For pet hamsters, commercially available pens are made of wire or plastic. Some pet owners house their hamsters in aquarium tanks or make their own wooden pens. In laboratories hamsters are housed in pens designed for scientific use. There are also special pens for exhibition, as in a hamster show.
For Syrian hamsters, the National Hamster Council recommends a minimum cage size of minimum of 1000 cm2 usable floor space and a ceiling 19 cm high. For dwarf and Chinese hamsters their minimal recommendation is 750 cm2 usable floor space and 17 cm high. Hamsters prefer larger cages and want much more than the minimum. “Starter packs” or hamster pens advertised for new owners are almost never large enough to be the only housing for a Syrian hamster, even when these pens are advertised for use with Syrian hamsters.
The ideal floor for a hamster is solid and covered with bedding. Hamsters which have thick bedding for their floor are happier and have better health. Wire flooring can harm hamster paws and for the benefit of the hamster is covered with a solid floor such as cardboard, ceramic plates which the hamster does not chew, or mats marketed for hamsters.
Types of cages
Wire-top cages typically are designed in such a way that there is some option for the hamster to climb on some of the wire. Plastic cages do not have bars on which the hamster can climb, but can be expanded with plastic tubes for climbing. Wire cages can expose a hamster to drafts, and additionally, some wire cages permit the hamster to throw bedding material through the wires as it burrows, digs, and plays. Pens with solid walls contain all the bedding, and additionally, prevent drafts of air from disturbing the hamster. Syrian hamsters are larger than Chinese and dwarf hamsters, so they need a larger pen and hamster accessories than those smaller hamsters. Hamster tubes come in two sizes also – smaller ones suit dwarf and Chinese hamsters of any age, while larger tubes are comfortable for Syrian hamster adults but too big for small hamsters to use.  They must be at least 450 square inches of floor space, or otherwise, you cannot fit all the essentials that a hamster needs.
A wire-top cage is a plastic base with a wire structure arching over it. Wire-top cages may take many shapes, and for hamsters, may have one level or be multi-story with tubes, stairs, or ladders connecting the levels. Wire-top cages for hamsters are often marketed in two varieties. One version is for the larger Syrian hamsters, with the space between bars being about 12mm. The other version is for Chinese or dwarf hamsters, with the gap between bars being 8mm. Pens with smaller gaps, perhaps around 3mm, are likely intended for mice, and are also likely to be too small to provide a good home for any sort of hamster. It is very important when choosing a wire cage, that is it above the minimum cage requirement of 450 square inches of unbroken floor space. Most wire cage that you find in a pet store are not above the minimum so it is very important to check.
Well-designed wire-top cages have doors placed so that a human can open them as needed and reach into any part of the pen to access the hamster or clean the space. A cantilever design for upper levels in wire-top cages may wobble if the cage is not well designed, and if it does, this fault could upset hamsters because they prefer stable ground. Wire-top cages will ideally securely fasten the plastic base to the wire frame so that the entire pen can be transported without risk of the parts separating or the cage structure failing.
Plastic tank cages
Plastic tank cages may be simply designed like a plain box, or they might be elaborately designed to encourage hamster exploration in tubes, levels, and rooms. Plastic tank cages are marketed to be expanded with additional modules which connect to the main pen with clamps or connecting tunnels.
Hamsters are able to gnaw on parts of plastic cages in ways that are less likely in other cages due to other cages having a different design. Pens are not designed to be chewed. If a cage is large enough and if a hamster has other things to gnaw, then most hamsters will not chew cage elements. Syrian hamsters are especially likely to chew small tubes and cages designed for smaller hamsters.
Most plastic cages are too small for a hamster and cause the hamster to become bored and display unwanted behaviors. Along with this smaller modules may not have good ventilation posing health risks for your hamster.
Aquariums can be modified to be glass hamster cages. Hamsters are unable to chew glass pens because the walls are smooth and there are no projections. Disadvantages of glass are that glass tanks are heavy and difficult to move and it may be difficult to find an appropriate top to the cage especially if modules are put in the pen which give the hamster an option to attempt an escape over the sides.
40-gallon aquariums are the smallest size that can keep a hamster but larger sizes are recommended.
