When you’re thinking about getting a pet hamster, what questions would you ask? Of course, you want to know how to take proper care of your pets and give them a safe, healthy, and happy life. But, would you have thought to ask the question can hamsters swim?
Anyway, now that the question has been asked; yes, they can swim. But they really dislike it. In nature, a hamster will only swim if it absolutely has to. Even then, they will do everything they can to get out of the water as quickly as they can. They do not tolerate being wet for any length of time either. In fact, they can become ill very easily.
The hamster’s natural habitat is in the Asian steppes or Middle Eastern deserts. As such, they have adapted to survive without water, except for drinking, of course. If you force a hamster into the water, it is likely to become very distressed. Hamsters do not handle stress well at all. It is very likely to bite when stressed. Stress may also weaken its immune system and make it more vulnerable to pneumonia or Wet Tail.
Wet Tail is an intestinal infection of the bacterium Lawsonia intracellularis. It causes diarrhea and lesions on the intestines. It is quite common and very often fatal. If treatment is not commenced within the first day or two, the chances of recovery are not at all good.
The disease can be very contagious so a sick hamster needs to be separated from healthy ones. Also, all toys and cage accessories need to be sanitized to avoid spreading the disease to the other hamsters.
Hamsters are very sensitive to sudden changes in temperature. Putting them into cold water will trigger such a change. The consequence is often pneumonia. As with Wet Tail, early intervention is vital for survival. Pneumonia is very often fatal because, by the time the symptoms are evident, the disease is too far advanced to treat successfully.
How do you keep your hamster clean?
Now, knowing that water is really not good for your hamster, how do you keep it clean? Or, how does a hamster keep itself clean?
Firstly, you do not actually need to bathe a hamster. They are very good at grooming themselves. In fact, they spend a lot of time doing it. By grooming, they remove foreign matter that gets into the coat and they spread natural oils throughout the coat. These oils provide a natural barrier that protects them from diseases and the elements.
Trying to bathe a hamster will strip the coat of these oils and this is what makes them more susceptible to disease. Their natural defenses are destroyed by washing them.
Sand baths – an option for cleaning
If you really want to help your hamster stay clean, a sand bath is the best way to do it. Dry sand provides an abrasive medium that can rub off foreign matter but will not strip the coat of its natural oils. If you observe that your hamster is unable to keep itself clean merely through grooming, then you could help in this way. You need to be aware of a couple of things, though:
- The sand should be somewhat coarse. If the sand is too fine it could cause dust. If the hamster breathes in the dust it will almost certainly develop respiratory problems.
- Sand should be natural. Sand that has been dyed or treated in any way will contain chemicals. Even in small residual quantities, these chemicals may harm your hamster.
- Use only clean sand. Ideally, the sand should have been washed to remove impurities and foreign matter. This is also the best way to separate the coarser grains of sand from the fine dust. Heat treatment is also used to sanitize the sand and kill any bacteria.
- Give them room. A sand bath is not necessarily only for cleaning. Some hamsters like to play in sand too. The abrasion provided by rolling in the sand is, quite literally, a massage. Make sure, therefore that the hamster can roll around a bit. Also, make sure that the sand is deep enough.
Don’t overdo the size of the bath, though, as this will take up space in the cage and reduce the area that they have to run around in.
Can Hamsters Swim – Final Thoughts
So, in closing, exposing a hamster to water is not a good idea. Hamsters can swim, but they really do not enjoy it. It should only ever be done as a last resort. For a happy hamster, a sand bath is a good option as it helps them to keep clean but is also a playpen for some hamsters. I’d recommend avoiding putting them in water whenever possible.