Pet hamsters require two different types of bedding; the substrate which lines the base of their cage, and nesting material with which they can create a soft and fluffy bed.
You might be surprised to hear that over the years dozens of different hamster bedding materials have been tested, with wildly varying levels of success. These days, it is believed that some traditionally-popular bedding materials may be surprisingly harmful to small rodents. As a result, it is important to follow the very latest advice if your hamster is to remain fit and healthy throughout their life.
Features of Good Hamster Bedding
Hamster bedding serves an important number of purposes, and the best hamster bedding options address as many of these as possible:
Comfort – First and foremost a hamster bedding should be comfortable for your pet to use. Walking across rough surfaces or attempting to make a nest out of something spikey is unlikely to make your pet feel at home. Generally speaking, softer and smoother bedding materials therefore tend to work best.
Absorption – While many types of hamster may be used to a hot and dry environment, they still urinate a fair amount in the home. The bedding chosen should help to absorb any excess moisture, which not only makes for increased comfort but can also help to avoid potential health problems caused by continually walking through damp patches.
Scent – Hamsters aren’t the scent-free creatures that some pet owners would have you believe. Indeed, hamster urine can be quite potent in smell, particularly when this is left to build up over some weeks. A good hamster bedding will therefore not only absorb excess moisture but will hopefully manage to control the scent of urine between cleaning sessions.
Safety – One of the most appealing features of hamsters are their cheek pouches, in which they transport large volumes of food or bedding material. It is also not unusual for hamsters to chew or swallow bedding material when building a nest. Great care should therefore be given to your bedding selection so that it cannot cause harm if swallowed. Cotton wool should not be used as a bedding material because it can clog up the digestive tract is swallowed.
Price – While we’d all like to keep pets on an unlimited budget, in reality most of us need to rely on sources of hamster bedding that are reasonably priced and easily sourced in our local area.
Hamster Bedding to Line the Cage
Historically, pet owners have lined the base of their hamster cage with either wood flakes or sawdust, often made from pine as it is so cheap to purchase and readily available.
These days, however, some authorities believe that such a substrate may be harmful to the health of your hamster. It is suggested that both pine and cedar give off phenols – chemicals which have the potential to cause a variety of problems.
That said, the hamster-keeping community is divided, with others denying that pine flakes or sawdust cause any issues. With the community so divided we would caution you to do your own research, and to make your own personal decisions based on what you find.
Note that aspen shavings are considered safe by all authorities.
The other thing that almost everyone agrees on is that scented bedding is generally best avoided, as the added chemicals are a risk not worth taking.
A range of cat litters may alternatively be used to line the base of the cage, particularly if they are dust-free. Wood-based and paper-based bedding can both work well, assuming your hamster can walk comfortably on it. Note, however, that paper-based substrate may become sodden quickly in the case of a water spillage, and may go mouldy as a result. Vigilance is therefore required to ensure the bedding stays in optimal condition throughout the week.
One final option is shredded cardboard or paper. Shredding your own cardboard can be difficult, but try giving your hamster a range of toilet roll tubes and unwanted boxes and watch them slowly shred them into a comfy bedding. This activity also offers environmental enrichment, and helps to exercise and wear down the teeth.
Paper is best given pre-shredded. It is perfectly fine to provide paper from a paper shredder, though you should take care to avoid paper with any potentially harmful ink on it. Alternatively, soft shredded paper is available to buy in bulk from pet shops.
Hamster Bedding for Nest Building
As nocturnal animals, hamsters like nothing better than having a cosy nest-box to curl up in during the day. This is all the more welcome if it is filled with soft, comfortable bedding – but what should you use?
Probably the best hamster bedding to use for nest material is a soft tissue-paper based bedding material like kitchen paper. This can be roughly torn into strips to start the process for your hamster, who will likely make further adjustments before turning it into a nest.
Even softer still, and very popular among hamster owners, are the soft paper-based beddings that can be bought in bags from pet shops. These compact bags are very reasonably priced, and the strips of paper-like material within are very soft and pliable, as well as being safe for small rodents.
Concerns exist around the “fluffy” types of hamster bedding that can be purchased, lest it is ingested, or your hamster gets a leg caught in its fibres.
Whatever option you choose for your pet’s bedding, pay close attention over the first few days to ensure that you pet is adjusting properly to their new substrate. Note any issues you find, and feel free to experiment with the various options until you find a combination that works well both for you and your pet.