What kind of cage you pick is so important, and sadly, lots of cages marketed for hamsters are terrible.
The minimum cage size for any species of hamster is 360 square inches (the bigger the better). You may be thinking "Oh, but Dwarfs are way smaller than Syrians, can't they have a smaller cage?". Nope! While they may be smaller, Dwarf hamsters also tend to be quicker and more energetic, zooming around the cage like crazy. They need their fair share of space too!
So how do you figure out if your cage is big enough? Multiply the width of base of the cage, by the length of the base of the cage. Levels don't count, unless they are the same size as the base (as a side note, floor space is more important to hamsters than height. Hamsters have bad vision and depth perception, so they can easily fall off high ledges and levels and harm themselves). So, for example: The length of the base is 11 inches, while the width is 16. The total is 176 (way too small!) Now, let's move on the the different cage options you have, and the cages you should avoid.
Good Cage Options
Despite there being tons of bad cages, there are also some good cages, and some "meh" cages.
In my opinion, these are one of the best cages. They do, however, require some work, because they are a bit of a DIY project. All you need is a storage bin (widely available in stores like Walmart, Canadian Tire, etc.) cable ties, wire mesh, and some basic tools. Bins come in many shapes and sizes, but just follow the 360 square inches rule above to select one that is appropriately sized. There are many articles on how to make bin cages online, but I find some over-complicate things. I've made one myself and it was quite easy and I didn't use any of those fancy shmancy instructions.
What You Need:
-Appropriately sized bin -Wire mesh -Sharp knife/exacto knife -Cable ties -Possibly a drill with round drill bit (depends on what you want to make the bin like. If you want to connect it to another cage with a tunnel, a drill with a circular drill bit would make a perfect circle easily).
**I'm not saying if you don't have these tools, you can't make it. Some people may have other tools that would work just as well.
1. Start out with the lid of the bin. You need to make sure the bin is well ventilated, and poking a few holes in it certainly won't do the trick as the air won't circulate. If you have a tall enough bin, and no free roaming animals in the house that could harm the hamster, you can just leave the lid off. If you don't, with a sharpie, trace the area which you want to cut out, and cut it out with whatever you have handy. Also,drill (or cut out) some small holes around the big hole. You will see what this is for soon. I, personally, don't remember what tool I used (oops!) but here is a pic of the lid after this step:
2. Now, I bet you're wondering what those small holes are for? Well, you're going to cover the big hole with wire mesh so the hammy doesn't just crawl out. Cut out an appropriately sized square of wire mesh that is just slightly bigger than the hole, and lay it on either the outside or inside of the hole. Stick the cable ties through the small holes and around the wire mesh.
3. If you're going to be attaching the bin to another cage, you'll have to make a hole in the bin the size of the tubes connecting the cages together. Put the tube up to the bin, and trace it. Then cut it out. Make sure you cut the hole out the right height from the ground. Then stick the tube through and put a connector on it, so the hamster can't push the tube out.
After that, you can make any adjustments if needed. For example, you might want to drill a hole to attach a water bottle (or you could attach a water bottle with heavy duty double sided velcro).
I've heard lots of people claim that fish tanks make horrible hamster cages because of terrible ventilation. This is so untrue. All you need is to make sure you have a mesh cover, and air will get in just fine! In fact, tanks can have much better ventilation than lots of commerical hamster cages. The minimum size for a tank is easy to find- 20 gallons (it equals perfectly to 360 square inches). Just make sure you get a *long* tank, not tall, since a tall has more height than floor space.
Commercial Cages (Habitrails, Crittertrails, etc.)
Habitrails and Crittertrails are the "meh" cages. They have potential to be good cages, or really bad cages. Depending on how many you use. If you only use one Habitrail cage, let's say the Pod, that would make an awful cage. Attach a few of them together, enough to make at least 360 square inches, and it's better now.
However, the ventilation of some of the Habitrail/Crittertrail cages is horrible, just some small holes. That is one of the main reasons I have a bin attached, not only to add more room and space for a big enough wheel (which brings me to my next point), but to also give a steady flow of air.
If you have/are getting a Syrian hamster, DON'T get this cage unless you are planning on attaching it to a bin because you CAN NOT fit a big enough wheel in it. You can only fit in tiny 6 inches, and Syrians need 8 inches minimum.
ZooZones are probably the best commercial hamster cages out there, they're really roomy- especially the ZooZone 2. I totally recommend them.
Oh boy, these are the kings of all hamster cages. Check out this amazing blog featuring tons of out-of-this-world cages.
My personal fave is the Ikea Detolf, it's my dream cage.
So there you have it, your best cage options!