Your hamster is going to spend a lot of his or her life inside of their cage, so it’s important that you know how to properly care for this important part of their environment. While hamsters are known for being relatively low-maintenance and laid-back pets, their health and happiness can be compromised if they live in a cage that isn’t routinely cleaned. If you’ve never owned a pet of this type before, you may be concerned about when, where and how to go about caring for your hamster’s cage. This guide will show you exactly how to ensure that their cage is a clean and comfortable place for them to live.
Hamster cage maintenance requires more than simply washing the cage and changing out the bedding every now and then. The items within the cage also need to be cleaned, inspected and replaced as needed – especially toys, which can become worn due to the normal wear and tear that your hamster will inflict upon them. The process of cleaning and inspecting your hamster’s living space includes:
- The cleaning and inspection of the cage itself
- Changing of the bedding
- Cleaning of their food and water dishes (or water bottle)
- Cleaning wheels, tunnels, and other toys
- Replacing damaged toys when necessary
Hamster cages can become pretty dirty, pretty fast, so you need to know when and how to go about this process. Failure to keep your hamster’s cage clean can stress them out, expose them to unwanted bacteria, and create an array of foul odors. So, before you commit to the adoption of any type of hamster, keep reading to learn the ins and outs of hamster cage maintenance.
This might sound like a lot to keep in mind, but rest assured that once you perform all of these steps a couple of times, it will become second nature.
Cleaning the Cage
The cleaning of a hamster’s cage can be a time-consuming process, especially if the cage is large and/or you have more then one hamster occupying the space. There are daily and weekly tasks that should be performed, so if you stick with checking the cage on a daily basis you will have less mess to deal with at the end of the week. Below, we have broken down the daily tasks from the weekly ones, so that you know which ones must be done each day versus which tasks require a less frequent procedure.
Daily Cleaning of a Hamster’s Cage
Daily maintenance of your hamster’s environment will help to cut down on odors and make the weekly cleaning process of cleaning the hamster’s cage easier. There are two tasks that you should perform on a daily basis to ensure as clean a cage as possible in-between the deep cleanings. Both tasks only require the most basic of “picking up” and should only take a few minutes.
The first thing that you should do is to remove any food or toy fragments that have accumulated in or around the hamster’s cage. The second thing is to remove any wet or otherwise soiled bedding and replace it with fresh, clean bedding.
Another thing that hamster owner should do on a daily basis, though this may seem obvious, is to remove the water bottle and refill it with fresh water. This prevents the buildup of algae and other contaminants that could make your hamster sick and make the bottle more difficult to clean at the end of the week.
These three duties should take no longer than a couple of minutes and will make the weekly cleaning up much, much easier. It will also drastically cut down on the amount of unpleasant odor that you notice as a result of your hamster’s enclosure.
The above information is only what one should do every day to ensure proper cage maintenance. Continue reading to learn the ins and outs of weekly hamster cage maintenance and cleaning.
Weekly Cleaning of a Hamster’s Cage
If you have a standard hamster cage, you should perform a weekly thorough inspection and cleaning of your pet’s cage and everything that goes inside of it (toys, dishes, hamster wheels, water bottles, and so on).
This process begins with removing the hamster from their cage to place them in a safe spot until you are finished. It’s best not to use a hamster ball but instead place your hammy into an alternate cage or bin to ensure their safety and that they don’t escape while you’re preoccupied with performing the following tasks.
During cleaning, your hamster shouldn’t be placed in a hamster ball unless there is somebody around to supervise their use of the popular exercise toy. With most hamster, you may want to avoid the ball altogether – many experienced owners suspect the ball experience is more stress than fun for the hammy.
Cleaning the Cage Itself
All manner of bacteria and residue can form on the floor and bars/walls of the cage in the span of a week, so you should make sure to clean the cage thoroughly once every seven days. This entails removing everything from the interior and exterior of the cage, including toys, tunnels, food dishes, water bottles and hamster wheels.
