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While there's nothing wrong with hamster cages, a very intricate one can be expensive. Rather than shelling hundreds of dollars for such a cage, you might try converting an old aquarium into Fluffy's new habitat. If you have a master escape artist, tanks are also pretty safe -- as long as you don't give the hamster a chance to climb on something to reach the top of the tank.
Clean the aquarium well to rid it of chemical or food residues. You can add a small amount of white vinegar -- about 1 tablespoon should be enough -- to a cup of warm water and pour the mix into the tank if stains or other hard-to-clean spots are present. Just let stand for 10 to 15 minutes to loosen up the stains. Rinse well with plenty of warm water to get rid of any lingering smells. Leave the tank outside or in an area with plenty of ventilation to help any residue of vinegar smell dissipate.
Buy a metal mesh top screen to keep the hamster from escaping. If you previously use the tank for fish, you probably have a plastic cover that completely seals the tank. You need to replace that with a mesh cover that locks into the tank. This will allow air to circulate well while keeping your furry one from pulling off an escape. Pet stores sometimes sell top screen covers, or you might inquire if they can direct you to somebody who can make one to fit your tank. If you have to fabricate one yourself, make sure it's snug all the way around.
Cover the bottom of the tank with bedding such as wood shavings. The layer should be thick enough that your hamster can bury himself into it.
Add a free-standing hamster wheel. You'll have to choose a heavy wheel, since you won't be able to secure it to the side or top of the enclosure. Make sure the wheel is not too tall or your hamster might figure out that standing on top of it can help him reach the top of the aquarium and give him a way to escape.
Add platforms, small hiding places -- such as tubes, toy houses and plastic boxes -- and other interesting spaces for your hamster to explore and play in. Search pet stores for hamster structures that have more than one level, including small ladders and climbing areas. The problem with tanks is that you need to create vertical space on your own or your hamster will have limited space to move around in.
Add a food dish and a small water bottle. Use Velcro to stick the bottle to the side of the tank. Some pet stores sell special water bottles that come with their own stands, so you can simply place one on the floor of the tank. If you have an especially active hamster, you'll have to keep an eye on these, though, as they could be tip over -- making it difficult for your furry ones to drink.
- Hamster image by Annekathrin Kohout from Fotolia.com