Hamsters are the faces of charm—small, round, furry, curious—and it can be tempting to acquire one on impulse. Although these pets can be easy to take care of than some pets, they still require a lot of commitment and care to help them thrive and have the healthiest lives.
Most hamster parents may not know of is their pet’s grooming, shelter cleaning, and care. Unfortunately, negligent hamster cage cleaning doesn’t just make it stink; it can make your pet sick, not to mention you too!
Here’s a good hamster habitat cleaning routine.
How Often Should You Clean Your Hamster Cage?
Hamsters are clean pets and always keep their sleeping, playing, and potty areas separate. While this trait helps keep their habitats fresh for long, it doesn’t mean you should overlook daily cleaning and maintenance.
Every day, scoop the poop, spot-clean the toilet area, and provide your hammy fresh food and water. Use a scoop or gloved hands to remove soiled bedding and dispose of it.
As for water and food, it is mandatory to wash the food bowls and replace uneaten food if you want to prevent your pet from ingesting contaminated food and water. It’s also vital to clean daily to avoid bacteria and germ build-up.
Daily maintenance is crucial to responsible ownership, but a weekly deep cleaning and disinfecting are also necessary. Weekly deep cleaning allows you more time in the cage, even though it is only pint-sized. This type of cleaning requires disinfectants such as vinegar, lots of brushing, and rinsing.
While this type of cleaning is only necessary once a week, you can do it as often as you want. Deep clean if you notice a pungent ammonia smell, the bed looks more soiled than usual, or if your pet does not adhere to one toilet spot.
This routine is for a single hamster; if you have more than one sharing the cage, you won’t be able to wait for a week. You can do it twice a week because the more the hamsters, the more they pee, poop, and leave food bits.
Ideally, the California Hamster Association recommends cleaning the habitat on the same day every week to minimize stressing your pet.
What Makes a Hamster Cage Smell Bad?
A hammy usually spends most of its time in its cage unless you put it in an exercise ball or a transport carrier when traveling. For this reason, it’ll mostly pee, poop, and throw food in its bedding.
What makes the shelter smell most of the time is pee. The good thing is that it is easy to clean as the pet chooses one corner to pee. This corner is the same all through unless it decides to shift its nest’s location.
The pee corner is usually the farthest from the nest, so removing or spot-cleaning the corner will be enough to eliminate the odor. Hamsters poo in a separate corner, though. If you have more than one hamster in one cage, chances are there’ll be several pee corners, although it depends on whether your pests share a nest or just the cage.
Droppings are usually all over the place, but they don’t smell because they are dry. Be sure to remove them, though, as they do look bad.
As for the food, hamsters tend to stash uneaten food in one place to reserve it for later (it’s a hamster’s instinct to ensure it always has enough to eat). If the food piles, it might start to smell, and it’ll help if you take them out every day. Unless the hammy is severely ill, it won’t be him smelling; these pets are clean critters, non-smelly, and always keep their scent to the minimum.
Tips and Mistakes to Avoid When Cleaning a Hamster Cage
You may clean your hammy’s cage wrong and harm your pet, even if you have the best intentions. The good thing is, the mistakes are honest, and you can easily correct them.
Here’s what you should look out for.
Quick Steps of How to Clean a Hamster Cage
Step 1: Transfer Your Hamster to a Safe Place
After you’ve gathered your supplies and are ready to start cleaning, you’ll want the hammy out of the cage for this. Cleaning is a stressful operation for the pet, and finding it a safe place in the meantime will reduce stress and avoid injury if it scampers while you clean.
You can use its transport carrier or an exercise ball if you are sure you’ll take less than an hour to clean. An exercise ball is a closed space, and it’ll need food and fresh air.
Step 2: Empty the Cage
Now that your hammy is safe and out of the way, go ahead and remove all the bedding and dispose of the used material, even if it may appear clean. It’s best to provide your pet fresh and clean shelter. Also, remove the hideouts, food, food bowls, water bottles, toys, and wheels to prevent any soiled bedding and food from remaining trapped underneath the objects.
Set the objects aside and identify the one that needs scrubbing, although most may appear clean and do not require a rinse. If you find the hamster nest and the food stash, save some of the food and the nest to put back in the cage when you finish cleaning.
All this while, use a litter scoop and gloved hands to avoid direct contact with the waste. Also, avoid breathing in the pet’s waste directly as it can expose you to diseases like Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis (LCM).
Step 3: Thoroughly Wash the Cage
Once everything is out, you’ll have an empty and dusty enclosure. Scrub the empty cage with a mild soap, cage-cleaning solution, or hand soap and warm water.
You can also opt to use vinegar instead of the soap, only that you should thoroughly clean any residue once done. If you can still smell the solution, it will be way too much for your hammy
Sometimes, white crusty pee stains won’t come off easily and may require intense scrubbing or soaking beforehand. You can take the cage apart (depending on the type) to allow you to deep-clean each spot and reduce the hassle of trying to access small doors and spaces. Pat dry the enclosure with a hand towel to prevent molds from forming or beddings from sticking on wet spots.
Step 4: Rinse Cage Accessories
Your cage deep-cleaning is incomplete if you’ve not cleaned the accessories such as toys, tunnels, wheels, or dishes.
It’s vital to do so because these objects can harbor urine, feces, germs, and bacteria and may predispose your pet to ear and eye problems if you continuously expose it to contaminated surfaces.
Wash, rinse, and dry the accessories well before returning them to the cage. However, some accessories like textile hamster toys may require total replacement because they may still smell and trap some stains regardless of how hard you scrub.
Step 5. Assemble the Enclosure
You can start putting the cage back together once everything is clean and dry. Start by filling and laying two to three inches of new, fluffy bedding across the surface. Avoid unfriendly bedding like pine and cedar because they can expose your pet to respiratory problems.
Return every accessory the way it was before or arrange the way your pet likes it. You can also allow it to redecorate to his taste. Once everything is in place and the water and food bowls are full, return your pet to his home.
Step 6: Dispose of the Dirty Bedding and Gloves
Throw away the refuse, bedding, hand towels, and gloves you used to clean the hamster cage. Discard them in a garbage bin. It’s also best to wash your hands thoroughly after the clean-up operation.
Daily cleaning can help eliminate superficial stains, but if the dirt starts to dig in the cage’s accessories, beddings, and surfaces, a deep clean at least once a week is necessary.
If you love your hamster and want to keep it happy, healthy and leave your home smelling good, make it in your best interest to clean the cage and the hamster itself.
However, hamsters are sensitive creatures and may find the cleaning operation and a new cage stressful. Try to make the process easy and safe, and ensure that your pet finds the cage as familiar as possible without being dirty.
Featured Image: Mary Swift, Shutterstock