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Hamster Welfare

Updated: Jan 4, 2023

One Voice for Animals UK Guest Blog by Mark Diner and Tiffany Catherine Key

Guest Blogger Mark Diner runs a website which brings together advice, evidence and care information from the most reputable sources. will be providing advice at the Small Pet Rodent Awareness Week (SPRAW) which will be launching on Monday 20th September through to Sunday 26th September 2021. This is a great opportunity to raise awareness about some of the common injustices that hamsters are facing at the hands of the Pet Industry. It is often the case that products are targeted at appealing to their owners, for hamsters this is often children, rather than the products actually being suitable for the hamster.

During SPRAW we will provide presentations for main areas of concern. These are:

  • Small Cages

  • Hamster Wheels

  • Fluffy Bedding

  • Hamster Balls

  • Rodent Mills

It is frustrating to see clear welfare advice that exists but this is brushed under the carpet by the pet industry, who commonly sell products which can cause harm and injury to your pets. Hamsters are protected by The Animal Welfare Act but the requirement for a pet keeper to provide a suitable environment and protect their pet from pain injury is constantly ignored by the pet industry, who sell unsuitable products to pet keepers. Pet owners may have the best intention but they are often being deceived by retailers who they trust are selling appropriate products and providing the correct advice. It is also often common practice in the pet industry that certain products are being marketed as being safe and they are not.

The presentations during SPRAW will show the main products of concern Vs the correct welfare advice that exists. A preview of some of the content can be seen below:

Small Cages:

Pet Shops rarely sell cages that meet the bare minimum size requirement. The UK Minimum of 80 cm x 50 cm stated by The RSPCA or further respected advice from The Veterinary Association for Animal Welfare (TVT) which says 100cm x 50cm for ALL species of hamsters, this can also be seen on Wikipedia.

The sale of small cages is probably the number one issue that concerns the hamster loving community and the injustices hamsters face are obvious to see for anyone walking into a pet store. The cages are clearly too small for a creature to not feel trapped and it is common practice to see tiny cages that have a dual purpose to look like toys and are targeted at children. However, the community and TVT say that hamsters are not a good child's pet as they are only active at night, when children are asleep.

Small Cages go against the Animal Welfare Act for the following reasons:

  • They can't fit an adequate sized wheel (at least 28 cm for a Syrian). Small wheels have been proven to cause injury and pain to a hamster's back.

  • Research has shown that small cages cause more bar biting and bar climbing, and that this may be an attempt to escape the small surroundings. Bar biting and bar climbing can cause serious injury.

  • A Tank is preferred rather than a cage. It is important for a hamster to burrow and the shallow base of a cage and the gaps in the wire bars does not allow the owner to provide enough bedding depth (Giving your hamster the ability to burrow has also been proven to prevent bar biting and bar climbing). Also with a glass tank, having No bars means No bar biting and bar climbing.

The Royal Veterinary College say: “Hamsters should be housed in a large glass or plastic tank with good ventilation”

The Hamster Cage Page on HamsterWelfare recommends 17 Cages and Tanks that have a depth above 100 cm. This resource will continue to be updated when more large hamster cages are available online. Unfortunately, pet stores rarely stock any of these large cages/tanks.

Pet stores often claim that the small cages they sell are starter cages for young hamsters (This is an unacceptable and unrealistic excuse). In reality, the small cage would never be upgraded and pet shops are damning that hamster to a miserable life. Small cages are not advertised as starter cages and most customers are unaware that the cage should be upgraded, so pet shops should never assume that this will ever happen, particularly as larger cages are not sold in stores.

Hamster Wheels

Welfare advice says that Syrian Hamsters require a wheel size of at least 11" (28cm) or for Dwarfs 8"(20cm). This is to prevent spinal injury that occurs when a hamster runs with a curved back. Some hamsters need bigger than 28cm or 20cm depending on their size. Sadly, pet shops rarely sell a 28cm wheel and this may be because it wont fit in the tiny cages they sell.

