03 January 2013

Choosing her crib

This is what Ginny's cage looks like today, more or less. It wasn't like that 9 months ago, as you can already gauge from the photos in my previous post.

Taken before Christmas 2012. As of January 2013, the ladder's been removed, and there's a new chewable log treat that's been added in. P.S. Ginny looking very alert and curious here.

This is what her cage looked like when I first got it from a local supplier. The cage came with the tubes, the stairs, the water bottle, the green bowl and pink house. I got the pink hamster wheel from a hamster/small animal carrier which I also bought. The orange mineral stone and the bedding are of course also purchased separately.

Her cage is on those first few days. Ginny resting in her sleeping spot on the tubes as always.

The cage has seen several changes over the past few months, as I keep replacing or moving around the furniture to keep Ginny from being bored, but mainly also to find the layout that suited her needs best. There are more than a dozen factors I obsess about when it comes to Ginny's cage in order for her to get the best kind of hamster care I can get, and I'll be telling you more about that.

One of my favorite cage layouts in the first few months, and then I was forced to remove the pink house  (another story in itself.)

But first of all: the hamster cage.  Before getting Ginny, I scoured the internet for a long time for local suppliers who had the kind of hamster cages I wanted. It was clear to me what cages I was looking for, and if you're a good hamster owner, you would consider these 3 main factors: size, ventilation, and layout.


Most people assume that just because your hamster is a small pet means that it only needs a small cage. This is probably one of the worst things you can do to your pet hamster.  So the advice is: get a cage that's as big as possible. Hamsters need room to run about, nest, burrow, and do their thing. In the wild, they run for miles, looking for food and then tunneling their way below ground to hoard their grains.

A lot of hamster owners, especially those in Germany, the US, UK, and Canada, recommend 360 square inches as the minimum cage space for one's hamster. Unfortunately here in the Philippines, one is hard-pressed to find really decent hamster cages that size, and I was in agony for a long time searching for a proper-sized one. (I envy hamster owners in Western countries!).  It was good that I managed to finally find a cage (the one that you're seeing in the photos) that offered enough space for Ginny.

Its floor space, if you consider both first and second levels, is around a total of 290 square inches. It may be 70 square inches shy from the recommended 360 square inches but those 290 square inches don't even include the tubes yet. The tubes are super important to me (and to a hamster's overall well-being), so I feel that the tube space adds significant value to the cage I got. All in all, I don't think I've deprived Ginny of decent space--although I know I could do better, if I had a bigger apartment. Maybe someday, I can link another cage to the main one so that she has more room for running around and whatnot.

Ginny has a small cage which doubles as a carrier, where I put her while her main cage is being cleaned. Naturally, I put my little critter in a place that's safe and contains familiar stuff (e.g. her toys, water bottle, and food bowl), so that she's properly distracted as I scrub and rinse her big cage for 2-3 hours.

Ginny stays inside her carrier for 2-3 hours while I clean her big cage.

Ginny has already stuffed her cheek pouches with food while biding time inside her carrier.

This was what her carrier looked like when I brought Ginny home from the pet store 9 months ago. :)

Most hamster owners--the irresponsible kind, I should say--would normally use this kind of carrier as the pet's main cage, which is completely cruel. If you're getting a hamster for the first time, please don't get this small a cage for your pet.  If I were a hamster living in a space as tiny as Ginny's carrier, I'd die of boredom and despair.


The best hamster cages are, in my opinion, made by German pet owners. They believe in offering the most natural-looking habitat for their pet hamsters, and the IKEA Detolf and Expedit shelf models are really popular amongst German hamster owners. You can find amazing examples online on how IKEA shelf units are converted into hamster cages.  Floor space is usually massive when using a Detolf or Expedit, and the Germans certainly don't seem to scrimp on hamster cage space. I wouldn't be surprised if the 360-sq. in. floor space policy originated from a German.

