Syrian Hamster Environment
Syrian hamsters are very active, with girls especially loving to climb. Barred cages offer the best source of enrichment for this, although it can lead to bar-biting in cases of boredom so it is important to offer plenty of enrichment and change the cage layout on a regular basis.
80 x 50cm is often considered the minimum cage space, with this being composed of unbroken floor space though many people consider 100 x 50 better for a Syrian. However, although bigger is often better, each hamster's individual circumstances should be taken into account. Some hamsters can become overwhelmed and stressed in larger cages, even if suitably filled with substrate, enrichment and hiding space.
Pet shops woefully underestimate the suitability and size requirements needed for rodents so please do not be conned into buying tiny tanks or modular systems. Rotastak is not suitable for any rodent. For reasons why see our article on Why Modular Systems are Bad for your Pet.
- Wire cages: these give excellent ventilation and are good for climbing. You can hang plenty of toys from various positions and can interact with your animal through the bars. They can be quite difficult to clean. They provide much better opportunities for taming and enrichment. Bar spacing needs to be 1cm or less to prevent escapees and much less for smaller adults and juveniles.
- Glass tanks: - needs work to allow climbing material and are much more difficult to interact with your hamsters as they will consider hands from above very predatory. Very easy to clean but have poor ventilation. Do not use these with the standard heavy lids for fish - a staple gun, some 1mm wide wire mesh and bits of wood can easily make a decent lid to allow more air to pass through. Since most glass tanks are far too small for a Syrian hamster, some people choose to use an IKEA detolf shelf laying on its side to give a large habitat for your hamster.
- a RUB: - if you are taking in rescues or money is an issue a plastic storage box can be converted into a RUB container for rodents. You must mesh top and all sides to allow adequate ventilation and ensure you go for a size that meets minimum unbroken floorspace requirements. It is very difficult to find a RUB large enough for a Syrian although these can be useful as carrriers, or as temporary accomodation such as a play cage to put your pet in during cleanouts.
Substrate and bedding
Sawdust, or anything pine or cedar based should not be used since it can affect the lungs of mice and cause respiratory problems. Items such as Carefresh are quite good and absorbent, whilst still allowing space for burrowing. A cheaper alternative for this is to get a horse bedding such as MegaZorb.Other suitable substrates include Ectopetbed, Bedmax, bedexcel and finacard.
Timothy hay can be given to hamsters as it is soft enough to be safe for cheek pouches and contains high fibre. Do not offer other types of hay or straw as these can damage cheek pouches.
Fluffy bedding is extremely dangerous for hamsters as it can tangle in limbs and causes problems if eaten. Recycled shreds of paper or strings are good for nesting. You can also buy cotton pods, that provide great fun for hamsters as they have to chew through and release their own bedding.
Toys and Nests
Wooden and plastic toys are suitable for hamsters, providing you don't have an obsessed chewer. Wooden items retain scent more and do need more frequent cleaning but they will provide better enrichment as they are safer to chew than plastic.
Bendy bridges, ladders, cardboard and plastic tubes are all good additions. Watch out for tube sizes as Syrian hamsters need more space than dwarf hamsters or mice and do not find toilet rolls as useful.
Some commercially available toys are not suitable for pets as they are composed entirely of sawdust which is dangerous for your pet to digest.
Your hamster must have multiple nesting sites available, coconut shells, wooden houses and fabric items are also fine. You can also hang fabric ropes and pet-safe hammocks. These must be washed regularly and checked frequently and trimmed of any dangerous loose threads.
Wheels must be solid-based and not have spokes. Your Syrian hamster needs to be able to run easily without an arched back, with 11 inches being a good size for this. Hamsters benefit greatly from wheels and can also enjoy flying saucer type wheels. Occasionally, a hamster can develop an obsession and run on the wheel so much that it loses weight - if your pet develops this habit it may be a sign that they do not have other alternatives for enrichment. It would be important to reduce the time that the wheel is located in the cage and add interesting alternatives until the habit is broken.