Hamster Grooming, And The Importance Of A Proper Sand Bath

You’ve probably seen your hamster friend groom himself. Pulling his fur, combing through it, behind his ears, the works. But do hamsters need sand baths ? Does it help their grooming process ?

This is something I’ve asked myself too, seeing as I did give Teddy (male, Syrian hamster) a bowl with sand for him to play in. But we should first know everything about a hamster’s grooming routine. Then, we can figure out if the sand bath helps.

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About the hamster’s grooming routine

All hamsters, everywhere, groom themselves. That’s a very well known fact. Actually hamster are pretty much on par with cats in terms of cleanliness.

If you’ve ever noticed your hamster when he’s cleaning himself, you probably know he does that often. Much more often than most animals.

This is one reason hamsters never need a water bath, with shampoo or other cleaning supplies. They’re simply too good at cleaning themselves, they don’t need it. And getting a hamster wet can be fatal in some cases, in most cases it leads to colds and hypothermia.

For example my Teddy grooms himself when I put him in his exercise ball, when I take him out of it, when he wakes up, before he goes to bed, after he pees, after he runs for 10 minutes, after he eats and after he poops.

Usually hamsters will pull at their fur, scratch part of their fur, com and comb again through their fur to get everything out and spread the oils on their fur.

They’re especially funny when they start pulling on their ears and collecting whatever dirt was behind them, and especially their cheeks.. As if anything had a chance to appear in the 2 hours since their last grooming session.

That’s a lot of cleaning. But why do hamsters do that ?

Why a hamster needs to be clean

Hamsters need to be clean in order to keep their predators at bay. That’s the main reason, since hamsters are prey for many animals. This means that their scent will draw predators like wild cats, snakes, owls, and so on to hunt for them in the wild.

So, hamsters have evolved this cleaning routine to keep themselves ‘invisible’, kind of. They’re very strict about it, and it’s what kept them alive all this time.

Hamsters will want to clean themselves after every little interaction with something that can leave a smell on them. This includes other creatures, like other hamsters, or humans, and even food.

Another reason hamsters clean themselves is because of their habitat. Hamsters in the wild live inside burrows, with series of tunnels and nests deep underground. This can make lots of debris like dirt and twigs get stuck in the hamster’s fur.

The hamster cleans himself to function properly, and not have his fur matted with dirt. You can tell there is something wrong with the hamster if he stops cleaning himself, or he still looks bad after a grooming session.

A sick hamster won’t take care of himself very well

Hamsters not grooming themselves anymore have only two explanations.

First, it could be that the hamster has become very old. So old, in fact, the he is very close to the end. His brain has started disintegrating and can’t help him do normal hamster things, like clean himself, not pee in his nest, and in extreme cases even eat.

It’s a sad thing to watch, but there is nothing you can do to make your friend any better. It’s much like with human seniors. Once they start losing control of bodily functions, things can’t get better.

The second reason hamsters stop grooming themselves is because they have become very, very sick. It could be an infection that weakened their body to the point of exhaustion. They’re simply too tired to clean themselves, and this will make the infection even worse.

Or it could be a physical problem, as in a broken or sprained paw that restricts their movement, or a form or arthritis.

In short, if your hamster isn’t cleaning himself, that is very bad news. Most of the time the vet will be able to help you treat the hamster’s illness.

For this you need to look for an ”exotics” vet, who has experience with rodents, reptiles, and also birds.

Health problems that come up because of poor grooming/hygiene

Some of the health problems that can rear their ugly heads when the hamster isn’t clean can be very serious. I’ll give you a brief rundown of these health problems.

Infections – can become serious business, in any part of the body. Especially bad if the hamster ends up swallowing part of the pus, like with cheek infections, or tooth infections.

Eye infections can be rinsed with a saline solution, until the vet can receive your hamster and give him proper treatment.

Even a small, seemingly benign cut (if the hamster is scratching himself, for example) can be dangerous if the hamster’s skin isn’t clean, or the claw he’s scratched himself with is dirty.

As with humans, infections need antibiotic treatment, which can take a toll on the body. Given that the hamster is such a small little thing, his food will need to be supplemented during his treatment.

Mites and parasites – these are never fun to treat, and please do not get your hamster treatments for such problems without talking to your vet. Most over the counter treatments are much too harsh for the hamster’s skin and can cause death, so please be careful.

The vet will be able to recommend a treatment that will be fairly easy on your hamster. The problem with mites and other parasites (like fleas for example) is that the hamster will scratch himself much too hard and eventually hurt himself. This can lead to bald patches, and other health problems like infections or warts.

Fungus – the cage needs to be clean, to prevent the spores from fungus to develop. There are two main culprits when it comes to fungal infections in hamsters (ringworm and Aspergillus) and both can be very dangerous. Ringworm is easier on the hamster, but Aspergillus can be deadly.

Wet-tail – can come about if the hamster is kept in miserable conditions, or is highly stressed and his immune system can’t fight off the infection. The result is a weak hamster with constant diarrhea, and very little chances of survival.

Thankfully wet-tail has a certain age when the hamster is likely to develop it. A bit like childhood illnesses. Wet-tail is more common on young (4-10 weeks) hamsters, who have been separated from the mother and brought to their new owner.

All of these can be treated, so do not worry. If you notice your hamster having health problems, call your veterinarian.

