Bedding is a vital part of any hamster’s setup. Without it, they 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’re desperate for bedding, you can use newspaper. Also, you can make paper pulp using thick paper and hot water.
Before placing shredded paper, cardboard, or hay into your hamster’s enclosure, scrunch it in your hands. Remove any sharp, pointy pieces that could cause your hamster harm.
Can Hamsters Live Without Bedding?
Living without bedding is unlikely to cause hamsters any serious health problems. However, having no bedding won’t be a pleasant experience for them.
Hamsters get stressed if they’re not provided with the right conditions. Stress is bad for hamsters because it precipitates sickness-causing bacteria, making them more likely to become unwell.
Hamsters need bedding for the following reasons:
Hamsters use bedding to build comfortable nests to sleep in.
According to a study by Laboratory Animals, researchers discovered that Syrian hamsters prefer bedding that provides adequate nesting material.
They also found that hamsters preferred:
- Pine shavings over aspen shavings
- Pine shavings over corn cob
- Corn cob over wood pellets
- Aspen shavings over wood pellets
Interestingly, bedding used for nesting material didn’t affect paw condition, weight gain, or wheel-running activity.
Absorb Moisture and Odors
Bedding is vital for absorbing moisture and odors, particularly urine. This keeps the cage clean and conditions sanitary enough for your hamster to live in without getting sick.
Without appropriate bedding, moisture and urine would build up, making life unpleasant for your hamster while resulting in mold and harmful bacterial growth.
As mentioned, 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 they’ll start burrowing, so not only is bedding itself essential, but the amount you provide is, too.
Foundation for Essential Items
Bedding provides a foundation for essential items, such as a multi-chamber, hides, enrichment, a sand bath, and an exercise wheel.
By providing ample bedding, the hamster has space to dig tunnels without the enclosure’s floorspace being compromised.
What Is a Substitute for Hamster Bedding?
When it comes to choosing suitable hamster bedding, it must be:
- Comfortable and gentle against your hamster’s paws
- Able to absorb moisture and odors
- Unperfumed and scent-free
- Safe for hamsters to put in their 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. It’s a relatively inexpensive way to fill the entire cage, and you can easily shred it by hand or with a shredder.
However, while paper is an excellent nesting material, your hamster will find it hard to dig burrows in it. That’s because paper collapses and doesn’t hold burrows very well.
Toilet paper also isn’t the most absorbent material, so you’ll also need to frequently spot clean it to prevent mold and nasty odors from building up.
You can use any type of unbleached paper as a short-term substitute for better-absorbing materials.
Paper you intend to recycle is also fine, as long as the ink used 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 very well. Like toilet paper, you will need to spot clean it every day. Before placing it into your hamster’s cage, gently bunch it up to make it a little softer. This will also allow you to remove any sharp pieces.
Shredded cardboard makes another good alternative to more expensive bedding materials.
Most cardboard boxes are suitable; as long as they are undyed, unlaminated, and free from inks, your hamster could get sick from ingesting.
You can shred most of your cardboard box using scissors before finishing it by hand to ensure there are no sharp points or edges.
You may also want to layer some softer tissue paper on top to give your hamster a more comfortable nesting material to sleep in.
Timothy and meadow hay are two safe, inexpensive types of hay.
Hay works 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. Instead, they’ll use it as bedding.
Before putting hay into your hamster’s cage, scrunch it up into your hand and pull out any sharp pieces that could poke your hamster’s eyes or hurt its cheek pouches.
Paper pulp is an inexpensive bedding material you can make yourself at home. It’s at its best when made from ink-free paper pieces, like construction paper.
Follow these steps to make your own:
- Tear the paper into small pieces, placing them in a bowl.
- Add hot water and leave the paper to sit for approximately 8-12 hours.
- Blend the paper to create a pulpy mixture.
- Let the paper dry before transferring it to your hamster’s enclosure.
If you’re struggling to find bedding, you can use newspaper until you can get hold of 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. It’s also not the most absorbent bedding material.
That being said, using newspaper is better than not having bedding at all. Shredding newspaper and bunching it up provides hamsters with somewhere to sleep and hide, should they feel threatened.
Replace any soiled newspaper as often as you can to keep conditions clean and sanitary and switch to a more reliable bedding material as soon as you can.
Can You Give Your Hamster a Blanket?
At this stage, you may be wondering whether a blanket could make an appropriate replacement for bedding. After all, blankets are warm and cozy, but they’re unsuitable.
For starters, once your hamster poops and urinates on the blanket, it’ll need to be washed. That’s because blankets are not made of the most absorbent materials, which means they will only hold a small amount of liquid. This is likely to cause conditions within the cage to become unsanitary very quickly.
Hamsters chew and tear blankets apart. While they won’t purposely eat a blanket, they may accidentally ingest pieces of fabric, risking a dangerous impaction. Hamsters also can’t burrow into blankets, leaving them unable to carry out their natural behaviors, raising the risk of stress.
What Hamster Bedding Not To Use
You have to be careful with the bedding materials you choose to use in your hamster’s cage, as some are dangerous and will cause your hamster harm. Here are the worst bedding materials for hamsters:
You may be tempted to use cat litter in your hamster’s cage because of its absorbency capabilities. However, litter is dusty and risks upsetting your hamster’s fragile digestive tract. Furthermore, litter will cause impaction if your hamster ingests it.
Corn cob is commonly touted as a suitable bedding material, but it comes with many risks. Not only is it non-absorbent, increasing the risk of mold, but hamsters can eat it, developing digestive problems.
Most softwood shavings, especially pine and cedar, are unsafe for hamsters because of the toxic phenol chemicals they contain.
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.
Diapers are another unsafe hamster bedding material.
While you may be tempted to lay a few diapers at the bottom of your hamster’s cage to absorb urine, there’s a risk that your hamster could ingest small particles of sodium polyacrylate, which is the chemical absorbant that draws in liquid. Prolonged exposure would irritate the airways and cause lung problems.
Choosing the right bedding for your hamster isn’t easy, as there are many things to consider. Whatever the reasons for not using bedding, make sure your chosen material can absorb urine and provides a soft, comfortable base for your hamster to sleep in.