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Hamster Care 101

Martha Stewart Living Television

Hamsters generally make great pets, since most breeds are small, inexpensive, harmless, and easy to care for. Nevertheless, there are a few basic guidelines you should follow when choosing and caring for a hamster. Pet expert Marc Morrone offers the following advice.

When buying a hamster at a pet store or from a breeder, try to select one that is 5 to 6 weeks old; if you're considering an older or a previously owned pet, keep in mind that most hamsters live from 2 to 4 years. Hamsters are prone to an infection called wet tail, which can be fatal, so be sure the one you choose doesn't exhibit any of the disease's symptoms: wetness or staining around the tail and loose stools. Because they are solitary animals, you should keep only one hamster. The exception to this rule is siblings of the same sex; two brothers or two sisters can cohabitate quite peacefully.

Give your hamster as large a cage as possible so that it has ample room to roam. Marc recommends a 10-gallon fish tank with a locking-screen top; its floor should be covered with Aspen wood chips or shredded newspaper, which should be changed weekly. Use nylon zip ties to attach a running wheel to the underside of the cage's screen top, so the hamster can exercise without the wheel taking up its floor space. Install a chew-proof water bottle along the side of the cage, and place a heavy food dish in one corner. A wooden chew block is also beneficial, as it allows the hamster to work its powerful incisors.

Feed your hamster about 1/2 ounce of dry-grain hamster food every day, as well as finely chopped fruits and vegetables, such as apples, carrots, or celery. To help keep your hamster's coat shiny, Marc suggests adding a multivitamin supplement to its drinking water.

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