Choosing A Suitable Enclosure
One of the most important aspects of hamster care is ensuring that your hamster lives in a suitably sized and correctly set up enclosure.
Many people severely underestimate the amount of space a hamster needs in order to live a happy life, and for there to be enough space to provide appropriate enrichment and stimulation. Hamsters instinctively desire large territories and spend most of their waking hours exploring and foraging around their home, in the wild hamsters are known to travel distances up to 9km in a single night.
In a domestic setting hamsters still require a large territory to call their own. If an enclosure is set up correctly then a healthy adult hamster will utilise every inch of space they are offered so there really is no such thing as "too big".
However, if kept in too small of an enclosure a hamster is likely to display body language and behaviours associated with boredom and stress. For example;
inactivity or limited activity even at night
hyperactivity ("going stir crazy")
overly destructive behaviours (especially destruction of the cage itself)
Exhibiting any of these behaviours on a frequent basis is the quickest way to tell that something is wrong and that your hamster is upset and stressed. Stress is very harmful to hamsters and long term stress can lead to serious health problems so it's important to take prompt action when you notice your hamster behaving in these ways.
A suitable enclosure should be as large as possible, I recommend aiming for an enclosure as close to or exceeding 1000sq inches (approximately 150 x 45cm), but I have created a simple chart to help you understand the differences in sizes and what you can offer.
Popular Hamster Enclosures
Unfortunately most commercial enclosures are far too small for hamsters to be kept in so it's quite common for hamster keepers to build their own. Here are a few examples of popular enclosures;
Bin cages are made from large plastic storage bins, they are the easiest DIY enclosure and the most affordable as they can be made for as little as €20 (or you may already have everything you need in your home)
Use the chart above to help select a suitably sized storage bin, then simply cut a large hole in the lid, replacing it with wire mesh that you can attach with zipties or nuts and bolts.
It takes less than an hour to make a bin cage and you don't need to have any DIY skills so anyone can make them.
* Note that just drilling lot of holes in the lid will not provide enough ventilation for a hamster.
(Image Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kPneiPZ0kGY)
The Ikea Detolf is one of the most popular enclosures in the hamster keeping community.
At just over 900sq inches and under €80 it's a steal, all you have to do is build a simple mesh lid.
As the name suggests, this enclosure can be bought in any Ikea store.
It's sold as a display cabinet and available in black-brown, and white.
Living World Green Eco Habitat
If money is no object and you really don't want to build your own enclosure, Living World sells a wood and perspex tank. It's available in 3 different sizes but I would recommend skipping the small and opting instead for either the medium or large.
Medium: 95 x 55cm (807sq inches)
Sold on Zooplus for €179.99
Large: 115 x 75cm (1333sq inches)
Sold on Zooplus for €229.99
Home Made (DIY) Enclosures
If you have some confidence in your DIY skills or at least know someone who does, then building your own hamster enclosure is likely going to be the most cost effective option. DIY enclosures are fully customisable and can be as large as you want, you can either design your own from scratch or follow one of the many tutorials that can be found online (*ehem* youtube.com/erinsanimals).
Here are a few of our own DIY cages for inspiration;
Why Do Pet Shops Sell Bad Cages?
For decades pet shops have falsely marketed hamsters as "cheap and easy pocket pets" in order to boost their sales of the animal and their corresponding care supplies. Convincing the general public that small pets are a menial commitment that take up minimal space in the home and are ultimately "disposable", has made them more appealing and resulted in hamsters becoming one of the most popular yet most neglected small pets.
Many people naively trust that pet shops only have the best interest of the animals in mind and that they wouldn't sell products that weren't suitable, but this simply is not the case and never has been. Many pet shop employees also blindly trust that the products they are encouraging customers to buy are perfectly suitable, and are unintentionally contribute to the neglect of these animals.
Small pets bring in a huge profit for pet shops because of the misconceptions that surround them and so there is no incentive for pet shops to stop selling or promoting unsafe and unsuitable products. They will only stop selling inadequate enclosures when they stop making a profit from them, which will only happen when the majority of the general population starts taking small pet care seriously. While huge, hopeful strides have been made towards this goal in the last decade there is still have a very long way to go.