How do hamsters clean themselves ?

M Samy pet blogger and author at famillypet

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How do hamsters clean themselves ?

Hamsters clean themselves by licking their fur to smooth it and get rid of any dirt or food that clings to it, but above all they take several sand baths every day to get rid of the excess oil on their fur and any parasites.

How do hamsters clean themselves ?

Can we give a water bath or a shower to the hamster ?

No, you should never wet your hamster except in case of emergency, such as when he pours a dangerous product on his fur that could cause serious skin problems … etc.

Otherwise, the best way for hamsters to stay clean is by taking sand baths.

Why should you never wet your hamster?

First of all hamsters are like cats, they hate to get wet and they catch cold quite easily which could become fatal to them.

In addition to that, hamsters have a layer of oil on their fur (on each hair), this layer insulates them from the cold and the elements, even from heat and drafts.

This layer of oil also protects them from the rain which hardly reaches their skin.

These oils that cover the hamsters’ fur protect them from parasites and mites, ticks and also act as a repellent against flies.

These oils that cover the hamster’s fur also leave an olfactory trace like its Scent Acorns, everywhere the hamster passes, on the leaves of the shrubs …

This helps the hamster to find its way back to its burrow in the dark.

These oils also make it difficult for the seeds of certain shrubs and the spores of certain mushrooms to cling to the hamster, which prevents him from bringing them back with him to his burrow and causing the mold of his seed stock.

These oils that cover the hamster’s fur also serve as protection when he sneaks underground and digs tunnels, it helps him to slide easily into his burrows.

They are also its olfactory identity card, which allows the hamster 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, it is very risky to give this kind of bath to a hamster, you should never wet your hamster and if it happens that it gets wet by accident, you should immediately wipe it with a towel and dry it.

Getting a hamster wet can kill it in two ways:

1- Wetting a hamster will cause it great stress which will open the door to diseases that stress causes in hamsters such as wet tail which can kill it in only two or three days (they rarely survive wet tail)

2 – The fact of wetting your hamster will rid him of his insulating layer of external elements, the wet is to get rid of his oils 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 could also be fatal in the long term.

This will also deprive the scent glands of their fur which will open the way for other diseases for the hamster.

How do hamsters use sand to clean themselves?

First of all we must agree on what hamster will clean its body by taking a sand bath.

Hamsters take sand baths to get rid of the excess oils they secrete and that cover their hair.

It could also be that small pieces of seeds, dried herbs … slip between his hair and stuck to his fur

Hamsters also use sand baths to separate the hairs that stick together because of excess oil, which makes them more resistant to heat and cold because their fur will be more insulating.

Let’s go back to how hamsters use sand to clean themselves:

The principle is simple, the hamster will either roll in the sand like the Roborovskis and the winter whites, or dig in the sand and throw it with his paws on his body and his fur as the Syrian and Chinese hamsters would do.

The principle is that these grains of sand will slip between the hairs of his fur, recover and be soaked by the excess of oils and then fall back into the sandbox.

By also rolling in the sand, the hamster will drop any foreign body that would be stuck between its hairs, a possible tick or also separate the hairs stuck between them, ensuring a healthy, clean and smooth fur and 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 therefore take his daily sand baths by himself unless there are obstacles such as :

You don’t let him his shallow bowl or a tray full of grainy sand in his cage because you find it small!

Your hamster may not be able to physically take his sand bath because of a leg that hurts or broken, a pain in the back because of a possible fall in the night when you were still sleeping! … etc

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 and put in the hamster sandbox?

how do hammies clean their fur and take bathes

The first role is that you should never use fine sand, avoid anything that is fine sand, dust or powder …

When the sand or particles or grains of sand are fine, they will stick to the hairs of the hamster and will not fall when it shakes!!! because these grains of dust or fine sand are too light to detach from the oils that stick to the hairs.

In addition to that, if you use fine sand or dusty powder, it will be easily inhaled by your hamster, which will cause respiratory problems in the long term.

There is also the risk that this dust raised by the hamster when he rolls in this kind of fine sand and full of dust, will create problems in the eyes and skin infections also if they accumulate between the hairs and begin to retain moisture …

Hamsters also sometimes like to store their dry food in sand, and if it is fine, it will stick to his seeds and be swallowed which could harm his digestive system.

Examples of sand you can use for your hamster sandbox:

1- The Common Childrens playsand

If you use this kind of sand, know that it has a good grain because it is safe for children too.

But check that this sand is sterilized and that the bag is well closed and hermetic and if you have doubts, cook this sand in an oven at 300°F during 15 minutes to eliminate all the bacteria and the eggs of mushrooms… which could be in it and which can harm the health of your hamster.

Also check that the sand does not contain any large pieces, shells for example or anything else that could lacerate the skin of your hamster when he rolls in it!

I recommend you to sift this sand and any other sand before pouring it in your hamster’s sandbox, just to be on the safe side and not to take any risk.

Finally, the Children’s Playsand bags contain enough sand for several months, I advise you to close the bag after use, never put sand already used in it even if you sift it and finally put the bag in a dry place far from humidity and any source of infection.

2- The Chinchilla bath sand:

Check that it is not dusty, avoid volcanic sand, the controversial Sepiolite sand (too absorbent, forms clumps and pieces that can hurt your hamster) and the Kaytee brand, you should also know that you will not have a large quantity that’s why I recommend the other choices

3- The Reptile Sand :

This one is also a sand that you can use for your hamster sandbox, just make sure it is natural, pure (not Calcium sand or any other minerals!), without additives and especially not dyed to not make your hamster sick.

Should I use a small or large container for my hamster’s sandbox?

First of all, you should know that you have to think beforehand if you have been imprisoning ( sorry for the word!!) your hamster in a cage with less than 1000 square inches of continuous floor space.

Because your hamster, especially Syrians, will need a large container, and at least a two inch layer of sand.

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 if your hamster is in the taming stage and your hamster will be able to play in it, smile and do jumps and flips and rolls, just like in the wild.

This way he will not neglect his fur because sand baths will become a real pleasure for him, he will even be able to dig and turn over the sand if you put at least 2 inches of thickness in it.

Should I leave the sandbox in the hamster cage or remove it?

hamsters sandbath VS shower ?

Ideally, as in its natural habitat, the hamster always has access to its sandy spot to take its sand baths at any time of the day.

I recommend that you leave the sandbox in your hamster’s cage, just be sure to sift the sand and change it if the hamster poops in it, drops food or a seed shell or at least once a week.

But if your hamster’s cage is very small, I recommend you to enlarge it to at least a 1000 inches square cage and to install the sandbox in a corner:

The hamster sandbox should be installed in a corner where there is not a large layer of litter

In a corner where your hamster does not relieve itself (especially when peeing)

The sandbox must be far from the water and food bowl of your hamster and make it in the side of the cage that leans against the wall of the room.

How do I help my hamster take its sand baths?

It is good to help your hamster if it is already tamed of course to take its sand baths and to take its toilet.

Of course, you are not going to help him every time he enters his sandbox ! 

You will in fact intervene and help your hamster car 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 he seems not to take his sand baths because his fur is not smooth, and you notice hairs stuck together and form 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?

It’s good to let your hamster go into the sandbox by himself.

Secure your hamster, put a towel on your lap and put the sandbox containing your hamster on your lap too.

Grab your hamster and take pinches of sand and sprinkle it on his fur.

He will normally vibrate his body to get those grains of sand between his fur and then vibrate his body a second time to get rid of those grains of sand once soaked in excess oil.

If your hamster does not vibrate its body, you can use a toothbrush, dry and not wet (very important) to brush the fur of your hamster and remove the sand.

Be careful when you brush your hamster, you must always go in the direction of the hair and especially stop brushing when there is no more sand in his fur otherwise you will remove more oil than necessary!

You can also use small massage brushes instead of a toothbrush

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 … etc

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 it will take more often its sand baths and thus it will have a better fur, a better look and a better health.

If your hamster’s cage smells bad, it’s not your hamster’s fault, but you should pick up the urine-soiled litter every day and replace it.

Scoop out the remaining fresh food each morning and change the water.

Change the litter at least once a month during the winter and 3 times a month during the warm season.

What about Wet bathing my hamster ?

Yes, as I said before, your hamster may get a dangerous product on his back and you need to wash him, here’s how:

Take a toothbrush (for children), it is softer.

Make sure there is no toothpaste left on the brush!

Wet it with a water not cold (37°C), it should not be soaked with 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 the palm of your hand so that you can see the stain or dirt you want to wash from its fur.

Gently brush its fur in the direction of the hair and without pressing too much otherwise you will break a rib!

Be patient and once finished, wipe your hamster with a piece of paper or a towel and let it dry well before putting it back in its cage and avoid that it does not jump into its sandbox while its fur is not yet dried.

Give your hamster a piece of fruit and hugs to lower any stress levels potentially caused by this unprecedented cleaning operation for him.

Final thoughts

Hamsters are very clean animals. They take care of their own toilet as long as you offer them a good and large sandbox, filled with good sand and not dusty.

The sandbox should preferably be in your hamster’s cage all the time because he will use it several times a day, night and day if he wakes up.

The sand baths also avoid many diseases including skin to your hamster and it is also an excellent way for him to de-stress, it’s the same for us, we love the time of the shower, is not it!

So do not deprive your hammies of large and spacious sandboxes.