How to set up a good cage for a Syrian hamster

image of a syrian hamster

So, you’ve decided a Syrian hamster is the right pet for you. But what do you need to prepare for your new pet? What sort of cage do they need? What do they like? What do they eat? Lets find out.

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Cage

The main thing you’ll need for a Syrian hamster is a cage. Most pet shop cages are way too small for hamsters and are unsuitable living environments. My local rescue centre (Raystede Centre for Animal Welfare) recommend cages that are at least: 80cm x 50cm x 50cm.

This rules out most cages you’ll find in your local pet shop. Try to buy the largest cage you can afford. The larger the cage, the better the quality of life for your new Syrian hamster. I love the cage I have for Olive which is the Savic Plaza Hamster Cage available from Pets At Home. (The next size down, which still meets the recommended minimum size but is cheaper is the Savic Heaven).

I love this cage as it’s large enough to fit in all the enrichment and it already comes with a platform for Olive to climb on. The other good thing I like (other than the size) is that there is lots of open bar space around the edge. Hamsters love to climb and this gives her plenty of space to climb but also gives me lots of space to add in hanging bridges and platforms for her to climb onto.

Bedding

I like to use Carefresh bedding for my hamster. I find it lasts a long time and has good absorption. It’s also soft for Olive’s little feet.  Another alternative is to use shredded paper or cardboard. In their house, soft paper or teabag substrate is recommended.

Please don’t use woodshavings or sawdust! They are really bad for your hamsters respiratory system. Also avoid cotton wool type bedding as it gets tangled easily and can cause lots of problems if ingested. 

A common question is whether or not syrian hamsters will use a litter tray. I don’t have a specific litter tray or toilet for Olive. What I do have is a sand bath and she often uses it as a place to urinate. I bought this dog bowl and put an inch or so of this small animal sand in the bottom. Then it simply lives in a corner of her cage for her to use at any time. Not only does she like to go to the toilet there but it’s good for her to have a sand bath every now and then to keep her clean.

Hamsters also need somewhere to sleep. Olive loves her hamster igloo. However, my previous hamster Diego, refused to sleep in it. I had to buy him a wooden house to sleep in instead which he loved. So, although hamsters need a bed, your preference and your hamsters preference is important. Another thing to consider is where you put the bed. Diego liked his bed to be on the ground, whereas Olive likes her igloo to be up on the platform.

Wheel & Exercise

Hamsters like to run. They 100% need an exercise wheel. However, like the cages, most pet shop hamster wheels are way too small. The recommended wheel size is 28cm. This larger size lets your syrian hamster run in a normal position rather than with an arched back which is much better for their health.

This is another reason for the larger cage, so you can fit in the larger wheel! Olive has this 28cm wheel.

Although very popular, hamster balls should be avoided as they cause the same back issues as the small exercise wheels and are stressful for the hamster to be inside.

Syrian hamsters do need lots of exercise though and on top of having an exercise wheel in their cage, they should be let out of the cage for exercise.

Hamsters should always be supervised when out of their cage. You could try making an obstacle course for your hamster using boxes or tubes for them to climb on and run through.

Thinking about climbing, hamsters love to climb. You need to provide them with opportunities to climb while they’re in their cage. I have a range of wooden platforms like these, as well as a wooden bridge hanging across the cage. Make sure they are close enough together for you hamster to climb between. Olive is not a very good climber and I had to move them closer together than I had them for my previous hamster.

Food & Water

Hamsters need food and water everyday. They should have access to fresh, clean drinking water at all times. Although water bottles are often what you think of when it comes to rodents and rabbits, it is much better for them to drink out of a bowl. Not only is it a more natural drinking position but they are able to get more water from the bowl than the bottle.

I have this bowl for Olive which I like as it’s sturdy enough not to be tipped over and it also has dipped edges to make drinking easier (plus it’s eco-friendly!)

I currently don’t use a bowl for Olive’s food but the bowl mentioned above would also be suitable for food. I don’t have a bowl for the food because I like to spread the food around the cage. This encourages Olive to forage for her food which is more natural. Also, it adds a bit of extra stimulation to her day. I simply pop a few bits of food in various places, up on shelves, in her tunnels, on her bridge. Then she goes around exploring everywhere to find all the food.

Olive currently eats Harry Hamster food by Tiny Friends Farm. However, if you decide to feed your hamster a muesli style food, you need to make sure they are eating all of it. If they pick out the good bits and leave the bits they don’t like they may be missing out on vital nutrition. If you find your hamster only eats some of the muesli, you may be better off with a nugget style hamster food.

Toys!

The last thing (but still very important) is toys! All animals need toys to keep them entertained. The more you can fit into the cage, the better! I already mentioned the hanging wooden bridge that Olive has but she also has lots of other toys.

She has several of these connectable tunnels (which also come in curves). As well as these, she has a cardboard tube and a small wooden bridge.

Lastly, she always enjoys the odd toilet roll tube. She took the last one I gave her and placed it on it’s end outside her bed like a flagpole!

So, what do we need to set up a good syrian hamster cage?

We’ve reached the end of the post! By now you should know all of the things you might need to give your new syrian hamster a brilliant home. Here’s a reminder of what you’ll need:

  • Cage
  • Bedding
  • Wheel & Exercise
  • Food & Water
  • Toys

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