To prepare your hamster's cage for its new resident is simple. Cover the floor of the cage with a 1/2" layer of wood shavings or sawdust and place a handful of torn paper tissues in one corner of the cage. The shavings will absorb any wetness produced by the hamster and the tissues will be shredded into a warm nest. Supply water in a water bottle, hung on the outside of the cage. Make sure that the spout is low enough for the hamster to reach, but not so low that water leaks into the sawdust. Dry food can be placed directly on the floor of the cage; if you scatter it on the sawdust then your hamster can "forage" for its food, as it would in the wild. If you prefer to use a food dish you can either buy one in a pet shop or improvise with a coffee jar lid, (take out the paper insert first). A coffee jar lid also makes an excellent dish for serving any "wet" food such as porridge.
The cage may not remain as you have set it out. Nearly all hamsters have amazingly strong characters and frequently have their own ideas about which corner the nest should be in, where food should be stored etc.! A very positive side to this organisational mania is that most hamsters will choose one spot as a "wet corner" and will deposit their urine only in that area, keeping the rest of the cage drier and cleaner. A negative aspect is the amount of sawdust that may end up on the carpet as the hamster scratches and scrabbles to get the cage "just right"! This can be limited by standing the cage in a cardboard box, cut down to about 3" high - this will catch most of the fallout.
Hamsters do not produce any noticeable smell as long as they are kept clean. Fresh foods, such as porridge or greens, should be removed after twenty four hours, before they smell. The droppings are dry and will be absorbed by the sawdust, while the amount of urine produced will be small and limited to the wet corner.
The cage itself should not need to be cleaned more than once a week; less often still if the sawdust in the wet corner is changed regularly. Between once a week and once a fortnight it probably about right for cleaning, being led by the state of the cage.
Before you start cleaning a hamster cage confine the hamster to an escape proof box, an empty bucket or some other area that it cannot escape from. Empty the sawdust, stored food and old bedding into the bin and then wash the cage base, food dishes etc. with warm soapy water. If you wish you can also use a mild disinfectant. Rinse everything in clean, warm water and dry everything thoroughly. Supply clean sawdust, bedding and food before returrning the hamster to its home.
New hamsters settle into their home quicker if it smells familiar. Experienced breeders know this and, if you purchase your hamster from one of them, frequently enclose a small amount of old bedding with the hamster. If this familiar bedding is mixed with the clean bedding in the hamster's new cage the animal will settle down more easily. In the same way, if bedding is not too dirty, it can be returned to the cage after cleaning out; a good shake will remove any droppings and bits of food.
Some things are potentially dangerous to hamsters and should not be used.
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