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HAMSTER HABITATS (HOUSING)

PROVIDING THE CORRECT HABITAT IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT BASIC ESSENTIAL ITEMS FOR YOUR HAMSTER.

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HOW MANY HAMSTERS IN A HABITAT?

  • In SA, we only get Syrians (often called Teddy Bear hamsters), and Hybrid Dwarfs (interbred Winter Whites & Russian Campbells).

  • All are solitary & territorial and need to each be HOUSED ALONE in proper habitats by 8 weeks old  (at 4 weeks old, males & females have to be grouped in separate enclosures to avoid inbreeding).

  • Making them live together will cause health issues from the stress & anxiety of having to compete for territory & solitude, serious injuries or death from fighting, etc.

 

They do not need or want the company of another hamster or animal.

IF YOU WANT 5 HAMSTERS,

BE PREPARED TO HAVE 5 PROPER HABITATS.

ABSOLUTE MINIMIM SIZE HOUSING

RECOMMENDED FOR BOTH

SYRIAN & DWARF HAMSTERS

Minimum unbroken floor space: 5000cm2 (e.g. 100cm x 50cm)

Unbroken floor space means one continuous space!

Try to go as big as you can, over the minimum!

The bigger the habitat, the better for both you and your hamster.

(a low platform is convenient to keep food & water out of the substrates)

  • Longer solid housing with unbroken floor space is a must.

  • Wire cages pose too many risks and are no longer recommended.

  • Hamsters are ground/underground dwellers, so any levels/shelves do not count in the calculation of unbroken floor space. 

  • MEASURE THE INSIDE OF THE BASE of a habitat (length x width = cm2) - Volume, levels/shelves, height, extensions, etc. do not count.

  • Joining two undersized enclosures together via narrow tubes does not equate to unbroken floor space. 

  • Be aware that it may not be cheaper to simply go for the absolute minimum size. If your hamster starts showing signs of frustration as it grows up (bar-chewing, constant clambering, pacing, aggression, etc.) you will most likely have to upgrade to a larger size.

  • If you have an older hamster (e.g.17+ months) that has been living in a small cage all it's life, 3150 to 4000cm2 will be an acceptable upgrade if you aren't going to have another hamster once s/he passes away.

A few other countries have larger minimum sizes, and some have slightly smaller, but 5000cm2 minimum seems to be the best we can accommodate in SA, in general.

 

99% of cages sold in pet shops need to be avoided as those are only suitable for transport and convalescing (and they're expensive for what you get!) 

 

WHY DO HAMSTERS NEED SUCH LARGE HABITATS?

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~ Courtesy of Erin from Something Animal ~

minimum cage sizes
GOOD HOUSING

GOOD HOUSING

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PURPOSE-BUILT HABITATS

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These are the most highly recommended, as they are built with understanding of hamster needs & requirements, and afford you greater scope for setting up properly and adding more accessories for enrichment.

Generally the manufacturer will be able to build one larger than the minimum, whatever size you can accommodate. However, please do not try to order smaller than the 5000cm2 minimum (most of these recommended manufacturers are aware of the limit and probably won't oblige without checking with HSA).   

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USEFUL TIP:  Some habbies may arrive with a glue/paint/sealant smell because they are made and delivered fast. Remember that these materials generally take about 72 hours to set and dry properly, so do give it some time before setting up and putting your hamster in it (the fumes can be hazardous to their health).

Try one or two of these methods to speed up the process: 

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purpose-built habbies
Faheema
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PLEASE CHECK PRICES WITH EACH MANUFACTURER

We don't always get updates.

Neils habbies
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Prices quoted on request.

(will also courier to other places)

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PK Habitats
Raptor tanks
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PK Pallet Wood Habitats
063 454 2669 / 062 012 8804 / 066 200 8711 (Brakpan, Gauteng)

FULL UNIT OR HABITAT ONLY

Delivery available to JHB suburbs & surrounds (charge depends on distance).

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RAPTOR
TANKS

(Gauteng)

082 217 0396

Sliding glass doors at front.

Prices quoted on request

PLEASE STATE "FOR HAMSTER" 

May need to be neatened up by the customer in terms of rough edges, aesthetic finishing, etc.

