Hamsters require 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 clean their bedding area.
If you’re unsure whether your hamster would benefit, provide a sand bath.
It’s not always easy to tell whether hamsters use them, especially if they don’t pee in their sand. If your hamster smells of urine, put a sand bath in its enclosure to encourage it to stay clean.
Why Do Hamsters Need Sand Baths?
Sand baths are a useful addition to a hamster’s enclosure for several reasons:
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, dirt, and debris.
It also reduces the risk of parasites making their skin and fur their home.
As hamsters groom with sand, never use water to clean a hamster for these reasons:
- Bacterial growth and subsequent infections
- Stress and a weakened immune system
- Loss of protective oils
- Colds or pneumonia
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 to keep their nesting area clean. Sand is absorbent and minimizes smells within the enclosure.
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 gravitate toward sand if they want to go to the toilet.
As Live Science confirms, sand is a natural substrate 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 things to do and different textures to explore. Incorporate sand alongside other substrates, like coco soil and corn cob.
How Big Should a Hamster’s 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.
While dwarf hamsters are much smaller than Syrian hamsters, they live primarily in desert regions, which means they benefit from a larger sand bath than other species.
Choose a style that enables your hamster to move around comfortably. Hamsters enjoy rolling around in the sand, so 30 x 20cm is a good benchmark size for all species.
There are also various sand bath shapes available, including:
Choosing a sand bath with a partial lid is also a good idea, enabling hamsters to hide while cleaning themselves. Hamsters are prey animals, so a cover makes them feel safe from predators.
You can split the lowest section of your cage with wooden bridges to create a larger sand section that 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 several times a day. Sand provides mental enrichment, so many hamsters enjoy playing and grooming themselves in them.
Some hamsters use their sand baths less often than others. As a result, some owners prefer to only occasionally place the sand bath in the cage and remove it when it’s not used.
This provides more space for other forms of enrichment, such as tunnels and cork logs.
Can You Leave a Sand Bath in a Hamster’s Cage?
As many hamsters use their sand baths often, they’re safe as a permanent feature in their cages. However, you’ll want to remove any pee or debris, such as dirty bedding and food, every couple of days.
Thin 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 bad, as hamsters get stressed when they can’t smell their scent. Spot cleaning is sufficient to prevent bad smells from forming.
What Kind of Sand Do You Use for A Hamster Bath?
Only certain types of sand are suitable for hamsters. Chinchilla sand is commonly touted as a good choice, but it’s too dusty for their respiratory tract.
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, ensure the sand is undyed and without added ingredients. For example, too much calcium can cause urinary stones.
Another suitable hamster substrate is children’s sand. Bake it in the oven at 350-400F for one hour to kill germs, bacteria, insects, parasites, and fungal spores.
Can I Use Beach Sand for a Hamster’s 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’ll likely harbor harmful bacteria that’ll make your hamster sick.
Furthermore, beach sand contains glass, shell fragments, and other particles that aren’t visible to the naked eye, presenting unseen dangers that’ll 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.
How Deep Should the Sand in a Hamster Sand Bath Be?
Hamsters enjoy digging through sand, so ensure 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.
Can I Reuse a Hamster Sand Bath?
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 also discourages 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 it out each time.
If your hamster dies, you may wonder whether you can reuse the sand bath. Plastic sand baths are easy to clean and sanitize with hot 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. Otherwise, your new hamster will smell the deceased animal’s scent.
Sand baths are a vital part of a hamster’s enclosure. When setting up a cage, replicate wild, natural conditions by adding a sand bath or a dedicated section in which your hamster can play.