Homes for your hamster are important, the most important thing to keep in mind when choosing is the size of your pet or pets, their ability to escape and their chewing habits. There are many different types of housing. Also always remember its one Syrian to each cage. No more. Syrians are solitary, though the dwarf hamsters can be placed in groups of the same species.
There is a rough guideline to size of caging that many experts agree on for what number can be kept in a cage/tank/box:
- 10 gallon tank= 2 Winter Whites/Campbell’s or 1 Syrian
- 15 gallon tank= 3 Winter Whites*/Campbell’s or 2 Roborovskis or 1 Syrian
- 20 gallon tank= 4 Winter Whites*/Campbell’s or 3 Roborovskis or 1 Syrian (or perhaps a nursing Syrian)
- 30 gallon tank= 6 Winter Whites*/Campbell’s or 4 Roborovskis or 1 Syrian (or perhaps a nursing Syrian)
A rough guide would also be that either a single or a pair of hamsters would be best in a cage that is roughly 30cm x 60cm, with 30cm height for Syrians (height less of an issue for dwarfs).
Plastic cages like 'Rotastak' and 'Habitrail' are great fun, usually with bright colours which make them appealing to children, and have the possibility of adding extensions onto the hamster’s cage so it can have more and more room. solid sided cages also have the advantage that mess in the cage stays in the cage, as there is no way it can be pushed out (though I have noticed that when hamsters decide to sleep in their 'Rotastak' wheel, believe me put a hamster in a 'Rotastak' cage and at some point it will, the bedding, nesting and food that it takes in there spills out of the external wheels when it moves leaving little piles of mess under them.). There are though many down sides to this type of caging, each significant for their own reasons. Firstly, these cages tend to be a nightmare to clean, with many fiddly parts and tons to take apart wipe, dry, and refill. Even wanting to do a quick cage tidy takes time as it’s hard to get to the different areas. Secondly, these hamster habitats tend to be too small for Syrian hamsters, this in usually not so much a problem with pet store hamsters and they tend to be on the small side, but most hobbyist breeders, especially those who show their animals tend to find that the tubing becomes too narrow for their large chunky Syrians, and the wheels are too small once they are grown too, causing the hamsters back to curve. This is a bad thing, and so a bigger wheel must be found. Adding bigger wheels to certain types of caging (like 'Rotastak' though is difficult to say the least). Though this size issue does not apply to dwarfs, they tend to need mouse ladders to help them up certain areas of tubing. I also found that when housing more than one dwarf in housing that has many separate areas or extensions they were more likely to fight, each claiming an area of its own. This took away the benefits of communal dwarf living, and also risked serious injury to the hamsters, and is not something I would recommend. Thirdly hamsters tend to gnaw on the little plastic odds and ends. This not only makes a terrible noise, but it can destroy the cage and harm the hamster, as it could ingest the plastic. Fourthly most types of housing like that have bad access to the hamsters, meaning they can hide away and it makes the taming process slower and harder.
Personally I now use stacking boxes. I know this may seem stupid to those first starting out in hamsters but many breeders now use them. Clear plastic stacking boxes have many advantages. Firstly mess stays inside the cage, secondly they are quick and easy to clean, thirdly, they are hard to escape from, and fourthly you can drill/melt extra ventilation where you feel it is needed. Fifthly they are cheep, even with buy additional toys and tubes to create a home you still end up making a great saving. Sixthly they are light making them easy to move around and have easy access to your hamsters. These types of hamster home can be as creatively complicated as you want. I know of some people who drill and cut up the boxes adding caging sides to areas, wooden shelving, tubing up to different levels and many such things. Personally I stick to simple; the hamsters seem to like it like that so I don’t worry. Most my boxes have a panel cut out, with a wire panel put in (secured with bolts washers and nuts to the plastic) this gives ample ventilation combined with some small holes down the sides or in the lid, and gives somewhere to attach the water bottle. Most of mine have a 'comfort wheel' in for Syrians, a nice big 8 inch wheel, a feed bowl, sand bowl full of chinchilla sand (not chinchilla dust) a water bottle, a nesting area which usually has some form of hidden area they can sleep in, a few toilet roll tubs and other such toys (I found CD racks make great climbing frames for some hamsters like Chinese).
Glass aquariums are another idea that works well; many of the advantages of plastic boxes apply to them, with a few noticeable exceptions. Glass tends to be heavy, making them harder to clean and move, they are also a worry if knocked. They do need a good lid on them to stop escapes though, where as a stacking box can have simply another box placed on top, which leaves good ventilation, and no possibility of escape.
The last type of caging commonly used is wire caging. I would personally rarely use this type of caging, mainly as the mess from the cage can be pushed out through the bars and with my quantity that’s a lot of mess! You also need to be careful with dwarf hamsters as many can escape through the bars, I would never recommend anyone to use a wire cage for a Roborovski hamster. Wire cages do usually mean a hamster spends time chewing at the bars, there is debate on whether this is a good or bad thing, to some extent chewing helps keep teeth trim, but there are those who feel the danger of breakage, and the vibrations from the gnawing cause too many health difficulties to the hamster. Wire cages also allow the hamster plenty of exercise as they will happily climb all over the cage, literally swinging from the roof! This though great hamster fun I am sure, it can cause problems if they fall from a great height (you can often see hamsters with a broken tail), always best to try and ensure they have a soft landing. Wire caging with different levels needs to have solid shelving, wire floors are not good for hamsters but can be easily covered with cardboard or even off cuts of lino (though this will be chewed). Wire caging can also have issues with access to your hamster, though most soon learn where the door is to wander out, and I have heard of many little hamsters learning how to open their doors.