GLASS HABITATS (FISH TANKS & TERRARIUMS)

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A FISH TANK/AQUARIUM is also a really good option for housing and offers just as much scope for making the perfect hamster habitat, as what a purpose-built habitat does. However, you will need to construct a sturdy meshed lid for protection, and to prevent the hamster from escaping (never underestimate their ability to escape!)

  • A standard 120 x 45cm tank will ensure adequate floor space and air circulation (if possible, look for the "Long" sized tanks as opposed to a "Deep" one, but not a deal-breaker).

  • Second hand fish tanks can often be found cheaper  on Facebook Marketplace or Gumtree. It doesn't matter if there are one or two minor cracks, which can be tightly sealed over with clear packaging tape to prevent further cracking or bacteria.

  • It is important to thoroughly clean a 2nd hand tank, and to even cut away most of the old sealant, clean and re-do that with non-toxic marine/aquarium sealant.  

  • If you prefer brand new, aquatic warehouse shops often have good specials, so keep a check on those places.

  • Low shelves can be made from boxes, which will also provide exciting rooms for the hamster to explore, or wooden structures and ladders can be bought or made (see Important Housing Notes further down, and some ideas in our DIY page).

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  • Do cover the back of a tank (and short sides, if you wish). Not just for aesthetic appeal but for the hamster to not be exposed from all angles.

  • Aquarium backdrops, posters, wallpaper, gift wrap, etc. are good options to suit your habitat theme and can be changed whenever you want.

CORRECT VENTILATION IS VITAL:

At least 80% of the top is needed to provide adequate ventilation.

Galvanised wire/diamond mesh or fine chicken mesh is available from most hardware stores and can be cut to size with wire cutters or an angle-grinder, and should be attached to a fitting wooden frame for sturdiness and safety. 

  • Never use a standard fish tank lid - affords absolutely no ventilation, and even drilling holes into it will not suffice.

  • Never use plastic mesh - your hamster will gnaw through if he can reach it! -

  • Never use fly/mosquito screen - not only can your hamster also rip it open, but it is too fine to allow proper air circulation and ventilation, and the habby will become an unhygienic, stuffy, humid hell for the hamster. 

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(Use a wire mesh option in place of the flimsy screen meshes shown in some)

TERRARIUMS: Similar to the fish tank habitat, but these are sold for reptiles, and usually designed for humidity (hamsters should not have humidity!) Therefore:

  • You want one that has a barred/gridded lid, not a solid one or the very finely aerated lid as those will not provide enough ventilation and air circulation.

  • You do not want a tall one, as this will also not allow air circulation all the way to the bottom of the habitat.

  • Check that the base measurements equate to at least 5000cm2 floor space!.

GLASS TANKS
Terrariums & vivariums

REPTILE ENCLOSURES (WOODEN VIVARIUMS)

These enclosures can also be good options for housing a hamster and will also  offer a nice blank canvas  for creating a decent habitat.

  • The fronts are usually sliding glass doors that provide easy access to your hamster and for cleaning.

  • Second hand reptile enclosures can often be found reasonably priced on Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree. 

  • Please do check that the floor space measurement meets the 5000cm2 minimum recommended requirement.

  • AVOID those that are made of plain chipboard without the melamine lining as odours from the reptile could have been absorbed, and bacteria or bugs could be harbouring.

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A FEW TWEAKS AND MODIFICATIONS WILL BE REQUIRED:

As usual, VENTILATION IS VITAL: The tops are usually solid and will need to be fully cut open and meshed. The little air vents in some vivarium's do not suffice!

  • Do not be tempted to leave the roof solid!

  • You can leave a slight frame around the top to neatly attach the mesh. Galvanised wire/diamond mesh or fine chicken mesh is available from most hardware stores and can be cut to size with wire cutters or an angle-grinder, and nailed/stapled down.

  • Never use plastic mesh - your hamster will gnaw through if he can reach it! -

  • Never use fly/mosquito screen - not only can your hamster also rip it open, but it is too fine to allow proper air circulation and ventilation, and the habby will become an unhygienic, stuffy, humid hell for the hamster. 