It is also frustrating to see Pet Shops advertise Tiny wheels as being suitable for both Dwarfs and Syrians. This is also probably connected to the fact that they sell small cages and sadly the public are being provided with the wrong advice and the wrong product, unwittingly causing pain and suffering to their pet.

The Hamster Wheels Page displays a video of a hamster on a small wheel and the curvature of it's spine can clearly be seen, in addition there is the slogan "Ouch my Back Hurts". This issue of small hamster wheels causing permanent injury to a hamsters spine has been discussed in much text, but it is even more obvious to see on HamsterWelfare where you can see a video of a hamster running with a curved back and on the same page there is also a comparison video of a hamster on a suitable 28cm wheel running with a straight back, this is the same posture that they would have running in the wild.

Fluffy Bedding

Fluffy Bedding is a deceptive product that looks similar to cotton wool and most people would think it provides a perfect cozy environment for their hamster and that is why retailers sell it. Unfortunately, Fluffy Bedding can be very dangerous and there are warnings that exist from organisations such as The Blue Cross, The RVC and The RSPCA, for example who say:

“Don’t give hamsters nesting materials that separate into thin strands, e.g. cotton wool or similar ‘fluffy’ bedding products. They pose a serious risk to their health and welfare, due to the possibility of entanglement or ingestion.”

Warnings don't come much stronger than the words "Serious Risk" from The RSPCA. But this advice continues to be ignored from many retailers who are either unaware or are knowingly putting animals in harms way for profit.

The deception goes further as many of these fluffy bedding products try and cover up the fact that they have been known to be unsafe by actually calling their fluffy bedding product safe.

The entanglement issue is easy for a hamster owner to see but the ingestion issue which can cause a fatal intestinal blockage is of course hidden to the human eye. New post mortem evidence backed up by forensic testing of the fluffy bedding has been released by The RVC and

Major retailers such as Jollyes, Petstop, Omlet, Viovet and others have taken the decision to stop selling fluffy bedding since being presented with the advice and evidence regarding the dangers of fluffy bedding. Others such as Pets at Home continue to sell fluffy bedding even though they have a "working together" relationship with The RSPCA who strongly advise against it.

Hamster Balls

Over the years there has been much debate over the thoughts and feelings of a hamster whilst they are in a hamster ball, do they enjoy running around in that ball? Finally, The RSPCA has provided some clarification on the matter and in hindsight it seems to be a common sense approach with The RSPCA saying that hamster balls are both a dangerous and stressful experience.

Whilst in a hamster ball a hamster has no control over its environment and will be stressed to know it has no access to food or water. Their eyesight is also very poor and the ball prevents them from using other senses such as hearing and touch. Furthermore, their claws can get trapped and tear off in the air slits of the ball. Hamster balls also come in many different colours which appeal to children, but the colours further impair the hamsters vision.

Pet Shops such as Pets at Home continue to sell Hamster Balls and ignore the advice from The RSPCA, who they work together with!

Rather than using a hamster ball you should provide a safe area of space that your hamster can free roam in or use a playpen.

Rodent Mills

When buying a hamster from a pet store most people don't think about and consider where the baby hamster has come from. Large pet chains use rodent mills to breed rodents such as hamsters, mice, and gerbils on a large scale.

Organisations such as PETA have exposed the cruel conditions of rodent mills, but for some reason it seems that regarding these establishments The Animal Welfare Act, which makes it a legal requirement "To provide a suitable environment" has gone out the window! For hamsters it's a particularly harsh environment and the obvious rule of keeping a Syrian alone in its own environment is ignored and many hamsters are kept together in the same tiny enclosure with barely much room to move. Females are bred to death and interbreeding issues and health concerns is a common concern.

We would like to bring awareness to the public that the majority of hamsters come from these cruel places. We would like to encourage the public to source a hamster from an ethical breeder or a rescue. In the future intends on providing a directory of ethical breeders and rescues.

If you would like to learn more about HamsterWelfare and their work, you can do so HERE.

SPRAW can be found on facebook and Instagram


One Voice for Animals UK has a rescue directory of almost 300 organisations that need support. If you enjoyed this blog, head over and find your local rescue and make a donation

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