ENCLOSURES

ENCLOSURE REQUIREMENTS

The minimum enclosure dimensions are based on scientific research carried out by a team of German scientists. They found that hamsters thrive when their enclosures meet/exceed the following dimensions:

4000 sqcm for dwarf hamsters – this is equal to 80cm x 50cm (L x W)
5000 sqcm for syrian hamsters – this is equal to 100cm x 50cm (L x W)

Bigger is always better, so if you can, invest in a cage that exceeds these dimensions!

Bare in mind, some cages taper and so their measurements are not accurate to “useable” space. Most measurements given are for the widest part of the enclosure to make them seem bigger than they are.

Cage height is just as important as the length and width. The enclosure should be tall enough to fit the minimum amount of substrate PLUS the height of a running wheel. For dwarf hamsters, the minimum substrate depth is 15cm and the minimum wheel height is 21cm and for syrians, substrate depth is 20cm and wheels should be 28cm minimum. With this in mind, it’s best to find a cage that’s about 60cm in height, if not, you’ll find you need to taper your substrate at one end to make sure your wheel doesn’t get buried. For more enclosure tips like this, click here.

Unfortunately most pet shops don’t stock suitably sized enclosures, so we’ve created the list below of all the cages available here in Ireland that meet/exceed the minimum requirements. We’ve also included some extra information like the pros and cons of each cage and if they’re suitable for certain species or not, so that you can make an informed decision on which cage might be best for your hamster.

