As a pet parent, there are so many little things you need to keep your hamster happy and healthy, and that includes sand. There are different types of sand on the market, all promising wonders, but what about calcium sand? Can you use calcium sand in your hamster’s sand bath—is it safe for hamsters?
Calcium sand isn’t safe for hamsters. When wet, calcium sand clumps together and becomes hard. The hardened calcium sand could choke or harm your hamster. That said, you should avoid including calcium sand in your hamster’s habitat, sand bath, or cage.
Sand and calcium sand aren’t the same thing. While hamsters need sand, some types, like calcium sand, are harmful and must be avoided.
This article will look at why calcium sand isn’t safe for hamsters, the alternatives you can use, and why hamsters need sand, so keep reading.
Unlike natural sand composed of minuscule insoluble particles of rocks and quartz, calcium sand is made up of calcium carbonate, the same chemical found in chalk, cuttlebone, and antacids.
You can find calcium sand on some beaches, such as the Padre Island National Seashore in Texas and much of the sand on Florida beaches.
Calcium sand isn’t suitable for hamsters because when it’s wet, it clumps together, becoming rock hard. The reason this is dangerous is that:
- It’s a choking hazard.
- Hamsters roll around in the sand and can hurt themselves on the hard pieces.
As mentioned, hamsters need sand, and most love a sand bath, but there are alternatives to calcium sand that are far better.
Sand baths replicate the natural environment that a hamster would live in, in the wild. Hamsters use sand baths to clean themselves, play, or relieve themselves. There are several benefits to providing your hamster with a sand bath:
- A sand bath helps keep your hamster cage clean from urine.
- The sand keeps your hamster’s toenails trimmed.
- A sand bath is good for exercise and stimulation for your hamster.
- It aids in keeping your hamster’s coat clean and healthy.
As long as your hamster is potty-trained, providing a sand bath gives your hamster a dedicated space to use as a toilet. Hamsters will use a section of the sand bath as a toilet, meaning that the rest of the cage stays clean and relatively odor-free—you won’t need to clean the cage as frequently.
Long nails can be very uncomfortable for your hamster and inhibit its ability to move freely. A trip to the vet can solve this problem, but in the wild, digging in sand keeps a hamster’s nails short—the same rule applies to digging and scratching in a sand bath.
Hamsters enjoy digging and burrowing, and a sand bath is an excellent form of exercise and mental stimulation. This is, again, a replication of their behavior in the wild and what comes naturally to them.
They dig to create small spaces to rest and relax in, as small spaces make them feel safe and secure from predators that they’d face in the wild.
Hamsters groom themselves regularly; hence they’re generally clean. The purpose of sand baths is to replicate how a hamster would clean itself in the wild. They do this by rolling in the sand.
The sand absorbs excess oil from their fur, and the friction removes any dirt or impurities. Hamsters that don’t have sand to roll in will likely develop skin disorders or get mite infestations.
Check out, Is Aquarium Sand Safe for Hamsters?
Most vets advise against bathing your hamster with water the way you would with your family dog. Hamsters don’t like water and are more sensitive to catching a cold when they get wet.
Bathing hamsters in water strips them of their natural oil and is very stressful for them as they can’t swim. The stress can cause illnesses like wet tail and other bacterial infections, which can be fatal.
As mentioned earlier, it’s important to provide your hamster with a sand bath. You can buy a sand bath online or from your local pet store, but it’s very easy to make one that your hamster will love.
Making your own allows you to customize it to suit your hamster’s needs. To make the sand bath, you need to consider the following:
- The container to house the sand
- The type of sand
- Toys and fun elements
You should start by deciding on the container you’ll put the sand in. You can have one container large enough for your hamster to section off, allowing it to use a corner as a toilet and the rest of it to bathe and play in.
Or you can provide your hamster with two sand baths: a small one to be used as a toilet and a larger one for play and bathing.
Whatever you decide, the sand bath needs to be at least 5 cm (1.97 in) deep, giving your hamster enough space to dig and burrow.
As a rule of thumb, the sandpit used as a toilet must be at least double the size of the hamster for it to be used comfortably. The sand bath for play and bathing can be as big as you like.
When it comes to the container itself, you don’t necessarily have to buy a dedicated sand bath or sandpit that’s sold at pet stores. You can use any container ox box you have at home but avoid thin glass since this can easily break.
Thin plastics like ice cream containers are also not ideal because hamsters tend to chew these. Your best bet would be sturdier materials like hard plastic or ceramic.
Once you’ve got your container or tray, you need to decide on the sand. Childrens’ play sand is a good option that is reasonably cheap and feels luxurious to hamsters.
Be Good Company Natural Sand (available on Amazon.com) comes in a 1.5 lb. (0.68 kg) bag and is soft and fine. If you choose to use play sand, you must bake it before putting it into the sand bath to ensure it’s sterile and dry.
