Hamsters are naturally clean animals, but they need the right ‘tools’ to groom themselves properly. They need sand baths to remove dirt, debris, and grease from their fur, and deter parasites.
Digging and rolling around in a sand bath provides mental enrichment, staving off boredom. Also, many hamsters use their sand baths as a litter tray to keep their bedding area clean.
If you’re unsure whether your hamster would benefit, provide a sand bath.
It’s not always easy to tell whether they use them, especially if they don’t pee in their sand. If your hamster smells of urine, put a sand bath in its enclosure as this will encourage it to clean itself.
Why Do Hamsters Need Sand Baths?
Sand baths are a useful addition to your hamster’s enclosure for several reasons, including:
As mentioned, hamsters need sand baths because they use sand instead of water to clean themselves.
When hamsters groom, they roll around and rub themselves in the sand to coat their fur and skin. Doing so removes excess oils, as well as dirt and debris. It also reduces the risk of parasites making their skin their home.
Because hamsters groom with sand, you should never use water to clean your hamster. That’s because water causes several problems, such as:
- Bacterial growth and subsequent infections
- Stress and a weakened immune system
- Loss of protective oils
- Colds or pneumonia
Specifically, water strips the fur of its insulating properties, exposing hamsters to extreme temperatures. Fluctuating temperatures are harmful because they increase a hamster’s susceptibility to health conditions.
Some hamsters use sand as a litterbox as they prefer to keep their nesting area clean. Sand is absorbent and minimizes smells within the enclosure. This means that sand is a useful substrate to have around.
Hamsters can also be trained to pee in their sand. You can achieve this by placing a piece of soiled bedding in their sand bath until they pick up the scent. However, most hamsters naturally gravitate towards their sand if they want to go to the toilet there.
As Live Science confirms, sand is a natural substrate commonly found in a hamster’s wild environment.
As a result, adding a sand bath to your hamster’s enclosure provides mental enrichment and physical stimulation, preventing it from getting bored.
Hamsters thrive when there are plenty of things for them to do and different textures to explore. That’s why you should incorporate sand alongside other substrates, like coco soil and corn cob.
How Big Should a Hamster Sand Bath Be?
There isn’t a set rule for how big a sand bath should be because all hamsters are different sizes, even if they’re part of the same species. For example, female Syrian hamsters are larger than males, so they need more space.
While dwarf hamsters are much smaller than their Syrian cousins, they live primarily in desert regions. This means that they benefit from a larger sand bath than other hamster species.
When it comes to the right size for your sand bath, choose a style that enables your hamster to move around comfortably. Hamsters enjoy rolling around in their sand. 30 x 20cm is a good benchmark size for all species.
There are also multiple shapes available, including:
Choosing a sand bath with a partial lid is also a good idea, as it enables hamsters to hide while cleaning themselves. Hamsters are prey animals, so a cover enables them to feel safe from predators. Even captive hamsters that have no predators to worry about have these instincts.
You don’t even have to use a wooden sand bath. You can split the lowest section of your cage with wooden bridges to create a larger sand section. This replicates natural conditions and doesn’t affect the cage’s unbroken floor space.
How Often Do Hamsters Need Sand Baths?
Hamsters spend approximately 20% of their lives grooming themselves.
Most hamsters use their sand baths multiple times every day and even several times a night. Sand provides mental enrichment, so many hamsters enjoy playing in their sand baths and grooming themselves in them.
All hamsters are different, and some use their sand baths far less often than others. As a result, some owners prefer to only place the sand bath in the cage occasionally and remove it when it’s not being used.
This gives more space for other forms of enrichments, such as tunnels and cork logs.
Can You Leave a Sand Bath in a Hamster Cage?
Because many hamsters use their sand baths so often, they’re safe as a permanent feature in their cages. However, you’ll want to remove any pee or debris, such as old bedding and food, from the sand bath every couple of days.
This is known as spot cleaning and keeps conditions sanitary within your hamster’s cage. You can do this with a sieve, as it leaves the clean sand untouched.
Removing all sand is a bad idea, as hamsters get stressed when they can’t smell their scent. Spot cleaning is enough to prevent bad smells from forming.
What Kind of Sand Do You Use for a Hamster Bath?
There are only certain types of sand that are suitable for hamsters. Chinchilla sand is commonly touted as a good choice, but it’s too dusty for their respiratory tract and is at risk of making them unwell.
According to The Veterinary Clinics of North America Exotic Animal Practice, symptoms include:
- Nasal discharge
- Open-mouthed breathing
- Head tilt
- Audible clicking
- Shortness of breath
- Blue skin or lips
Desert sand designed for reptiles is a better choice for hamsters because it’s less dusty and doesn’t affect the respiratory tract. However, you must ensure that the sand you choose is undyed and without added ingredients – particularly calcium. Too much calcium can cause painful urinary stones.
Another suitable hamster substrate is children’s sand. Bake it in the oven at 350-400F for approximately one hour first to make it safe. Baking children’s sand kills any bacteria or fungus, so it’s a crucial step you mustn’t avoid.
Can I Used Beach Sand for a Hamster Sand Bath?
Unless sieved and thoroughly sterilized, beach sand isn’t safe for hamsters. While it looks like the type you’d get in stores, it’s likely to harbor harmful bacteria that’ll make your hamster sick.
Not only that, but beach sand contains glass, shell fragments, and other particles that aren’t visible to the naked eye, presenting unseen dangers that will cause your hamster harm.
Other contaminants include dog urine, which will make your hamster sick. Beach sand tends to be rough, so it’s more likely to cause skin problems than other varieties.
Unless you can be sure that the beach is clean and you have the means to sterilize the sand, it’s not worth the risk. Stick to store-bought sand, which is guaranteed to be clean.
How Deep Should the Sand in a Hamster Sand Bath Be?
Hamsters enjoy digging through their sand, so aim for a depth of:
- 1 inch for Roborovski dwarves
- 2 inches for winter whites and Campbell’s dwarves
- 3 inches for Syrian and Chinese hamsters
You may want to increase or decrease these measurements depending on how often your hamster uses its sand bath and whether it digs or not.
For example, if your hamster only uses its sand bath to pee, there’s no point using excessive amounts of sand. A decent-sized layer will do just fine.
Can I Reuse a Hamster Sand Bath?
As mentioned, you shouldn’t remove all sand at once, even if your hamster pees in its sand bath.
Doing so will remove its scent, making it feel threatened. Cleaning the sand bath too thoroughly may also discourage your hamster from using it to go to the toilet or clean itself. As long as you sift out the dirty pieces of sand, you don’t need to wash out the sand bath each time.
If your hamster dies, you may be wondering whether you’re able to reuse the sand bath. Plastic sand baths are easy to clean and sanitize with warm water and a hamster-safe disinfectant.
Wooden and cork sand baths are much harder to clean. Unless you’ve coated the wood with Plastikote or Mod Podge, which seals the wood and prevents pee from soaking in, you may need to discard it and buy another. Otherwise, your new hamster will smell the deceased animal’s scent and refuse to use the sand bath.
Sand baths are a vital part of a hamster’s enclosure. When setting up your cage, aim to replicate wild, natural conditions as closely as possible by adding a sand bath or a dedicated section that your hamster can play in.