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An appropriate cage is one that meets or exceeds 450 square inches when measured from the bottom. To find the square inchage of your cage:
1. Turn the cage over
2. Measure the length and width of the bottom of the cage.
3. Multiply these measurements together.
(Ex. A cage that is 30" long and 18" wide = 30 x 18 = 540 square inches)
It's natural to them! Hamsters in the wild hold large territories--one study found 387 feet to be the closest distance between occupied hamster burrows! Wild hamsters also dig deep, complex burrows, averaging about 2 feet in depth (source)
What does this mean for our pet hamsters? They need as much space we can give them!
Reduction in stress behaviors
To answer this question in full, we need to examine what happens if this space is not provided. Small cages (cages under the minimum) are associated with severe stress behaviours, such as:
1. Biting & cage aggression
2. Bar chewing (source)
3. Excessive wheel running
Additionally, small cages have been shown to induce chronic physiological stress in hamsters. (source)
Providing a large cage alleviates many of these, giving you a healthier, happier pet. This enhances your experience with them too!
Less frequent, more natural cleaning schedule
By providing a larger cage, you reduce the amount of cleaning you will need to do! Depending on your pet's species and the ultimate size of your cage, you can go anywhere from 4-8 weeks between full cleanings! Simply spot clean regularly.
This is great for a number of reasons! First, it saves you time and money. Second, it is much healthier for your hamster. This source shows that hamsters prefer old bedding. They actually will choose to nest in a worse cage with old bedding over nesting in a better environment with new bedding--but that's no excuse to have a small cage. Providing a large with with less frequent cleanings is the most natural for them.
Space for appropriate enrichment
Lastly, larger cages gives you space for all the toys and enrichment your hamster needs. As discussed on our wheel page, hamsters need larger wheels than most cages allow for. They also prefer having lots of places to hide, and lots of mental stimulation.
Additionally, larger cages typically allow room for deeper bedding over small cages. This is healthier for your hamster, as it mimics their natural instincts. This source, for example, correlates shallow bedding depth with the occurrence of stress-related behaviors such as bar chewing and excessive running. It also shows that deeper bedding reduces these behaviours and improves body condition. These studies (study 1 & study 2) note the negative effects that shallow bedding has on hamster sleep over deep bedding.