  • Name: More Nagarium
  • Store: Maxi Zoo
  • External dimensions: 105cm x 60cm x 69cm (L x W x H)
  • Internal dimensions: 100cm x 56cm x 65cm (L x W x H)
  • Floor area: 5,600 sqcm
  • Bar spacing: 8mm
  • Substrate base: 40cm (H)
  • Suitable for: Syrians and dwarves (please note, large spacing around door is an escape risk for dwarf hamsters, you may need to adjust this)
  • DIY required: No (Door may need tightening as mentioned above)
  • Pros: Large, great value, well ventilated, deep substrate base, 3 doors, removable lid, wheels for easy movement.
  • Cons: Bar chewing/climbing risk.
  • Name: Rodipet Nagarium XXL
  • Store: Rodipet/Shauna’s Pet Shop
  • External dimensions: 123.5cm x 51.5cm x 64cm (L x W x H)
  • Internal dimensions: 120cm x 50cm x 60cm (L x W x H)
  • Floor area: 6,000 sqcm
  • Suitable for: All hamsters (Except destructive female syrians)
  • DIY required: No
  • Pros: Large, well ventilated, secure, large viewing window, easy to clean, no risk of bar chewing/climbing
  • Cons: Expensive considering it’s made of MDF board
  • Name: Rodipet Nagarium
  • Store: Rodipet/Shauna’s Pet Shop
  • External dimensions: 103.5cm x 51.5cm x 54cm (L x W x H)
  • Internal dimensions: 100cm x 50cm x 50cm (L x W x H)
  • Floor area: 5,000 sqcm
  • Suitable for: All hamsters (Except destructive female syrians)
  • DIY required: No
  • Pros: Large, well ventilated, secure, large viewing window, easy to clean, no risk of bar chewing/climbing
  • Cons: Expensive considering it’s made of MDF board
  • Name: Linnmon
  • Store: IKEA
  • External dimensions: 108cm x 60.5cm x 50cm (L x W x H)
  • Internal dimensions: 100cm x 56cm x 46.5cm (L x W x H)
  • Floor area: 5,650 sqcm
  • Suitable for: All hamsters
  • DIY required: This is a fully DIY enclosure. Assembly instructions can be found here
  • Pros: Large, affordable, secure (lid is necessary), easy to clean, no risk of bar chewing
  • Cons: A complete DIY project, must source materials from a range of stores, time consuming
  • Name: Detolf
  • Store: IKEA
  • External dimensions: 163cm x 43cm x 37cm (L x W x H)
  • Internal dimensions: 156cm x 39cm x 37cm (L x W x H)
  • Floor area: 6,084 sqcm
  • Suitable for: Dwarf hamsters (DIY required to suit syrians)
  • DIY required: A lid is required, for the detolf to suit syrians, a raised id is necessary.
  • Pros: Large, affordable, easy to clean, secure, no risk of bar chewing/climbing.
  • Cons: Awkward length for some rooms, limited height if raised lid isn’t added.
  • Name: Zoozone 2
  • Store: Amazon
  • External dimensions: 101cm x 51cm x 30cm (L x W x H)
  • Internal dimensions: 98cm x 48cm x 28cm (L x W x H)
  • Floor area: 4,214 sqcm
  • Suitable for: Dwarves, especially Roborovskis
  • DIY required: It is advised to add mesh to the lid
  • Pros: Well ventilated, secure (if mesh added to lid), easy to assemble, east to clean, no risk of bar chewing/climbing, lighter than a tank but with the benefits of one.
  • Cons: Extremely limited height = extremely limited substrate (suits sand based enclosure for Roborovskis)
  • Name: Ferplast Maxi Duna Multy
  • Store: Amazon
  • External dimensions: 99cm x 51.5cm x 36cm (L x W x H)
  • Internal dimensions: 98cm x 49cm x 35cm (L x W x H)
  • Floor area: 4,802 sqcm
  • Suitable for: Dwarves, especially Roborovskis
  • DIY required: No
  • Pros: Well ventilated, secure (if mesh added to lid), easy to assemble, east to clean, no risk of bar chewing/climbing, lighter than a tank but with the benefits of one.
  • Cons: Extremely limited height = extremely limited substrate (suits sand based enclosure for Roborovskis)
  • Name: Skyline Marrakesh
  • Store: Zooplus
  • External dimensions: 96cm x 47cm x 38cm (L x W x H)
  • Internal dimensions: 92.5cm x 44cm x 35cm (L x W x H)
  • Floor area: 4,070 sqcm
  • Suitable for: Dwarves only
  • DIY required: No
  • Pros: “Servo-lift” lid, well ventilated, secure, excellent quality wood and glass, easy to assemble, easy to clean, no risk of bar chewing/climbing.
  • Cons: Limited height = limited substrate depth, heavy
  • Name: Interzoo Olaf
  • Store: Maxi Zoo
  • External dimensions: 101cm x 53cm x 40.5cm (L x W x H)
  • Internal dimensions: 95.5cm x 50.5cm x 38cm (L x W x H)
  • Floor area: 4,822 sqcm
  • Bar spacing: 0.9cm
  • Substrate base: 15cm
  • Suitable for: Dwarf hamsters
  • DIY required: It is advised to add cardboard or perspex to extend the tray based height so deeper substrate can be added.
  • Pros: Well ventilated, 2 top doors and 1 side door
  • Cons: Bar chewing/climbing risk, doors are small.
  • Name: Ritz
  • Store: Shauna’s Pet Shop
  • External dimensions: 100cm x 54cm x 39cm (L x W x H)
  • Internal dimensions: 94cm x 48cm x 37cm (L x W x H)
  • Floor area: 4,512 sqcm
  • Bar spacing: 0.9cm
  • Substrate base: 15cm
  • Suitable for: Dwarf hamsters
  • DIY required: It is advised to add cardboard or perspex to extend the tray based height so deeper substrate can be added.
  • Pros: Well ventilated, 2 top doors and 1 side door
  • Cons: Bar chewing/climbing risk, doors are small.
  • Name: Savic Plaza
  • Store: Shauna’s Pet Shop
  • External dimensions: 100cm x 50cm x 50cm (L x W x H)
  • Internal dimensions: 94cm x 45cm x 47cm (L x W x H)
  • Floor area: 4,230 sqcm
  • Bar spacing: 0.9cm
  • Substrate base: 15cm
  • Suitable for: Dwarves only (with DIY)
  • DIY required: It is advised to add cardboard or perspex to extend the tray based height so deeper substrate can be added.
  • Pros: Well ventilated
  • Cons: The wheel supplied is unsuitable, bar chewing/climbing risk.
  • Name: Trixie Nagarium Rodent Home
  • Store: Shauna’s Pet Shop
  • External dimensions: 100cm x 50cm x 50cm (L x W x H)
  • Internal dimensions: 98cm x 48cm x 48cm (L x W x H)
  • Floor area: 4,704 sqcm
  • Suitable for: Dwarves only
  • DIY required: No
  • Pros: Well ventilated
  • Cons: It is advised to seal the wood with varnish or outdoor paint such as Cuprinol.

