They might look like adorable little balls of fur, but hamsters have the same functions as any other mammal; you might be amazed by how much waste one tiny animal can produce. The cages need a complete cleaning about once or twice a week, depending how big they are and how many hamsters you have. One Syrian hamster in a vast rat cage doesn't need to be cleaned out as often as a smaller cage with a group of dwarf hamsters.
Place a couple of handfuls of used bedding, not the most soiled part, into a pet carrier, add a couple of slices of cucumber and transfer the hamsters. If you have a secure play pen, you could put them in that instead, but bear in mind you cannot supervise them while you are cleaning the cage. If there is any chance of escape from the pen, use a pet carrier instead. The cucumber is in case they become thirsty, bored or hungry.
Remove all food bowls, water bottles, plastic toys, platforms, nest boxes and ramps from the cage. Place them in your sink for cleaning later.
Tip everything else -- bedding, droppings, cardboard toys and cardboard boxes -- into a trash bag.
Fill the sink with warm water and a couple of squirts of dishwashing liquid. This is mild enough to be safe for hamsters -- don’t use powerful disinfectants or other cleaning products, which can be dangerous even if you rinse.
Wash everything, including the base of the cage, using the sponge. Rinse all the items thoroughly.
Dry the cage and accessories with paper towels.
Add a layer of fresh, paper-based bedding to the bottom of the cage. Replace all the plastic accessories and add new cardboard ones.
Fill up the water bottle and add their basic food and a couple of treats to the food bowl.
Replace the hamsters along with the bedding from the pet carrier. Their own smell helps them feel more at home in what is now a new environment.
- Use a paper-based bedding for your hamsters, not wood shavings or sawdust. The dusty beddings can cause respiratory problems and some are actually toxic. If you want to save money, you can make your own by tearing up plain cardboard into little pieces as a base. Unscented, undyed bathroom tissue torn into strips is perhaps the best soft material for them to make nests from.
- If the cage is too big to fit in the sink for washing, you have two options: clean it in the tub, making sure to clean the bathtub itself afterwards, or add a couple of squirts of dishwashing liquid to a bucket and sponge the cage with that. Sponge again with plain water to “rinse.”
- A homemade vinegar spray makes a suitable alternative to dishwashing liquid, remembering to rinse. Don’t use anything harsher. If you must disinfect the cage, transfer the hamsters to a spare one for a couple of days. Use household bleach and water, rinse, dry and leave the old cage to air for at least a day. The fumes from strong household cleaning products are dangerous.
- If you have a compost heap, add the soiled paper and cardboard. Hamster waste is not a health hazard.
- Never use cotton wool as a soft bedding. It can cause potentially lethal blockages if eaten and can entangle hamster feet, cutting off circulation and causing serious injury.
Hamster image by Stana from Fotolia.com
Judith Willson has been writing since 2009, specializing in environmental and scientific topics. She has written content for school websites and worked for a Glasgow newspaper. Willson has a Master of Arts in English from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.