If anything has become stuck to the sides or bottom of the cage, you can use water to spray it away or scrape it off. You may also choose to have the cage soak in warm, soapy water if you’ve got enough space to accommodate performing the task this way. Make sure to wash all sides with warm water and a mild soap. Rinse away all soap and then either hand-dry the cage with a towel or let it dry on its own. Make sure the cage itself is dry before replacing bedding, toys and other elements – especially your hamster.
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Changing the Bedding
Old bedding should be discarded into a garbage bag and then promptly tied up and thrown out to minimize the odor that would otherwise linger inside of your home. You don’t have to own a hamster for very long to know that their cage bedding can acquire a pretty unpleasant stink.
Do not use bedding that has been stored outside or wrapped improperly by the manufacturer. Make sure that the bedding is fresh and dry before being placed in a clean and dry cage.
Cleaning and Topping Off of Food/Water Dishes
Humans enjoy eating and drinking out of clean dishes. In fact, it’s important to our health that we do so.
The same is true of hamsters, who should have their water bottles and food dishes cleaned every week. If your hamster has a litter box in their cage, you should tackle the cleaning of the potty box once a week as well.
Warm water and a mild soap are all you need to effectively clean your pet’s food and water dishes. Prior to washing, all unused food and water should be discarded. From there, simply make sure to do a detailed cleaning of each item and then either hand-dry or leave to dry on their own. It is only once these items are dry that they should be reintroduced to the cage (which, by now, should have fresh and clean bedding) and then filled for their next use.
A note about hamster water bottles: Owners should make sure that their hamster’s water bottle allows for adequate water flow. They can become damaged or merely blocked. If you think that the water bottle isn’t working properly, you should first clean the spout thoroughly and then check the water flow. Sometimes, an owner might think that their hamster’s water bottle is broken when it is simply clogged.
For a more detailed guide to the types of cleansers and other considerations, you might need to make when cleaning your hamster’s cage, check out our guide on cleaning a hamster’s cage.
When to Bring the Hamster Back Home
Your hamster should not be placed back into their enclosure until you are certain that everything is 100% dry and you have replaced the toys, food dishes, water bottle, and other elements first. You shouldn’t place a hamster into a damp cage, have them eat out of damp dishes, or place wet toys onto their clean, dry bedding.
Check the Toys
Hamster toys are often made of plastic, which is durable and easy to clean. Unfortunately, hamsters can develop a tendency to chew on the items that you have bought for their entertainment. Cardboard and wood are also popular materials used for hamster chew toys, but they can be quite a bit less durable.
However, wooden toys often pose fewer health risks because they are designed to be chewed on by your pet – not like plastic tunnels, which are not designed to be gnawed on, but rather played inside of. Make sure that your hamster’s toys are holding up in terms of integrity and aren’t becoming gnawed to the point where the hamster could be swallowing pieces – this can lead to a number of health concerns, regardless of what the toy is made of.
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If a toy of any type, including tunnels and hamster wheels, has sustained a significant amount of damage it should be removed from the cage immediately and then replaced. These items will not only cease to function as ideally as they should, but they may also pose a choking risk to your hamster due to choking.
Make sure to do an inspection of your pet’s toys, tunnels, wheels, and other cage accessories when you perform your daily maintenance of their cage. This grants you the ability to check for early signs of damage before they can become a health risk to your furry companion.
Check the Cage Itself
Any experienced hamster owner could tell you that hamsters simply love to chew. This, unfortunately, can lead to a hamster gnawing on the bars of their own cage.
Many wire cages, the most popular type of hamster cage on the market, coat the wires with a plastic film that can easily be worn down by the repetitive chewing of a hamster’s teeth on the bars. Do a visual examination of the cage each time you clean it to make sure that your hamster hasn’t caused this kind of damage to their enclosure. The plastic coating and possibly even the wire material itself could become swallowed and lead to digestive trouble for your pet.
