It's about time our littlest friends got some attention. Hamsters, gerbils, and mice may be small, but that doesn't mean their living space needs to be. "Starter" cages that don't allow enough room for normal behavior and enrichment can lead to boredom, depression, aggression, and even health issues.
Hamsters are primarily solitary animals that prefer to live alone, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need plenty of cage space. Your Syrian may not want a friend, but he does still have an urge to play, explore, and dig. Just like we see with guinea pigs, a lot of the commercial cages on the market are simply inappropriate and too small for hamsters.
The bare minimum cage size for any hamster, regardless of breed, is 450 square inches. Bigger is always better. Hamsters are more active than you may think, especially because they are nocturnal and burn off their energy while you sleep. Experts have started to recommend at least 800 square inches for a Syrian hamster to thrive, and 650 square inches for dwarf hamsters.
When calculating cage size, multiply length and width only, not height. In the wild, hamsters live in very large open areas, which is why floor space is the most important factor. Finding properly sized, safe hamster cages isn’t always easy. Luckily, bin cages are both cost-effective and easy to create DIY-style!
Gerbils, unlike hamsters, are social animals. These guys are the life of the party, living best in pairs or even large groups. It’s important to have enough cage space to accommodate their popularity. While hamsters are big on running, gerbils are more into digging and burrowing. This make tanks a good option for them.
As a general rule of thumb, the minimum space needed is a 10-gallon tank for a single gerbil, and then add 5 gallons for each extra gerbil. If you have the space, you can upgrade to the following:
One gerbil = 10 gallon tank
Two gerbils = 20 gallon tank
Three gerbils = 30 gallon tank
Four gerbils = 40 gallon tank
As with most rodents living in groups, too little space can result in territory battles. However, while bigger is always better for animals like hamsters and guinea pigs, too much space can also cause fighting among gerbils. If you have two gerbils, it’s best to have a tank between 15 and 20 gallons for best results.
As with gerbils, cages at are too small or too big can cause problems. Too-small enclosures can cause mice to become bored, inactive and depressed. Giving them too much space, on the other hand, can cause stress, skittishness, and fighting.
A ten-gallon tank (or equivalent in floor space) is the minimum standard for a single male or up to three female mice. Cages around 30 inches by 12 inches make a nice upgrade for long-term living. If using wire cages, be careful the bar spacing doesn’t allow mice to escape, and there are no exposed wire floors and shelves to cause leg injuries.
Regardless of cage size, large open spaces aren’t ideal for mice. The largest open space should be the nest, with the rest of the cage full of activities and enrichment opportunities like toys, hides, and wheels.
Remember, the majority of these little guys' lives will be spent within the four walls you choose. Pick a roomy, yet cozy home with plenty of species-appropriate enrichment to make their years as fulfilling as possible.