Melissa owns and cares for several "zoological" animals including rare rodents (springhaas, jerboa, paca, ect.) and holds a biology degree.
Hamsters are extremely popular small pets that are kept by young children and adults across the globe, however, the amount of money people are willing to spend on these short-lived animals varies. Hamsters are often viewed as inexpensive pets, and they certainly can be relatively cheap to own, but hamster cages in stores can be very expensive when there are perfectly suitable lower-priced options.
Best Ways to Save Money on Hamster Care
Before we look at the store-bought hamster cages that are currently available, it needs to be mentioned that, aside from their occasional veterinary needs, acceptable hamster husbandry can easily be accomplished even on the tightest budget. You need not set foot in a pet store to find a suitable hamster enclosure.
A very popular option is using a modified plastic bin that costs less than $20, and this "cage" can be furnished with dirt-cheap enrichment such as toilet paper tubes and accessories from thrift and dollar stores.
What Makes a Good Hamster Cage?
We need to determine what criteria are necessary for a hamster cage to be ideal. While there are cheaper enclosures available, those options may come up short with some hamster care essentials. There is, of course, much controversy and little science to state definitely what qualities are ideal or mandatory for hamster care. The following are reasonable standards in most situations.
- Ventilation: While hamsters are burrowing creatures, their enclosure still needs adequate airflow for their health, but a mesh lid should be enough to provide that, as hamsters produce a relatively small amount of urine .
- Height: The cage needs an area that is high enough for the proper wheel, especially for Syrian hamsters, which need large wheels . Higher cages also allow for more vertical enrichment.
- Bedding Depth: The bottom of the enclosure should have enough bar-less depth so that the hamster can cover itself with bedding , around a few inches although some hamsters may prefer more .
- Space: The enclosure should be large enough. This is an exceptionally controversial topic expanded on below. One study suggested that cage size affects the immune response in hamsters .
- Bar Spacing: The size and species of your hamster will determine the appropriate bar spacing, as spacing that is too wide can lead to escapes, although some sizes are suitable for all hamster species.
- Double Levels use smaller spaces efficiently and offer more choice for your hamster .
How Big Should the Hamster Cage Be?
Some hamster "communities" on internet forums, Youtube, and Facebook groups have taken it upon themselves to create and fervently recommend extremely large hamster cages, some which exceed 5 feet in length. This trend supposedly developed from the practices of German hamster owners and is also claimed to be evidence-based. There is not at this time enough high-quality evidence to support the requirement for enormous enclosures that are impractical for most owners—however—larger enclosures clearly have benefits including:
- Increase forging time because the more surface area, the more room to explore.
- More room for extra cage features and enrichment, including a multi-chambered hide, which may be important for enhancing hamster well-being, as it induced breeding in other burrowing rodent species .
- Reduced cleaning rate because waste builds up less.
- The larger the cage, the less likely it will be too small for the hamster's needs.
Minimum Size Requirements?
There is no "minimum number" of square inches for floor space known other than for laboratory animals (121 sq. in. or 780.6 sq. cm.)  but there are many opinions online (360, 450 sq. in of "unbroken" floor space, etc.) that keep changing. Instead, hamster owners should consider the most efficient use of the space, their enrichment program, and feeding regimen [1,2].
However, hamster owners who do not like cleaning cages frequently or don't want to worry about their hamsters running out of mentally stimulating activities quickly may want to consider the benefits of getting the largest enclosure they can afford.
A good "minimum" cage size for a hamster should contain enough space to fit the animal's essential needs: its wheel, food dish, water bottle, a hideaway area, teeth chews, toys, and there should be a room left over for the rodent to run around and forge. Some hamsters are more active than others, and owners with hamsters that are very active and cover the surface area of the enclosure quickly may need to upgrade the cage size.
- The Best Hamster Cage Size: How Big Should It Be?
This article goes into more detail behind the reasoning people believe hamsters require a tremendous amount of space and the limited science available.
