One of the most popular species of hamster kept as a pet is the Syrian or golden hamster. Despite the common name, not all Syrian hamsters have reddish-golden hair; they now are bred in a variety of colors and hair lengths. While Syrian hamsters are the largest type of pet hamster, they are still relatively small at an average of 5 to 7 inches in length as adults.
These cute rodents make fun pets and can be socialized with regular gentle handling. They are curious, active, and playful, although their nocturnal habits mean you might not often see them while awake. Some will adjust somewhat to your schedule, however, if you handle them regularly. Never abruptly wake up your sleeping hamster, as this may startle it into biting.
To keep your pet hamster healthy and happy, it is very important to feed it an appropriate diet, give it opportunities to exercise, and choose a cage that fits its needs. When you are choosing a cage for your Syrian hamster, you need to consider several factors. Most importantly, you want to pick a cage that is large enough, safe, and easy to clean. Unfortunately, many cages you will find at the pet store do not meet all these requirements when it comes to Syrian hamsters. Here's how to pick the best kind of cage for your hamster and properly outfit it.
Style of Cage
Your main choices will be between a wire cage (usually on a plastic base), a plastic modular cage (the kind with many compartments and tubes), or an aquarium (with a secure mesh lid). Each style of cage has advantages and disadvantages when it comes to cleaning, ventilation, and security.
As a general rule, wire cages are easy to clean, but if the bars aren't spaced closely enough, make it easy for your pet to escape. These cages are available in many sizes and to fit any budget. Plastic cages are better for containing messes such as stray bedding, food, or waste, but don't provide as much ventilation as a wire cage. Glass tanks come in a wide range of sizes, but are heavy, can be cold, and block air circulation.
Let's consider each of these factors in more depth.
Ease of Cleaning
In general, a wire cage with a plastic tray is the easiest to clean; just lift the wire off the bottom, clean out the bedding, and wipe down the wire part as necessary. The more complex the cage, the more difficult it will be to clean, which is very important if you are considering a plastic cage with multiple compartments and tubes. These cages can become a real chore to clean. Aquariums are not terribly difficult to clean but can be heavy and awkward to handle at cleaning time. Cleaning cages is not a fun task, so keeping it easy will make owning a hamster more fun.
Good air flow not only helps keep down odor, it also helps keep your pet healthier and happier. A wire cage is easily the best option for ventilation, as air flows all around the bars. The tubes and enclosed compartments of plastic modular cages can inhibit airflow, so air quality and condensation can become problems. Likewise, aquariums can also have inadequate ventilation due to their solid glass sides and bottom.
Keep in mind that the openness of wire cages gives them great ventilation but means you must keep the cage out of drafts. Plastic cages and aquariums do offer better protection from drafts.
Cage Security and Safety
Hamsters can fit through surprisingly small spaces. To avoid a midnight escape, the spaces between the bars on a Syrian hamster's cage should be no more than 1/2 inch apart. Horizontal bars will allow some opportunity to climb. Check the doors on any cage to make sure they are secure, as hamsters can become quite experts at opening doors. Metal bolt clips, like those on the end of a dog leash, can be clipped on to "lock" doors for an extra level of security on wire doors. If you choose a cage with multiple levels, make sure there is no place where your hamster could fall a long distance.
Plastic cages and glass tanks are more secure than wire cages, as a general rule, but an open top means your pet might still escape. Be sure that the top of any cage has a tightly fitted lid that your hamster can't slide underneath, push up, or squeeze through.
Cage Size for a Syrian Hamster
Hamsters are very active animals, so don't make the mistake of assuming that just because your pet is small it doesn't need much room for exercise.
Aim for a minimum of 24 inches by 12 inches, and at least 12 inches tall. However, to keep your hamster active and happy, try to get a bigger cage—when it comes to hamster cages, bigger is always better. And while your hamster will likely enjoy being able to climb up a level or two within its cage, it will spend most of its time on the ground floor, so when sizing up, choose a cage that's longer, rather than taller, whenever possible.
Syrian hamsters need ample space to run and play, and the actual floor space of the cage is important for this. In general, many cages marketed for hamsters are too small for Syrian hamsters. Note that the tubes, compartments, and built-in wheels of plastic modular cages are too small for many Syrian hamsters, as they are intended more for dwarf hamsters or mice.
Syrian Hamster Cages and Chewing
The drive and ability of hamsters to chew can affect the type of cage that suits them. Wire cages have many advantages, but some hamsters become almost obsessive about chewing the bars. If providing ample chew toys and boredom busters don't relieve the chewing, switching to a solid-sided cage may be the best option. Also, when choosing a plastic cage, make sure there are no exposed edges or ridges of plastic where a hamster can start chewing the cage, or your hamster is likely to escape at some point. Aquariums are generally chew-proof (but make sure the cover is secure).
Hamsters should have wheels, but it is important to make sure the wheel is big enough for Syrian hamsters. Choose a wheel that's 8 to 12 inches in diameter for your Syrian hamster, as the 6-inch wheels intended for mice or dwarf hamsters are not large enough.The wheels built into plastic cages are sometimes too small for these larger hamsters. Ideally, wheels should have a solid surface and no crossbars for support, so no limbs or other body parts get caught.
No matter what style of cage you use, make sure you can provide a nice deep layer of bedding for burrowing. This is most important for wire cages—choose one with a deep tray to allow a nice thick layer of bedding, and also to reduce the amount of bedding your hamsters will push or kick out of the cage. As a general rule, your Syrian hamster should have a layer of bedding that's at least 1 to 2 inches deep. Remove soiled bedding daily, and replace all of the bedding weekly.
How many levels should my hamster cage have?
Your hamster needs a lot of room to exercise and roam. Depending on how much space you have for the cage, you can go long and low, or choose a cage that isn't quite as long, but has multiple levels for your pet to climb and explore. Either will suit your hamster just fine, but if choosing a multi-level cage, be sure the ladder is secure so your pet won't fall off.
How do you tame a Syrian hamster?
Your Syrian hamster may take a little while to get used to you and be tame. To start, keep its cage in a central location in your home so it gets used to people and movement. Don't handle it too much at first, allowing it to settle into its new home. Once your hamster is comfortable, you can follow these easy steps to successfully tame and train it.
Should I keep more than one Syrian hamster?
Although some other types of hamster do well in small groups, Syrian hamsters are loners that tend to fight if kept in a cage with another rodent. Unless you plan on breeding hamsters, your pet will be happiest in a cage by itself.
How long do Syrian hamsters live?
A well-cared-for Syrian hamster will generally live to be two or three years old.
Where is the best spot for my hamster's cage?
Keep your hamster's cage out of direct sunlight, away from drafty areas, and away from any sources of intense heat, such as a stove or fireplace. Look for a location that isn't too loud, as hamsters can be stressed by too much noise. It's also best to put the cage in an area where lights won't be turned on and off too frequently while the animal is sleeping. Finally, choose a spot where you'll be able to see your pet regularly, but won't be bothered if it runs on its wheel or scampers around its cage while you are trying to sleep.