By Samantha Drake
We all know that a stinky pooch will occasionally require a bath—particularly after running around a muddy lawn—but what about our other, smaller pets? While they don’t get as dirty, your adorable hamster can get a bit unkempt from time to time, and his grooming needs require a slightly different routine than you’d expect. Find out details about if you should bathe your hamster and how to go about doing it (without any water required!), below.
Can You Give a Hamster a Bath?
Can you give your hamster a bath? The shorter answer is yes, you can bathe your hamster, but you probably shouldn’t except in certain circumstances.
“I don’t really see the need to ever give a hamster a bath,” said Dr. Francine Rattner, DVM, owner and medical director of South Arundel Veterinary Hospital in Edgewater, Maryland, which treats small pets including hamsters, guinea pigs and rabbits.
Or at least, not a traditional bath with water. Bathing your hamster using water is an “emergency-only situation,” according to Lauren Paul, technical director of North Star Rescue in California, which takes in all species of pet rodents and rabbits, including hamsters. Hamsters have no affinity for water and no interest in learning to swim, so being surrounded by even a few inches of the wet stuff is likely to agitate the hamster, possibly leading him to bite, Rattner said.
Some hamster owners complain that their pet needs a bath because he smells. Hamsters have scent glands on their flanks but their natural smell isn’t particularly strong, Rattner said, so a distinctive odor may be due to an illness, such as a tumor or an infection and should be checked out by a veterinarian.
A pungent smell could also be due to a dirty hamster habitat, Rattner said. Wet or dirty bedding should be removed from a hamster’s cage every day and the bedding changed once a week for a cage containing one hamster, she says. Another smelly ailment in hamsters is diarrhea, also known as “wet tail,” which can be fatal and must be treated immediately.
How to Bathe a Hamster
Hamsters stay clean by grooming themselves, but since they live in a cage with shredded paper and other materials for bedding, they can get particles and feces stuck in their fur from time to time. In these cases, Rattner advises wiping your hamster with a soft cloth sprayed with waterless shampoo for pets if there’s a spot the animal can’t clean on its own. Just be careful not to get the waterless shampoo near the hamster’s eyes or mouth.
Hamster owners who take the plunge and bathe a hamster with water—in the event that the hamster somehow gets into something sticky or toxic, for example—should take a few precautions. Rattner recommends using a shallow dish and using the least amount of water necessary, avoiding dropping them into any type of bowl or bucket of water. Once the hamster is clean, be sure to thoroughly but gently dry the animal with a soft towel before returning him to his cage. A treat after the watery ordeal probably wouldn’t hurt, either.
Hamsters can also take a sand or dust bath, which might be an unfamiliar concept to some pet parents but is well known by chinchilla owners. A regular bath in special sand or dust made especially for chinchillas is essential, as rolling around in the sand or dust absorbs oil and dirt from the chinchilla’s fur and will help keep it healthy. Chinchillas also seem to enjoy the experience.
Giving your hamster a bath with chinchilla sand might help him clean himself, too, Paul said, adding that some hamsters also seem to like playing in the sand so a sand bath could become an additional way to keep the hamster entertained and active. Sand baths are recommended over dust baths as dust baths have been shown to cause respiratory problems in some hamsters.