Don’t be fooled by the diminutive stature of hamsters. To be healthy and content, Syrian hamsters need far more space than most owners realize.
Even dwarf hamsters should never be kept in a cage or tank under 20 gallons. Syrian hamsters are one of the largest breeds of hamsters kept as pets, so they require more space than other breeds.
As well as having a larger space requirement, Syrian hamsters differ from dwarf breeds in their temperament and activity levels. For example, while some dwarf breeds are social animals that need at least one cage mate, Syrian hamsters are solitary creatures.
They’re also adept climbers and keen foragers, so you should consider a cage’s height and depth when keeping a Syrian hamster in your home.
What is the Minimum Size for a Syrian Hamster Cage?
When choosing a cage for a Syrian hamster, you need to consider:
- Bar spacing
A longer cage is better, but if you don’t have the space in your home, a relatively short but wide cage with lots of depth and height can compensate. This will ensure your hamster can still enjoy digging and climbing, even if they can’t pace in a wider area.
The minimum specifications for a Syrian hamster cage are:
- 19 inches deep
- 31 inches wide
- 19 inches high
- Bar spacing 6 mm (max)
You can also house Syrian hamsters in converted aquariums. So, a 20-gallon tank would be the smallest comfortable size. However, this breed does like to climb, so wire cages with horizontal bars can offer in-built enrichment for your hamster.
While a Syrian hamster can live comfortably in a cage as small as 20 gallons, enrichment is key. If you provide a smaller habitat with few distractions, there’s a high chance that your Syrian hamster will become stressed or depressed.
How Do I Know A Cage Is Too Small?
A hamster living in a too-small cage will quickly manifest signs of stress and depression. The most common and recognizable sign is chewing on the bars of a cage.
This is a means to escape and a way to distract the hamster. Hamsters become destructive when upset, and if they’re willing to challenge the nigh-unbreakable cage bars, you can be sure they’re bored or frustrated.
Likewise, Syrian hamsters may start to climb the cage walls repeatedly when stressed. They may also chew, nudge, or nose the opening mechanisms of the cage in an attempt to escape.
Of course, not all escape attempts are a symptom of distress; hamsters are curious creatures. Known as escape artists, hamsters may try to get out for no greater reason than curiosity.
However, if you provide a large cage with things to do, these great escapes should be reduced. According to the Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine, enrichment is crucial to long-term health and well-being.
How Big Should A Syrian Hamster Cage Be Ideally?
No single cage size is ‘best’ for a Syrian hamster, but larger is generally better.
You should never have a cage smaller than the recommended size listed above. Otherwise, you should get the biggest cage you can feasibly afford and accommodate in your home.
Though small, Syrian hamsters can cover as much as 6 miles a night when foraging in the wild. So, there’s no chance you’ll be able to provide a cage too big.
What you put in the cage is equally as important. Thankfully, hamsters aren’t picky; you can provide relatively high-quality enrichment on a tight budget if needed.
The key is rotation; changing out toys and hideaways can help, and adding items they can eat, chew, or otherwise destroy will be cathartic.
For example, chewing down the cardboard inner tube of a kitchen roll or toilet paper roll can take care of grinding down your hamster’s teeth. This will also provide enrichment for a bored small animal.
There’s a range of hamster-safe toys that you can place into the cage, such as:
- Tunnels and tubes.
- Children’s toys, like mini dollhouses and wooden block puzzles with hollow interiors.
- Sandpits for digging. For example, you can use a plastic takeaway container and set it into the bedding before filling it with sand.
- See-saw toys
- Mineral blocks for chewing and throwing.
- An exercise wheel – make sure it’s big enough and made of smooth plastic – mesh can lead to stuck or injured limbs.
Some toys are suitable for Syrian hamsters in particular, including:
- Elevated platforms
Plan the layout of elevated toys carefully to prevent falls.
What Happens If My Syrian Hamster’s Cage Is Too Small?
If you keep a Syrian hamster in a cage that is too small, it’ll become stressed and anxious. Over time, this can cause issues, especially if sharp edges form and cut the inside of the hamster’s mouth and gums.
When kept in stressful or under-stimulating environments, Syrian hamsters may also start to hurt themselves. For example, Exotic Animal Practice shows that small rodents like hamsters may bite or amputate their tails, pull fur, or inflict injuries upon themselves.
This is due to long periods spent in unsuitable living conditions. Prolonged stress also causes:
- Loss of appetite
- Constant running on exercise wheels
Hissing, hiding, and shaking are also indicators of stress in hamsters. If you see such behavior, assess the cage size and enrichment tools you’ve provided.
Can a Syrian Hamster Live in a Guinea Pig Cage?
Syrian hamsters are loners, so they should never share a cage with one or several guinea pigs.
However, if you have an old guinea pig cage, you can use it as a very large hamster cage. Just be sure to apply certain modifications to the cage to keep your hamster safe.
Your first concern is bar spacing, as guinea pigs are much larger animals than hamsters. Even Syrian hamsters can squeeze themselves down to slip between the bars of a guinea pig cage, so add a barrier layer to prevent your hamster from getting out.
All this is possible, of course, but it’s time-intensive and may be costly. So, it’s better to purchase a cage designed for Syrian hamsters.
As well as offering enough space to include enrichment toys, cages like this will be designed with the needs and safety of hamsters in mind. That’s the easiest way to prevent escapes and avoidable injuries resulting from unsuitable living spaces.