|Savic Ruffy 2 80cm x 50cm|
The RSPCA recommend cages be at least 75cm by 40cm although most experienced hamster owners will tell you that Syrians need a little more space and most dwarf species are happy in cages slightly smaller than that. However, bigger is better*. There are numerous cages on the UK market that reach and exceed, this size. Some are quite costly, reaching up and over £100 but a lot are relatively cheap (£50 and under). There are also alternatives to the bog standard, wire hamster cage including aquariums, bin cages (storage boxes converted into cages using a bit of DIY), furniture "hacks" and cages marketed for other species.
There are a number of things to consider when searching for the right cage for you and your hamster, I'll try and cover as much as possible in this post. In no particular order mind you! This is to help you make a more informed decision when choosing a cage - so that when someone recommends a particular cage you can decide if it's a good recommendation, or if it's suitable for yourself and your hamster.
Bar Spacing: Syrian hamsters shouldn't be kept in cages that have bars further apart than 1cm, a cage with larger bar spacing should be meshed to prevent escapes. Dwarf hamsters can squeeze through tiny gaps, although most adults will be fine in cages with 1cm bar spacing, babies and smaller dwarf hamsters are safer in cages with smaller bar spacing or in aquarium, tank or bin cages.
Shelving: If the cage includes a bar or mesh shelf, it must be removed or covered as they can cause injuries and bumblefoot. Solid plastic or wooden shelves are best.
Holes: Tank style cages, such as the ZooZones, have holes for water bottle spouts and that, although a lot of hamsters will ignore them, if you have a hamster that has a thing for chewing anything and everything, the holes will need to be covered or blocked.
Height: The height of a cage can vary greatly. A tall cage (40cm plus) must have a selection of shelves and hammocks to prevent falls, or even better a full sized shelf which will not only prevent falls but provide loads more room. Short cages can pose a problem where wheels are concerned - make sure that the cage is tall enough to accommodate the right sized wheel. Flying Saucers are good for shorter cages as they aren't very tall.
Base Depth: Cages with separate bases and tops (like wire cages and tank style cages) need to have a base that is deep enough to contain plenty of substrate. Hamsters are burrowing animals and require a deep layer of substrate.
Access: A lot of commercial, wire cages only have small doors which makes accessing the inside of the cage difficult. Although putting your hands inside the cage while the hamster is in it should be kept to a minimum it does make life easier having decent access to the inside of the cage. The position of the access should also be taken into consideration - front access is needed if you plan on stacking cages, on shelving units or relatively high.
Weight and Bulk: Heavy, bulky cages are difficult to move so unless you are sure you can get help to move the cage when needed, ensure that where it will be placed means you can clean it where it stands or that it's light and easily picked up (Savic wire cages have secure handles which makes them much easier to move).
*In most cases at least - nervous, shy, sick, injured or older hamsters are often better in smaller cages