When it comes to hamster bedding, there are two common types you should know. There’s the bedding that lines the floor of the cage known as hamster substrate, and then there’s the soft nesting material used for sleeping.
For the underside of the cage, you need bedding that is soft enough for your hamster’s feet. It also needs to be able to absorb urine and trap the smell for as long as possible. Hamsters like to urinate in the corners of their cage and it can get quite smelly if you don’t clean it from time to time. Thus, bedding that can absorb urine and suppress the smell for about a week is the highest priority; softness is an added bonus.
The most popular bedding choice most owners use is wood shaving. However, don’t just use the first wood shaving you find. Avoid using cedar and pine shavings. They contain a chemical called phenol, which is harmful to small animal’s lungs like your hamster. Hardwood, most commonly aspen, is the popular choice for shavings. Unfortunately, the biggest drawback of shavings is that they do not absorb urine very well. Thus, the hamster cage can start smelling very quickly unless you replace the soiled corners daily.
There are other wood-based products that are the superior choice compared to bedding. For instance, CareFresh is a premium wood shaving made from wood pulp waste. It looks like shredded egg cartons but is unbelievably soft and absorbent. Furthermore, it is nontoxic, biodegradable, and your hamster will love burrowing through it. Just make sure to pile it 3-4 inches deep (7-10 cm) and your hamster will love to play in it.
Next there are wood chip products such as Sani-chips. These are made from hard maple or aspen, and are fresh smelling, absorbent, soft on the feet, and also good for burrowing into. Their biggest downside is they can cause quite a mess; however, this is not an issue in aquarium cages.
For good absorbency, it is hard to beat wood pellets for the price. Another option in this category is pine as long as it has been treated to have phenols removed.
Never use sawdust as bedding. Just don’t do it. They are too dusty and will harm your hamster’s lungs. Don’t get suckered in by their cheap price and availability, they are not worth it.
Pellets made from recycled newspaper are also a possible option. They are biodegradable, non-toxic, and don’t make a mess. Unfortunately, they can be a little dusty and are not as good when it comes to odor control as wood pellets. They are also a bit tough to walk on for your hamster, so look for softer paper products. Do not line the cage with newspaper, since they are not absorbent, does not trap odor, and the ink can rub off on your hamster’s feet.
Grains and Grass
Bedding made form grain and grass can be found almost anywhere. Use the unscented versions because strong odors can irritate your hamster. Corncob bedding is extremely cheap, soft on the feet, and good for burrowing. But, if you use it in an aquarium cage, they can get moldy unless you replace it often. You can get grass and grain bedding in pellet form as well.
Which type of hamster bedding is the best?
Out of all the options outlined above, which one reigns supreme? Unfortunately, there is no straightforward solution. You will have to go through a process of trial and error. For instance, your hamster could be allergic to one type of bedding. Or if you find your hamster is struggling to breath, perhaps it is developing a respiratory problem because of the bedding (or it’s just too hot).
CareFresh is an all-around good option, however it is a premium product with a high price tag compared to the other bedding. If you can afford it, you can place a heaping pile of CareFresh in one area of the cage for your hamster to freely burrow into, and use cheaper wood pellets everywhere else.
Now let’s talk about the bedding that is used for nesting. So far all that we’ve covered is substrate material intended for use on the underside of the cage. Think of nesting material as your hamster’s fluffy comforter, and substrate as its carpet. You want your hamster to rest in a proper bed, don’t you? Hamsters love to curl up in a corner where they are in an enclosed, safe space to doze off. Ceramic nests are best since they are too tough to be chewed. Wood ones are fine if you are willing to replace it when it becomes damaged from bite marks. Additionally, add-ons like tree houses or lookout towers can also be used as sleeping areas.
DIY Sleeping Quarters
If you’re into DIY projects, a coconut cabana makes a natural, one-of-a-kind, cozy sleeping quarters. Just drill a 2-inch (5 cm) hole into a large coconut and remove the insides. For smaller dwarf hamsters, another simple and cheap project for a comfy bunkhouse is as follows. Take a cardboard egg carton, shut the lid, and cut an entrance hole on one end. Leave some nesting material by the entrance, and your hamster will take some in with him for a cozy nap.
The sleeping quarters needs to be packed with nesting material. Paper products are the optimal choice, however CareFresh can also be used as nesting material. You can also use timothy hay, shredded paper strips (with no ink) from a paper shredder, ripped tissues or paper towels, or even toilet paper.
Pet shops sell hamster fluff that looks irresistibly cozy, but avoid those. Do not use felt, fabric, cotton balls, polyester stuffing, or cotton batting. Hamsters can swallow them and choke. They can also occupy space in your hamster’s cheek.
You can read a more in-depth review of the best hamster bedding here.