Hamsters need a specific kind of bedding, and most pet shops don’t carry just the safe kinds. When I first got my Teddy I was lucky an acquaintance worked at that petshop. Otherwise I would’ve walked out with some very bad bedding and hideout choices for my Teddy.
As it happened, she gave me some very good advice that I’m going to pass onto you. Along with some info I learned along the way about what kind of bedding is best for hamsters, and what hideouts they like. We’ll cover how often to change/clean the cage as well.
So what is the best bedding for your hamster ?
Generally the bedding for hamsters is easy to find, but you have to know what you’re looking for. Hamsters do well in paper/wood based kinds of bedding. So organic, bio-degradable wood or paper based bedding is alright for hamsters, under a few conditions.
First, hamsters have a very sensitive sense of smell, so NOTHING scented will be alright for them. Do not get your hamster a scented bedding, even if you find one in your local petshop or online. Scented beddings are more for your comfort but give the hamster a bad time. Please stick to unscented, plain bedding.
Second, whatever kind of bedding you choose, it must be dust-free. This is because your hamster will be breathing that dust in all day, every day, and it will cause serious lung problems for him. Make sure you get a dust free bedding.
I’ll get into some clear examples of what is ok and what isn’t ok as a bedding for your hammy. Most wood based bedding are alright, but there are a few exceptions.
Teddy: Remember, wood or paper bedding is ok for us hamsters. Keep them plain and unscented, and make sure they are dust free to keep your hammy safe !
Safe wood-based bedding for your hamster
These can be wood shavings or wood pellets, and we’ll talk about both of them.
Wood shavings as bedding for hamsters
They’re the most common kinds of bedding, and this is the kind I have for my Teddy as well. I use aspen, since it is readily available in my area, and is one of the safest types of wood for hamsters.
Most fruit trees are safe for hamster, so if you’ve got apple or pear wood shavings, you can use them as bedding for your hamster. Best to mix it with aspen or another neutral type of wood, since the fruit trees can have a strong aroma.
Other options can be white birch, bamboo, rosehip, sycamore, elm or hazelnut. These are not always available in some stores, but depending on which area of the world you live in, you might find these.
If you get wood shavings, make sure they’re dust free. You can check this by looking at the packaging, it’s usually clear and you will be able to see excess dust. The dust will cause lung problems for your hamster, so avoid that.
Another thing to be very careful about, is that some wood shavings can be mixed with actual sawdust, which is the smaller, dustier kind of wood shaving. So make sure that does not happen with your hamster’s bedding.
It’s got great reviews on Amazon, and a lot of people seem to be really happy about it.
Aspen is the kind of wood I use for my Teddy too, so you can be sure it’s safe.
You can check the pricing on Amazon here.
Wood pellets bedding for hamster
These are not as easy to find, but they can still be found. You’ll often see them marketed towards rabbits or large rodents like ferrets. But for hamsters the wood pellets aren’t the most comfortable.
Unless you set a layer of wood pellets, and then a layer or wood shavings, to simulate the dirt layer, but that one’s up to you.
As for the kind of wood pellets to use, the same applies as with wood shavings. What is a safe wood for your hamster to live and breathe on, is also a safe wood for the pellets.
Grass or seaweed bedding for your hamster
These are common in my area as well, and I’d guess the seaweed based ones are even more common in countries or area with a lot of sea access.
Both seaweed and grass are okay for hammies to live on, and in fact it simulates the hamster’s natural nesting material. When hamsters burrow, they use a mix of twigs, dried leaves, twigs, anything soft and plant-based that they can fit into their dwelling.
So dried grass and seaweed are a good substitute for that. DO NOT get your hamster yellow hay ! That’s the tougher, twig-like dried grass. That can stick at weird angles and will not be comfortable for your hamster.
The grass or seaweed versions are very clearly wider and softer, even if they are dried. But as a general rule, I’d give Teddy the grass or seaweed for nesting material, not bedding in the whole cage.
While grass and seaweed are soft and easy to work with, I wouldn’t recommend them as bedding for a small rodent, like hamsters or gerbils since it will be harder for them to navigate their cages.
