Hamsters are very active animals - in the wild they travel for miles each night so they need a very large living space, no matter how small they are!
Hamsters also need enrichment to keep them active and give them the opportunity to behave as they would in the wild. They need places to hide, explore, climb and a deep layer of litter where they can burrow, sleep and store their food.
The right cage for your hamster
In the wild, hamsters make burrows, climb and walk for miles each day, so their living space needs to be large enough to allow them to behave as naturally as possible. Most hamster cages sold in shops aren’t big enough to even meet a hamster’s most basic needs, so instead, we recommend providing them with a much larger space, such as an extra-large cage, glass tank, or home-made enclosure. Wherever you choose to house your hamster make sure it has the following:
- A large, usable floor area with plenty of space for exploring - there isn’t a lot of evidence to say exactly how big a hamster cage should be but the ‘Veterinary Association for Animal Welfare’(based in Germany) states a minimum cage size of 100x50cm
- Places to climb such as branches, ladders or shelves
- A deep enough solid base to accommodate 25cm (10 inches) of suitable bedding for burrowing, sleeping and storing food – read more about suitable bedding for hamsters below
- Nest boxes to sleep and hide in – read more about nest boxes below
- A secure lid and doors – hamsters are fantastic escape artists!
- Toys to keep them entertained – read more about hamster enrichment below
Where to put your hamster’s home
Make sure your hamster’s cage is positioned somewhere:
- Quiet, calm and away from anything noisy such as the TV or washing machine - noise and vibrations are stressful for hamsters.
- Kept at a steady temperature between 18-21°C and out of draughts and direct sunlight. If your hamster’s cage gets too hot, they won’t be able to escape and could develop heatstroke, if it gets too cold they might slip into a dangerous survival state, similar to hibernation but called ‘torpor’.
Hamsters spend most of the day asleep, so it’s really important that they have a selection of peaceful places to hide and rest in. They might choose to mainly sleep in their homemade burrow, but it’s important to provide them with nest boxes so they have other options. Hamster nest boxes need to be:
- Hidden away - in the wild, hamsters are hunted by other animals so their natural instinct is to sleep out of sight. Small cardboard boxes, ceramic pots or multi-chambered hamster-safe wooden hides are ideal for this.
- Padded with plenty of safe nesting material. However, it’s best to put the bedding outside of the nest box so your hamster can help themselves to fill their nest box with - read more about nesting materials below.
Safe hamster beddings
It’s really important to give your hamster a deep (approx. 25cm/10 inches) layer of bedding so they can burrow like they would in the wild. They use the burrow for sleeping, hiding and storing food so it’s important to use a bedding that will hold its structure when tunnelled into. Examples of safe bedding include:
- Paper-based bedding – this is a really good option and can be used on its own or with other types mixed in.
- Aspen, spruce or hemp bedding – similar to sawdust/wood shavings but made from hardwood and dust free. However, they aren’t great at supporting burrows, so you’ll need to add a paper-based bedding for extra stability.
- Toilet paper – unscented, and the cheaper the better because thick toilet paper can cause gut blockages if eaten.
- Soft hay – hay is a great addition to any of the beddings above, and will help add extra structure and stability to your hamster’s burrows.
Unsafe hamster beddings
Some beddings marketed as ‘suitable for hamsters’ are unsafe, such as:
- Pine/cedar shavings – wood shavings and sawdust are very dusty and can cause breathing problems.
- Fluffy beddings – such as cotton wool, kapok, and bamboo fluff, these are often marketed as safe for hamsters but can cause injuries by getting wrapped around their legs, and life-threatening gut blockages if ingested.
- Scented bedding – the scent will irritate your hamsters airways.
- Shredded newspaper – the ink can be toxic to hamsters.
Hamsters need plenty of toys and interactive games to stop them getting bored. However, it’s best to always stick to the same cage layout week-on-week as they find sudden changes stressful. Your hamster will love any of the following:
- Tubes and cardboard boxes to crawl through, hide inside and chew
- Branches and shelves to climb up on
- Untreated soft wood branches and gnawing blocks to help them wear their teeth down
- A plastic exercise wheel. Just make sure it’s as large and wide as possible, a lot of hamster wheels available to buy are too small, forcing hamsters to run with a curve in their back which can cause long-term damage and pain. The wheel also needs to have a solid surface to run on, not slats or bars that your hamster could get their legs caught in. The ‘Veterinary Association for Animal Welfare’recommends wheels should be at least 20cm (8″) for Dwarf Hamsters and 30cm (12″) for Syrian Hamsters – these are widely available to buy online.
Food bowls and water bottles
- Your hamster will need a water bottle, and their water should be replaced daily.
- They need fresh food daily but instead of feeding them from a bowl, scatter their food around their living space and hide some in tubes – this will keep them entertained for hours and is a much more natural way for them to eat.
- Read more about the ideal diet for your hamster.
How to clean your hamster’s home
You’ll need to regularly clean out your hamster’s cage to make sure that it’s a healthy and hygienic place for them to live. It’s best to do this in the evening when they’re awake, instead of waking them up and moving them when they’re trying to sleep.
Daily spot clean
- Remove any wet/soiled bedding
- Clean their food and water bowls
- Clear up any food that’s been left from the day before
Full clean every 14 days
- Remove all their bedding but save any that’s clean and dry to put back later - aim to save roughly half.
- Clean all the surfaces in their home with a pet-safe cleaner, then rinse and dry them thoroughly.
- Mix some new bedding into the bedding you kept back and put it all back into their living space – this way it will be clean but still smell like home.
- Put all their nests, toys, and bowls back where they were, hamsters are creatures of habit so like everything to stay in the same place.