Roborovski like to run but this does not equate to enjoying a wide open space. Just as mice prefer to follow the skirting board around an open plan living room floor, you might notice your hamster runs laps around the outside of the cage or ‘swims’ up the side. Given their natural habitat and predators, this is most likely a stress response to being unable to hide. Being under the constant effect of adrenalin and cortisol (released during a fight/flee response) is similar to the effect of prolonged anxiety in humans and will affect your hamsters ability to bond to you, to learn, sleep, feed and grow. As your robo is a prey animal, these effects may not be obvious to you.
The key to a happy hamster is to provide plenty of hiding places, tubes and offering ‘scrub’ in the way of handfuls of hay or straw. Not only will they nibble this and chew their tubes (cardboard is cheap/free and ideal for this) but they’ll feel more secure in their home. The safer they feel, the quicker they will bond to you and the more you will get out of your pet.
I don’t have a list of ‘ideal’ cages. There are so many now to choose from. Given the above, giving your robo a 6ft long tank is probably not the best idea unless you don’t plan to handle them much. If you want to get a good bond you will need to look at a more usual cage size. There’s no legal minimum but your cage should be big enough to fulfill the five freedoms (see below). 60-80cm is generally average and this encompasses a wide range of brands. If you go for a barred cage, this will need to have 1cm bar spacing. I use underbed storage boxes for all my roborovski and use a dremel to drill ventilation holes. If you go for this option you will need rows of three holes on the long sides and five rows of holes on the short sides. You can drill a larger hole for your water bottle spout (or have two water bottles).
Bedding and Enrichment
Offer a good depth of bedding for the floor, soft (but not woolly/fluffy) nesting material (torn up kitchen roll is ideal) and plenty of hides/houses/tubes. Robo’s don’t climb well but are even worse at getting down safely from high places. Your cage levels should not be too high and their shouldn’t be anywhere in the cage that your robo can fall all the way to the bottom.
Ideas for hides can range from cardboard cereal boxes, mugs, glazed plant pots to wooden houses, bendy sticks and half square guttering. Some of these provide extra levels without needing a whole platform and are ideal for tanks/tubs.
For bedding reviews please see my blog
The Five Freedoms
The five freedoms underpin your pet’s welfare and you should familiarise yourself with them.
Freedom from hunger and thirst by ensuring ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.
Ensure your hamster is fed regularly (but not overfed) with food that is appropriate to it’s species (including plant and animal protein for robos) and that you check their water bottle is full and working everyday
Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
Ensure they have bedding and nest area and that they are able to make a comfortable nest. This would also cover making sure it’s not too hot or too cold
Freedom from pain, injury and disease by prevention through rapid diagnosis and treatment.
Check your hamster regularly for any signs of illness or injury and take to the vets if required as soon as possible. This freedom also means that you are prepared to have your pet euthanised when appropriate to ensure it doesn’t suffer
Freedom to express normal behaviours by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind
A roborovski is a burrow building animal so a good depth of substrate should be provided in order to facilitate this. They will also forage so scatter the dry feed into the bedding to enable them to do this at home. Running in a wheel is not a normal behaviour, but your cage should be big enough to allow them to run about and explore. Note that this freedom mentions animals of it’s own kind. This is only applicable in species that are social
Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment that avoids mental suffering
Site the cage somewhere it won’t get knocked or banged, do not allow interactions with other pets that are not it’s own species. Provide plenty of enrichment to combat boredom. For a hamster this would also mean not waking it repeatedly throughout the day as it’s normally only awake in the evening and during the night