Tiny, furry, and inquisitively fun, hamsters are the picture of pet perfection and the choice pet for more than 1.6 million households across the United States. They stay clean by self-grooming, but when your hamster gets something stuck in its coat, looks messy, or starts to smell bad, a bath may be the first thing that comes to mind. These animals are usually so small that bathing them can be a dicey venture, though, so how do you go about cleaning them?
The only way to give your hamster a bath is with sand. Hamsters have evolved to clean themselves this way, and with a sand bath, your pet can groom and clean itself up and have a lot of fun wriggling in its natural habitat while at it! Never give your hamster a water bath unless directed by a vet.
Keep reading to find out how to give your hamster a water bath if the vet recommends one, how to set up a sand bath, and other safe ways to keep your furry friend’s cage clean and healthy.
How To Give a Hamster a Sand Bath
A sand bath helps to get your hamster clean by taking off dirt and reducing the buildup of oils on its skin. It’s a safe and exciting way to get your pet the many natural benefits of being in its comfort zone. Your furry friend gets to roll, dig, have fun, “bathe” its fur and skin, and keep parasites away all at once!
Setting it up is a relatively easy task. Follow these simple guidelines to set up a sand bath for your hamster:
- Get the sand: You’ll use special sand that’s been washed and dried. It should also be dust-free because inhaling dust can cause respiratory distress for your hamster. Don’t worry; you don’t have to prepare the sand yourself. Many pet stores sell hamster-friendly sand for sand baths. If you can’t get sand specifically meant for hamsters, chinchilla bathing sand is a great alternative that’s sometimes easier to find.
- Choose a container: Get a bowl or dish that’s small and low enough for your hamster to comfortably climb into yet large enough for it to roll around and have some fun. You should also check to ensure that the bowl can stay steady under your pet’s weight as it wriggles in the sand.
- Fill in the sand: Spoon some sand into the bowl, and place it in the hamster’s cage. Most of them are usually so excited that they rush over to the bowl themselves, but if your hamster seems unsure about getting in, you can carry it into the sand yourself. If it still doesn’t feel like trusting the bath yet, leave the bowl in there and give it some time to get used to it.
- Take the bath bowl out: Sand baths are generally about 15-20 minutes long, depending on how much fun your hamster is having. The sand could pose a health hazard as an irritant, so you should take it out of the cage as soon as your pet is done.
How To Give a Hamster a Water Bath
Your hamster may need a water bath if it falls into a toxic chemical like nail polish, paint, or alcohol, gets covered in gooey, non-animal-friendly food that it could end up licking, or gets a potential irritant stuck on its skin.
Even then, you should remember that soap and water aren’t suited for the fur coat of a hamster, so you should only give it a water bath if your veterinarian instructs you to do so.
Follow these general tips, and any other specific guidelines from your veterinarian, to give your hamster a water bath with minimal risk:
- Choose a warm room that has very little drafty breeze. A bathroom could be perfect for this, but any other room with sufficient heat and few windows is okay, too.
- Choose a container with high sides. Having your hamster stage an escape during its bath could be a messy situation, so you should choose a container with much higher sides than its height. Waterproof Tupperware containers are a common favorite for this.
- Use lukewarm water. Not cold enough to get your hamster sick and not hot enough to scald it. To get a safe temperature, you could test the water with the inside of your wrist, as with a baby’s bath.
- Keep water at shoulder level. Hamsters cannot swim, so you shouldn’t have so much water that your hamster gets jumpy from fear of drowning. The water level in the container should be approximately as high as its shoulders – deep enough for a proper bath but shallow enough that it can stand in the container with its head above water.
- Use a hamster-friendly shampoo for the bath. Be careful to keep it out of your hamster’s mouth and eyes while washing.
- Keep your hamster warm after its bath. A wet hamster can quickly develop hypothermia from the sharp temperature change after a bath. After a water bath, dry your hamster with a small, soft towel immediately in the same warm room. Get another dry towel, and let it sit in that until it’s warm and completely dry. Then, your pet can go back to its cage.
Other Ways To Keep Your Hamster Clean
Healthy hamsters do a great job of keeping themselves clean by self-grooming, but they may need help sometimes.
The most common hamsters to need additional help with cleaning are old hamsters or exotic species like the adorable long-haired Syrian hamster, popularly called the Teddy Bear hamster, which has fast become the most popular pet hamster species in the United States.
Here are a couple of ways you could help your hamster to stay clean and live a healthy life.
*Note: If you live in larger cities like Boston, New York City, Atlanta, or San Francisco, you may be able to find an exotic pet groomer to help with the grooming aspects mentioned below. If you live in smaller, rural areas, finding a groomer may be a bit more challenging.
Your hamster can only do so much with cleaning up within its cage; you have to do the outside work. To keep your pet healthy, you should pour out the contents of the food bowl and water sipper, clean out the containers, and refill them with fresh food and water every day.
Keep about two corners in the cage-free for urinating and pooping. Make them as far as possible from the food and water containers and clean out those corners by scooping out the soiled bedding with a gloved hand at least every couple of days.
