Do Hamsters Clean Themselves?

He’s cute, he’s furry …. But is he clean?

You want to pamper your hamster. Should soap, shampoo, and a tiny towel be on your shopping list ????? Some people worry that hamsters are dirty or smelly. How much intervention is needed to keep your hamster clean?

While cage cleaning will be on your to-do list, hamster cleaning need not be. So, do hamsters clean themselves? Yes, hamsters clean themselves without assistance from humans. