Cedar bedding can cause a wide assortment of health problems in hamsters due to chemical compounds called phenols that naturally occur in the wood. Because of these potential health problems, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals does not recommended using cedar shavings as bedding for hamsters or other small rodents. So, what can you put in a hamster cage besides cedar? Fortunately, plenty of safe alternative bedding options exist.
Why cedar bedding is dangerous?
Cedar shavings were a fairly standard bedding for small animals before veterinarians and pet owners learned about the potentially dangerous side effects caused by prolonged exposure to phenols. Phenols are naturally contained in and released by cedar and pine shavings. The Environmental Protection Agency has complied a list of phenol side effects that have been documented in humans and animals by various studies. Side effects include eye and skin irritation, breathing difficulty, elevated liver enzymes, muscle weakness, tremors, loss of coordination and gastrointestinal irritation. With plenty of safe bedding options available, cedar shavings have no place in a hamster’s cage.
What can you put in a hamster cage?
Aspen shavings are available as basic chip shavings as well as in thinner shredded form. Aspen is a safe type of wood to use for hamster bedding. It does not have the negative health side effects on hamsters that cedar and pine have been linked to as aspen does not contain phenols.
Recycled paper bedding is another readily available option for hamster bedding. These grains or pellets, made of recycled paper and other material, can take the place of traditional wood bedding. Recycled paper bedding is highly absorbent, effective at containing odors and environmentally friendly. The downside of recycled paper bedding is that it tends to be more costly than wood bedding.
Corn cob and cat litter bedding
Corn cob bedding, often marketed as being natural or biodegradable, tends to be very inexpensive. Unfortunately such bedding products tend to be quite dusty. Fine dust particles cause respiratory problems in hamsters, and a high level of dust in your hamster’s bedding will greatly increase the likelihood of your hamster developing breathing problems. In general it is best to avoid corn-cob-based litters as well as those that contain clay or are similar to cat litter. Similarly, clay litters have a high amount of dust. It’s also dangerous; hamsters can’t digest it if they scarf some down.
Picking the right bedding
Sometimes finding the right bedding for your hamster involves a little trial, a little error and a little more trial. If you are not happy with the bedding you are using or have discovered it may have undesirable health consequences, try alternative types of bedding until you find a product that works well for both you and your hamster. The ideal bedding will be absorbent enough to contain your hamster’s urine and odors while still pleasant for your hamster to burrow in. Remember that you can mix different types of bedding together to create the perfect mixture.
Some kind of beddings, especially paper-based ones, can get “dusty”. A good solution to this is to sift through small amounts of bedding at a time with a handheld sieve before placing it into your hamster’s cage. To sift through larger amounts at one go, try pouring your dusty bedding into netted laundry bag and giving it a good shake. Of course, please do this outdoors or somewhere where it will be easy to clean up the mess!
In some countries, freezing the bedding is recommended to kill any harmful bugs that might be lurking in the bedding. Although these creatures are not common in Singapore, if you do opt to freeze your bedding, do remember to give it sufficient time to thaw out completely before placing it into your hamster’s cage; You wouldn’t want it to catch a cold.
We recommend creating a dedicated digging area for your hamster within the cage. This would provide your hamster with a designated space to burrow and “deep dive” in.
Try slowly increasing the depth of your hamster’s bedding in the cage by adding layers over time, creating a mountain-like bedding structure.
Although not nutritionally necessary for hamsters, soft hay can be given to your hamsters as additional bedding and nesting material. Do make sure that the hay is soft as stiff and sharp ones could poke your hamsters or hurt them when they try to pouch it.
While hamster bedding comes in a variety of colours, our recommended colour is white. This is because it makes for easy observation of “potty spots”, which translates to easier cleaning, as well as greater effectiveness with potty training.
Decorate with napkins
Party napkins come in many fun colours and patterns, and coincidentally, make for great hamster cage decorations. Try adding some spice and zest to your hamster cage with a party napkin or two. You will find them in most party stores and home/furniture stores like Ikea, where they are often sold at reasonable prices. Shred them up to smaller pieces to make it easier for your hamster to work with.
All in all, choosing the right bedding for your hamster is important because it provides your hamster with a safe and suitable environment to burrow and nest to its heart’s content. Good and safe bedding leads to happy and healthy hamsters!
If you want more helpful advice on looking after your hamster, including tips on toys, accessories and accommodation, add a comment below to let us know!
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