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Setting Up an Enriching Enclosure

As a first-time pet owner, it can be daunting to set up your first enclosure. After all, there are so many options and so many mistakes to be made. Even some experienced owners face these struggles!

This article will cover everything you need to know about setting up an enriching and beautiful enclosure for your small pet.

 

By Yvonne Zhu

September 2, 2023

Hamsters

Hamsters are recently domesticated prey animals with strong instincts, including:

  • Burrowing

  • Foraging

  • Running

  • Hiding

  • Digging

  • Bathing

Due to these special instincts, deep bedding, foraging opportunities, a properly-sized running wheel, safe hideouts, diverse substrates, and a sand bath are all important components of every hamster enclosure.

Notes:

  • All pictures in this section are of a 72" x 24" x 24" or 1,728 sq inch enclosure. An enclosure of this size exceeds the bare minimum, and larger enclosures (measuring 800+ sq inches for dwarf hamsters or 1,000+ sq inches for Syrian hamsters) are STRONGLY recommended.

  • The example enclosure has been set up with Syrian-sized supplies.

  • Learn more about where the supplies came from here!

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1. Supply List

  • Empty + clean enclosure

  • Safe paper-based or aspen bedding

  • Proper sized wheel

  • Sandbath container + safe bathing sand

  • 2+ hideouts

    • Ceramic, glass, or wood are recommended​

  • Multichamber hide (recommended)

    • Stilts for multichamber hide, if needed

  • Platform with stilts

  • Water bowl and/or bottle

    • If your enclosure is 1,000+ sq inches, we recommend 2 or more sources of water in the enclosure​

  • Wheel platform (optional)

    • This is needed if your wheel is NOT going to be on the base of the enclosure, on another platform, on a multichamber hide's lid, or in a sandbath/other substrate​

  • Tubes + tunnels (cork, birch, terracotta, etc)

  • Flower/leaf forage mix

  • Variety of sprays (recommended)

  • Variety of substrates + containers

    • Platforms for substrate containers, if needed

  • Chew toys

  • Grapevines, cork branches, etc

  • Sphagnum/pillow moss (optional, but recommended)

  • Ladders + bridges

  • Small decorations (optional)

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Some suitable subtrates and textures

2. Step-by-Step Setup

Step One

Add large items

Since these items need to be placed on a platform or be attached to stilts, it's easier to put them in before adding bedding!

At this stage, we recommend not adding substrates into the containers yet, because bedding will get mixed in with the next step.

Step Two

Add bedding

Add in the safe bedding of your choice, making sure to compress the bedding as you add to increase burrow stability later on. Here, we are using Rabbit Hole Hay paper bedding from Chewy.

Use this calculator to figure out how much bedding you need to purchase!

Step Three

Add smaller items

After you're done adding the bedding, you can add smaller items like hideouts, chew toys, branches, birch logs, etc.

This is also the time to add the substrates into their containers!

Then, make sure your wheel can spin freely. Sometimes, bedding gets under the wheel and prevents it from easily spinning.

Step Four

Add sprays and forage

This is the last step! To make your enclosure even more enriching for your hamster, add your sprays and forage by sticking sprays into the bedding and scattering the forage around. This is also when you can add moss, soft hay, or other materials.

Since this is the final step, you can also scatter your seed mix around the enclosure and fill up any water bottles/bowls.

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And that's it! You've successfully set up a beautiful and enriching enclosure for your hamster!

By Allyson M

November 4, 2023

Guinea Pigs

To begin with, guinea pig enclosures must provide ample room for them to perform natural behaviours. It is recommended that a pair of guinea pigs should have at least 7.5 square feet, though more space is always better. Refer to the chart (below) for exact size guidelines, and always remember to size up when possible as these are the absolute bare minimum. 

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Suitable enclosures must have well-ventilated sides, a solid waterproof base, and a ventilated top if required. Some examples of appropriate cages include C&C cages (Kavee, Guineapigcagestore, DIY), Midwest enclosures, or any other enclosure meeting the requirements.

1. Supply List

  • Suitable enclosure

  • Safe flooring and bedding of choice

  • At least 1 hideout per pig (e.g. cardboard boxes, fleece forests, bendy bridges)

  • Toys (e.g. chew toys, tunnels, throwing toys)

  • Water bottle or dish

2. Flooring

Once an appropriate enclosure is obtained, the next step is to add proper flooring. It should be soft and absorbent-- suggestions include fleece blankets layered on top of towels/pee pads/ moving blankets, premade liners such as Guinea Dad liners, or even some types of loose bedding like paper or wood shavings. Though not necessary, many owners make the choice to divide a separate "kitchen" area within the enclosure. This is a dedicated space for hay and eating, usually also serving as a litter box space. In this space, the bedding should be more absorbent-- popular choices include unscented paper or aspen bedding, bath mats, or reusable pee pads.

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3. Enrichment

At this stage, toys, beds, chews, and more are vital to add to the enclosure to add enrichment. It is recommended to include at least one hideout per pig, ensuring that there are at least 2 exits to reduce potential fighting. Excellent hideaways include willow tunnels, cardboard boxes with holes cut out, bendable bridges, fleece forests, and more. Oftentimes, owners choose to place extra mats and/or pee pads under hiding areas for both extra comfort and absorbency. Guinea pigs require toys to keep them busy, and a lack of enrichment can lead to boredom. Thus, it is recommended to provide a rotating variety of toys, including, but not limited to chew toys, throwing toys, foraging toys, and more. Recommendations include applewood branches, snuffle mats, baby stacking cups, and toilet paper tubes stuffed with hay. It does not need to be expensive to keep guinea pigs busy- many replacements for store bought toys can easily be DIYed!

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4. Maintaining the Enclosure

To maintain a well-enriched guinea pig habitat, it is crucial to clean regularly. Frequently soiled areas, such as litter pans or pee pads, should be cleaned every couple days. Entire cage cleanouts once a week are often sufficient, with spot cleaning of high traffic areas done in between. Vacuuming, sweeping, washing, and wiping down are all important elements of cleaning an enclosure. 

Lastly, it is important to have a source of water in the enclosure at all times. It is perfectly suitable to use either a water bottle or a dish- it is up to the preference of the guinea pig. Cleaning should be done daily to replace dirty water with fresh water.

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