Looking at least once a day to make sure there have been no changes made to the cage can keep you in the know in regard to your hamster’s chewing behavior, and thus make it easier to combat negative behaviors that jeopardize their health.
Another common concern relates to cages that have painted bars. Paint can be dangerous if swallowed, potentially leading to intoxication as well as the digestive problems that you’d expect from any mammal swallowing chips of paint. There is no animal on the planet that benefits from swallowing paint.
It is also important that owners examine the closures on their hamster’s cage to ensure that they are in proper working order and will continue to effectively keep their pet from performing a great escape. If the closures on your cage or the bars themselves have been damaged, it is time to replace the cage.
Aquariums and other glass terrariums are a popular alternative to traditional wire cages, especially for owners of dwarf hamsters and hamsters who have out-of-control chewing habits. These enclosures require the same type of care that cages with bars do. However, they may be heavier and therefore a bit more difficult to clean. You may need to recruit the help of a friend or take some extra time to make sure that the inside and outside have been cleaned to equal satisfaction.
We have an interesting discussion of the materials used for hamster cages in this post: How to choose the best cage for your hamster.
Minimize Mess with a Larger Cage
Has your hamster’s cage become increasingly difficult to keep clean? Does it give off unpleasant, stinky smells even when you just deep-cleaned a few days ago?
Small cages require more dutiful and routine cleaning than larger ones, as mess can accumulate much more quickly in a smaller space. Hamsters are active animals that love to run and play, so larger cages are practical for more than one reason. If your hamster lives alone in a larger cage, you might not have to perform these deep-cleaning tasks every week, but perhaps every two to three weeks instead.
This is, of course, only an estimation. Regardless of your hamster’s cage size, you should be performing daily checks of their bedding and other aspects of their environment and perform a thorough cleaning of their enclosure whenever the situation seems to call for it. Even if your hamster lives in a large enclosure, you might still have to perform these tasks on a weekly basis. Play it by ear and never make your hamster live in a dirty cage just because you think it’s “too soon to clean.” If there is a vile odor coming from your hamster’s living space, cleaning should be performed as soon as possible.
Click here to see our guide to hamster cage sizing. Different types of hamsters need different considerations to be kept in mind when their owners shop for their hamster’s new environment.
Clean Your Hamster’s Cage for Optimal Hamster Care
By nature, hamsters are very clean creatures with a love of burrowing. They want their environment to be clean, and they need it to be, too. Exceptionally dirty cages are a hazard to the health of your hamster, as well as foul-smelling and difficult to live around. Fortunately, the care of hamster cages isn’t very complicated.
Daily cleaning of foul food and soiled bedding will do much of the work for you, but at the end of the week, it is the wisest move to perform a deep-cleaning of the hamster’s enclosure.
A deep-cleaning entails a full cleaning of the cage, including a replacement of bedding, the washing of all food dishes/water bottles/litter pans and toys, as well as an examination of the toys and the cage containing them to ensure that everything your hamster comes into contact with is healthy. Hamsters love to chew, but this can lead to damage sustained by the bars of their cages or plastic elements in their environment – which can lead to a host of dangerous or painful digestive issues.
By following the guidelines outlined above, you can best ensure that your hamster’s living space is a healthy and comfortable place to live. While hamsters are known for being fairly low-maintenance and easy to care for, the consequences of improper care can be very dangerous.
Wet tail disease, for instance, is brought on by stress endured by the hamster. Dirty environments may not only stress out the hamster but may also contribute to the growth and spreading of bacterial infections and other conditions, even if the condition was caused by a separate factor.
In short, keeping a hamster cage clean and clear of unwanted debris is essential to overall hamster health. And, quite fortunately, it doesn’t take much to make sure that this is done. All you need is warm water, soap, fresh bedding and a safe place to put your hamster while you are detailing their cage. When you get into the habit of doing this each and every week, you will find that it does not demand that much effort. And your hamster will thank you for it.