Best Hamster Cages for the Lowest Prices
Now that we understand the qualities that make a cage great, we can now look at store-bought enclosures that are less expensive than others. Unfortunately, most cages that are not too small to fit the above criteria are within the $40-$100 range, so if this is still not affordable, consider the bin cage above or some other DIY project. The enclosures below are relatively affordable at under $100, and the cages on the lower end of that price range tend to be much smaller.
20, 40+ Gallon Long Aquarium
- Cost: About $25 for a 20 gallon long and for a 40 gallon long in Petco/Petsmart, but be sure to wait for Petco's "one dollar per gallon" sale for the best price.
- Size: 30" L x 12" W x 12" H (20 gallon), 48" L x 12" W x 16" H, (40 gallon)
- Aquariums are readily available, require no construction, and have a sleek look.
- They are great for hamsters that have issues with bar chewing, and they allow for deeper bedding.
- Another excellent idea is to use a tank topper with your aquarium, so extra bedding can be added.
- Tanks are heavy and the lack of bars limits your options for attaching water bottles and enrichment. You can work around this, however. You may have to purchase or make a lid that allows for the proper ventilation.
Favola Hamster Cage
- Cost: $65 (Amazon)
- Size: 23.6" L x 14.4" W x 11. 8 H
- This cage has a pleasant design for those who don't prefer the "childish" look.
- The space is maximized with 2 levels, with the bottom space intended for burrowing.
- This cage also allows for the attachment of tubes (by Ferplast) to create an engaging environment (for you as well as the hamster) or even the option of attaching an additional cage, which is great if you decide down the road that your hamster requires more room.
- This cage is on the smaller side and may not be suitable for Syrian hamsters as well as those which are very active.
- The space for the wheel is very limited if you keep the second level, and the wheel also limits how much bedding you can add if you use the second level.
- The door opening is also small.
All Living Things® Multi-Level Hamster Home
- Cost: $80 (Petsmart)
- Size: 23"L x 14.5"W x 11.5"H
- This enclosure is very similar to the Favola Hamster Cage and can be found in Petsmart, if you prefer to purchase your cage in a store.
- It has pleasant colors and design.
- Costs more than the Favola enclosure.
- Just like the Favola enclosure, some parts may need to be replaced and the 6.5-inch wheel is too small for Syrians.
- Cost: The cabinet is $60 picked up at Ikea, but the cost of materials for the lid and other modifications vary.
- Size: 65" L x 2.6" W x 15.4" H
- The Ikea Detolf cage is an Ikea display cabinet turned on its side that is very popular with hamster owners.
- This cage is partially DIY and will be very cheap to create depending on your resourcefulness.
- You will get a very large enclosure for a low price that looks aesthetically pleasing, guaranteeing a happy hamster.
- As this is a display case and not a hamster cage, you will need to build a lid and make some minor modifications to use it for animals.
- The enclosure is made of glass and will be heavy.
Prevue Pet Products 528 Universal Small Animal Home
- Cost: $75 (Tractor Supply) other stores vary.
- Size: 32-1/2 " L x 19". W x 17-1/2" H
- This enclosure has a simple but effective design.
- There is a second level that offers more space and a deep tray for bedding.
- The cage bars offer plenty of options to hang toys and attach the correct wheel as well as offer ample ventilation.
- This relatively spacious cage is big enough for Syrians and perfect for those who dislike the bright colors of some hamster cages.
- This cage is somewhat costly, and there is no option to attach tubes or another cage.
Large Long Crossover Tube Habitat
- Cost: $52.90 (Amazon)
- Size: 23 x 14.5 x 16 inches
- This cage makes good use of its limited space and has a lower cost than other similarly-sized enclosures.
- There's tubing that gives the hamster a little more travel room, ramps, platforms, and even a bridge.
- There is room for up to a 10" wheel for Syrian hamsters.
- The bottom tray allows for several inches of bedding.
