The cage is a hamster’s home, and that means it’s important for it to be safe, comfortable, and secure, and that it satisfies both the hamster’s needs as well as the owner’s. This article will discuss the good and the bad about each type of cage to aid in making an informed decision before purchase.
There are six things that are basic necessities of a good hamster cage:
- Secure exits
- Good ventilation
- A food dish
- A water bottle
- Four corners
- Room to move
Most commercially bought cages cover most, and sometimes all of these points, but no cage is perfect. Every type of cage has its strengths and weaknesses, and it is up to the consumer to decide which type is right for them, and which points are the most important for their pet.
These are the most readily available cages, found at every pet store. They are often sold as ‘starter kits’ – just add hamster – and come with a food dish, a water bottle, a wheel, and sometimes a plastic hamster house. Most of these have two levels and a wire ladder connecting the two. The main body of the cage is made up of wire bars, and it usually sits in a plastic tray-like base, that can be removed for easy cleaning. Some bases are lined with wire to allow waste to drop down, and some don’t. These cages provide excellent ventilation, are usually modestly priced, and are the iconic image that everyone pictures at the word ‘hamster cage’. They can also be dangerous.
The wire cage’s good point – ventilation – can also be very bad, especially in a cold climate. Too much draft and no insulation can lead to illness, and if a hamster gets too cold, it can trigger hibernation. The wire surfaces and ladder inside the cage can cause serious injury to a hamster’s legs, and so take care to cover them with cardboard or another solid surface to prevent this. They are also a bad choice for Dwarf, Russian or Chinese hamsters, as they are all small enough to squeeze their way out of the bars.
Module and Habitat Cages
Module cages, often called ‘habitats’, are made of hard plastic and usually offer more floor space and room for movement than wire cages. They come in attractive shapes and colors that are especially popular with children and feature connective tubing and play areas (sold separately) which can provide a means for hamsters to entertain themselves in the absence of human interaction. Some module cages also have a built in sleep area or ‘loft’ that is absent in the wire cage.
These cages also have their flaws. Most are too small for Syrian hamsters, as the tubes are mostly made to accommodate the Dwarf variety, though some can house a larger breed quite nicely. All of the extra parts and tubes require regular and thorough cleaning, which is often easy but can be quite time consuming. Most plastic cages have poor ventilation and almost no air circulation due to their design, and can lead to buildup of heat and condensation which is just as harmful to hamsters as the cold. Some of these cages have improved, however, by inserting a wire wall, often along the sides and back of the cage.
Many hamster owners forgo store-bought cages altogether in favor of building their own. Bin cages are increasing in popularity due to the fact that the owner controls every element of the cage’s features and they can potentially satisfy a hamster’s every need. They are also ideal for Syrian hamsters because the owner has control over the size. These cages are as varied as the people who build them, and there are many tutorials on the internet about construction.
If there is a down side to these cages it is the building. Many owners simply don’t want to invest the time in building a cage themselves, or are not confident that a cage built by hand can be as secure as one bought in a store. They are also not as attractive or colorful as store-bought cages, and this can be a deal breaker, especially if young children are involved, however decorating the cage can be as fun as building it.
Finding the right cage can be time consuming and frustrating, and not all cages are created equal, which is why researching the cage before buying is important. Other places to look for information are web forums about hamster care, product reviews of hamster cages written by other pet owners, and comment pages on a vendor’s website on which customers will point out pros and cons of their purchases.
Good luck, and happy hunting!