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what happens if you don't change hamster bedding?
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How Often Are You Supposed To Change Hamster Bedding?

Last Updated on: 24th September 2023, 05:46 pm

Hamsters frequently pee and poop, often where they sleep. The ammonia from urine soaks into the bedding, giving the cage a foul odor.

Replacing soiled hamster bedding is essential for preventing stress, sickness, and disease. Deep clean a hamster’s cage once a month.

When changing the bedding, replace no more than 1/3rd at a time to retain the hamster’s scent. Also, perform spot cleans on soiled bedding every 2-3 days.

Don’t leave your hamster’s bedding to become too dirty, as it’ll make your home smell bad. Also, harmful bacteria will grow and multiply, which could make the hamster unwell.

How Often Should You Change Your Hamster’s Bedding?

Despite misconceptions, frequent bedding changes can be counterproductive.

Hamsters get stressed if they can’t smell their scent within their cage, which is why it’s so important to only replace your hamster’s bedding once it’s soiled.

Once a month is usually sufficient, although hamsters that urinate and defecate in their sand baths can go up to 6 weeks without a full cage clean.

Also, you must only change 1/3rd of the bedding at a time to retain the hamster’s scent.

As described by Physiology and Behavior, hamsters have flank glands that release pheromones, which they use to mark territory. Removing the bedding covered in these pheromones makes the hamster feel disorientated, causing it to believe it’s in a new cage.

However, carry out spot cleans 3-4 times per week to remove soiled bedding and old food. Sift the sand in the hamster’s sand bath to remove clumps of urine.

What Happens if You Don’t Change Hamster Bedding?

As explained, hamsters get stressed if you frequently replace their bedding.

However, not changing the bedding can be just as harmful because hamsters pee and poop on their bedding, so it’s the first thing that gets dirty. You may not see and smell the moisture build-up because it’s usually toward the bottom of the enclosure where hamsters sleep.

Hamster bedding is designed to be highly absorbent, so it’ll soak up spilled moisture. Also, mold and mildew will build up over time due to the moisture from the hamster’s water bottle.

If you don’t replace the wet bedding quickly enough, bacteria and microorganisms will grow, increasing the chances of a hamster getting sick with wet tail.

If you don’t clean your hamster’s bedding, your room will begin to smell.

how to change hamster bedding?

What Hamster Bedding Is the Best?

The best types of bedding for hamsters include:

Paper-Based Bedding

Paper-based bedding is considered the best type of substrate, but it’s also the softest and makes an excellent nesting material for hamsters to sleep in and burrow into.

Substrates made with paper are highly absorbent and keep foul odors at bay, negating the need for too many bedding changes.

The most popular paper-based bedding types include Carefresh, Kaytee Klean, and Cozy. Teabag bedding is also a popular, affordable choice.

Wood-Based Bedding

Most wood-based bedding – including cedar and pine – is unsafe for hamsters due to toxic phenol chemicals. Phenols are acidic chemical compounds that cause respiratory and liver problems.

However, unlike other wood-based substrates, aspen bedding is already treated, making it safe for hamsters. It absorbs urine and moisture, preventing the cage from smelling and becoming unsanitary.

Hay and Grass

Timothy hay and meadow grass aren’t as absorbent as other substrates, but they make a soft addition to paper bedding. To hold tunnels, you can also layer these materials between paper bedding and aspen.

Where To Put Hamster When Cleaning Cage?

Cage cleaning can be a stressful and traumatic experience for hamsters, particularly if you clean the enclosure while your hamster is asleep. It’s an unpleasant experience for hamsters to be woken up.

If you’re only carrying out a spot clean, you can remove soiled bedding and old food while your hamster is asleep in the cage. However, a full cage clean requires the hamster to be somewhere else.

You can place your hamster in a smaller, temporary cage while you clean, but it must have a wheel, food, and water to prevent them from getting stressed.

