Since I've starting my march break I've become quite bored and decided to make a complete "Best of everything essential for your rodent" guide. I don't want to talk on and on so I'll get straight to it.
*Step 1 - Cage
For almost any kind of small rodent (From mice, rats, hamsters, gerbils, all the way to Degus), glass aquariums are the best thing you can give them. With glass aquariums, you don't have to worry about any of your pet rodents escaping. They give your pets plenty room to run around (assuming you buy an appropriate tank for the number of rodents you plan to house). They allow plenty room for digging and you can even add levels (yes! add levels in an aquarium).
Typically, you need an extra 5 gallons for every small rodent (ex: 2 Gerbils = min. 10 gallons tank) The only drawback you have with aquariums (especially bigger ones) is that they are harder to clean.
Hagen Habitrail or Super Pet Crittertrail
*WARNING: Not suitable for Gerbils, or any other medium-large sized rodents
Although I've never used Habitrails/Crittertrails because I know my Gerbils would just chew through it, these cages would be acceptable for hamsters or other relatively small rodents. I don't suggest these cages for dwarf hamsters as they sometimes squeeze through the bars. Some rodent's gnaw at the bars so much they get bald spots on their noses. When you get complex tunnels it can get rather hard to clean, but it keeps your rodent entertained and makes sure they aren't bored easily.
*Step 2 - Bedding
Not only will your pet love you for giving them Aspen, they will burrow their own tunnels and dig their noses until they are too tired to continue. Glass aquariums and aspen make for a great combination because it gives them plenty of height to pile on the aspen (unlike cages, where you only have a few inches until it becomes wires) Aspen not only looks good and smells good, but absorbs pee and doo-doo rather easily. The only drawback is that it can be expensive in some parts. Allergies may occur and/on rashes (sensitive skin)
Personally, I give my Gerbils about 10 inches high of Aspen and they spend their whole day digging and what-not. It keeps them occupied and is especially great for rodents who have a natural instinct to burrow.
If you have asthma, or your rodent develops allergies/skin conditions due to Aspen or any other bedding, then Carefresh is what you want. I added a picture of Carefresh Ultra because it is getting ever so popular. The first thing people say about Carefresh is not that it doesn't absorb well (which it does a fair job doing) or that it doesn't smell good, they say it doesn't 'look' nice. Although I do admit that Carefresh does tend not to look pleasing, I buy the brown carefresh for my dwarves which makes it look more like aspen/wood shavings than anything else.
Carefresh is great because it is soft & comfortable. My dwarves couldn't dig in aspen because it was too hard but now that they've been switched to Carefresh they burrow and sleep in their little holes. A great alternative.
*Step 3 - Water bottle
After getting your cage and adding the bedding, the next step is to add the water bottle. Now, I suggest these kind of water bottles because they have a straight tip going straight down to prevent the hamster from chewing or destroying any part of the water bottle. If you get one of these, make sure the bottle is high enough for your rodent to drink without hurting his neck too much.
*Step 4 - Food Bowl
Best Food Bowl:
I cannot stress this enough! Forget a "food bowl" and use your hands to feed your rodent! Not only will it make them used to you have your hand in their tank (if might come in handy when you'll want to pick them up!) they will get used to your scent. If you don't have time to wait for them to come and eat from your hand, scatter their food across their cage and let them dig/find/work for it. Not only will it give them something to do, their natural instinct is to dig/look for food in their natural habitat.
*Step 5 - Their wheel
Super Silent Spinners
*WARNING: Your wheel should never have "gaps" or "spaces" where your rodent runs. It might injure a leg.
Personally, I enjoy these super silent spinners better than the rest because, well, they dont make a noise! It comes with a stand to hold on its own if you have an aquarium or a plastic piece behind it to tie it to a cage. You don't have to worry about your rodent injuring themselves because the wheel has no holes for them to trip, and other rodents who come visit their friend while the wheel is spining cannot get caught between the wheel and the stand because the stand is behind. It is a little pricey though.
This is a great
alternative. Again, it can go either in an aquarium or a wired cage. No spaces or gaps for your rodents to trip on and it is mostly silent (unless it gets really used).
Remember to keep in mind (only when shopping for a pet wheel): Size matters! The bigger the wheel, the harder your rodent has to work!
This covers pretty much all the essentials you need to keep a rodent living and happy. Ofcourse, I don't cover all the toys, games, houses, and all the extras you can add in this guide but it is always best to have everything possible to give your rodent an interesting and non-repetitive life! Have fun!