Our hamster, Poppy, has been a little stressed lately. She had been getting plenty of time outside of her cage and had a half dozen different things she can chew on, but she was still biting down hard on the metal bars on her cage. This can cause little hammy teeth to break. She was chewing on them so much that the coating on the bars was coming off, and it's not really a material that's meant to be eaten.
We knew we had to get her out of her wire cage and into something that was bigger and wasn't made of metal bars. (Her cage, for the record, was well above the US minimum size of 360 square inches of floor space - however, that number is a minimum below which the cage is considered cruel, so the more space the better). We did some research, but tanks and wooden houses of equal (or even smaller) size were going to cost upwards of $200. We've been watching a bunch of hamster videos on YouTube, and we kept seeing this huge tank that many people were using called a "Detolf".
Originally designed to be a glass display case, the IKEA Detolf can be built without the shelves or front door, tipped onto its back, and used as a tank cage for small animals like mice and hamsters! The best part? It only cost $60. We went to IKEA and got one, put it together (which is impossible to do without at least two people and a lot of patience), and set it up with plenty of hiding places, a burrowing corner, and lots of things to keep Poppy happy and busy.
When used as a hamster cage, the Detolf measures nearly 5'4" in length, which means plenty of room to play and explore! From left to right, here are all the different parts of Poppy's new home.
Starting on the left is Poppy's burrowing corner. Hamsters are built to dig, and in her old cage she really only had 3-4 inches of bedding to tunnel through. In the Detolf, however, she has over half a foot of substrate with an underground room made out of a Kleenex box with two sides cut out. She loves digging tunnels, and sometimes she's next to the glass so we can watch her! In this section you can also see a little nest area with a hanging twig ball, and a willow stick chew station. We made the chew station out of a long piece of cardboard that came packed with the Detolf bent into an L and buried in the bedding.
You may have noticed the toilet paper tubes around the Detolf's rod frame - we put these on to deter Poppy from attempting to bite the metal. Although this frame runs the length of the tank, the rod itself is a bit big for a hamster to truly bite down on.
Next is Poppy's hill. We used two wooden bendy bridges to hold back the deep section of bedding and create a little hill for her to go down. You can see her wooden flower chew, and a puzzle toy we made as well. The puzzle toy is made by cutting a toilet paper tube into five rings, then slipping them over each other to create a little ball. Slide in some treats, and you can watch your hamster figure out how to get to them by moving around the rings! Poppy's glass Kaytee water bottle is stuck onto the side of the Detolf with industrial strength velcro.
The stripy rainbow background is simply made by taping wrapping paper onto the outside of the tank!
One note about the Detolf - when used as an enclosure, the glass bottom is not flush with the floor. You need to put at least 1/2 an inch of support (we used three bath towels) underneath it so the glass doesn't bow over time and eventually crack or break.
Next up is Poppy's nest tube and wood cabin. She uses the plastic tube as her main nest, food hoard, and bathroom area (so it needs to be cleaned out fairly often). She also hides her favorite chews in the tunnel as well. She loves Whimzee chews (which are marketed to dogs but are perfectly safe for hammies) the most! Her wood cabin has two entryways, one on the side you can see and one on the back side. She loves to climb up the roof of the cabin, too. You can also see another willow stick stuck into the roof and an additional wooden star chew up there.
Finally, her wheel and food are on the far right end of the cage. She has a 9" silent spinner wheel at the moment, but we'll be moving her to a 12" as she grows to be full size so her back isn't arched while she runs. She has a grey ceramic food dish that's big enough for her to sit in while she eats, and an L-shaped staircase that leads to a small built-in dish where we put a treat or two. We found the staircase in the reptile section of the pet store - don't discount reptile and fish accessories when picking out things for your hamster! Just make sure to check that it's made of real wood or resin, as opposed to plastic or some other unsafe material.
Her bedding is Kaytee Clean and Cozy mixed with some of her old Carefresh substrate - both are paper based, but C&C is much softer and far less dusty than the Carefresh.
One last thing - the lid. Detolfs do come with a glass door, but if you use that as a lid there will be absolutely no ventilation and your hamster could die. We had Poppy's breeder and her husband make us a custom two-piece lid that's fairly simple but effective. If we were handy at all we totally could have made one, but neither of us have the tools or the know-how so we are very grateful to the lovely people at Furball Critters in Santa Cruz.
Poppy's only been in the Detolf for a few days, and she's already making joyful chirps and exploring to her heart's content! We are very happy that she's doing so much better. We definitely recommend the Detolf for hamster owners, especially those with Syrian hamsters. Her original cage will be going to two dwarf hamsters named Coconut and Mango who also need a cage upgrade!