Hamsters can make for fun pets. But, of course, owning a pet involves a lot more than just the fun stuff – you need to ensure you have the time and dedication to care for your hamsters’ needs over their lifetime. One of the most important jobs is to make sure your pet has a clean environment to live in. But how regularly do you need to clean their enclosure? Here is what you need to know.
So, how often should you clean a hamster cage? It is generally recommended to spot clean a hamster cage daily. From there, you can use your own judgment to determine when a cleanout is required. Although, this will typically be every 1-2 weeks. The size of the cage, how quickly it gets dirty, and how many hamsters you own will impact cleaning frequency.
Luckily, cage cleaning is fairly simple for these small rodents – as we will soon see in the sections down below.
You do, however, need to ensure you do one thing.
This is key.
Each and every time.
You need to ensure you always keep some old bedding in the cage, even with a full cleanout, as this carries your hamster’s scent.
Without it, your hamster will likely feel vulnerable and stressed.
Nevertheless, cleaning can offer you the opportunity to interact with your hamster and reinforce your bond.
It’s not all bad!
So let’s get into the nitty-gritty of cage cleaning, so you know exactly how to approach this thankless task!
How Long Can You Go Without Cleaning A Hamster Cage?
You can typically leave a cage for a week or two before it needs a full clean, although with daily spot cleans, you may be able to push this back a little further.
While we can give general guidelines here, it will differ by owner and context.
In reality, how long you can go between cage cleans will be entirely dependent on the size of your enclosure.
In larger cages, your hamster has plenty of space to do its business, whereas smaller cages will get smelly a lot quicker.
The most important thing is to ensure your hamster has a clean and safe environment, as hamsters in dirty environments can become stressed and are much more likely to pick up deadly infections.
Spot cleaning is a great way to keep on top of the mess and should be done frequently.
Full cage cleaning can be done twice a month with the right cage.
Hamsters actually have very poor eyesight, so they use their excellent sense of smell to find their way around.
Hamsters have a scent gland (also known as flank glands or hip spots) located on their hips, which appear as strange, greasy black spots.
Many owners mistakenly identify these glands as scabs at first but rest assured that these are a normal part of your hamster’s anatomy.
As hamsters move around, they rub these glands over rocks and other items to establish their territory.
They tend to be larger and more prominent in males as they also use them to attract females.
These scent glands can often give off a musky scent which some owners may find unappealing but is actually completely normal.
So do ensure you recognize the difference between a scent gland smell and the smell of a cage that is due a cleanout.
Because of their poor eyesight and territorial nature, you should always leave a small amount of old bedding in the enclosure, even when doing a full clean.
You can easily do this by setting aside a handful of dry, clean substrate that has been taken out of the enclosure and mix it in with the new bedding once it has been replaced.
This way, your hamster will have a clean cage but will still recognize it as its home.
If you scrub the cage with disinfectant and replace all the bedding with fresh stuff, your hamster will believe they have moved to an entirely new home that is unfamiliar, unknown, and potentially dangerous.
At least to them.
This doesn’t mean that you should just leave the enclosure to get dirty, though.
Spot cleaning is a very efficient way of keeping the cage clean without upsetting your rodent companion.
It is simple to do; you just need to take out any soiled areas of substrate and old uneaten food on a daily basis.
However, do make sure you thoroughly check all areas of the cage because hamsters have a tendency to hoard food!
This is completely normal behavior so try to leave a little bit behind so as not to upset your hamster!
As prey animals, hamsters will not often defecate out in the open.
Instead, they will find a more secluded, hidden spot to do their business.
So you must check every part of the enclosure for any soiled areas.
What Happens If You Don’t Clean Your Hamsters Cage?
Hamsters are generally clean animals. You will have probably witnessed your own pet cleaning themselves vigorously on a regular basis! So, a dirty cage will actually impede on the welfare of your pet, as well as leave it vulnerable to disease and infection.
One of the biggest problems with hamsters is that they will not show any signs of illness until it is pretty much at the fatal stage.
This is a natural behavior that has evolved in many prey animal species.
Any signs of vulnerability can cause them to become targets for hungry predators.
Luckily, if you know your hamster well, then there are subtle signs you can look out for which could suggest that medical attention is required.
A few of the illnesses that can arise from a dirty environment include:
Unfortunately, this is a fairly common disease that is thought to be caused by stress.
The initial symptoms to watch out for include an ‘unkempt’ and scruffy appearance and foul-smelling diarrhea.
Your hamster may also stop drinking water which can quickly lead to dehydration.
If you suspect your pet hamster has wet tail, you must contact a vet immediately as the condition is fatal.
Upper Respiratory Infection
Hamsters are highly susceptible to moisture in their environment; therefore, they can catch respiratory illnesses very easily.
Symptoms include sneezing, discharge from the eyes or nose, and labored breathing.
How Do You Clean A Hamster Cage?
There are two different types of cleaning to become familiar with as a hamster owner; daily spot cleans and deep cage cleans. Both follow a different set of processes and will require differing amounts of work, effort, and materials.
