Hamsters actually require a lot more space than what is provided in most pet store cages. Read on to learn about the basic size requirements and how to make an enriched environment!
The minimum space recommended for one Syrian hamster is about 4 square feet. That's around the size of a 20 gallon fish tank! So if you are wondering if your colourful Habitrail/Crittertrail cages are enough I would say not, even with all the fun tubes, sorry! But don't worry, there are affordable ways to give your critter a good home. In this blog we are specifically talking about hamsters, but this applies to rats, gerbils, and mice as well.
These Aosom hutches for example create a great attractive enclosure.
Another option would be to pick up a 20 gallon aquarium or terrarium. If you're lucky you may be able to pick one up for free or very cheap!
Otherwise if you really want to save money you can use a clear plastic tote. This is what we have done. We simply drilled some holes in the side for the water bottle and cut large holes in the lid covered with a metal grid for ventilation. Voila, you have an enclosure plenty big on a budget. Ours for example covers over 5 square feet (20" x 38").
We love natural enclosures like this one!
So here are some ways you can create this yourself.
1. Choose a suitable bedding. Paper is okay but we prefer to go more natural. Shredded straw, aspen, coconut fiber, or hemp bedding are some of the best options that are all natural. Never add untreated soil or leaves from outside as it can introduce pests like mites. Hemp naturally deters these pests.
2. Create a deep litter for burrowing. This can be created in one area of the enclosure, it doesn't have to be spread throughout the whole floor but it should be about 4"+ deep. You can use wood to retain the deep litter in one area.
3. Create height. Rodents love climbing and crawling through tight areas so if possible combine the two! Add a wood house such as the little rat flat for a crawl and climbing space. Add sticks and stones, but never outdoor plants. Aquarium driftwood is a good option. Always bake or boil anything you bring from the outdoors to make sure you aren't introducing insects, mites, fleas, etc.
4. Add live plants! Yes, you can add some live plants for your hammy to nibble on but be aware of what is safe. Do not grab plants from outdoors, instead provide veggies from the grocery store or your own grown from seed indoors. Cat grass is probably the best option, or live lettuce from the grocery store. Herbs like parsley and basil are also suitable but they should be fed in moderation so don't leave these in the enclosure permanently.
5. Add Hay & dry plants! Grass hay is very healthy for hamsters and is easily accessible. They also love tunneling through it if it's a soft type like meadow and orchard grass. In the fall you may be able to access dry wheat and oats which they will love foraging for and running through! Otherwise dry millet is available in pet stores for birds but it's also a great natural treat and decor for hamsters.
6. Add chew toys. Hamsters love chewing on different textures. Some great options would be sisal or hemp rope, wood chews (apple is best but aspen and maple are some other great choices, and kiln dried pine is okay), loofah, or bamboo.
And obviously don't forget that hamsters love to run. Adding a wheel is a must, though there aren't many out there that aren't plastic. Cork wheels are the most popular non plastic option and can be found on Amazon.