To bake the sand, pour it into a baking tray and bake it in the oven for about one hour and thirty minutes at 400°F (204.44°C). You can check that it’s dry by giving it a gentle stir in the middle of the baking tray.
Another great option is Chinchilla sand, like the SupremePetfoods Bathing Sand (available on Amazon.com). You can also use reptile sand that doesn’t contain calcium or lime.
When you’re shopping for sand, you must read the labels to be sure the sand you bring home is safe for your hamster.
Unsafe sand has a dusty consistency and contains chemicals, colorants, and calcium. Hamsters have very delicate respiratory systems, and when they dig, they’ll inhale these harmful chemicals.
You should avoid the following common sand or fillers:
- Calcium sand
- Sand that contains silica
- Clumping litter
- Topsoil and river sand
- Scented and colored sand or litter
- Cat litter
As previously mentioned, calcium sand isn’t suitable for hamsters, not because of the calcium itself but because it becomes extremely hard when wet. Since hamsters use part of the sand bath as a toilet, the sand will dampen and become a hazard.
Even if you have separate sandboxes, one for play and bathing and the other to use as a toilet, there’s no way to keep the play and bath sandbox completely dry.
It’s recommended to avoid sand that contains silica and products made of dust. Silica is toxic and will cause damage to your hamster’s lungs, and dust will irritate their respiratory system.
The advantage of clumping litter is that it clumps together when wet but doesn’t harden, so it’s much easier to clean if your hamster uses it as a toilet. All you have to do is lift out the clumped-together parts, and you’ll have a clean sand bath. It’s also reasonably cheap.
The problem is that if you have one sand bath for play, bathing, and to use as a toilet, hamsters sometimes take food into the toilet area and then ingest the clumped litter. It can cause intentional blockages if consumed.
Many pet owners believe that topsoil or river sand would be ideal since it’s natural.
Unfortunately, these sands can be pretty rough since they’re not ground mechanically. If your hamster rolls in this type of sand, they’re likely to get minor abrasions in their skin which are pretty painful.
Another issue is that topsoil and river sand isn’t sterile. If you must use it, it’s best to bake it in the oven like you would play sand and then pour it through a sieve to get rid of all the larger grains.
It’s also advisable to avoid scented sand, not only because it likely contains harmful chemicals but because the scent can be overpowering, making it incredibly unpleasant for the hamster to live with.
Colored sand is also likely to be harmful, and the color can leech onto the hamster’s skin, causing a rash or irritation.
Cat litter is too rough to use as a sand bath. It’s neither comfortable nor safe for a hamster to roll or dig into this type of material. Rolling in cat litter will cause abrasions in your hamster’s skin and can potentially become infected.
Adding toys and interesting elements is purely optional but does create more interest and allows your hamster to play and explore.
You can add anything from shells, clay pots, stones, and cleaned-out coconut shells to toys from the pet store. Before putting in these extra elements, make sure they’re clean.
If you live in colder areas like North Dakota, Minnesota, or Michigan, it’s a good idea to use coco peat in place of sand in the play and bath sand bath, or you can include it as an additional element. Coco peat is warmer than sand and creates a cozy habitat in cooler climates.
Cleaning the sand bath, especially the one your hamster uses as a toilet, isn’t the most pleasant job, but someone’s got to do it! Let’s get the most unpleasant task out of the way first.
Whether you have a separate toilet sand bath or your hamster uses a corner of the play and bath, you must clean this area daily to avoid nasty smells.
With a little shovel, scoop out the wet bits and droppings and discard them. Change the sand in this section about once a week.
The sand bath used for play and bathing doesn’t need to be replaced as often. You can’t clean this sand, but you’ll have to replace it every so often because it absorbs oils and dirt from your hamster, and when it becomes dirty, it no longer serves its purpose.
Usually, hamster owners replace the sand every two weeks. But pay attention to it as you might need to change it more or less frequently. If your hamster is a bit smelly, the smell is probably coming from the sand bath that they’re rolling in.
Once the sand is changed, your hamster won’t have an unpleasant odor anymore.
Most hamsters love sand baths and enjoy rolling, playing, and digging in the sand. But some hamsters don’t take to their sand bath, and that’s perfectly fine too.
It’s really about personal preference. If your hamster doesn’t like the sand bath, don’t try to force them to use it. Hamsters can clean themselves without sand, so there’s no need for concern.
You shouldn’t use calcium sand in a sand bath for your hamster because the sand becomes extremely hard when exposed to moisture, posing a risk to your hamster. Hardened calcium sand becomes a choking hazard and a danger to your hamster during digging and burrowing.
Sand baths are a great addition to your hamster’s habitat as a means to play, clean themselves and use the toilet. You can use other types of sand to create a sand bath like childrens’ play sand or dust, chemical, colorant, and fragrance-free reptile or chinchilla sand that your hamster will adore.
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- Why Is My Hamster Drinking So Much Water?
- What Hamster Lives the Longest?
- Why Does My Hamster Poop So Much?
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