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can hamsters die from dirty bedding?

What Happens If You Don’t Change A Hamster’s Bedding?

Hamsters are popular because they’re considered low-maintenance pets. However, that doesn’t mean they require no care, as their cage must be spot-cleaned and deep-cleaned when it’s dirty.

If you fail to do so, hamsters can develop illnesses and diseases or get parasites, which is detrimental to the hamster and the safety and cleanliness of your home.

However, cleaning the cage is stressful for hamsters because it removes their scent and pheromones.

Can Hamsters Die from Dirty Bedding?

Hamsters can grow ill if their bedding is too dirty because they urinate and defecate on their bedding constantly. The bedding absorbs their urine and poop, becoming a breeding ground for bacteria.

Sleeping in bedding covered in urine and feces leads to infections that can kill a hamster. However, cleaning the bedding can prevent this from happening.

What Diseases Can Hamsters Get from Dirty Bedding?

Dirty bedding is rife with bacteria, mold, and fungi. Even though the waste comes from the hamster, these pathogens can be harmful if they come into contact with them through the bedding.

Here are some illnesses and diseases a hamster can contract after laying in dirty bedding:

does hamster bedding smell?


Skin abscesses occur when a hamster gets a cut and bacteria enter the open wound.

Hamsters can cut themselves on things in their cages or during fights with cage mates (if they have any). Once they roll around in dirty bedding, any bacteria it harbors will infect the wound.

Once the wound heals, it forms a pocket of pus under the skin. Abscesses can be treated with antibiotics, or a vet can surgically remove them.

Wet Tail (Proliferative Ileitis)

Wet tail (also known as proliferative ileitis) can be caused by intestinal bacteria called Lawsonia intracellularis. These bacteria affect the small intestine, causing inflammation.

According to Nature, hamsters with wet tail experience appetite loss, weight loss, dehydration, and diarrhea. Around 48 hours, hamsters are likely to die, so vet-prescribed antibiotics are essential.


Pink eye (conjunctivitis) is a bacterial infection of the eyes. The hamster’s eye will become red, itchy, inflamed, and swollen.

Crust forms around the infected eye, and the hamster may tear up. Pink eye can be treated by flushing out the infection with a saline solution and taking vet-prescribed antibiotics.


Protozoa are single-cell organisms that naturally live in the digestive tract of rodents.

As long as they stay healthy, they won’t get sick despite having bacteria inside them. However, if a hamster’s immune system weakens, the protozoa can affect them and cause diarrhea.

A Tropical Medicine and Hygiene study stated that protozoa in one Syrian hamster proved fatal. In a broader sense, a hamster’s immune system could fail if stressed or given a poor diet.


Pneumonia is caused when bacteria inflame the lungs. Hamsters usually contract the bacteria by eating food that has been in contact with dirty bedding.

According to Laboratory Animals, pneumonia is the second most recognizable disease that hamsters contract, behind wet tail.

Pneumonia causes mucus to be secreted from the hamster’s eyes and nose. As it affects the lungs, the hamster will have difficulty breathing and lose its appetite.

Hamsters with pneumonia often die shortly after contracting the disease.


Ringworm causes a red, itchy, and circular rash. It’s highly contagious, and you can get it while handling the hamster. However, it can be cured with antifungal treatment from a vet.

Can Dirty Bedding Make A Hamster Unhappy?

Aside from the risk of disease and infection, dirty bedding smells awful. Hamster urine contains ammonia, a colorless gas with an overwhelming odor.

Hamsters have a good sense of smell, so the chemicals in ammonia will cause respiratory irritation.

Does Hamster Bedding Smell?

Hamster urine and feces smell increasingly unpleasant as time passes. Nonetheless, most of it is usually buried under bedding. So, you’re more likely to find soiled bedding spots by sight rather than by smell.

If a hamster’s bedding has a strong scent, it’s either because it is filthy or because it has a health problem. For example, a urinary tract infection (UTI) can create foul-smelling urine.

how often should I change my hamster's bedding?

How To Change Hamster Bedding

Take these steps to keep a hamster’s bedding clean:

  1. When spot-cleaning soiled bedding, put the hamster in a playpen so it doesn’t get stressed.
  2. Dig around for wet bedding with a gloved hand.
  3. If replacing the entire bedding, save some unsoiled bedding in a bag.
  4. Ensure everything is dry before putting in the new bedding.
  5. Take some old, clean bedding you saved in a bag and place it where the hamster usually sleeps. When you return the hamster to its cage, the bedding will have retained its scent.

How Often Should I Change A Hamster’s Bedding

You should spot-clean a hamster’s bedding every day. To spot-clean is to only take out and replace the parts of the bedding that are dirty.

Completely replacing the bedding daily is an unnecessary chore and distresses hamsters.

Hamsters have poor eyesight, so they rely on their hearing and sense of smell. They feel comfortable in places and with things that smell like them, so adjusting to new things is stressful.

New bedding stresses them out because their home no longer smells like them. Removing their smell makes them feel like they’re in a new place where they don’t know what to expect.

By spot-cleaning, you can remove any soiled bedding while keeping the clean bedding that smells like the hamster. It’s necessary to deep clean a hamster’s cage once per week.