A cage is the most expensive item that you will need to buy for your hamster, but it is also the most important. There are many options available online and at pet stores, each with different advantages and disadvantages. The main types of cages are wire cages with a plastic base, enclosed plastic cages, which are often modular with different compartments and tubes inside, and aquariums.
You might also want to consider modifying a store-bought cage with your own extensions.
However, it is essential that you choose a cage that is suited to the species of hamster that you are buying for. You should also consider whether the cage is large enough to give your hamster enough space and prevent boredom, safe enough to avert injury, secure enough to prevent your hamster escaping, easy to clean, well ventilated, and deep enough for burrowing.
Wire cages are the most common type of hamster cage available. They are relatively inexpensive, light, and have a plastic base with a wire top attached that can be unclipped to easily get the hamster out or to clean the cage. This makes them the easiest type of cage to clean, while they also have the best ventilation, meaning that there are no problems with air quality or condensation, although they do need to be kept in an area away from drafts.
Wire cages with ladders and multiple levels are also available, which can give your hamster additional areas to explore. Although you should ensure that there is no place in the cage where your hamster could fall from a height.
The main disadvantage of wire cages is that they are less secure than solid sided cages. The wire bars should ideally be spaced no more than 0.5 inches apart for Syrian hamsters, and no more than 0.25 inches apart for dwarf and Chinese hamsters, to prevent them from potentially squeezing through and escaping. This makes most wire cages a less suitable option for dwarf and Chinese hamsters since it is difficult to find such a cage that also provides a large enough living space for the hamster. Doors on wire cages can also be insecure, so you should check to make sure they cannot easily be opened. A metal bolt clip can be clipped on to lock the door if necessary.
In addition, your hamster may develop a habit of chewing the wires of the cage, but it is unlikely that they will be able to chew all the way through them. Even so, it is advisable to provide your hamster with chew toys and other toys to try to avoid boredom and lessen this behavior. A solid sided cage may be necessary if this does not work.
Regardless of the type of cage that you choose, you will want it to have a deep tray to give your hamster a deep layer of bedding to burrow in. This is particularly important for wire cages to reduce the amount of bedding that is pushed outside the cage.
Plastic modular cages are secure and draft proof due to their solid sides, and multiple compartments and tubes in the cage can help keep your hamster happy and active, while further compartments can be added over time. However, these cages can be relatively expensive, and compartments and tubes can be poorly ventilated, causing poor air quality and condensation. In addition, the more compartments and tubes there are the more difficult it is to take the cage apart and to clean.
Pregnant hamsters and some larger Syrian hamsters may be too big for built-in compartments, tubes, or hamster wheels, and therefore such cages are not suitable. Plastic cages are a good choice for dwarf and Chinese hamsters, but horizontally positioned tubes will be easier for them to use.
If you choose to buy a plastic cage then you will need to check for any exposed portions of plastic around the sides of the cage that the hamster might chew on, as otherwise the hamster may eventually escape. If the cage contains multiple levels you will also need to ensure that there is no place in the cage where your hamster could fall from a height.
Aquariums are suitable for all types of hamster, as well for pregnant hamsters, nursing mothers and babies. Like modular plastic cages they have solid sides that prevent your hamster escaping.
Both glass and plastic aquariums are available, with glass aquariums being more expensive. Plastic aquariums are lighter and so easier to clean, but their sides may become scratched over time. With a plastic aquarium you will also need to ensure that there are no exposed portions on the sides that your hamster may be able to start chewing, whereas with glass aquariums there will usually be nothing to chew.
A lid on top of the aquarium will prevent your hamster from escaping by climbing on toys or bedding, while it will also prevent anything from being dropped on your hamster. Although you should make sure that this is a wire mesh lid, rather than a solid lid with air holes which will result in ventilation problems and a build up of condensation.
For both Syrian and dwarf hamsters you will need a cage that is a large enough size for them to explore and play in. This is important in order to prevent boredom and possible development of behavioral problems. In particular, it is the actual free floor space that should be considered here.
While having multiple levels in a wire or modular plastic cage is beneficial, your hamster will still need a sufficient amount of floor space, and there should be at least one large compartment for exercise in addition to a separate compartment for nesting. However, it can be difficult to find a modular plastic cage with one very large compartment; therefore it is recommended that more compartments are added.
Ideally, you should buy a cage with a floor that measures at least 24 x 12 inches and has a height of at least 12 inches, while an aquarium should be at least 20 gallons. You should be aware that many cages available do not meet these recommended minimum measurements, so you will need to be careful that you choose a suitably sized home for your hamster. The larger the cage the more space there will be to explore and the more active your pet will be, so consider buying an even bigger cage if you can afford it.
Building your own homemade hamster cage is easy to do and can save you the relatively large expense of buying one online or from a pet store. It can also allow you to provide a bigger habitat for your hamster.
It is easiest to make a plastic cage as a suitably shaped plastic storage box can be readily found or bought cheaply, while such a cage will be easy to clean, draft proof, and the solid sides will prevent bedding being pushed outside the cage and provide security and protection from drafts.