A clean habitat keeps the hamster clean too

A clean cage will mean a clean hamster. For example the fungus problem I mentioned earlier. The Aspergillus spores will grow from the hamster’s pee corner. It will first look like a white growth, then turn black.

But if the pee corner is cleaned often, the spores don’t really have a chance to develop. This only happens if the cage isn’t cleaned for a very long time (like a few weeks), or if the home/room has a fungal infection and the spores are already in the home.

But what is a clean cage ? Hamsters will kick around bedding, bits of cardboard, fling their poo across the cage, and sleep on top of a pile of food. Well, that’s all normal, actually.

Hammies keep themselves very clean, and their nest as well. As in, the area immediately around where they sleep. Aside from that, not their business.

So cleaning the cage once per week is pretty much mandatory. If you’ve got more than one hamster living in the same cage, then you will have to clean the whole cage more often than that.

This is because the pee corner starts to smell, and the bedding becomes very very messy. There will be bits of food lying somewhere, and torn up cardboard in the food bowl. It’s a lot like a small child’s room.

To clean the hamster’s cage, you’re going to have to remove the hamster from the cage in the first place. Put him in his travel cage or exercise ball until you’re done cleaning.

Take out all the bedding and objects, wipe the cage down with a wet, clean towel, then pat it dry. Add fresh bedding back, but make sure to sprinkle in a bit of the old bedding so the hamster recognizes things easier.

Place everything back the way it was before, and finally add the hamster back in.

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How a sand bath helps a hamster groom himself

You’re wondering, after all this talk of hamsters cleaning themselves and how to keep their habitat clean, how does a sand bath help ? Well, at first glance it might seem like it’s pointless. It can be, from a certain point of view. But let’s see both sides for a moment.

The main reason hamsters would need a sand bath is to absorb the excess oil in their fur. You see, hamster fur has a layer of oils (like our human hair does, the sebum) which helps keep the hair healthy and the skin clean.

However too much of that sebum will make the hamster’s fur look bad, and feel bad too. This is where the sand comes in, to help keep the hamster’s fur nice and clean.

Now, the hamster does comb through his fur often. So often that he moves the oils from the skin all the way to the tips of the hairs. So you could argue that their fur never gets too oily.

While that is true, what is also true is that hamsters simply seem to go nuts when they feel sand. They immediately jump into the sand bowl and start spazzing, like cats on catnip.

They not only rub themselves in the sand, they rub the sand into their fur. Somehow, they know something we humans do not know. And it looks like a sand bath is something they enjoy.

My Teddy for example has his sand bowl close to his nest, and he takes occasional baths in it. He also loves to dig in that sand bath, which kicks up soooo much sand. Luckily it never gets out of the cage.

What kind of sand bath you should get for your hamster

As for what kind of sand to get your hamster, I unfortunately can’t give you a brand to look for.

I mean, the sand I use for my Teddy can be used for chinchilla sand. So that’s a good starting point, chinchilla sand.

But not all petshops have chinchilla sand, and looking for it online only gave me unhappy customers. It seems like the sand that was once okay (there were a couple of brands) is now not okay. They’ve changed their formulation and their sand is rather dusty, more like flour.

Given how sensitive hamsters are, inhaling all that dust just isn’t alright for them. It isn’t alright for humans either, but hamsters are much more sensitive than us.

So when you go and look for sand for your hamster buddy, make sure you look for granulated sand, dust-free. It shouldn’t be very coarse, it should be like… well, sand that’s been sifted.

The one I have for Teddy is made of ground up sea shells and minerals. Some brands use this kind of formulation as well, and you can find it in either very light grey/white, or a sort of brown. It really depends on the brand and the formulation they’re using right now.

I’ll attach a photo of the sand I have for my Teddy. If you can find this one, it’s probably still got the right texture for hamsters.

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How to give your hamster a proper sand bath

Alright, we’ve talked about why hammies need a sand bath, and what kind of sand to look for. But how do you give a hamster a sand bath ?

Well, hamsters are great at doing that themselves, so you won’t really have to do anything other than just provide the sand.

What you need to be careful for is the fact that the sand will get everywhere. If you’ve ever been to the beach, you know what I mean. You have to be careful with it. So this means giving your hamster an appropriate place/object for that bath.

You might think a shallow bowl would be enough. And it would, if it had something overhead. For example my teddy has half of a plastic hideout filled with sand, and it’s places under the first level of his cage. So that sand never gets outside the cage, and is well contained.

But what if you don’t have another level in your cage ? Or not enough room under that level to fit a bowl ?

Then you’ll need to look around for some options. For example this one is large enough to fit a Syrian hamster, and is easy to take apart and clean.

It’s got a clear side, so you’ll be able to see your hamster when he uses this sand bath. It’s small enough so it will fit in most cages, so unless you’ve got an especially crowded cage, this one will fit right in.

It’s even got a small scoop to get the hamster’s droppings out, if he ever decides to use the sand bath as a toilet too. Don’t be surprised if he does.

You can check the listing on Amazon here.

All you have to do is add the sand into the sand bath, and leave it in your hamster’s cage. I change my Teddy’s sand once per week, when I clean the whole cage.

A word from Teddy

I hope your found what you were looking for in this article. Us hamsters are very good at cleaning ourselves, we don’t really need any help. But we do appreciate a nice sand bath, to keep our fur nice and groomed.

If you want to know more about us hamsters you should check out the related articles below. You’ll learn how to keep us safe and happy, and what we need for a good life.

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