How do hamsters clean themselves?
Hamsters clean themselves by licking their fur to smooth it and remove any dirt or food that clings to it, but they also take several sand baths every day to remove excess oil and parasites.
Can we give hamster a water bath or a shower?
No, you should never wet your hamster except in an emergency, such as if he gets a dangerous product on his fur and develops serious skin problems.
Otherwise, sand baths are the best way for hamsters to stay clean.
Why should you never wet your hamster?
To begin with, hamsters, like cats, dislike getting wet and are susceptible to colds, which can be fatal.
Furthermore, hamsters have a layer of oil on their fur (on each hair), which insulates them from the cold and elements, as well as heat and drafts.
This layer of oil also shields them from the rain, which does not reach their skin.
These oils, which coat the hamsters’ fur, protect them from parasites and mites, ticks, and act as a fly repellent.
These oils that cover the hamster’s fur, like its Scent Acorns, leave an olfactory trace everywhere the hamster goes, on the leaves of shrubs,…
This aids the hamster in returning to its burrow in the dark.
These oils also make it difficult for certain shrub seeds and mushroom spores to cling to the hamster, preventing him from bringing them back to his burrow and causing mold in his seed stock.
These oils that coat the hamster’s fur also protect him when he sneaks underground and digs tunnels, allowing him to slide easily into his burrows.
They also serve as the hamster’s olfactory identity card, allowing it to recognize its young in the dark and avoid being invaded by other strange hamsters in its burrow.
Can a water bath kill a hamster?
Yes, giving a hamster this type of bath is extremely dangerous. You should never wet your hamster, and if it does get wet by accident, you should immediately wipe it down with a towel and dry it.
Wetness can kill a hamster in two ways:
- Wetting a hamster causes it great stress, which opens the door to diseases caused by stress in hamsters, such as wet tail, which can kill it in two or three days (they rarely survive wet tail)
- Wetting your hamster will remove the insulating layer of external elements that cover his fur and protect him from the elements, including the cold when he goes out at night, but especially parasites and skin diseases such as Demodex mites, which can be fatal in the long run.
This will also deprive the scent glands of their fur, allowing other diseases to infiltrate the hamster.
How do hamsters clean themselves with sand?
First and foremost, we must agree on what hamster will clean its body with a sand bath:
- Sand baths are used by hamsters to remove the excess oils that they secrete and that cover their hair.
- It’s also possible that small pieces of seeds, dried herbs,… slip through his hair and cling to his fur
- Sand baths are also used by hamsters to separate hairs that stick together due to excess oil, making them more resistant to heat and cold because their fur is more insulating.
Returning to how hamsters clean themselves with sand:
- Hamsters will either roll in the sand like the Roborovskis and Winter Whites, or dig in the sand and throw it with his paws on his body and fur like the Syrian and Chinese hamsters.
- The idea is that these grains of sand will slip between his fur’s hairs, recover, and be soaked by the excess oils before falling back into the sandbox.
- By rolling in the sand, the hamster will drop any foreign thing that is stuck between its hairs, such as a tick, and will also separate the hairs that are stuck together, ensuring healthy, clean, and smooth fur that is also insulating.
Do hamsters take their sandbath by themselves or do they need help?
Generally yes, this behavior is innate, hamsters do not learn to take their sand bath by imitating their mother, but they feel the need to roll in the sand instead of jumping into the water to clean themselves.
Your hamster will thus take his daily sand baths on his own unless there are obstacles such as:
- You don’t give him a shallow bowl or a tray of grainy sand in his cage because you think it’s too small!
- Your hamster may be unable to physically take a sand bath due to a hurting or broken leg, or back pain from a possible fall during the night while you were still sleeping!
- Your hamster is trying to take sand baths but can’t do it by himself and needs a little help especially in case of long haired Syrian hamster.
What is the best sand to use in the hamster sandbox?
The first rule is that you should never use fine sand, avoid anything that is fine sand, dust or powder.
When the sand, particles, or grains of sand are fine, they stick to the hamster’s hairs and do not fall when it shakes! Because the grains of dust or fine sand are too fine to separate from the oils that adhere to the hairs.
Furthermore, if you use fine sand or dusty powder, your hamster will easily inhale it, causing respiratory problems in the long run.
There is also a risk that the dust raised by the hamster when he rolls in this fine sand and dust will cause eye problems and skin infections if it accumulates between the hairs and begins to retain moisture.
Hamsters also like to store their dry food in sand, which, if fine, will stick to his seeds and be swallowed, potentially harming his digestive system.
Examples of sand you can use for your hamster sandbox:
- The Common Children’s Playsand
If you use this type of sand, you should know that it has a good grain and is also safe for children.
However, ensure that this sand has been sterilized and that the bag is tightly sealed and hermetic. If you have any doubts, bake this sand at 300°F for 15 minutes to kill any bacteria or mushroom eggs that may be present and endanger your hamster’s health.
Check that the sand does not contain any large pieces, such as shells, or anything else that could lacerate your hamster’s skin when he rolls in it!
I recommend that you sift this sand, as well as any other sand, before putting it in your hamster’s sandbox, just to be safe.
Finally, the Children’s Playsand bags contain enough sand to last several months; however, I recommend that you close the bag after use, never put used sand in it, even if you sift it, and store the bag in a dry place away from humidity and any source of infection.
- The Chinchilla Bath Sand
Check that it is not dusty, avoid volcanic sand, the contentious Sepiolite sand (too absorbent, forms clumps and pieces that can harm your hamster), and the Kaytee brand, and keep in mind that you will not have a large quantity, which is why I recommend the other options.