But it is absolutely GREAT as nesting material, and it’s what your hammy will use it for.
Paper based bedding for your hamster
Paper bedding is fine for hamsters, and it’s usually just as easy to find as the wood shavings. But it’s a matter of personal preference I think, which one you use.
Paper bedding is a bit more absorbent than the wood shavings, but it comes scented more often than it doesn’t. So make sure you get an unscented, plain version for your hamster so he can live comfortably.
One thing about paper based beddings, is that they’re often in various colors, or color mixes. So if you want, you can make your hamster’s bedding pink and purple. The hamster will not mind, since he can’t see very well. But if it makes you happier, then go ahead.
The paper bedding keeps the hamster just as warm or cool as the wood shavings. It’s just a matter of what you like and what you find in your area.
It’s safe for the hamster to put in cheek pouches if he wants.
It’s dust free and controls odor fairly well. It’s also a large size, 60 liters/15 gallons so you’re going to get a lot of uses out of it.
You can check the listing on Amazon here.
What a hamster will use as nesting material
Hamsters usually use very soft, paper/wood/cardboard pieces for their nests. If you give your hamster seaweed or grass bedding, it will most probably end up in his nest.
When I first got Teddy I gave him extra wood shavings in his hideout, so he has a nice base for his nest. In time I saw that he didn’t really use it for nesting, except for winter when he hoarded every warm material he could find.
Most of the time, I give Teddy ripped paper towels. Honestly these are the cheapest and most effective things to keep your hamster warm. If you’ve got no paper towels, use toilet paper.
Whatever you use, keep it unscented. Really, this is one of the most important things about a hamster’s bedding or nesting material. Do not give him anything scented, because his nose just can’t handle that.
When you give your hammy the paper towel, make sure it is ripped into manageable pieces. They have a side which rips easily in a straight line. Use that side to give him ribbons of paper towel or toilet paper.
All hamsters do this, but to me Teddy is the funniest. As soon as he sees the paper bits, he starts shoving them into his pouches and gets both of them as full as he can. Then, he goes into his hideout and I can see him pull them out of his cheek and start decorating the place.
Then he goes out for more paper, and continues building his nest. He’s always so focused when he does that, he’s easy to scare by mistake.
One time he jumped sideways because I got up too fast, and he was still shoving paper towel in his cheeks. I’ve never seen such dedication.
What nesting or bedding to NEVER give to your hamster
Never give your hamster cotton or fiber nesting material. There are several reasons for this.
First, hamsters will eat a small part of whatever they put in their cheek pouches. So, your hamster eating cotton, even just a little bit, is never a good thing. Anyone eating cotton is not good, actually.
Second, the fibers in this kind of nesting material can get caught in your hamster’s teeth, and cause serious problems for him. Those fibers can also get caught in his cheeks, and lead to deadly situations.
Third, cotton absorbs and keeps moisture. So your hamster’s warm breathing and some condensation will be trapped in that cotton. Your hamster is in danger of colds and pneumonia in that case. It’s much harder for a hamster to fight a cold than it is for a human, so best to avoid that.
Teddy: Remember, us hamsters need wood or paper based bedding, and we use soft paper or dry grass for nesting. Never give us cotton or fiber nesting, it an be lethal !
Sand bath for your hamster friend
This is something that’s always funny to watch, and will bring joy to your hamster. A sandbath is what hamsters use for a sort of cleaning.
Actually hamsters are incredibly clean, and clean themselves very very thoroughly, much like cats. They barely have a smell that humans notice. Unless you get your nose right in your hamster’s fur, which isn’t so nice for him.
But as most animals do, hamsters need an extra bath or cleaning. This is also a sort of reflex of their to get rid of any possible parasites. If you’ve ever seen sparrows rolling around in sand, you’ll know what I mean.
The best kind of sand to get your hamster is mineral sand. That’s just crushed up calcium and shells, so your hamster can get an actual sand bath going on. Make sure it’s actual sand, and not dust. If it’s the consistency of flour, send it back.
If you put a bowl of that sand in your hamster’s usual peeing corner, he’ll use that as a potty too !
Be warned though, the hamster will kick up a lot of sand when he bathes, so you might find some in random places in your house. Best to use a second hideout with a detachable roof for this.
Alright, now that you’re all set with your little one’s bedding, sand, and nesting material, let’s see to his hideout. Yes, a hamster’s hideout is just as sacred as your bed or own room. So I’ll get into a lot of detail with it.
So what is the best hideout or house for your hamster ?
Hamsters will need small hideouts in which to, well, hide. This is their nest, their food stash, their safe place. In the wild, it would be a burrow underground. But in their comfy warm cage, it’s usually a cute house-shaped hideout.
The best kind is actually one that fits the general size of your hamster when he is fully grown, and with some spare room so he can wiggle around. So it doesn’t have to be a large hideout, a small one with some air flow is okay.
The air in the hamster hideout is very important, since it needs to be able to travel easily. Even if the hamster will block up the air vents with his nesting material, it’s best to give him plenty of air.
If your get your hamster a home with more than one exit, he will only use one and block up the other one. For example my Teddy has 3 entrances to his hideout, and he only uses one, depending on his mood. Sometimes he rearranges his hideout if he feels something is off.
Finally, never get your hammy a plastic house. These trap condensation and are not breathable. Best to stick with wood.
Wood hideout for your hamster friend
A wood hideout is what I settled on for my Teddy, and I think it’s the best option out there, for anyone who has any kind of rodent.
First, it’s a much more natural option, and very durable. Wood hideouts are more similar in feel to what the hamster would have as a burrow if he were underground, in that it’s a familiar material. Especially compared to plastic.
Second, hamsters and other rodents will chew, gnaw, and bite into everything. Not because they’re wild or mean, just because that’s what they do. Their front teeth are always growing, so hamsters need to literally file down their teeth.
They do that by chewing on whatever they find, and their hideout is a common option. So if the hideout is made of wood, that’s great since they love chewing wood anyway.
Third, wood is much more breathable than other types of material. I’ve seen ceramic hideouts, and plastic as well. The thing is that unless the hideout is breathable, will absorb moisture and let it pass through to the outside, then it is a problem.
Your hamster is in danger of hypothermia, pneumonia, and even a ordinary cold can get the best of them. The hideout must remain dry at all times, and be able to keep the warm as well.
And fourth, wood retains the hamster’s scent the best. Compared to plastic or ceramic, wood keeps the scent of the hamster. This is very important to a creature that has a very sensitive sense of smell, so best not to mess with that.
An example of wood hideout for hamsters
Here’s what my Teddy has for a hideout, and you can see the gnaw and chew marks on the roof. At night he absolutely loves to just …sit… on his home and watch for possible predators.
Usually that’s just me grabbing a glass of water in the middle of the night. But you never know, Teddy reckons. Constant vigilance.
You can see my Teddy shoved all kinds of nesting material, like the paper towels, some cardboard pieces, and some random wood shavings. Your hammy will probably have something very similar in his hideout too, if you look.
It will keep his scent, and it’s also got enough airflow so he will be fine. You might find your hammy on top of his hideout, like I sometimes find my Teddy.
Just make sure that you put something of his, like a few droppings or a bit of his nesting material in his new hideout, so he get more familiar with it.
Now that we’re all set with the hideout, let’s talk about how much of the bedding and nesting material your hammy will need.
Teddy: wood is the most comfortable and safe option for us hamsters, and we love to chew on everything ! So make sure you get your hamster a hideout he will enjoy, and not hurt his teeth on.
How much bedding a hamster needs
This is a bit of a debate, since there isn’t really a too much, as well as there is a too little. But the enough part is what people never settle on. It also depends on your hamster’s personality.
For example if your hamster is a digger, and he loves to burrow, then you’re going to need to give him much more bedding than other hamster owners. But if your hamster is like my Teddy, and burrowing or digging isn’t his favorite thing, then he won’t need too much.
I’ve tried different amounts in Teddy’s cage, and I’ll tell you what I’ve found:
- just enough bedding to cover the cage floor – not good, he moved around a lot of it and brought it to his hideout; his wheel was noisy since it banged in the cage floor.