If you don’t have another cage to hand, put your hamster in a playpen or a bathtub with toys to keep it entertained. Cage cleaning can take several hours, so your hamster will need enrichment.

Alternatively, have someone you live with play with your hamster while you clean.

How To Change Hamster Bedding?

Changing hamster bedding isn’t a complicated process. However, it takes time, especially if you have a cage measuring at least 80 x 50 cm with 6+ inches of bedding.

To start with, spot-clean the cage with these steps:

  1. Wearing gloves or a small shovel, pick out any dirty bedding and place it in a plastic bag.
  2. Pick out any old food you find amongst the bedding, especially fresh food that could go moldy.
  3. Check the bedding around the hamster’s water source. If it feels dry and looks clean, you can leave it. If it’s damp, it’s best to remove it in case of mold or mildew.

After a month, it’s time to carry out a full bedding change. Follow these steps:

  1. Wait until your hamster wakes up, and remove it from the cage.
  2. Remove all the items and accessories from the cage to give you easier access to the bedding. You might also want to sanitize these items at the same time.
  3. Using gloves or a scoop, remove the bedding. You’ll also find a significant food horde in its burrows, which you’ll need to throw away.
  4. Sanitize the bottom of the cage to remove dried pee.
  5. Sift through the rest of the bedding, only discarding substrate that looks or smells dirty.
  6. Manually dry the cage or let it air dry before replacing the substrate.

Before putting the accessories and hamster back in the enclosure, you might want to consider rearranging your hamster’s setup slightly to keep it enriched and entertained.

Only make minimal changes to prevent your hamster from getting confused.

How To Dispose of Hamster Bedding

The easiest and most hygienic way to dispose of old bedding is to place it in a large plastic bag and throw it in the trash. Make sure it’s tightly sealed to prevent bad odors and keep other animals out.

If your hamster eats a vegetarian diet, you can place soiled bedding in a compost bin.

Hamster pee and poop don’t pose a health risk, so as long as it’s healthy, you can safely add the bedding to your compost heap. The poop will accelerate the decomposition process.

How To Get Rid of Mites in Hamster Bedding

Mites are tiny parasites that feed off blood and oils, irritating skin and causing secondary bacterial infections through excessive scratching.

Mites commonly affect hamsters and can be transmitted through direct contact with an affected animal or contaminated bedding, toys, and food.

Getting rid of mites isn’t easy because they lay eggs within the hamster’s bedding, continuing the cycle.

You can treat them with the following steps:

how much bedding do hamsters need?

Replace the Bedding

While a complete bedding replacement causes stress, having mites is one scenario where it’s necessary.

Mites and their eggs are impossible to see with the naked eye, so you’ll never be able to see them if they remain in the substrate. That’s why it’s a good idea to throw the bedding away and start again.

Sanitize the Cage

Before replacing the hamster’s bedding, deep clean the cage using pet-safe sanitizer. To eliminate hidden eggs, clean all accessories, including the wheel and hideout.

Use Hamster Mite Spray or Dust

Hautarzt explains how commercial mite sprays contain pyrethrin, which is toxic to mites but not hamsters. So, you can apply mite sprays or dust directly to a hamster’s fur and bedding to kill mites.

Once you’ve added new bedding to the cage, shake the spray and apply it directly to the substrate. This may seem unnecessary, but it’ll remove any mites that have survived the bedding replacement.

You’ll need to move your hamster to a temporary cage while the products get to work.

How Much Bedding Do Hamsters Need?

Applied Animal Behavior Science discusses how most hamsters burrow and create nests when they have at least 40cm of bedding.

This is a lot, but owners agree that 6+ inches of bedding is a minimum, with 10-12 inches ideal.

If you can’t afford to have this much bedding throughout the cage, gradually increase the amount to create a higher section at one end. This is where your hamster will dig tunnels and make a nest.

There’s no definitive rule about how often you clean bedding, but a month is a good benchmark.

Keep checking the cage and decrease or increase the amount of time between each bedding replacement, depending on how dirty the cage gets.