We know that hamsters get sick if bathed in water and we may even wonder about their cleanliness. Yet, do you know that they are so conscious of cleanliness that they would only use one spot in their cage to poop? If we neglect to clean their cages, it can stress them out so much that it can kill them.
Several pet sites will tell you varying answers on how often to clean hamster cage. Some will say clean once a week, while others say once a month.
But when exactly is the right time to clean the cage? And how do we properly clean every bit and piece of hammy’s cage?
Clean Little Puffballs
Hamsters are generally clean and orderly little animals. They separate their playing, sleeping, and toileting spots in the tank. They have hoarding spots for their food and they even arrange their own bedding to suit their comfort!
Because hamsters are generally clean, monitor your hammy’s tidiness. If it acquires diarrhea even with all your cleaning habits, or if you notice your hamster does not like to arrange and clean its area, you may need to consult with a vet.
In the wild, hamsters can easily dispose of all their mess. As domesticated pets, however, they are unable to do this with such limited space; which is why they need our help.
If a cage is allowed to sit long with all the hamster gunk and unfinished fresh food, excessive exposure to urine and feces will cause these hammies bumblefoot or Pododermatitis which is characterized by red feet, as having rashes.
Worse, the unpleasant smell of ammonia and all other chemicals resulting from bacterial action on their wastes could overwhelm and stress out the hamster, resulting to wet tail, a condition fatal enough to kill the poor rodent. Other illnesses with symptoms like diarrhea, lethargy, runny nose, and weakness could also overwhelm your poor pet.
There are generally three types of cleaning based on frequency and extensiveness in cleaning your hamster’s cage and things:
- after-use and daily spot cleaning
- general cleaning
Whenever we have a sick hamster, it should be isolated both from its colony and from other animals. Disinfecting the cage is done weekly and requires cleaning all of the things that the sick hamster used with a disinfectant solution. This way of tidying the cage can also be used when you are too busy to do a general cleaning for your hammy.
Disinfecting can be easily done by following these instructions:
- Remove and dismantle everything from the cage and dispose all substrates.
- If your hamster is not sick but you do not have enough time to do a major clean up, retain a small bit of the bedding and half of the toys unwashed so your hammy will not feel alienated from the fresh substrate later on.
- Fill a spray bottle with a disinfectant solution made of 2 tablespoons of antibacterial soap and enough water to fill the container. You may also make use of vinegar or you may also use small animal habitat deodorizer sprays. There is no need to mix water if you opt to use either of the two.
- Spray all the parts of the cage, including the bars, roofing, and floor. Do the same for the toys. Let them soak in the disinfectant for a few minutes. You can even put them under direct sunlight or in a UV sterilizer cabinet so that the UV rays can help in the disinfecting process.
- Allow the cage parts and the toys to air dry completely before reassembling the cage, putting fresh bedding, and returning the toys and accessories to their places.
Some small animal pet sites recommend general cleaning once a month, while others recommend weekly. The California Hamster Association, however, recommends a general clean up on the same day each week to minimize stress on your hamster and yet maintain a healthy cleanliness.
To do a general cage clean-up, you need to do the following steps:
- Place the hamster in a safe location when cleaning like in a hamster ball, a playpen (or both hamster ball in a playpen), a smaller cage, a portable carrier case, a bucket, or even a bathtub. Make sure that its temporary location is another room that is closed away from pets in case your hammy does get out of its temporary shelter.
Check your hamster periodically as you do the general cleaning. If you place it in a hamster ball you may need to remove it before thirty minutes is up and transfer it someplace else so it can breathe fresh air.
- Remove all the accessories and toys in the cage and divide them into two groups. One group will be soap-cleaned for the week while the other half will be done next week. This is to ensure that your hamster feels comfortable and at home with the familiar scents in the cage.
- Empty the food dish and water bottles and set them together for cleaning.
- Scoop and dump all the organic and disposable materials in the cage – the litter or used substrate, the lining, the discarded food, as well as the poop. Make sure to retain a small portion of the old bedding so that you can mix it later with the new substrate.
In this manner, your hamster will be comfortable with the new bedding. Dismantle all the cage parts for easier cleaning of hamster cage later on.
- Scrub all the cage parts thoroughly, including the wire bars using a sponge and a good cleaner like antibacterial soap, dishwashing liquid or detergent. Avoid ammonia-based cleaning products since these may overwhelm your hamster’s sense of smell. Do not use bleach and other toxic products either.
- For Rotastak cages, clean by part and use bottle brushes or test tube cleaners for hard to reach areas. Scrape persistent gunks and stains using paint scraper on glass tanks. Take note of cage parts that are too scratched or worn out and may need replacement as these are the meeting points of microbes that could make your hamster sick.
Replace them as soon as you have the spare parts or if they can be removed without making any gaping holes in the cage.
- Allow the cleaning agent to sit on the cage for 10-15 minutes before rinsing it thoroughly and drying with clean paper towels.
- Use hot water and antibacterial soap or dishwashing liquid or detergent in cleaning dishes and bottles as well as washable accessories and toys.
- Disinfect the cage and the toys. Use the disinfecting steps mentioned at the earlier part of this article.
- When everything has been fully dried, reassemble the cage parts except the roof so that it is easier to place the toys, shelter, and other accessories. Place the fresh bedding first and mix it with the retained old beddings.
- Put in the toys and accessories beginning with the newly washed and ending with the unwashed toys, before reattaching the roof. You may change the environmental layout, but there is no need to rearrange the bedding unless you opt to add more than usual as the hamsters may want to enjoy digging new burrows themselves.
Always take into consideration the welfare of your hamster when you do cage cleaning. Allow your hamster to get used to its cage every after cleaning. Avoid excessive handling; hamsters may be tamed by regular contact with us, but too much handling can stress them out.
Hamsters have a sensitive sense of smell so consider the scents of their environment as well. Robo hammies also are sensitive with the presence of their relatives, so give your sick hammy familiar colony bedding for an extra homey comfort.
Should there be any problems with your hamster’s waste like a higher number of sticky poop on the cage walls and floors, contact your vet immediately for advice.