Let us now look at how to do each type of clean:
Daily Spot Cleaning
As mentioned above, you should be spot cleaning your hamster’s cage daily.
All you need for this is a suitable-sized scoop and a bin bag to dispose of the waste.
It’s a good idea to get into a routine with your hamster as it will not only make life easier for you but will also help your hamster to anticipate your arrival.
At the same time each day, you should be greeting your hamster and doing some handling training.
Do be aware that hamsters are nocturnal animals, so it’s best to wake them slowly to avoid being bitten by a sleepy, startled rodent!
You can then empty the water bottle and refill it with fresh, clean water, spot clean the enclosure, and then offer food.
Your hamster will soon get used to the routine and may even begin to look forward to the interaction.
Twice a month or so (depending on the size of your enclosure), you may also need to fully clean and disinfect your hamster’s cage.
Do make sure you purchase a disinfectant that is safe for rodents, as most of our human cleaners contain harmful chemicals.
This is the one to get from Amazon. Take a look and you will soon see why. 👇
Hamsters are also very sensitive to smell, so ensure you buy an odorless cleaner.
In addition, you will need a clean cloth or paper towel sheets, a bin bag, dustpan, and brush, and a safe place to put your pet whilst the cleaning is being done.
This can be in the form of a smaller cage or a secure run but ensure you keep an eye on your furry companion as hamsters are surprisingly good escape artists!
The length of time it will take you to clean out the enclosure will be entirely dependent on the type of cage you have.
There are a wide variety of options when it comes to enclosure design, so do your research to ensure you have the best cage for your money.
Some modern cages now have a slide-out tray at the bottom, so you can simply tip the substrate from this straight into the bin.
Some older type enclosures will require a little more work to get deep into all the corners.
Firstly, ensure you have all of your cleaning equipment ready, then gently move your hamster to an alternative area, away from the chemicals you will be using.
Then you can begin removing all the toys, hides, and substrate from the enclosure.
Remember to save a little bit of unsoiled bedding and nest material to mix in with the new substrate!
The more of the nest (sleeping area) you can salvage, the better, as this will help your hamster to feel safe and secure.
A brand-new unfamiliar bed might sound appealing to us but will not be appreciated by your hamster!
The cage and toys can all be cleaned using the same rodent-safe cleaning spray, which you can dilute in a bucket of water if required.
Do make sure that you rinse all equipment, including the cage, with clean water and check they are completely dry before putting everything back together.
You can either leave them to air dry, or you can use a dry cloth or tea towel to speed up the process.
Then just add your clean substrate, put the toys back in, and watch your hamster enjoy his new clean home!
You can also scatter a few treats around for him to find or add new chew blocks.
Hamsters must have safe items to chew in their cage as this is how they file down their teeth.
These can easily be bought from most pet stores and come in a range of sizes and funky designs.
Other Cage Cleaning Considerations
It may be surprising to hear, but hamsters can be potty trained, although it is much easier to train them successfully if you begin when they are infants.
You can place small disposable litter trays at certain points of the enclosure and fill them with a small amount of soiled bedding and droppings.
Once your hamster appears to have chosen its favorite tray, you can get rid of the other ones.
This may take a while, but if you remain consistent, it will make spot cleaning much easier in the long run!
Now for a final note about bedding.
Hamsters love to ‘rearrange’ their enclosure to their liking and often create a deep bed for themselves with pieces of substrate and paper.
So do make sure that the bedding you choose is easy to burrow in and manipulate.
Good options for the substrate include shredded paper, paper towels, and aspen shavings.
As with most animals, there are a number of substrates that are toxic to hamsters, so these must be avoided at all costs:
Pine And Cedar Shavings
These substrates contain naturally occurring phenols that are toxic to hamsters if inhaled over a long period of time.
Cat litter is sometimes listed as a good substrate for hamsters, but its highly absorbent properties mean that it can swell up inside your little rodents’ stomach if ingested.
This could cause an obstruction which can be fatal.
This substrate is incredibly dusty, so it can cause respiratory issues for your hamster.
Most hamster species will be happy with an inch or so of substrate, but it is a good idea to make a deeper area that they can use as a bed.
A small cardboard box stuffed with shavings, tissue, or paper also works well.
Saying that, don’t be surprised if your little critter ups and shifts their bed to the other side of the cage.
Hamsters are picky animals and will move things to where they want them!
Hamsters are pretty clean animals by nature, and they like living in a hygienic environment.
As an owner, this means you’ll need to clean. And do so quite regularly.
Although here is the key to making it much easier.
Little and often.
Daily spot cleans really help to minimize odors and make it a much nicer environment for your pet. Besides, they also expand how long you can go between deep cleans!
Just be sure not to confuse your hamster’s scent with a sign that the cage needs cleaning.
It may take you a while to pick up on and become familiar with it, but this scent is vital for your hamster’s welfare.
It makes your hamster’s cage home.
And as such, always leave some bedding behind.
You can put a hamster in a travel cage, playpen, a bin with tall sides, the bathtub; anywhere your hamster is safe, can move about freely, and cannot escape from. Putting some used bedding in there is also advised to make them feel more calm and relaxed throughout the cleaning process.
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.