Is It Cruel To Keep A Hamster In A Cage?

Is It Cruel To Keep A Hamster In A Cage?

When it comes to the traditional habitat of a hamster, most people don’t think twice about keeping their pocket pets in a cage, but it is a good idea to dive into the ethics of the matter.

Is it cruel to keep a hamster in a cage? It is not cruel to keep a hamster in a cage, so long as the cage has a minimum of 2 square feet of floor space and is adequately outfitted with the accessories that a hamster needs. In fact, considering the dangers a hamster may face outside of a cage, it would be cruel to let them roam free without the security of an enclosure.

Humans appreciate the freedom to roam at will. Being at the top of the food chain and living with modern conveniences, our lives do not revolve around staying hidden from predators. It is, therefore, hard for us to imagine living a fulfilling life while “stuck” in a cage. Read on to learn about cage living from a hamster’s perspective and the kind of enclosures our pets appreciate.

Confined vs. Cage-Free: Hamsters In The Wild

Obviously, hamsters in the wild do not live in cages. But unlike we humans, hamsters are quite low on the food chain, and they must create their own hidden spaces for security. There are two main purposes to keeping an animal like a hamster in a cage – the first is to keep them in, and the second is to keep threats out.

Hamsters in the wild create underground burrows for themselves. A burrow is a series of underground tunnels and chambers. Some chambers are used for food storage, while others are used for sleeping. Because hamsters are nocturnal animals, they spend daylight hours sleeping in their burrows, only coming above ground to forage for food when it is dark.

In this sense, hamsters are creating their own enclosures for themselves in the wild, with the purpose of keeping predators out of their safe spaces. Hamsters really have few methods of defending themselves, so they must remain hidden from predators in order to survive. 

The Dangers Of Cage-Free Living For A Hamster

Hopefully, your home is a safe space for you. But to your hamster, being free in your home is akin to roaming free in the “wild.”

Dangers to your hamster may come from external factors (such as your pet cat) or from your hamster’s own behaviors. 

Outside the cage: external dangers to your hamster

The most obvious danger to your hamster if it is allowed to roam free are the other pets in the home. Even the friendliest of dogs can easily kill a hamster due to their sheer size and strength when compared to that of your little pet.

And even the tamest of cats will be tempted by “prey” skittering past. But larger pets are not the only dangers with which your hamster may be confronted if it finds itself roaming free in the home.

Hamsters have terrible eyesight, and this alone can be dangerous for a hamster with no space restrictions. Hamsters will often walk right off of a platform, whether it be your hands or the kitchen counter.

A hamster can be severely injured or killed simply by falling to the ground from a height of only a few feet. If your hamster falls into a dish of water (a pet’s water bowl, for example), it will be unable to get out and can drown.

If it decides to chew on an electrical cord, it can electrocute itself. The dangers are everywhere when you look at your home from your hamster’s perspective. And if you still don’t see that – just imagine how you would feel if you came home with a bag of groceries in your hand and didn’t see your hamster underfoot.

Outside the cage: losing your hamster

If you have ever had a hamster escape his or her cage, you may realize that they can be enough of a threat to themselves with their natural behavior of running and hiding. Hamsters tend to be escape artists, and they will certainly take advantage of a cage door that was mistakenly left open overnight.

Frequently, a hamster will escape, only to become lost in the house and never found again. Hamsters will squeeze into the smallest of spaces in order to stay hidden from potential threats.

Left to free-range, your hamster may decide to hide in your floor vent, behind your refrigerator, or even in your walls (they can make surprisingly quick work of your baseboards). This is an especially sad situation, as you likely will never know what became of your hamster. 

The Size Of Your Hamster’s Cage

A hamster will be happiest in the security of a properly-sized and accessorized cage. But keeping a hamster in a cage that is too small can be considered cruel. So what is an appropriately-sized hamster cage?

The size of your hamster’s cage will depend on the species of hamster – Syrian hamsters will need more space than dwarf hamsters, and of course, two or more dwarf hamsters kept together will need more space than a single hamster (Syrians will always live solo, as they cannot safely be kept in pairs).

While there is no one answer to the question of how large your cage should be, here is what a few respected organizations have to say about the matter:

  • ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) – minimum of 200 square inches (a bit smaller than 24×12 inches).
  • RSPCA (UK) – removed minimums from their recommendations due to difficulty in determining appropriate dimensions, but previously recommended a minimum of 430 square inches for single dwarf hamsters and 620 square inches for single Syrian hamsters (the average here being around 4 square feet, or 24×24 inches).
  • BC SPCA (British Columbia) – minimum 40 gallon tank, which is typically 4.5 square feet or 648 square inches (36×18 inches).
  • HSUS (Human Society of the United States) – minimum of 2 square feet (24×12 inches).

As you can see, while getting a universal recommendation is a challenge, collectively, these informed and trusted organizations recommend an absolute minimum of 2 square feet or 288 square inches.

Where To Buy An Appropriate-Sized Hamster Cage

If you’ve ever walked into a large chain pet store, the fun and colorful little hamster cages have surely caught your eye. These hamster cages come in the form of pink castles, rocket ships, and even dinosaurs.

These cages are designed to appeal to your eye, but not necessarily your hamster, and are usually too small. Most of these pet store cages (by a variety of manufacturers), have an average of 1.5 square feet of floor space. They do not have enough room for both your hamster and the accessories that he will need to meet his physical and mental needs.

This doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to find an adequately-sized cage at your local pet store; you will just need to be aware of what your hamster requires. Most of the cages come in boxes – on the front of these boxes you can usually find the dimensions for the cage.

If the cage is not in a box and is already assembled, bring your measuring tape with you to check the dimensions. While you should keep in mind that the minimum recommended size for a hamster cage should be 2 square feet, know that bigger is always better. You can’t go “too big” when looking for a hamster cage, so long as the bars are not spaced so large that your pet can squeeze through. 

If you can’t find what you are looking for in a pet store, you can surely find a great hamster cage online., for example, has pages and pages of hamster cages available. They will have the dimensions listed, multiple pictures posted, and reviews from other pet owners. 

In addition to ensuring your hamster has at least 2 square feet of floor space, you also need to make sure the cage is large enough to accommodate an exercise wheel and deep enough to put down a few inches of bedding. If you keep these additional factors in mind, you will be able to meet not only your hamster’s physical demands but also his mental demands. 

A Caged Hamster Is A Safe Hamster

Hamsters are happiest when they have room to explore and exercise in an environment in which they feel safe and secure. The best way to provide that is with a cage that 1) has at least 2 square feet of floor space, but preferably more, 2) has an exercise wheel that is the right size for his or her body, and 3) has enough bedding in which to burrow. With these specifications, your hamster will be more than happy living the “caged life”.

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