If you’re interested in purchasing any of the enclosures listed above, click the button below to browse our shopping guide where all the suitable hamster products have been listed for your easy access!

CLEANING AN ENCLOSURE

There are many opinions out there about just how often a hamster’s cage should be cleaned, but it is generally agreed that they should be cleaned as little and as rarely as possible. Cage cleaning can be very stressful for a hamster if it is done too much. Hamsters rely heavily on their sense of smell to navigate their surroundings. Fully cleaning their cage removes their scent from the enclosure. This can make the hamster feel nervous, as if it is in a brand new place. It will wonder where all it’s food stores, nests and tunnels have gone. Their comforting and familiar surroundings have been taken away.

Of course we do need to clean our hamster’s cages from time to time. An enclosure that is never cleaned will become smelly with urine. A hamster laying in dirty bedding can develop urine burns, and bacteria can cause infections. Feces will build up in the enclosure and if some pieces of fresh food start to go off, they can mould and begin to attract insects. So what’s important is how we clean our hamster’s enclosures. There needs to be a balance between removing the soiled bedding doing regular maintenance, while also keeping as much of the enclosure intact to minimise stress for the hamster. How often you have to clean the enclosure will depend on the size of the enclosure plus your hamster’s personality. Hamsters that are potty trained will be much easier to clean up after than hamsters that pee in random areas.

Ideally, “spot cleaning” (removing the bedding that is most soiled such as a toilet area) should be done every few days. Larger cleans can be done every 6-8 weeks or more, which involves replacing the bedding in some of the more used areas of the enclosure. When doing these types of cleans it’s best not to fully remove all of the substrate to minimise the hamster’s stress levels. If possible, try to keep about two thirds of the bedding in the enclosure, this ensures the hamster can still smell their own scent after the cage has been cleaned.

Rotational method:
This involves imagining the hamster’s enclosure divided into about 6 portions. One of the portions can be completely cleaned every 3-4 weeks. This is useful for hamsters that get very stressed from cage cleans because it’s only removing a small portion of their bedding at a time, but still means that after about 20 weeks the entire cage will have undergone a full clean relatively unnoticed by the hamster.

This is another reason why there are minimum cage size requirements. A cage that is too small would have to be fully cleaned once a week because the small amount of bedding it can contain would become dirty very quickly. Cleaning too much can actually cause the cage to become smelly quicker, as a hamster will work harder to put their scent back into the enclosure.

Don’t forget to clean accessories in the enclosure too as required. Some items can be washed in warm soapy water such as bowls and bottles or those made from stone, ceramic or plastic. Other items can be wiped down with a water/vinegar solution which acts as a natural disinfectant and is perfectly safe for hamsters. When doing a large cage clean, take the chance to disinfect the base of the cage too, because it can be stained by urine.

Some owners will never do a full clean in the hamster’s enclosure at all (aside from spot cleaning every few days) and this is ok too, although generally more suited to very large enclosures. Hamsters are naturally clean animals and will often tidy their own burrows by pushing the soiled bedding out. In the wild, bad smells would attract predators, so it’s important for hamsters to keep their homes clean.

Check out the video below to see a cage being cleaned step by step!

