Hamsters love sand, whether playing in it or taking a dry bath.
Coarse, fine sand isn’t ideal as a substrate, but it certainly makes a fun addition to your hamster’s cage. However, you’ll need to observe certain safety protocols before introducing sand to a hamster.
Children’s play sand is suitable for hamsters, but this should still be sanitized before usage.
You can make sand safe for hamsters by removing debris, bleaching it to kill bacteria, and baking it in the oven for up to 90 minutes. Never put sand straight from the beach into a hamster cage.
Sand is a ‘nice to have’ for a hamster but not essential. If you take the time to sanitize the sand and make it safe for your hamster, it’ll undoubtedly positively impact your hamster’s quality of life.
Do Hamsters Need Sand in a Cage?
When prepping a hamster cage for its new resident, you’ll need to line the habitat with substrate. As many breeds of hamsters hail from desert climes, sand is often considered an option.
Choosing the right substrate for hamsters is essential, as this is where your pet will spend most of its waking hours. As hamsters are nocturnal, you need to know your pet can amuse itself overnight.
Burrowing in substrate is among a hamster’s favorite ways to pass the time. Perhaps more than any other alternative, it’s easy for hamsters to move through fine grains of sand.
However, sand isn’t ideal as a sole substrate, and it doesn’t cope well with water. While your hamster may not lap from a bowl like a cat or dog, water can leak from a wall-mounted bottle. Sand also offers limited odor control and can dry out, damaging a hamster’s tunnels.
While it’s perhaps advisable to use a different substrate, hamsters still benefit from sand in a cage. Hamsters like to play and bathe in the sand, so a small container is ideal.
Alternative Substrates to Sand for Hamsters
Among the best alternatives to sand are:
- Toilet paper
- Straw or hay
- Wood shavings, but some woods, especially cedar or pine, are toxic to hamsters.
Aspen wood offers possibly the best of all worlds for hamster bedding. This substrate is soft and affordable while providing excellent odor control.
Is Beach Sand Safe for Hamsters?
If you’re looking for sand to apply to your hamster’s cage, you may be tempted by beach sand.
This will certainly appeal to the hamster’s instincts, as it mirrors the wild habitat of hamsters. If you live near a beach, collecting sand sounds great.
Remember that a hamster purchased from a pet store has never spent any time roaming in the desert, though beach sand holds no more appeal than any other kind.
All sand should be sanitized before being placed in a hamster cage.
Can Hamsters Play in Beach Sand?
Sand is suitable for hamster play as it is so fine.
As discussed, that makes it less than ideal as a substrate. If your hamster wants to burrow and hide, it needs something more substantial. For simple digging and exploring, sand is fine.
You don’t need to restrict your hamster’s sand exploration to the cage. If you get in a child’s sandpit, your hamster will love to play within it. You’ll need to take certain precautions, though.
If kids play in this sandpit, ensure the sand is sanitized before placing your hamster inside. Erect barriers around the side of the sandpit. As much fun as your hamster will have inside, it will still attempt to escape.
If your hamster manages to leave the sandpit, you’re unlikely to see it again.
How to Make Beach Sand Safe for Hamsters
Beach sand is home to countless bacteria, fungi, and hazards, such as broken glass. Sanitizing it before use will eradicate these concerns. You should also sanitize store-bought play sand before introducing it to your hamster to be on the safe side.
To make beach sand safe for your hamster, follow these steps:
- Spread the sand and rake through it to remove any large debris, then sift it with a colander or sieve to capture anything smaller.
- Check the sand that is left, ensuring there are no traces of black mold.
- Create a mixture of bleach and water (1:1 ratio) in a pump bottle and spray this onto the sand.
- Rake the sand thoroughly, then repeat up to three times so every grain of sand has been bleached and cleansed.
- Let the bleached sand dry in the sun. Once dry, pour into a deep baking pan or dish.
- Bake the sand for at least an hour, 90 minutes if you can, at a temperature of 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Once the sand is cool, it’s ready to be applied to your hamster’s cage.
If you’ve purchased play sand for a reputable vendor, you can skip the first five steps and move straight to baking the sand in the oven.
This sanitation process is only related to beach or play sand, not construction sand. If you’re shopping in a garden center or hardware store, ensure you choose soft, gentle play sand. No amount of sanitizing will make sand intended for a cement mixer safe for hamsters.
Can Hamsters Bathe in Beach Sand?
Fine, sanitized beach sand and play sand will be acceptable as a sand bath.
Your hamster will dive into the sand and roll around, covering every inch of its fur. This will be enough to banish any oils clinging to your hamster’s coat.
As mentioned, bathing sand is one area where it is perhaps better to pay pet store prices. Check the small animal section for chinchilla sand, designed for dry baths. This product is hamster-safe.
If you’re going to allow your hamster to play in the sand, it needs to be safe. That means you can’t bring sand straight from the beach – it must always be sterilized first. The safest option remains to purchase play sand, but take a safety-first approach and sanitize it.