If you’re thinking about getting a pet, any pet, you should do some research about them first. Don’t forget that these are fragile lives depend entirely on you.
One of the things that make hamsters such wonderful pets, is that you only need to know a few things about them to ensure they live their lives to the fullest. But, those few things are crucial – knowing what they eat, how they use their senses, and how they live are all on the list.
This is what makes bedding so important when it comes to hamster habitat. The better you manage to replicate their natural living conditions, the healthier and happier your hamster will be.
Why Does a Hamster Cage Need Bedding in the First Place?
Hamsters have an instinct to nest and borrow. In the wild, hamsters dig underground burrows and tunnels underground: that’s how they live and move around. This keeps them safe and helps keep them cool in hot weather (hamsters are quite sensitive to cold and heat, with temperatures below 65 °F above 80 °F being potentially deathly for them).
Domesticated hamsters share the instinct to burrow, nest, and bury things, with their wild cousins, but the cage itself obviously doesn’t provide any opportunities for them to dig. This is where the bedding comes in: it ensures hamsters have the outlet for their instincts, allows them to dig and nest, as well as do their private business, and act as a source of warmth in the colder months.
Providing the hamster with quality bedding is a must if you want them to feel comfortable, safe, and happy in their cages.
What is the Optimal Bedding for a Hamster Cage?
A good high-quality hamster bedding should be able to satisfy the following demands:
- It should have good moisture absorption and good scent absorption. As mentioned above, bedding is where hamsters do their private business. The bedding should be able to absorb the moisture and smell, to reduce the health risks.
- It should be safe to consume. Private business or no, your hamster will probably stuff their mouth with their bedding. So when choosing the bedding, you should pay attention to how safe it is for your hamster to chew on and swallow it.
- And last but not least, it should also be comfortable. No matter how good its moisture and scent-absorbing qualities are, if the hamster can’t comfortably run across and burrow in their bedding – then you shouldn’t use it.
Nowadays there are plenty of specialized hamster beddings on the market, but you can also use some homemade bedding, depending on the material.
Pre-shredded cardboard or paper can work, though it can become sodden quickly.
Wood flakes or sawdust from certain types of trees may also work – but try to avoid pine and cedar, it’s thought that they give off chemicals harmful to your hamster.
Do not use cotton wool – if your hamster eats it (and they will eat it), it will clog their digestive tract.
Cat litter may work if it’s dust-free, but generally, it is better to avoid it, alongside newspapers (ink) and any type of scented bedding – even specialized ones.
How Often Should the Hamster Bedding be Changed?
You should do basic cleaning for your hamster’s cage every day, no matter what type of bedding you’re using. This includes removing old food remains feces, and soiled bedding. You can add a bit of new bedding to replace the soiled one.
Otherwise, the frequency at which you should change the bedding will likely depend on what type of bedding you’re using – if you’re using simple paper shavings, for example, it’s likely to become soggy and smelly (since paper doesn’t provide scent-absorption) much faster than specialized high-quality bedding.
Even when it comes to the most high-quality specialized bedding, professionals recommend for the hamster cage to be meticulously cleaned about once a week, even if it seems clean. This process should include not only removing the bedding from the cage in its entirety, but also washing the cage with hot, soapy water before adding in new bedding.
Do pay attention to how dry the cage is before adding in the new bedding – what may seem like just a little bit of moisture to you, could quite possibly dampen the bedding badly enough that it’s unusable in a couple of days. So the cage should be completely dry.
The cage should also be cleaned in a similar meticulous vein if your hamster shows any signs of illness, regardless of when you last changed it.
What Happens if you Don’t Change Hamster Bedding?
In an effort to reduce waste and save money, some owners tend to clean the bedding rather than replace it.
Do not do this.
If the bedding is dirty, then it should be changed, no ifs and buts about it. Cleaning the bedding completely to the point of being safe to use again is impossible – and dirty bedding helps the bacteria spread. Remember that your hamster is likely to 1) eat the bedding itself; 2) hide their food in the bedding. Not changing the bedding dramatically increases the chances of your hamster eating bacteria-laden food and falling ill down the line (not to mention become distressed due to moist bedding).
Can Hamsters die if you Don’t Clean Their Cage?
Yes. Hamsters need their habitats to be clean and tidy. Even if they survive the spread of bacteria due to dirty bedding, or eating urine-dampened bedding, the dirt will still cause them stress.
When a hamster gets stressed, there’s a high possibility of them developing a so-called wet tail. While wet tail (or proliferative ileitis) is caused in the intestines by the bacteria, it is triggered by stress. Wet-tail is a dangerous illness – even if you get a vet involved, the hamster may still die in 48-72 hours.
Can Hamsters Suffocate in Bedding?
Unfortunately, yes. If you choose to go with sub-optimal bedding material, you increase the chances of your hamster suffocating.
The biggest threat is the hamsters’ tendency to eat the bedding. If you choose the bedding material that may clog their throat, your hamster might suffocate trying to eat it.
Burrowing, on the other hand, isn’t so dangerous, though many new hamster-owners tend to worry. But again, the material you choose for bedding does matter. It should allow them to move freely so that they don’t get stuck while digging.
High-quality and well-maintained bedding is a must for your hamster’s cage if you wish it to live a long, comfortable, and happy life. The bedding is where they burrow, nest, hide their food, and do their business.
The bedding should be changed partially every day (ie. the soiled bedding should be removed) and fully as soon as it gets dirty, which differs between different types of beddings (paper shredding, for example, will need to be changed more often than specialized bedding).
Even the most high-quality bedding should be changed at least once a week, while the cage is cleaned with hot, soapy water.
Not only does the dirty bedding help the harmful bacteria to spread, but it may also distress your hamster. This, in turn, may result in a wet-tail – a dangerous stress-related disease.