Hamsters are very meticulous creatures in terms of cleaning themselves so it is unusual that a hamster needs grooming from the outside.
It has been observed that about 20% of their time is spent on self-grooming. If there will ever be an instance that a water bath is needed by hamsters, it should only be during an emergency situation that can directly affect their health. So, how to wash a hamster?
First and foremost, it is not recommended to give a water bath to hamsters as this may cause some serious issues.
Complications of Water Baths in Hamsters
Giving a water bath to hamsters will cause the removal of the natural oils in their fur resulting in personal grooming problems. The elimination of this layer will cause them to catch a cold leading which might lead to hypothermia.
Aside from hypothermia, catching a cold in hamsters will also cause false hibernations and will have them go into a deep, unnatural state of sleeping. This is unusual and occurs at temperatures lower than 50o Celsius. Colds are more dangerous in hamsters than in humans where this condition characteristically progresses into bronchitis or pneumonia. This condition is usually hard for hamsters to fight off.
They generally do not adapt at low temperatures due to their evolution as animals originating from a desert environment. Hamsters are not good at regulating their body temperatures.
Other than this, effects of water bathing may include:
- Possible drowning since hamsters are small and very fast, and more importantly, they can’t swim
- Induces stress that may lower their immune system
- May cause aggressive behavior
If a hamster suddenly becomes smelly or dirty, there are alternative ways to help them clean and prevent odor from forming.
Keeping the Hamsters Clean
In cases that you suddenly have grubby hamsters and you observed that they aren’t grooming themselves, it is possible that there could be an underlying medical condition. Rule it out by scheduling an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible.
They might have a leg injury which may be the reason for them not to clean their faces with their paws. Another thing is if there’s blood on their tails, then it might be a good indication that they either have overgrown teeth, bowel disease, genital issues or worse, they might have the fatal wet tail disease. Look out also for skin conditions such as mange or mites if they look scabby even after grooming.
If the medical condition is cleared by the vet, please consider these other options:
1. Use of a Bathing Sand
It is also advisable for hamsters to use bath sand in order to clean out dirt like their cousin chinchillas. They can roll around the sand and the dirt will naturally fall off. Essentially, a sand bath will help clean the hamsters by absorbing the excess oil and moisture from their skin.
You may buy chinchilla sand for cleaning hamsters and place it in a bowl that is stable enough to support their weight. A container with corners may cause dirt and sand to accumulate so a sturdy bowl is recommended. Ensure that you purchase a sand bath and not dust, as these two are usually interchanged by people. This is because a dust bath may cause respiratory problems in your hamsters due to its finer particles that may easily be inhaled.
Some hamsters eventually make their sand bath like their litter boxes or they may use it to forage food. Make sure that you clean it regularly to avoid microbial growth that may cause foul smelling odors.
2. Appropriate Bedding
Avoid purchasing pine or cedar-based beddings because they may injure the hamsters due to splinters. It was also reported that pine mixed with hamster urine produces a toxic fume for hamsters and causes a bad case of odor as well.
Try to avoid any scented bedding too to reduce possible respiratory problems in hamsters.
Factors to consider in choosing the right bedding includes its safety and absorption rate.
If budget would be a problem, you may opt for unprinted ink paper but the problem is that it wouldn’t be able to control the urine odor so you may need to change it more frequently than other beddings.
As for any type of beddings, it is critical that they are scooped up as soon as you see that it is soiled or before it is soaked up to their maximum capacity. This is to prevent molds and bacteria to grow because of high moisture and nutrients in hamster urine which is an ideal environment for them to multiply. They are one of the possible causes of a foul odor that can be transferred to a hamster’s hair.
3. Brushing of Fur Clumps
You could help with the removal of dirt or clumps off their hair by using a soft bristle brush. The normal action for combing will also double as a massager for your hamsters.
4. Use of a Damp Cloth
Spot clean the hamster hair that has the undesirable substance using a damp cloth. Wet the soft cloth by spraying waterless shampoo for pets over a soft cloth, according to Dr. Francine Rattner of PetMD.
Wipe them dry immediately after removing the stain to prevent chills. Make sure that the location of their cage is away from any source of breeze.
Cage Cleaning Frequency
This would be the same as the cleaning the beddings as regularly as you can because if not, fetid microorganisms might thrive in the hamster cages. Not only will it cause odor but is also a threat to your hamster’s health.
Clean the cages thoroughly once a month using lukewarm, soapy water while avoiding ammonia-based materials. You may use a pet enzyme cleaner designed for small animals or you may also use a diluted white vinegar to remove the unwanted odor and kill the bacteria.
An emergency situation is under the condition where a toxic substance is on the hamsters’ fur that is possibly dangerous to their system or something that may cause corrosion. Toxic substances may include paint, varnish, bleach disinfectant or acetone.
It may also be because they got covered with something that may cause gastroenteritis when ingested if they start to groom themselves such as prohibited foods like chocolate or honey.
If faced with a sticky substance, consider first if you could cut off the affected fur before jumping into giving them a bath.
Washing hamsters with water should always be the last resort. If a situation calls for it, below are steps on how to control the circumstances your hamster is in:
- Prepare the materials that you would be needing such as a shallow container, a tub for drying in the hamster, and a pet towel. Preparing the drying towels ahead will minimize the exposure of their wet bodies.
- Decide the best place to clean the hamster; somewhere for them to not easily run away and is at a comfortable height for you as well. A kitchen sink would be a good place and there is enough space for you to place a container.
- Use as little water as possible in a shallow container. It is preferred that lukewarm water is used during their bath.
- Do not drop them into just any container of water.
- It is recommended to use a soft-bristled, unused toothbrush to remove tangled fur and a piece of cotton wool to actually clean the affected area. Start brushing along the direction of the fur growth.
- Avoid getting water into their face and ears. Wash from their ears down to their bodies only. Remove the toxic substances as fast as you can to quickly wrap it up.
- Hold them as gently as you can during the wetting process since they have fragile bodies.
- Ensure that they are patted dry before putting them back into their cages. Keep any draft away from the cages.
- Never use a shampoo to bathe your hamster without prior permission from your veterinarian.