The only thing that is holding me back from getting an aquarium or glass-style cage for Ginny is not really the size but the ventilation. Aquariums offer poor ventilation for those small animals living in a tropical country.  Nor are purely plastic cages (which a lot of US-based hamster owners are fond of) necessarily the best. They don't provide good ventilation as well, and it's easy for hamsters in tropical countries like the Philippines to die of a heat stroke if they're living in plastic cages.  Aquariums and plastic cages only work for those living in cold climates.  So unless you're willing to switch on the A/C for your hamster 24/7, please do not get an aquarium or a plastic cage if you live in a country with year-round tropical weather.

The best type then would be a wire cage with a plastic bottom to hold the base bedding and all the hamster stuff. Wire cages provide really good ventilation for Syrian hammies, and I've seen my Ginny sleep like a baby in her cage all the time whether under semi-humid or cold conditions. There's an electric fan right beside her cage, so that she always gets a nice breeze.  And at night, she enjoys the A/C like the rest of us humans.  Whenever I'm not at home, I'm forced to switch off the fan, of course. But before I leave, I place a solid frozen ice pack (the hard plastic kind, NOT the gel one) on top of the cage so that the cool air travels down to her cage, and she gets to enjoy a cool atmosphere for hours.  The ice pack, which I keep inside the freezer whenever I'm not using it, does last for several hours, and I'm usually back at home after work to give her the fan breeze that she likes. I've contemplated getting a rechargeable fan with an auto timer one of these days, so that I can leave a fan switched on beside her cage while I'm out of the house.


There are hamster cages that offer one, two or multiple levels. There are those with tubes, and there are those with none. The way hamster cages look these days depends on how the pet owner cares about their hammy's 'lifestyle.'

I read up a lot on hamster's burrowing tendencies even before I got Ginny, because I was concerned about how much deep bedding I can offer to my hamster and I honestly wanted my pet to be able to burrow as much as he/she wanted. When I had Joey, he had a smaller cage than Ginny (forgive me, Joey--I was younger then and I didn't know much about hamster care back then as much as I do now *sad face*), and I wasn't able to give him enough space for burrowing.  More about bedding in future posts--but essentially, I just wanted to get a wire cage that had a deep enough plastic bottom so I could give Ginny loads of bedding.

Ginny loves burrowing. At the time I took this photo, I haven't even finished filling up the cage to its maximum bedding depth!

Fortunately, the wire cage I got allowed for 3.5 to 4 inches of bedding in terms of depth, which made me happy. The barest required minimum is a depth of 2 inches, and one can go even more than 10 inches in depth.  Hardcore German hamster owners construct 2 or 3 layers of glass or wooden shelves so that their hammies can get as much as 12 inches worth of burrowing.

However, many of these German-owned hamster cages don't normally include tubes. I read on several internet sites that hamsters in the wild usually assign different holes or burrows for specific needs. One burrow is for their nesting/sleeping area, another for their food, and still another for their toilet. Aside from the cage's 4-inch bedding depth capacity, I was able to give Ginny tubes which brought out her natural burrowing instincts.

She loved the tubes right away. So much so, that I could immediately tell that she chose a spot for her sleeping area, another spot where to hoard all the food she collects from her food bowl, and the most downward part of the tube which she uses as a potty. It's very intelligent of her to choose that particular place for her toilet needs because it was far away from her bed and food area--and any pee or poop that she might have excreted doesn't get mixed into her hoarded stash at all. Ginny's also clever enough to block the end of that tube (where her potty is) with a thick layer of bedding, so that any pee smell is immediately absorbed by the bedding and prevents the rest of the cage from smelling. In fact, if you stick your face right inside Ginny's cage and take a good whiff, you can hardly smell anything weird at all.

I'm pretty lucky to have a neat freak of a pet. She's totally into hygiene. I barely saw the need to potty train her because she already had the proper hamster instincts in keeping her home clean.

Once you've observed your hamster designate certain spots for basic needs, it becomes easier for you to fix the rest of the cage layout, so that you can create a fun, liveable space around those needs.

Will do a 'cage tour' kind of post next time to describe Ginny's home more in detail. :)


Post a Comment