Continued exposure to dirt in the cage can cause infections in your hamster’s eyes, mouth, and respiratory tract, so you should change out all of the bedding about once every week to avoid a buildup of urine, feces, and bits of spoiled food.
If you notice a strong, stale odor or the bedding gets badly soiled very often, you may need to change it out multiple times every week. Use a non-fluff material for the bedding, and lay it thick enough to give space for your hamster to burrow through and get a quiet, secluded place to sleep in.
At least once every month, you should thoroughly deep-clean and sanitize all the parts of your hamster’s habitat. Put your pet in a safe, dry place while cleaning out the cage and its toys.
To minimize the risk of irritating its skin, you should use safe cleaning supplies like mild soap and warm water or a hamster-friendly cleaning spray. However, if you need a more potent sanitizer, dilute one part of bleach with ten parts of water for the cleaning.
After cleaning, rinse the solution thoroughly off the cage and all the other accessories with pure water, then dry them properly before setting the habitat back up and putting the hamster in.
Hamsters have very little bowel control, so they can get poop everywhere pretty often. If feces or urine gets caked on your hamster’s rear, it could do more than make its butt dirty; the caked material can also cause urinary and reproductive issues!
When you notice anything on its rear, you should clean it off as soon as possible with pet-friendly wipes or a warm, damp washcloth. You should also regularly check out your hamster’s rear so you don’t have any harmful stuff caked on there for too long.
A long-haired hamster is very likely to get its fur tangled or have debris stuck somewhere on it, so you should brush its fur at least once a week.
One of the ways all hamsters self-groom is by rubbing their tongues on their coat, so if something toxic gets stuck in it, it could easily find its way to your pet’s mouth and into its body. Many of them also love the attention and tender, loving care from being brushed.
To help keep dirt and dangerous debris out, get a rubber-finger brush or a small, soft, unused toothbrush and a wide-toothed comb. Put a dry cleaning cloth on your lap, place the hamster in it, and wait until it settles in comfortably.
If its hair seems badly tangled, use the wide-toothed comb for a first run-through to get out the large tangles that could make brushing problematic and painful.
After the combing, gently run the toothbrush along your hamster’s fur. If you hit a tangle, hold the hair between its skin and the tangle to keep it slack to avoid pulling on its hair roots and causing pain while detangling.
If your hamster’s hair stays long and untidy after a good brush or is difficult to detangle by brushing, it might be time for a trim. If you’re careful enough and your hamster’s in a gentle mood, you can get the trimming done yourself with a pair of small scissors.
If it starts to wriggle or try to escape, you shouldn’t attempt the trim because you could risk injuring it with the scissors.
Place your hamster on a tabletop, and place your hand on it to keep it still. Use two fingers to hold up a small section of its fur, starting with the longest bits, and trim it carefully with the scissors.
Having patchy hair isn’t a great look, so you should try to keep the trims as even as possible. As you finish each section, use the toothbrush to smooth out the trimmed fur coat and inspect it.
Like hair trimming, you should only trim your hamster’s nails yourself if it’s tame and comfortable enough to stay still in your hands. Otherwise, you should take it to the vet, who can use a safe sedative to calm it down while doing the trimming. Even for a tame hamster, you should keep treats handy to encourage it to stay still.
To make it easier, you could practice holding it in a position that’s comfortable for both of you and accessible enough for you to reach its hands. Keep a gentle grasp on its paw, and examine the nails of the paw carefully.
In the translucent nails, there is the quick, transparent portion close to the fingers where the blood supply to the finger ends. If you cut the quick, the hamster will bleed quite badly, so you must restrict the trimming to the translucent portion of the nails.
Regularly giving your hamster a thorough inspection could help you notice health problems early, so you should make a habit of it. Check the hair for any itch, black material, or thinning patch, and inspect the skin for lumps, swellings, or crusty areas.
Look out for irritating particles, bulging, or wateriness in the eyes, and check for bleeding in its mouth or rear end. If you find anything disturbing, take it to the veterinarian immediately.
Hamsters are great first pets for children, and getting to clean and groom them can be an avenue for bonding. However, cleaning their furry friends isn’t a task you can leave to children because they usually don’t have the motor skills to hold the small animals gently and firmly. Remember to always use warm, not cold, water to keep your pet safe from hypothermia.
If you’re unsure about how to go about any part of grooming your hamster, take him to the vet and observe the process. It’ll help you do it properly on your own the next time.
You may like the following hamsters articles:
- Is Aquarium Sand Safe for Hamsters?
- How To Get Your Hamster To Sleep on You?
- Why Is My Hamster Fur Sticking Up?
- Why Is My Hamster Dragging His Back Legs?
- How To Take Care of a Winter White Hamster?
My name is Everly. I am a Milwaukee-based mom of 2 and have been a proud owner of many hamsters throughout my life. Like many of us, my introduction to hamsters happened when I was very young. My family saw several hamsters come and go through the years, and I enjoyed playing with them, but I never fully appreciated them until I grew up and my own children decided to jump on the hamster bandwagon. At that point, I was determined to learn all I could about caring for these adorable pets. Read more