If you cannot find suitable wire mesh in your local hardware stores, or any of the other options, Mesh  For Birds in Kempton Park sells a variety for bird aviaries (courier options available too). Make sure the mesh gaps are not bigger than about 12 or 13mm.

SHELVES/PLATFORMS FOR FOOD & WATER, ETC.:

  • Since the front opening doors are flush with the ground, a low barrier can be placed across the inside to prevent bedding substrates from spilling out every time you open up. A wooden plank, piece of laminate flooring,  or even a simple strip of thick cardboard, will do just fine.

  • Low shelves/platforms can be made from boxes, which will also provide exciting rooms for the hamster to explore, or wooden structures and ladders can be bought or made, or plank/piece of laminate flooring can be screwed to the side as a shelf.

  • DO NOT PLACE SHELVES HIGH UP unless you are going to make a barrier to prevent the hamster from falling or jumping off and injuring itself (see Important Housing Notes further down, and some ideas in our DIY page).

CLEANING A 2ND HAND REPTILE ENCLOSURE:

  • Please wash these really well to get rid of any reptile "odour" and bacteria.

  • We recommend using F10-SC Veterinary Disinfectant to clean thoroughly. Alternatively: Wipe down with hot soapy water, and again with clean vinegar water, and again with plain clean water.

  • Leave to dry and air out in the sun.

  • We also suggest sealing all joins with Acrylic Contractors Sealant for added future protection.

REPTILE ENCLOSURES

CUSTOM HOUSING (BUILD YOUR OWN)

If you are unable to purchase a ready-made habitat, and cannot find a suitable fish tank, you could make one yourself:

FURNITURE (cupboards, shelving units, large toy chest, etc.) can be adapted with a little effort

  • Make sure the piece meets the minimum recommended unbroken floor space (at least 5000cm2 at the ground floor level if you're using something that has shelves).

You could purchase materials to MAKE YOUR OWN HABITAT very similar to those purpose-built habitats:

  • Melamine boards, mesh & wood for the lid, glass for the front, and a few screws. Most hardware stores have cutting services and will cut boards according to your measurements. 

  • There are plenty of examples on YouTube to give you some great basic or creative ideas.

  • All that is required are some reasonable handyman skills and tools, or a friendly carpenter.

  • TIP: Melamine board is better to use since it is more hygienic and easier to wipe, as opposed to plain wood where the base and shelves will need to be lined with something non-porous in order to avoid any urine from being absorbed and becoming smelly, which can be difficult to  clean up.

DIY BIN CAGE SETUPS can be affordable options to make a great habitat for your hamster, although sometimes they only work out a little cheaper than a proper habitat. 

  • Simple handy-man/crafty skills will be required to modify these storage containers, a variety of which can be found at any plastics warehouse shops.

  • There are plenty of ideas and instructions on YouTube to help you to achieve fabulous results.

  • Two or more bins must be linked together by means of tubes, plumbing pipes, etc. to make sure it is a proper habitat meeting minimum recommended recommended unbroken floor space (5000cm2).

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Think about it: A habitat is really just a box with a glass front & framed mesh on top.

CUSTOM HABBIES
housing important notes

A FEW IMPORTANT NOTES

Using LEVELS/SHELVES or LADDERS from a pet shop/travel cage that have open rungs, bars, or mesh:

  • Must to be covered to make the surfaces solid.

  • Exposed bars and mesh are harmful & uncomfortable to the little feet and can result in broken toes and legs, or a painful condition called “Bumblefoot”, all of which will require veterinary attention.

  • Flexible chopping mats and plastic place mats from plastics shops are cheap and easy to cut to size to cover surfaces, as well as being easy to wipe clean.

  • Cardboard can also be used to line shelves, and to weave in and out of ladder rungs, and is easy to replace if it gets grubby.

 

PLASTIC HAMSTER TUBES are not recommended:

  • Incredibly unhygienic, unless you're prepared to dismantle and wash them every day. Hamsters often pee in these too make the surfaces sticky and less slippery, or because they're hiding/sleeping in them, and the urine build-up causes health issues and attracts mites and bugs. 

