As the prospective owner of a hamster, you’re very likely concerned about cleanliness and smells. You’re probably wondering whether or not hamsters are dirty and will placing a hamster habitat in your home create bad odors. Fair questions and legitimate concerns – and we have the answers for you, based on thorough research and the experience of hamster owners.
Hamsters are actually very clean animals. They like clean living spaces and owners will often see their pet hamsters grooming themselves. Limited to the confines of his or her habitat inside your home, your hamster relies on you to help keep the cage clean and free of a stench. As long as you take very good care of a hamster’s environment, you can enjoy a clean pet with little to no odors.
Below, we’ll explain not only the clean nature of the popular household hamster breeds, but also how to keep them happy with a clean enclosure. Keep reading to understand just how clean hamsters are and how you can help them maintain their standards.
The five most common breeds of pet hamsters will be discussed here:
- Syrian hamsters (also known as the “teddy bear hamster”)
- Dwarf Campbell Russian hamsters
- Chinese hamsters
- Siberian hamsters
- Roborovski hamsters
All five species like to be clean and should generally be treated the same way in regard to the cleanliness of their bodies and their spaces. Long-haired hamsters like the Syrian hamster may require some additional care due to the length of their hair, but we’ll get into that below.
Do Hamsters Groom Themselves?
Self-grooming behaviors have been seen in all household species of hamster, though not every hamster is an avid self-groomer. Like all animals, hamsters have different personalities. Some like to groom themselves constantly while others take a lazier approach to their hygiene. Still, it is not at all uncommon to see your hamster cleaning itself by dragging its paws over itself or using its nails to spruce up a bit.
Aside from the factor of cleanliness, hamsters groom themselves as a way of marking their territory. They possess scent glands in their hip areas and will groom themselves in order to spread their scent throughout their fur and over their whole bodies. This is why many hamsters will groom themselves immediately after being handled by their owners.
Should I Bathe My Hamster?
If your hamster is starting to smell a little “off,” you might feel compelled to give him or her a bath to get rid of the stink. However, barring special circumstances, baths are not the safest approach to cleanliness for hamsters. They are prone to getting colds and other illnesses. Becoming wet makes them more vulnerable to these ailments, so baths should be reserved only for the most unusual and unexpected of circumstances. Routine grooming and cage maintenance is typically enough to keep your hamster and their home smelling clean.
When Should I Bathe My Hamster?
The only time the average hamster needs a bath is when something dangerous or toxic has gotten stuck in their fur and won’t come out through normal grooming methods (like brushing or combing). Due to their susceptibility to colds, there are some considerations that you should make when preparing a bath for your pet.
- Make sure that the room and the water are both warm. Cold water increases their risk of becoming sick.
- Dry their fur immediately after their bath, as close to completely dry as you can get them.
- Due to the sensitivity of a hamster’s ears, it is not advisable to use a loud blow dryer to get their fur dry.
- Hamsters should be placed back into their cages as soon as they are completely dry to the touch.
Sand Baths: The Alternative to Wet Baths
Chinchilla sand can be purchased from most pet supply stores, and for relatively low cost, too. Hamsters are burrowing animals that love to roll around and play in the sand, so this method is often less traumatic and troublesome for hamsters and their owners when their fur has gotten messy. They’ll enjoy themselves while simultaneously getting rid of any gunk that’s sitting on their fur.
When shopping for this sand, make sure that the label says “sand” and not “dust.” Dusty items in your hamster’s environment can be inhaled and lead to respiratory problems.
The sand should be placed in a sturdy bowl that gives your hamster enough room to move around. Many owners put sand baths into their hamster’s cages as a permanent installation. If this is your approach, the sand should be changed out at least once per week. You should also check it daily to make sure that your hamster isn’t turning their sand bath into a litter box.
Products You Should Avoid Using
Some owners wonder about using dry shampoo or baby wipes to clean their hamsters. Neither of these are safe grooming options for these pets. Both contain chemicals that, while safe for us, are not safe for hamsters. They can cause irritation and even rashes to appear on the skin, which can prompt the hamster to scratch at the itchy spots. If your hamster has long fur, it can be hard to detect this irritation at a glance.
What is the Proper Way to Groom a Hamster?
Under most circumstances, hamsters are clean enough when you simply apply a brush to their fur. A small, specialized pet brush can be bought from pet supply stores, but a soft toothbrush or paintbrush is often good enough for the job.