- bedding 2.5-3 inch/ 6-7.5 cm was too much, since there was always too little he used, and a lot he kicked around to get to different parts of the cage
- an inch, maybe a bit over/2-3 cm is what Teddy is most comfortable with; the wheel sits nice, and his hideout has a lot as well
Now, your hamster could need more or less. Again, if he is a digger, then give your hamster what you think is too much, and he’ll dive right into it. If he’s more of a runner, he might need a thinner bedding.
But in general, the bedding should cover the bottom of the cage by at least an inch, so the hamster can gather piles of it if he wants to, and not leave empty spots.
If your hammy has a hideout, but chooses to build his nest somewhere else, look at where he builds his and add much more bedding and nesting material there.
The bedding acts as a sort of insulation as well, so maybe you should check out the ideal temperature to keep your hamster comfortable.
How much nesting material a hamster needs
This is a clear case of give the hamster as much as you can. A whole roll of toilet paper. No, but he will use up however much you give him.
I usually give Teddy 3 whole paper towel pieces, ripped into strips. He also has the cardboard roll that’s left front he paper towel. He sometimes chews on that to add some extra bedding if he needs more.
I’ve given him 4 paper towels sometimes, and he found use for all 4. But it was a bit harder for him to navigate into and out of his hideout. So we stuck to 3 paper towels.
Keep in mind that if you can still properly see your hamster in his hideout, then he probably needs a bit more nesting material.
Hamsters form a sort of cocoon out of the nesting they find. So they will wrap that nest around them very well, to keep them warm. Sometimes Teddy even manages to knot the pieces of paper into a continuous piece, which he then wraps around himself.
So give your hamster as much bedding as he needs, start with the 3 paper towels and see if he needs more. If you put 1 more he will take it, but see if he can move around well in his nest.
Hamsters hoard food in their nest
This is something I found out when I first cleaned Teddy’s cage. When I lifted his hideout, and saw the pile of while paper towel strips, I was not surprised.
When I saw the droppings in his nest, I figured that’s just what he does. But when I saw his food stash, I was impressed. The little furball had a stash for the Apocalypse right there.
So don’t be surprised if you find food and poo and a bit of pee in your hamster’s nest. That’s okay. But that’s another sign of just how important the nest is to your hamster, so make sure you get a good one for him. And try not to disturb his nest unless you absolutely have to. More on that later.
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How often to change the hamster’s bedding
By bedding I mean everything but the nest itself. Honestly the bedding stays clean (as in not smelly) for up to 2 weeks, but I recommend changing it every week.
This applies especially to the corners where the hamster pees. Hamsters do have a peeing corner, and you’ll figure out which one it is by how smelly it can get.
If your hamster is using the sandbath as a potty, then that’s even easier to clean. Just throw out the sand he’s used, and clean the residue that might have stuck to the bottom with hot water and a tooth pick. Then, pat dry with paper towel and place new sand.
If you have a setup like that then your hamster’s bedding will only need changing every couple of weeks, when it gets a bit too overfilled with droppings.
About droppings, if your hamster has somewhere safe/hidden to poop, and it’s also not his hideout, you’ll find most of the droppings there.
But never let the bedding go for more than 2 weeks. It becomes stale and a bit funky past that point.
How often to change the nesting for your hamster
The nest itself is relatively clean and will not need changing more often than the bedding itself.
So the nest can be left alone for up to 2 weeks, but I personally change it once per week. When I change it I make sure I keep a few pieces of the old nest, to place in his new nest in his hideout.
Whatever food I find in his stash goes into Teddy’s food bowl, and I start ripping up new paper towels for him to use.
It’s important to not change or disturb your hamster’s nest as much as you can. If it’s getting smelly, then change it. But hamsters rarely pee in their nest and that’s the only thing about them that smells.
A word from Teddy
Long read, I know. But us hamsters need a bit of special care, so I hope you found all the information you need in this article. We’re very clean and like to take care of ourselves, so a smelly cage shouldn’t be a problem !
I’m an adult Syrian hamster, but what you just read applies to all my brothers and sisters, even if they’re dwarf hamsters.
If you want to check out more important info on hamsters, then read the articles below. You’ll find out about what kind of cage us hamsters need, and even how long we can last without food or water.