  • If you're using them to join a cage to your habitat as an additional chamber, the entire setup should be placed in a very secure spot to avoid being bumped by children and other pets (pets are usually very interested in a little creature scratching and scurrying about inside the cage). Tubes can bust open easily!

  • Never use soft plastic or cardboard tubes on the outside of any cage or habitat, as a hamster can very easily and quickly gnaw through and escape.

"FENCING-OFF" PLATFORMS: Where shelves/platforms are fairly high up, these need to be barriered along the edges to avoid serious injuries if the hamster jumps/falls off and lands awkwardly on an object below.

  • Make a wall with another plank and decorate it with cut-out letters of the hamster's name to make like a "billboard".

  • A simple cardboard piece will do, lined on the outside (of the wall) with tongue-depressor/popsicle sticks to give a wood appearance.

  • Have a piece of perspex cut to size if you prefer a transparent appearance.

  • Craft/depressor stick barriers must always be lined on the inside to avoid a foot, toe, or toenail getting caught (risk: limb injury/amputation). 

  • Make sure the barrier is high enough that the hamster cannot simply climb/jump over otherwise it's really pointless. 15 cm high seems to be fine if you are not going to place anything against the inside of the barrier that will allow hamster to reach the top. However, we recommend that you go as high as possible.

 

WHERE to place the habitat:

  • A proper habitat should be too heavy to be knocked over. However, make sure other pets cannot reach it to avoid your hamster getting stressed out.

  • In the case of a lightweight bin cage, this needs to be in a secure place where it can’t be knocked, reached, or pulled down.

  • Your hamster is captive within its housing and not able to relocate freely for comfort, it is very important that the housing spot is away from direct sunlight and out of draughts.

  • Although the hamster should become accustomed to the general noises and activity within your household, a reasonably peaceful area would be preferable. If you are inclined to have loud parties or play your TV/music at full volume, rather choose another room for the habitat.

  • Your hamster is a nocturnal creature and there will be a lot of rustling about throughout the night, and many wheels will rattle, squeak or rumble during the wee hours until dawn. If the hamster parent is a light sleeper, do not place the cage in the bedroom.

NOT RECOMMENDED

BAD HOUSING
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Keeping a hamster in a wire cage is an outdated practice and proven to cause many problems like bar-chewing, climbing & falling, exposure to draughts, access for other pets, etc. 

AND THEY'RE USUALLY MORE EXPENSIVE THAN A PROPER HAMSTER HABITAT OR FISH TANK.

IF YOU'RE IN THE MARKET FOR A NEW HABITAT, DO NOT GET ONE OF THESE. THERE ARE BETTER, MORE AFFORDABLE, CONVENIENT OPTIONS!

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RABIT/GUINEA PIG CAGES

These may be roomy, but they're not designed for a hamster. 

Bar spacing is too wide and a hamster will squeeze through and escape.

The cage will need to be very tightly meshed over, which is not easy to do neatly, so it tends to look unattractive, and the owner or hamster often get snagged on jagged ends.

The bases are not deep enough to contain the deep bedding zone, so the back and a side will need to be reinforced to make a solid area. 

WARNING: EVEN THOUGH THE MATERIAL MAY APPEAR REALLY STRONG, MANY HAMSTERS STILL MANAGE TO GNAW THROUGH THE PLASTIC BASES OF CAGES AND ESCAPE.  

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THE RARE CORRECT SIZE PET SHOP CAGE

This Savic Hamster Plaza Knockdown cage, as an example, appears to meet the minimum floor space (but be aware that dimensions stated on packaging and adverts are not always true to the actual).

However, the shallow base poses the same issue for bedding as with the rabbit cages. Also note the wheel that is always too small even for a dwarf hamster

At over R3000, you can get a proper habitat for half that! 

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The larger of the LIVING WORLD ZOOZONE HOMES measures approximately 115 x 70cm and, by all accounts, appears to be perfect and almost a tank. 

The problem seems to be insulation. HSA has had a few members with these who advise that air circulation is not great, and the inside becomes too hot and muggy. It should be used as an incubator! 

But, again, at approx. R2500, you can get a proper habitat for way less. 

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Living World ZooZone

REALLY BAD HOUSING

pet shop wire cages

These are those typical cages that you will find in 99% of the pet shops around the country, but should have been left back in 2010!