Wooden cages are not mass marketed so are an option for hamster owners who are handy to make their own or for breeders who need the custom creation of a large number of pens for a large number of hamsters. Wooden cages must be made of untreated wood of a sort that a hamster can gnaw and eat, because over time, they will chew the pens. Wood glue usually is not appropriate because it is poisonous.
Hamster wheels are exercise devices. Most of these devices consist of a runged or ridged wheel held on a stand by a single or pair of stub axles. Hamster wheels allow rodents to run even when their space is confined.
Many commercially marketed hamster wheels do not acknowledge that Syrian hamsters are larger than dwarf and Chinese hamsters, and that Syrian hamsters require a larger wheel size than the other types of hamsters.
It is very important to get a solid bottom wheel as wire or mesh wheels can cause foot lesions.
Hamster houses should have enough ventilation to not collect condensation and become damp. Having a hide box improves the mental health of a hamster and not having a hide box can make a hamster feel vulnerable.
Hamsters by nature are clean animals and prefer to urinate in a place in their cage which they designate as a toilet. If their cage includes a suitable enclosed room, then the hamster is likely to recognize that room as a toilet area and begin to use it. People keeping hamsters may suggest a toilet area to a hamster by putting soiled hamster bedding into the area which the person wants the hamster to consider. A large jar may be used as a toilet, then removed from a cage and cleaned regularly as the hamster uses it.
Hamsters like chew toys.
Provide as many toys as you can to your hamster.
Hamsters will exploit any opportunity to escape from their cage. Most commonly they escape from their cages when someone has neglected to close a door. They have the ability to flatten their bodies to squeeze thought holes that humans do not expect the hamster to be able to use. Hamsters may sometimes also open latches or unscrew connections, in which case they open their cage themselves. If any part of the cage may be gnawed to create a hole then the hamster may chew its way out. If the hamster passes time with free access to both the inside of its cage and the outside world, it may collect some of its bedding and hoarded food to establish a new den. A bucket mousetrap is the most common way to catch a hamster. In this scheme, food such as leafy greens are placed in a bucket, and a staircase is built leading to the top of the bucket. The hungry hamster will climb the stairs, fall into the bucket, and be captured.
Society and culture
The National Hamster Council in the United Kingdom maintains recommendations for hamster cages for pet owners and breeders. United States regulations which apply to hamsters are in the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 and described further in the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research's Guide for the care and Use of Laboratory Animals describes legal regulations for hamster cages in the United States.
- Logsdail 2002, p. 24-28.
- National Hamster Council (n.d.). "Hamster Housing". hamsters-uk.org. Retrieved 26 December 2015.
- Siperstein, Linda J. (21 October 2009). "Hamster Housing - Choose your hammie's cage wisely". humanesociety.org. The Humane Society of the United States. Retrieved 26 December 2015.
- Logsdail 2002, p. 25.
- Field 1999, p. 20.
- Logsdail 2002, p. 24.
- Logsdail 2002, p. 26.
- Logsdail 2002, p. 27.
- Field 1999, p. 23.
- Logsdail 2002, p. 31.
- Veillette, M.; Reebs, S.G. (2011). "Shelter choice by Syrian hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus) in the laboratory". Animal Welfare. 20: 603–611.
- Potegal, M.; Huhman, K.; Moore, T.; Meyerhoff, J. (1993). "Conditioned defeat in the Syrian golden hamster (Mesocricetus auratus)". Behavioral and Neural Biology. 60 (2): 93–102. doi:10.1016/0163-1047(93)90159-F. ISSN 0163-1047.
- Online discussion forums say this as of December 2015. No authoritative published source is identified. Published sources do specify that dwarf hamsters want baths, implying that Syrians do not.
- Logsdail 2002, p. 48.
- Field 1999, p. 19.
- Field 1999, p. 16, referencing
- 9 C.F.R. 9 / 1 1
- 54 FR 168
- Committee for the Update of the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, Institute for Laboratory Animal Research, Division on Earth and Life Studies, National Research Council of the National Academies (2011). Guide for the care and use of laboratory animals (8th ed.). Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press. ISBN 978-0309154000.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
- Logsdail, Chris; Logsdail, Peter; Hovers, Kate (2002). Hamsterlopaedia : a complete guide to hamster care. Lydney: Ringpress. ISBN 1860542468.
- Field, Karl J.; Sibold, Amber L. (1999). The laboratory hamster & gerbil. Boca Raton [u.a.]: CRC Press. ISBN 0849325668.
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