Choosing a bedding or substrate for the main floor of your cage can be a daunting task for both the newcomer and the seasoned hamster owner. It could be that you are purchasing your first hamster or that you are having to switch bedding.
I’ve recently had to move away from shavings due to developing an asthmatic sensitivity to this type of natural bedding. So I’ve had some very recent experience of a familiar exercise. What on earth do I try this time?
Please read on to see some of the examples of bedding or litter you can buy and my experience of them. Note that anything you buy for your hamster should always be dust extracted and unscented/treated. Scented bedding just makes your hamster mark more in order to make their cage smell like them and has been shown to stress the kidneys in other species of rodents. Plus, if you don’t like the smell of a hamster then it’s likely not the right pet for you.
The most controversial bedding on the market are woodshavings. I’ll group them all here together as they are all very similar. You can buy quite large flaked bedding such as Littlemax or Bedmax and some smaller grade flakes like Snowflake Supreme or similar. You may even find you can buy unbranded woodshavings from your local farm shop.
I avoided this bedding for a very long time as I had rodents with sensitive lungs such as mice who really are very picky about their bedding options. Hamsters, however, do very well on these and you should choose a flake size suitable for your species. Roborovski, for example, prefer the smaller flakes. As long as your shavings are unscented, dust extracted and kiln dried then they are perfectly safe. After keeping 100 odd roborovski on Snowflake supreme I noticed no impact on health or lifespan and they are were, if anything, healthier looking with bigger litter sizes.
Quality of brands seems to be comparable as long as you heed the above advice.
Pros – Naturally scent free, very absorbent, good for burrowing, both warm in winter and cool in summer
Cons – Allergies can happen in both humans and animals. If you notice itching or sneezing that isn’t to do with another health condition or parasites then change the bedding to see if this is the cause.
Paper Bedding – Fitch
I’ll split these up as they are two very different kinds of bedding. Fitch used to be very good when it was first spotted by hamster keepers. It was reasonably priced, soft and of very good quality.
However, these days it is very expensive and the quality is not as good. Fitch was the only contender for decent paper bedding on the market a couple of years ago.
Paper bedding is a very good alternative to shavings if you have small animals. If you want a small size of bedding pieces and are willing to pay for it then Fitch could still be an option for you. I note that Carefresh (not reviewed here as I’ve never used it myself) is a similar price and I’ve been told it is softer.
Pros – Of Fitch, it is mostly hypoallergenic and relatively dust free (packs may vary). The pieces are small enough for dwarf species. Absorbent
Cons – The price does not reflect the quality. Does not have the natural odour control of shavings for bigger species
Paper Bedding – Shredded Teabag Bedding
I have to note that I’m not getting a commission for any of this blog! Shredded teabag bedding is hands down the best alternative to shavings I’ve ever used. Some people say they do not like the long strands and I believe some companies do offer different kinds of cuts. I will review The Teabag Bedding Company as this is the only kind I have used so far.
Roborovski particularly enjoy tunneling through the long strands and I’ve found that not all the food immediately falls through to the bottom. For breeding, they seem to like using the strands for the nest, which my hamsters did not prefer to do with the Fitch.
It can be a bit tricky to extricate your hamster if it’s not cooperating but it’s not too difficult. Again, it’s not as good as shavings but it is the best alternative I’ve found so far.
Pros – Well priced, cosy, soft, holds tunnels well. Hypoallergenic and dust free. Somewhat absorbent
Cons – Lacks the natural odour control, long shreds not for everyone
Shredded and squared cardboard beddings are another alternative but more appropriate for your syrians than your dwarfs. Dwarfs can live on it happily but they just don’t get around or tunnel in it as well as with other, less bulky, bedding options. If you have a diabetic dwarf or a large species of rodent, you will find the cardboard tends to compact into a kind of papier mache at the corners. I found this with both Finacard and Eco Pet Bed (now just called cardboard squares) so I assume this would be a problem with other, similar, products.
Hypoallergenic compared to other beddings but interestingly not as dust free as you may think. Poorly stored cardboard bedding bales can also grow mould in the corrugations so do make sure your supplier hasn’t had the bales sitting around too long, and don’t store yours where it’s damp.
A note about hoovering…..if you want an easy to clean up bedding then don’t get cardboard. It’s large size means it’s a pain to hoover.
Pros – Mostly hypoallergenic, largely dust free, somewhat absorbent
Cons – Bulky, not suitable for very small or very old/frail hamsters
Natural/Plant Based Bedding
Chopped hemp, wheat and flax are becoming more popular for small animals. Aubiose and Flaxcore particularly. I have found this to be either too hard and sharp (Aubiose) or too fragile (Flaxcore) to be suitable for my pets. In addition, very early on, I became very allergic to Aubiose and couldn’t even open a bag without a lot of antihistamines. I’m very wary of using bedding that gives me very bad hayfever, given the hamsters are nose deep in it 24/7.
Very absorbent, I was also concerned that bits of bedding would end up stuck in eyeballs and up noses and sure enough it wasn’t long before a mouse had an unfortunate accident with Aubiose in it’s eye. This type of bedding should really stay for the horses in my opinion
Pros – Absordent, natural odour control
Cons – Can cause allergies, not dust free (despite claims), not comfortable
Other Bedding – Pellets
I have used wood and paper pellets for the long haired syrians in the past. Wood pellets just grind up into dust in my experience so this review will focus on paper pellets.
Somewhat absorbent, paper pellets are as uncomfortable underfoot as you might think. The biggest drawback, aside from making your cage weigh more when full is that the hamsters can’t burrow in it. Of course, your precious show syrian probably shouldn’t be burrowing into anything with that lovely long hair but I like a bedding that they can dig into and larger flake shavings pull out of a syrian coat just fine.
Pellets like Back To Nature don’t yet come in the nice big bales that we breeders like to buy in but the bags are an ideal size for a pet owner.
Pros – Somewhat absorbent, largely hypoallergenic, mostly dust free (bags can vary). Ideal for long haired syrian coats
Cons – Can be pricey, does not provide the opportunity for burrowing behaviour. Can be heavy
Other Bedding Not Mentioned Above
So I can’t possibly cover all your options. There is Megazorb, shredded egg box bedding, shredded newspaper bedding and more on the market. I have never used these and perhaps that’s a telling review in itself.
Carefresh and Kaytee Cozy is a different matter. The only reason I’ve never used these is the price and bag size. I’ve heard good things about them but I would refer to the sections on Fitch and Pellets for a comparison.
A Note on Hay and Straw
I haven’t included these above because I don’t believe they are a suitable substrate material on their own. Straw can be absorbent but hamsters do like to eat straw and hay so I offer this as a complimentary food as part of their balanced diet. I wouldn’t want them eating soiled food/bedding.
**I have not been paid to review any of the brands mentioned above. I include no links for this reason. All reviews are due to my own first hand experience