As summer comes to an end and the chillier autumn and winter winds pick up, now is a good time to start thinking about your hamster’s bedding and whether you are enacting the right measures to ensure that your little furry friend is safe, healthy, and comfortable throughout the colder months.
Or maybe you’ve just brought home a hamster, and you’re looking at what type of bedding to choose for the very first time. In either case, choosing the right type of bedding and taking additional actions to ensure your hamster is warm is a necessary part of being a good hamster owner.
Understanding Your Hamster and Their Preferred Comfort Set-Up
There are three distinct species of hamsters that people keep as pets: Syrian, Chinese, and Dwarf. From these species, there are dozens of breeds or varieties of hamsters.
Similar to dogs, people have bred hamsters in order to bring out certain traits, most notably for hair length, color varieties, and coat patterns. However, what just about every variety of hamster has in common is that they require a very specific warm temperature to stay healthy, and that temperature is 65 to 75 degrees.
The very few exceptions, such as the Dwarf hamster variety of winter whites, can thrive in temperatures slightly cooler, with a preferred range of 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Keeping your hamster warm isn’t just about keeping them comfortable. It’s about ensuring they stay healthy and thrive. Hamsters that are kept in temperatures too cold can develop a fatal case of pneumonia, or it can even trigger a false hibernation.
While hibernation is a normal part of hamster lives in the wild, it can be fatal for older hamsters (and hamsters do live a lot longer in captivity).
This is because during hibernation, a hamster’s heart slows down, and it may slow down so much that an older hamster will not be able to kick it back to normal and will instead die in their sleep.
On the opposite end, a hamster that is kept in an enclosure too hot is at risk for a heatstroke that can also prove deadly.
How to Keep Your Hamster Warm With Bedding & Other Items
So, even with those slightly more cold-tolerant varieties in mind, the ideal temperature your hamster’s enclosure should be at is about 70 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.
How do you do that?
By following these key tips:
Never Put a Cage Near a Window or Ventilation Source
You should never, ever put a hamster or other small animal cage near a window. This is because of how much heat transfer occurs at a window. During the summer, a sun-facing window can cause a cage to really heat up to a temperature that is beyond safe for a hamster.
However, the real problem with putting a hamster cage or other type of enclosure near a window is the drafts.
Even extremely efficient windows that are well-sealed and insulated can have a problem with the glass itself, absorbing the heat exchange, becoming colder, and that cold can transfer to nearby spaces like an adjacent hamster cage.
Ventilation items such as the vents that blow out the cooled and heated air from your central HVAC unit cause temperature irregularities and are likewise bad for your hamster’s health.
While such units are designed to balance and create a normalized temperature, that process of blowing hot or cool air causes too much of a temperature change for your hamster’s delicate body. So avoid ever putting a hamster enclosure in the pathway of such ventilation.
Choosing Good Bedding to Keep Your Hamster Warm
First off, bedding absolutely helps to keep your hamster warm as well as comfortable — but did you know that there are two types of bedding you need to provide for your hamster? Those two types of bedding are:
- Floor bedding. Floor bedding is the type of bedding material that you put on the very floor of your hamster’s cage. Floor bedding is primarily used for odor control, as well as soaking up urine and any water spillage. However, it does also have the secondary benefit of being a manner in which a hamster can keep warm if you put in a sufficient amount of floor bedding for a hamster to burrow in.
- Nesting bedding. Hamsters are borrowers and do not like to simply plop down and sleep just anywhere. Rather, they like to have a tiny sleeping house in which they can burrow and arrange a safe sleeping space. Hamsters, like many animals, will avoid soiling their nesting area and so you can use more permanent materials here, such as strips of cotton towel.
In order to keep your hamster warm throughout the winter, you should consider adding more of each type of bedding as while hamsters will sleep in their nest.
They do also enjoy burrowing and digging in their floor covering. Extra floor covering during winter also offers your hamster the opportunity to pull materials over to their next to increase its warmth as they desire.
Furthermore, no matter what type of bedding material you choose for either or both types of bedding, you should also consider layering the underside of the entirety of your hamster’s enclosure with a thick blanket.
Make sure to use a blanket that you don’t normally use as it will need to be laundered once a week or so to clean it from any spillover soiling and crushed bedding.
This underlying blanket will help keep your hamster warm in two important ways. First, it will help insulate the bottom of the enclosure to prevent the coldness of your desk or other tablelike structure from making the bedding cooler, and secondly, it will help trap the heat that’s within the bedding itself to ensure that bedding is warm and stays warm.
While such an insulative blanket won’t be enough alone to keep your hamster warm during chilly days, it will certainly provide a key assistive role.
What Type of Bedding to Choose to Keep Your Hamster Warm
- Wood shavings. Wood shavings are, without a doubt, the most popular and most common type of floor covering bedding that’s available. When shopping for wood shavings for your hamster, you’ll find a variety that will range in price and recommendation. Aspen shavings are widely considered the best choice due to their being highly absorbent and offering a nice natural scent. The most common bedding material used in pet stores in pine shavings, but pine shavings have become controversial in recent years, with research ongoing on whether there is a health risk with their use.
- Wood and recycled newspaper pellets. Pellets are a great floor covering material as they don’t scatter as easily as shavings, won’t get entangled in the hairs of longer-haired hamsters, and (at least with some companies) are more absorbent than shavings. It is also widely considered safe to use any type of wood pellet, including pine wood pellets, so long as they are listed as being heat treated.
- Commercially-made bedding. Brands like Carefresh have products that are comprised of commercially-manufactured materials like cellulose fiber. These types of hamster bedding materials have been specifically engineered to absorb more waste and water materials and are still incredibly safe to use. However, these types of commercially-manufactured bedding tend to be significantly more expensive, and that can make them something to avoid — especially during winter when you will need to use more than normal to keep your hamster warm.
- Hay. While hay can be used as a type of floor covering for hamsters, it is best reserved for use solely as nesting material. This is because hay can be easily scattered, losing its warm properties when not confined to a specific location, such as within a nesting box. Hay is incredibly soft and comfortable and allows good ventilation, making it both an ideal choice in the summer and the winter for your hamster’s nest. However, there are some things to be aware of before you get hay. First, never use hay that is collected from outside or otherwise is bought from a non-pet-specific store. This is because hay that is collected as such may contain mites or come in with mold spores — both of which can be devastating to your pet’s health. Likewise, because hay is prone to molding, keep it as far as possible from your hamster’s water dish and be sure to change regularly.
- Timothy hay or dried grass. Timothy hay and similar commercially gathered and packaged dried grass materials are another great choice for use as nesting bedding. However, as with the hay, it is important not to use it as a floor covering material, or at least not as your primary floor covering. That’s because timothy hay and similar dried grass materials aren’t great at absorbing waste or offering prime odor control, so you’ll always want to use another type of bedding material underneath it. That said, it is incredibly soft and easy for your hamster to burrow in so they can stay warm throughout winter.