TANK ENCLOSURES VS BARRED ENCLOSURES

It’s important to consider that it is your hamster that will be living in the enclosure, so you need to ensure that it is suitable for them, rather than thinking about what suits you as an owner. Barred cages are so popular they’re almost a “default” of what people imagine when they think of a “hamster cage”. This is mostly due to pet shops and the media promoting tiny, barred cages for hamsters. However, when we take the hamster’s needs into consideration, barred cages really aren’t as suitable as many people believe.
We do always recommend tank enclosures over barred cages, but does that mean you shouldn’t use a barred cage for your hamster?

TANK ENCLOSURES

BARRED ENCLOSURES

Advantages:
Although tanks can be very heavy and often more expensive than plastic cages, they have a lot more advantages than barred cages. The main advantages are that tanks allow for really deep substrate, they’re very secure for your hamster and there’s no risk of bar chewing or climbing behaviours. 
It’s easier to see your hamster through the glass than through bars of a cage. You can often view your hamster’s burrow system if they build it near the enclosure edge.
Tanks are cleaner in your home because they contain the sand and other substrates better as your hamster digs.
They protect your hamster from draughts, and excessive temperatures (but ALWAYS keep your hamster’s enclosure out of direct sunlight). 
The solid walls stop insects or other hazards getting into the cage. All in all, tanks are MUCH better suited as a hamster’s enclosure.

Advanatages:

  • Well ventilated
  • Relatively cheap
  • Lightweight
  • Easily transportable
  • Colourful
  • Easy to clean
    Notice how most of these things benefit
    the human owner, rather than the hamster?

Disadvantages:
Barred cages have many disadvantages for a hamster. They do not have deep enough trays to hold a sufficient level of substrate. The plastic they are made from can be chewed and cause injury if ingested. They are not as secure as tanks because the doors often have weak mechanisms and the hamster can escape!
Bar chewing and bar climbing are stress behaviours associated with barred cages. These behaviours can happen when a hamster does not have enough room, or they become bored due to lack of enrichment. Excessive bar chewing can rub the fur from a hamster’s nose, and cause their teeth to become damaged which can lead to other health issues and difficulty eating.
Hamsters can break or dislocate limbs if they get caught in the bars or mesh of a cage. Hamsters should also never be able to fall more than 10-15cm, so a fall from the top of their cage could cause them serious injury. Some hamsters have had to have limbs amputated after a bar climbing injury and although rare, there have been reports of hamsters getting their heads stuck between the bars and subsequently dying from stress, exhaustion or dehydration.

Does this mean barred cages shouldn’t be used?
Barred cages can be used to house hamsters, however, it is advised to make some quick and easy adjustments to help improve their functionality and also minimise the risk of injury to your hamster. Sheets of cardboard can be added in front of the bars on 3 sides to block your hamster and stop them from bar chewing or climbing. Remember to add a lower piece on the front wall so you can see your hamster. The cardboard also extends the base tray depth, meaning much more substrate can be added and your hamster can burrow to it’s heart’s content!

If you want a more permanent solution, you can add perspex plastic in the same way, and lucky for us hamster owners, there’s a store in the UK that creates custom designs for the cage you have that can either replace the bars (Savic Plaza) or they can be attached to the bars very easily (most other barred cages).
Check out the range at Viking Laser.

BIN CAGES

Why are bin cages so unsuitable?

Lack of Floorspace: Bin cages are a great, temporary solution but there are no bin cages on the Irish market that meet the minimum requirements. When you look up their product information online, their measurements are for the top, that’s not where a hamster is going to be. They’re going to be at the bottom where the bin tapers. The difference between the top and the bottom can be 10-15cm, length and width, which significantly decreases floorspace. The IKEA SAMLA is the largest we have available to us. You can see from the photo that the dimensions are roughly 70cm x 50cm.

Possible Risks: As well as floorspace, bin cages can cause various risks to your hamsters’ health.

  • Sometimes, there are corners that can be chewed, and nobody wants their hamster accidentally ingesting plastic.
  • During the summer, it can turn into a sauna in a bin cage, it doesn’t matter how much ventilation there is, the plastic is going to heat up and cause issues.
  • Escaping through wire mesh that hasn’t been attached properly is also a possibility. The wire could injure your hamster and heaven knows where they could end up once they’re out.

