remember, if you have anything hanging in the tank the hamster is liable to climb this and push the lid off if it is not secured in some way. It is important to remember you must secure your hamsters from ‘predators’ as well as preventing your hamster from escaping. With all cages, remember that hamsters' teeth keep growing all their lives and they must always chew something hard to keep their teeth at the right length.
Large moulded plastic cages are gaining in popularity, due to their large floor size, the protection from animals from secure sides (which keep substrate in) good ventilation as they often have large wire grill set into the moulded lid top which opens to provide easy access to the hamster. They can though be rather expensive and are often sold for larger rodents, some have too great a bar spacing on the wire grill but this can be overcome by securely attaching 1 cm x 1 cm mesh to this panel.
Whatever hard materials you put in for hamsters to chew, the odds are that they will prefer to chew the bars of the cage, or the edges of any plastic. This is all quite normal.
Food dishes can be bought and used but normally the hamster will pouch the food and then put it in its store, so the food can just be put in the substrate. As this does not look tidy, many people prefer to use a dish. However, since hamsters must chew, a plastic dish can gradually disappear. A useful substitute is the plastic top of a coffee jar - this will still be chewed but can be replaced from the next jar of coffee. This does not harm the hamster, but if you want to be very careful you can buy pottery or stainless steel dishes. Sprinkling the food around the cage can help provide the hamster with a more stimulating environment as they will have to forage for their food as they would in the wild. A commercial wood chew or dog biscuit should be provided for the hamster to chew on. Remember though that the biscuit needs to be plain, low in salt and not chocolate coated or with onion or garlic.
Care should be taken when positioning the cage as this is most important. Do not place in direct sunlight and make sure it is out of draughts. The cage can be kept in the house or in a frost-free shed or garage but if kept in the latter more bedding must be provided. If kept indoors do not put near radiators or fires as extremes of temperature are harmful. As long as there is no sudden change in temperature the hamster will be safe. If the cage is kept in a bedroom spilt substrate can be a problem, but if you get a cardboard box about 5 cm bigger than the base of the cage and cut it down to about 10 cm high, the cage can stand in this and most of the substrate will be caught.
Wheels will always be a controversial subject when it comes to ‘toys’ in a hamster's cage but most hamsters do enjoy an exercise wheel. The ‘open running track’ or runged style of wheel can lead to problems with legs slipping and breaking, the plastic versions of runged wheel additionally tend to be chewed causing them to drop off the spindle and be useless. A little trick to try on this type of wheel is to fix some cardboard around the outside of the wheel - the legs can no longer slip through but the hamster can get a grip on the rungs. The solid plastic type is safer, the larger and wider the better. Wheels can be a problem with long-haired hamsters, as the hair catches around the spindle and can be pulled out. Keep an eye on your hamster and its wheel, if you see it marking the fur or if it is a big hamster and its back is really bent when running on the wheel, a larger wheel should be provided.
Many toys can be bought for your hamster, including seesaws, tunnels, climbing blocks and ladders, but a lot you can make yourself. Cardboard rolls can be hung on wire in the cage or a plastic squash bottle with the top and bottom cut off can be hung up. A wooden shelf can be put in most cages and hamsters love to climb on these to groom themselves.
Your hamster will love to come out of its cage to play, but you must keep an eye on it as they can get through the smallest spaces and can get lost very easily. A play box is a good idea and a cheap one can be made from a plastic water tank, storage box, or an even cheaper one from a large robust corrugated cardboard box. If you get such a box, cut it down to about 30 cm high and toys can be put inside, but remember do not leave the hamster alone as it will chew its way out. A bath can be a great place for the hamster - as long as it is dry! Make sure it is perfectly dry, perhaps lining it with towels, then either place in toys etc to create a secure playpen, or use it as a place a small child can play with the hamster in a secure environment. Being in the dry bath with the hamster the child can learn how to hold and handle the hamster in safety, while the hamster explores and climbs over the child getting used it its smells and ways.
Play balls can be used for exercise or a place to put a hamster in while you clean the cage, but do not leave them in one for more than a few minutes at a time.
In the end, whatever type of cage you use and whatever type of toy, please remember to handle your hamster regularly and, above all, enjoy your pet.
SYRIAN AND DWARF CAGE REQUIREMENTS
The first and most important thing to remember about housing Syrian hamsters is one hamster per cage. Although a hamster will almost always be gentle and loving with you, well meaning people think they are lonely, but if you keep two Syrian hamsters together before long fighting will take place. This could result in serious injuries or even death.
Unlike Syrian hamsters, Dwarf hamsters can live together. Russian Campbell’s may be kept in single sex pairs or groups as may Roborovskis, Russian Winter Whites seem to prefer to be in pairs. Chinese hamsters again can be kept singly or in pairs. In all cases do not mix males and females even siblings unless intending to breed. Never mix the species, as fighting will break out.
With any pairings or groups fighting may break out. It is important to watch out for signs of fighting or of bullying. Though there will often be dominance play/scuffles and overly enthusiastic or unwanted grooming, signs of actual aggression are usually easy to distinguish from harmless bickering. If blood is drawn, split the hamsters immediately and house separately from then on. Occasionally one hamster will deprive another (or others) of access to food or water, it is therefore advisable to offer food spread out in the substrate (scatter feed), or in multiple bowls and also supply multiple water bottles to help prevent this occurring.
Dwarf hamsters do require different housing to Syrians - because of their small size they may squeeze through the bars of normal cages. They may be kept in the 'cat-litter tray' type of cage provided the barred top has spaces of no more than 9 mm between the bars. They do live very happily in glass tanks with wire lids (small gauge mesh) and in plastic tanks with inter-connecting tubes. If in the latter, ensure that the tubes are lined with wire mesh so the hamster can grip and travel along them. Any modular form of caging with separated areas is only suitable for single Dwarfs, with pairs or groups the separate areas will encourage fighting.
Like Syrian hamsters, Dwarf hamsters are great escape artists, so do ensure that any home for them is secure. Dwarfs love to burrow, as in the wild, so do give them a deeper layer of substrate.
© National Hamster Council -