Long-haired hamsters, like the Syrian hamster, have a tendency to sometimes retain fecal matter near their backsides. This can definitely contribute to an unpleasant smell but can usually be rectified with the use of a comb. If the hair has become matted or the poo is too difficult to remove with simple combing, scissors can be used to take care of the problem.
When brushing or combing your hamster, it is best to gently brush down their backs and their stomachs. You should move the brush or comb in the direction that their fur naturally grows. This minimizes their discomfort and helps to get the process over more quickly.
Why Does My Hamster’s Cage Stink?
Oftentimes, people will think that it’s their hamster that smells when the cage is really the culprit. Hamsters may clean themselves quite routinely, but their cages do not.
Remember that hamsters will spend most of their time in their cages, so it makes sense that a smell can form over time. Hamster cages should be cleaned once weekly to ensure the optimal health and happiness of your hamster. Routine cleaning will also cut down on the stink.
How to Clean Your Hamster’s Cage
Once a week, hamster owners should dedicate some time to clean their hamster’s cage. Consider these tips when doing so, for the safety and well-being of your pet.
- Remove everything from the cage, including the hamster and all toys. Put the hamster into a safe spot, like a pet carrier, to ensure that they don’t scurry off somewhere.
- Never use disinfectant spray or wipes when cleaning the cage. Disinfectants are toxic and, if accidentally ingested, can lead to serious health problems.
- Instead, clean your hamster’s cage with standard soap and warm water. This should be enough to tackle any messes your hamster has left behind.
- Their water bottle will need to be cleaned as well. The easiest way to do this is to fill it with scalding hot water once or twice a week. Run some water through the nozzle to make sure that it isn’t clogged and then use a bottle brush to ensure that you are cleaning every nook and cranny of the bottle.
- It’s advisable to wash their food dish at the same time as their cage, using the same warm water and soap that you would for their cage. Any toys kept in the cage should be washed in the same manner.
- Everything should be dry before the hamster, fresh bedding, toys, water bottle, and food dish go back into the cage.
How Can I Keep My Hamster’s Cage Smelling Better, for Longer?
Let’s face it: Even though hamsters are clean animals, their cages can smell pretty atrocious at times. Much of this unpleasantness can be solved with daily care for the cage, including:
- The removal of droppings from the bedding.
- Daily changing of the hamster’s water.
- The removal of leftover food.
- The changing of any bedding that has become wet, such as the bedding located around the food bowl.
- You may also choose a better-smelling bedding that isn’t cedar (as this is not advised for hamster cages) to help cut down on odors.
- Cages are better than aquariums for ensuring proper airflow and ventilation. However, the distance between cage bars can become a concern for owners of dwarf hamsters. Make sure that the bars are narrow enough to prevent your pet from making a great escape.
The only surefire way to cut back on the unpleasant odors found within hamster cages is daily and weekly maintenance, which is outlined above. Adding deodorizers to your hamster’s environment can be risky, as the chemicals and unnatural scents can irritate their lungs.
Can a Dirty Cage Make My Hamster Sick?
One unfortunately common condition that afflicts hamsters is one known as “wet tail.” This condition is characterized by serious discomfort, dehydration, and diarrhea. It can lead to death, especially in very young hamsters. Wet tail is a very serious ailment that, in addition to being dangerous to the animal with the disease, is also very contagious. Dirty cages can contribute to the development of wet tail, though they are not the primary cause.
Elderly hamsters are also more prone to this illness since they often lose the ability to groom themselves as thoroughly as they did in their youth. Bacterial problems in the stomach, other medical issues, and stress all contribute to wet tail in hamsters of any age. While most hamsters will not get “wet tail disease” from living in a dirty environment, you can cut down their risk of contracting it by keeping their cage clean on a daily and weekly basis.
Syrian hamsters, especially those under 12 weeks old, are especially vulnerable to wet tail. Roborovski dwarf hamsters, on the other hand, are the least likely breed of hamster to contract this disease.
If your hamster has fallen ill with wet tail, be sure to quarantine them from other hamsters until they receive a clean bill of health from their vet. Wash your hands each time you handle them to avoid spreading the disease. Cleanliness will not only help prevent the emergence of wet tail, but it can also help hamsters to recover from it if they do contract it.
Hamsters Love to Be Clean!
Contrary to what is commonly accepted as true, hamsters are very clean animals. They love to be clean and live in a clean space where they can burrow, roll around and play. The overall cleanliness of the pet and their environment depends almost solely on the owner. Routine care and maintenance of the cage is the most critical aspect of keeping hamsters healthy and clean for the duration of their lives.