- Some parts are cheaper plastic and may be flimsy and get chewed on.
- This cage is on the smaller side and the tubes will not fit with the popular Crittertrail tubes.
- Some parts are cheaper plastic and may need to be replaced.
- Aggressive chewers can damage this cage.
PawHut 2-Level Hamster Cage & Small Animal Habitat
- Cost: $79.99 (Amazon)
- Size: 23.5" L x 13.75" W x 16.5" H
- This is a unique, attractive cage made out of wood that offers 2 levels, ramps, and ledges, utilizing all of its compact design efficiently to create a dynamic environment.
- The accessories are also detachable for your preferences.
- This is a good cage for those looking for a template that they can work with and add their finishing touches to.
- As this cage is made out of wood, it is not suitable for aggressive chewers.
- It is a relatively smaller enclosure.
- The bottom door will cause the bedding to spill out, depending on how deep you make it.
- This smaller cage is not suitable for Syrian hamsters.
- This enclosure is reported to require some basic wood-working know-how to set up and reinforce, so be sure to have a power drill on hand.
Caspian Weather Resistant Cage With Ramp
- Cost: $85.99 (Wayfair)
- Size: 17.5'' H x 32.5'' W x 19'' D
- This cage has a simple design, a nice large front door, and has enough space for Syrian hamsters.
- There is a decent amount of room for different types of enrichment as well as a bonus platform to maximize the space.
- The bars offer plentiful ventilation and places for toys and other cage enhancers.
- This cage can fit a large wheel and allow for a deeper layer of bedding.
- This cage is higher in price than some of the other enclosures.
- There are no options to connect tubes.
Duna Space Gerbil & Hamster Cage
- Cost: $93.42 (Amazon)
- Size: 22.6" L x 18.7" W x 21.5" H
- This unique cage has ample room (11.5 inches) for a very deep layer of bedding which is excellent for animals that like the burrow and tunnel.
- It also includes some tunnels to add to the fun that connects to Ferplast and GNB tubes, giving you the option of adding another enclosure for more room.
- There is an upper level that can accommodate at least an 8-inch wheel.
- This is a smaller cage meant for smaller hamster species.
- It is relatively expensive for its size.
- Bailoo, Jeremy D., et al. "Evaluation of the effects of space allowance on measures of animal welfare in laboratory mice." Scientific reports 8.1 (2018): 1-11.
- Baumans, Vera. "Environmental enrichment for laboratory rodents and rabbits: requirements of rodents, rabbits, and research." Ilar Journal 46.2 (2005): 162-170.
- Fischer, Katerina, S. G. Gebhardt-Henrich, and A. Steiger. Behaviour of golden hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus) kept in four different cage sizes. Diss. Verlag nicht ermittelbar, 2005.
- Gattermann, Rolf, René Weinandy, and Peter Fritzsche. "Running-wheel activity and body composition in golden hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus)." Physiology & behavior 82.2-3 (2004): 541-544.
- Hauzenberger, Andrina R., Sabine G. Gebhardt-Henrich, and Andreas Steiger. "The influence of bedding depth on behaviour in golden hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus)." Applied Animal Behaviour Science 100.3-4 (2006): 280-294.
- Jordan, Björn, Paul Vercammen, and Kimberly L. Cooper. "Husbandry and breeding of the lesser Egyptian Jerboa, Jaculus jaculus." Cold Spring Harbor Protocols 2011.12 (2011): pdb-prot066712.
- Kuhnen, Gernot. "The effect of cage size and enrichment on core temperature and febrile response of the golden hamster." Laboratory animals 33.3 (1999): 221-227.
- RSPCA. " Care for Your Hamster (Rspca Pet Guide). May 7, 2015
- Suckow, Mark A., Karla A. Stevens, and Ronald P. Wilson, eds. The laboratory rabbit, guinea pig, hamster, and other rodents. Academic Press, 2012.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2021 Melissa A Smith