DIY Costs: Bin cages need quite a bit of DIY, finding the right saw and the correct blade type to cut the plastic, being able to drill holes and attach the wire mesh safely. It ends up being more expensive and more of a task than buying a Detolf. It’s one of those things that needs to be done properly, and in order for it to be done properly, an electric saw is needed. Trying to cut corners by using the incorrect tools can cause more harm in the long run.

But they do it in America: Yes they do, because not only are their standards lower than ours, but they don’t have as many suitable cages on the market. What they DO have, is larger bins. So, when you see an American using a bin cage, that bin cage is more than likely 50% bigger than our biggest bin – the IKEA SAMLA.

When is it acceptable to use a bin cage? 
For fostering and to use as a temporary cage!
Why for fostering? We prefer to keep our fosters in cages that are slightly smaller than the minimum so that there is no issue of them going to their forever home and being downgraded.
When would I need a temporary cage? Travelling with your hamster, as a hospital cage so you can keep a close eye on them, and if you are in the process of upgrading. If you are upgrading, try not to keep your hamster in the bin cage any longer than 1 month.

If you cannot afford a suitable cage, then please don’t get a hamster. The minimum requirements that are in place are there for a reason and they’re based on scientific studies (which can be found here). Hamsters need enough space to be able to follow their natural instincts and be provided with enough enrichment.
Nobody is entitled to a pet; they are not a right. Pets are a privilege!

ENCLOSURE LAYOUT

The following are necessary and important to consider in an enclosure layout.

Enclosure size: This is really important. While we do have minimum requirements to prevent animal cruelty, we do recommend that owners try to get the biggest enclosure they possibly can. The bigger the cage, the more room there is for enrichment. The more enrichment there is for your hamster the happier it will be.

Enclosure height: As important as size, although not mentioned as often as floor space when it comes to requirements. While tall hamster cages with lots of storeys and levels are not suitable, because a hamster isn’t good at climbing and can easily fall and hurt itself, it’s still important that the enclosure is a good height. This is to fit enough substrate for burrowing. We often see enclosures of approx. 60cm height, but there is only 10cm of bedding depth!! Hamsters do not need a lot of empty space above their heads! They need areas of deep substrate so they can tunnel and burrow like they would in the wild. 

Wheels: It’s best for wheels to be positioned at a height just under the lid (with enough clearance to spin). This is to ensure maximum substrate depth. For example, if your enclosure is 65cm tall, you’ll need 28cm for the wheel height (say 30cm to include some clearance), that leaves you with another 35cm for bedding depth. Wheels should be supported on wheel stands/platforms. These platforms should have stilts/legs that are the same height as your substrate. This will stop the wheel from sinking into the substrate but will also allow your hamster to use the space underneath the wheel while burrowing too! Alternatively, if your layout allows it, the wheel can also be placed in a shallow substrate such as the sand bath. This optimises your space too as you have two necessary items in the same spot.

Hides: These should similarly have stilts attached to allow them to sit high up on the bedding and not fall or become lopsided when the hamster tunnels underneath. Multi-chamber hides are great, because they replicate the chambers of their natural burrows. They also block out the light much better than a single chamber hide, giving your hamster a safe dark place to rest during the day. Wooden hides are most suitable because it is a breathable material and will not harm your hamster should they decide to chew on it. Hides should ideally have a removable lid for easy access for spot cleaning, but they should not have a floor. This will allow your hamster to enter the hide and then burrow down deeper into the substrate below. 

The roof of the hide can serve as an additional platform for a wheel, water bottle, food bowl or other items. A water source should always be easily accessible for your hamster. Bottles and water bowls both have their advantages and disadvantages so sometimes it can be best to use both! Food bowls are not necessary for your hamster because scatter feeding is a much more enriching way to feed them. Just sprinkle their food over the substrate and your hamster will spend time tracking down its food. This is a wild behaviour and should be encouraged so you give your hamster the opportunity to act as it naturally would. Scatter feeding is not cruel. Hamsters have a fantastic sense of smell and will be able to find the food among the substrates. It also means your hamster will have something to do during its active hours and will be much less likely to display boredom or stress behaviours.