- The Reptile Sand
This is another type of sand that you can use in your hamster’s sandbox; just make sure it’s natural, pure (no calcium sand or other minerals! ), free of additives, and not dyed to avoid making your hamster sick.
Should I use a small or large container for my hamster’s sandbox?
First and foremost, you should be aware that you must consider whether you have been imprisoning (sorry for the pun!!) your hamster in a cage with less than 1000 square inches of continuous floor space.
Because your Syrian hamster will require a large container and at least a two-inch layer of sand.
If your hamster is in the taming stage, the container should be at least 10 inches by 20 inches (150 to 200 inches square), with 3 to 4 inch walls, so you can put a small hideout in one corner and your hamster can play in it, smile, and do jumps, flips, and rolls, just like in the wild.
This way, he won’t neglect his fur because sand baths will be a real treat for him; he’ll even be able to dig and turn over the sand if it’s at least 2 inches thick.
Should I leave the sandbox in the hamster cage or remove it?
Ideally, the hamster should always have access to its sandy spot to take sand baths at any time of day, just like in its natural habitat.
I recommend leaving the sandbox in your hamster’s cage, but make sure to sift the sand and replace it at least once a week if the hamster poops in it, drops food or a seed shell, or otherwise.
However, if your hamster’s cage is very small, I recommend enlarging it to at least 1000 inches square and placing the sandbox in a corner:
- The hamster sandbox should be placed in a corner with a thin layer of litter.
- In a secluded area where your hamster does not relieve itself (especially when peeing)
- The sandbox should be placed away from your hamster’s water and food bowls, on the side of the cage that leans against the room’s wall.
How do I help my hamster take its sand baths?
It is beneficial to help your hamster, if it is already tamed, in taking sand baths and going to the toilet.
Of course, you will not help him every time he enters his sandbox!
You will in fact intervene and help your hamster to wash and bathe when you notice:
- His fur is full of bits of food, twigs or any stain on his fur.
- He limps and doesn’t appear to take sand baths because his fur isn’t smooth, and you can see hairs stuck together and forming clumps.
- In these cases and others that you may encounter, you can help your hamster to take his sand bath at least once a day or every other day.
How effectively, step by step, to help my hamster take a sand bath?
Allow your hamster to explore the sandbox on his own.
Secure your hamster, place a towel on your lap, and place your hamster’s sandbox on your lap as well.
Take a pinch of sand and sprinkle it on your hamster’s fur.
He will normally vibrate his body to get those grains of sand between his fur, then vibrate his body again to get rid of those grains of sand once they have been soaked in excess oil.
If your hamster does not vibrate its body, you can brush its fur and remove sand with a dry, not wet (very important) toothbrush.
When brushing your hamster, always brush in the direction of the hair and stop brushing when there is no more sand in his fur; otherwise, you will remove more oil than necessary!
Instead of a toothbrush, you can also use small massage brushes.
Is a lot of grooming and sandbaths a sign of a stressed hamster?
For sandbaths I would answer NO.
But for grooming, it is normal that your hamster takes time to groom himself when he wakes up at dusk and gets ready for his long night.
There is another grooming that could hide a stress in the hamster is when he cleans only his face with his front paws (his hands) and he usually does it when he is worried, outside the cage,…
But sand baths, hamsters love to roll in the sand and clean their fur and they do this several times during the night and even during the day.
If your hamster scratches his fur too much with his hind legs and you notice a lot of hair or blood in his sandbox, it could be a skin infection and a visit to the vet is recommended in this case.
Will adding a sandbox in the hamster’s cage reduce the bad smell of this cage?
No, adding a sandbox permanently will please your hamster and encourage it to take sand baths more frequently, giving it better fur, a better appearance, and better health.
If your hamster’s cage stinks, it’s not his fault, but you should pick up and replace the urine-soiled litter every day.
Each morning, remove any remaining fresh food and replace the water.
Change the litter at least once a month in the winter and three times a month in the summer.
What about wet bathing my hamster?
Yes, as previously stated, your hamster may have gotten a dangerous product on his back and you must wash him; here’s how:
- Take a toothbrush (for children), it is softer. Make certain that no toothpaste remains on the brush!
- Wet it with warm (37°C) water; it should not be soaked in water (wet the toothbrush and shake it to remove the maximum of water and leave only the moisture on the brush)
- Hold your hamster in your palm so you can see the stain or dirt you want to remove from its fur.
- Brush its fur gently in the direction of the hair, but not too hard, or you will break a rib!
- Be patient, and once finished, wipe your hamster with a piece of paper or a towel and allow it to dry thoroughly before placing it back in its cage to avoid it jumping into its sandbox while its fur is still wet.
- Give your hamster some fruit and hugs to relieve any stress caused by this unprecedented cleaning operation for him.
Hamsters are extremely clean creatures. They take care of their own toilet as long as you provide them with a good, large sandbox that is not dusty and is filled with good sand.
The sandbox should ideally be kept in your hamster’s cage at all times because he will use it several times per day, both at night and during the day if he wakes up.
Sand baths also help your hamster avoid many diseases, including skin diseases, and are an excellent way for him to de-stress; after all, we all enjoy our showers, don’t we?
So don’t deprive your hammies of large, open sandboxes.
If you want more helpful advice on looking after your hamster, including tips on food, toys, accessories and accommodation, add a comment below to let us know!
Waiting for our next post here.