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what is a substitute for hamster bedding?
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What Can I Use Instead of Hamster Bedding? (6 Best Alternatives)

Bedding is a vital part of a hamster’s cage setup. Without bedding, hamsters can’t dig burrows, conceal their food, stay warm, or hide when feeling afraid.

As an alternative to hamster bedding, use high-absorbency materials. This includes shredded paper, soft toilet paper, shredded cardboard, and Timothy and meadow hay.

If you urgently need bedding, use newspaper or make paper pulp using thick paper and hot water.

Scrunch it in your hands before placing shredded paper, cardboard, or hay into a hamster’s cage. Remove any sharp and pointy pieces that could cause your hamster harm.

Can Hamsters Live Without Bedding?

Hamsters grow stressed when they aren’t provided with optimal conditions. Stress is bad for hamsters because it precipitates sickness-causing bacteria. Hamsters need bedding for these reasons:

Nesting Material

Hamsters use bedding to build nests to sleep in. According to Laboratory Animals, researchers found that Syrian hamsters prefer bedding that makes good nesting material. They also noted a preference for:

  • Pine shavings over aspen shavings.
  • Pine shavings over corn cob.
  • Corn cob over wood pellets.
  • Aspen shavings over wood pellets.

The bedding used for nesting material didn’t affect the hamsters’ paws, weight, or wheel-running activity.

what hamster bedding not to use

Absorb Moisture and Odors

Bedding is vital for absorbing moisture and odors, particularly urine. This keeps the cage clean and sanitary enough for a hamster to live without getting sick.

Without appropriate bedding, moisture and urine would build up, making life unpleasant for the hamster while resulting in mold and bacterial growth.

Build Tunnels

Hamsters are burrowers who dig tunnel networks.

Applied Animal Science explains how digging is important for captive rodents, although most owners only provide their hamsters with a small amount of bedding.

Hamsters create tunnels to sleep, store food, and escape predators. Burrows are vital for keeping them cool in summer and warm in winter.

Captive hamsters need at least 6 inches of bedding before burrowing.

Foundation for Essential Items

The bedding provides a foundation for essential items, like a multi-chamber, hides, enrichment, a sand bath, and an exercise wheel.

Providing ample bedding allows the hamster to dig tunnels without compromising the floor space.

What Is a Substitute for Hamster Bedding?

When it comes to choosing suitable hamster bedding, it must be:

  • Comfortable and gentle on the paws.
  • Able to absorb moisture and odors.
  • Unperfumed and scent-free.
  • Safe to put in cheek pouches.
  • Non-dusty to prevent respiratory problems.
  • Free from toxins and chemicals.

There may be times when you need to look for a safe alternative to traditional bedding materials.

Safe hamster bedding alternatives include:

Shredded Toilet Paper

Tissue or toilet paper is an effective substrate for regular paper-based bedding. Filling the cage is inexpensive because you can tear it up by hand or use a shredder.

However, while paper is a good nesting material, a hamster will find it hard to dig burrows. That’s because paper collapses and doesn’t hold burrows well.

Toilet paper isn’t the most absorbent material, so you must spot-clean frequently.

Shredded Paper

You can use unbleached paper as a short-term substitute for better-absorbing materials.

Paper you intend to recycle is fine as long as the ink is non-toxic. You’ll find it easier to tear paper into fine pieces using a shredder instead of by hand.

Paper doesn’t control odors well. Like toilet paper, you’ll need to spot-clean daily. Before placing it into the cage, bunch it up to make it softer, as this will also allow you to remove any sharp pieces.

Shredded Cardboard

Most cardboard boxes are suitable. If undyed, unlaminated, and free from inks, a hamster could get sick from ingesting them.

You can shred most of a cardboard box using scissors before finishing it by hand to ensure no sharp points or edges.

You may also want to layer some softer tissue paper to give the hamster comfortable nesting material.


Timothy and meadow hay are two safe, inexpensive varieties.

Hay is best when it’s layered with paper and hamster-safe wood bedding, like aspen, but it can also be used on its own. Hamsters won’t eat hay because they can’t digest it, but they’ll use it as bedding.

Paper Pulp

Paper pulp is an inexpensive bedding material you can make yourself at home. It should be made from ink-free paper pieces, like construction paper. Follow these steps to make it:

  1. Tear the paper into small pieces, placing them in a bowl.
  2. Add hot water and leave the paper for 8-12 hours.
  3. Blend the paper to create a pulpy mixture.
  4. Let the paper dry before transferring it to the enclosure.


You can use newspaper until you can get something better.

While newspaper bedding creates warmth and provides places for hamsters to nest, the ink can rub off and irritate your hamster’s skin and fur. Also, it’s not the most absorbent bedding material.

That said, using newspaper is better than not having bedding. Shredding newspaper and bunching it up provides hamsters with somewhere to sleep and hide should they feel threatened.

Replace any soiled newspaper to keep conditions clean and sanitary. Then, switch to a more reliable bedding material as soon as possible.

Can You Give Your Hamster a Blanket?

You may wonder if a blanket could be a replacement for bedding.

After all, blankets are warm and cozy, but they’re unsuitable. Once your hamster poops and urinates on the blanket, it must be washed.

Blankets aren’t made of the most absorbent materials, so they only hold a small amount of liquid. This is likely to cause conditions within the cage to become unsanitary.

Hamsters chew and tear blankets apart. While they won’t purposely eat a blanket, they may ingest pieces of fabric, risking impaction.

Hamsters also can’t burrow into blankets, leaving them unable to carry out their natural behaviors, increasing the risk of stress.

safe hamster bedding alternatives

What Hamster Bedding Not To Use

Here are the worst bedding materials for hamsters:

Cat Litter

Due to its absorbency capabilities, you may be tempted to put cat litter in a hamster’s cage.

However, litter is dusty and risks unsettling a hamster’s fragile digestive tract. Furthermore, litter can cause impaction if a hamster ingests it.

Corn Cob

Corn cob is commonly considered a suitable bedding material but has many risks. Not only is it non-absorbent, increasing the risk of mold, but hamsters can eat it, developing digestive problems.

Softwood Shavings

Most softwood shavings, including pine and cedar, are unsafe because they contain toxic phenol chemicals.

These acidic chemical compounds cause liver and respiratory problems, so they can’t be used as a long-term bedding material. Hamsters exposed to softwood shavings often display allergy symptoms.


You may be tempted to lay a few diapers at the bottom of your hamster’s cage to absorb urine.

Unfortunately, there’s a risk that your hamster could ingest small particles of sodium polyacrylate, which is the chemical absorbent that draws in liquid. Prolonged exposure irritates the airways.

Whatever the reasons for not using bedding, ensure your chosen material can absorb urine and provide a soft, comfortable base for a hamster to sleep and burrow in.