Sand baths: A necessity in any hamster’s enclosure. This is to ensure a hamster can regulate the oils in its fur and keep clean. A sand bath can be made from any container, but it needs to be big enough for the hamster to move about in (small baking trays or Tupperware containers are great for this). It’s best that sand is placed in a container rather than just loosely poured into the enclosure because otherwise it will affect the substrate depth. Having the sand in its own container means it can be easily removed and sifted when needed. The sand bath will be very heavy, so it also needs to be placed on a secure platform to avoid sinking into the substrate and possibly crushing your hamster.

The following are optional but beneficial additions to an enclosure.

Digging area: Hamsters love to forage, so picking an area with a loose substrate such as corn cob, cork granules, coconut husk, or a safe peat substrate will give your pet a new texture to explore and encourage digging behaviour. Any digging areas that are self-contained should also be placed on a platform with stilts/legs. As should any other heavy item you include in your hamster’s cage.

Forage: Forage material comes in many forms. Dried flowers and leaf litter can be sprinkled around the cage which gives your hamster some interesting scents to explore. They also really enhance the natural look. Sprays of millet, flax or oat sprays can be included in bunches here and there to allow your hamster to discover food for itself and work on harvesting it’s food like it would in the wild. Meadow hay can be added in specific areas or mixed throughout the substrate and act as a binding aid. Moss can be added for extra decoration and texture.

Racetrack: This is a strip of wood or other material that runs along the full length of the hamster’s cage. It should be free of obstacles so that the hamster can run down the track at full speed. It gives them an opportunity to run without using their wheel. Again, it should be supported by stilts or fixed securely to the enclosure wall.

Cork tunnels: A much better alternative to plastic tubes that come with cheap cages. Bury this half in and half out of the substrate to encourage your hamster to start digging a tunnel and create a burrow system. The rough texture also helps file down their nails.

Bendy Bridges: A really useful item. Depending on how they are used they can serve as a bridge, a tunnel/hide, or a wall. Please be sure to stuff any gaps that may trap a hamster’s leg or toe as they climb over it. Moss is great for this! 

Grass/Willow Nests: A natural material that gives your hamster an extra hiding place or a place to hide treats! They are very light so do not need to be supported on stilts the same way wooden hides do.

Ceramic hides/slate tiles: These can be used by your hamster during hot weather as a place to sit and cool down.

Vinewood: Another texture for your hamster and can be used to help divide substrates in the enclosure. Large heavy pieces should be supported or placed on the enclosure floor.

Cardboard: Boxes, tubes and egg carton all make very cheap alternatives and can be used to create boredom breakers for your hamsters.

Most barred cages come with a type of platform that is secured to the cage. Try putting the platform as low as possible, this ensures the level isn’t too high for a bad fall and it also helps with burrowing. We all know barred cages only allow 15cm of bedding, putting the level as low as possible allows you to build the bedding up underneath it and have it stay in the cage. Also, because it’s nice and dark underneath, it makes your hamster feel safe, having a large dark area to burrow in.

You can find all the items listed above in our shopping guide!

No matter the size of the enclosure it’s always best to make the most of the space you have. Hamsters are prey animals, so wide open spaces make them feel vulnerable. It’s best to clutter the enclosure to provide lots of hiding places and shelter for your hamster, so they feel safe and will come out to explore more often. Rather than having a large open cage with items placed neatly here and there individually, try to make the items “interact” with each other. Make a bendy bridge form a path into the digging area, maybe a cork tunnel passes underneath the bridge? Or have a forage area at the opposite side of the cage to the hamster’s hide, so if there is a racetrack, they are more likely to use it. 

Making sure your hamsters experience is the best it can be in its cage is so important. A good cage layout comes from experience but using tips like the ones above and getting inspiration from other people’s cages is one of the best ways to learn! Checkout the gallery below for enclosure layout inspiration!

INSPIRATION