It needs to be noted that the bars on some "cheap" cages (like those from China) may have paint that contains heavy metal toxins, such as lead. If small rodents chew the paint off bars relentlessly, they are at possible risk of being poisoned. Unfortunately, nobody asks these questions when they import, stock or buy cages. 

PLEASE NOTE THAT JOINING TWO UNDERSIZED CAGES TOGETHER VIA STANDARD HAMSTER TUBES DOES NOT EQUATE TO UNBROKEN FLOOR SPACE.

TYPICAL PET SHOP CAGES

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All are too small and it is incredibly cruel to keep your hamster in one of these permanently, no matter what species.

Correct wheel sizes and enrichments that a hamster needs, will simply not fit in these. 

You will end up with a hamster so frustrated that he will be chewing on the bars and the base tray to escape to bigger pastures.  If this is all you can afford (although not all are exactly cheap), please rather consider building a Bin Cage, which could cost you way less and will provide more space until you can add a second bin to provide proper space.

These typical OLD-FASHIONED WIRE CAGES that distributors still insist on importing and pet shops continue to sell, in spite of many being aware that they are no longer considered suitable for a hamster to actually live in, are travel cages!

ROUND and OVAL CAGES are not favoured by hamsters as they feel safer in homes with corners to hide and nest in. 

 

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modular cages
tiny cages

MODULAR CAGES such as Habitrails, Crittertrails, Fantazia, Rotastaks, etc. are designed for human self-indulgence because they "look pretty" and are advertised with the "bonus that you can have fun building onto them with various attachments". 

  • We assure you, THEY ARE NOT FUN for a living animal! It is cruel to keep your hamster in one of these.

  • None of the "rooms" meet the minimum unbroken floor space for a hamster, nor will you be able to fit the correct size wheel in these!

  • Most are also actually quite expensive, and for a little more outlay you can get a proper habitat.

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“CUTE” TINY CAGES: Do we really need to explain? 

You can surely see that these are an absolute crime! 

Anyone seen keeping a hamster permanently in these types of cages should be reported for animal cruelty!

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rat & tall cage

TALL CAGES (INCL. RAT CAGES)

  • Such cages with several shelves were previously thought to provide more fun for hamsters, but updated research indicates that these are completely unnatural. Hamsters are ground & underground dwellers by nature, not climbers!

  • It has been found that many hamsters around the world suffer serious injuries and even death when falling and jumping off from high shelves. Fencing off the shelves also doesn't help, since this will hamper your access to do the daily spot-cleans.

  • Furthermore, the base measurements hardly ever meet the minimum recommended ground floor space nor are they conducive to providing deep burrow sections of bedding. 

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BAR CHEWING

BAR CHEWING

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Birth/genetic defects & bar chewing are the main causes of broken or misaligned teeth, and pose many problems.

Hamsters will chew the bars of a wire cage for a number of reasons:

They are wanting to escape because of stress & frustration due to insufficient cage space, boredom due to lack of entertainment within the cage, and lack of suitable and enticing gnaw toys/treats.

Bar chewing is really bad because of the harsh gnawing material and unnatural angle of the body to achieve this chewing. The teeth can wear out so badly because of the hard bars that the hamster is left with just gums that start bleeding, which can become infected and also too painful to eat food.

PLEASE MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO STOP YOUR HAMSTER FROM CHEWING CAGE BARS! 

It can often be difficult to stop this activity once the hamster has gotten into the habit, but there are measures you can take to deter it: -

  • Do not keep your hamster in a wire cage, or have bars/mesh at the front of a proper habitat.

  • Make sure the habitat meets the minimum recommended dimensions of unbroken floor space.

  • If your habitat is the correct size, but has mesh in the front, you may need to consider an even bigger habitat with a solid glass front (ventilation mesh at the top, and make sure the hamster cannot reach this).

  • Provide more enrichment/accessories, as well as a variety of safe gnaw treats.

REMEMBER: SIZE MATTERS when it comes to housing your hamster!

JUST BECAUSE A PET SHOP SELLS IT, DOES NOT MEAN IT’S SUITABLE.

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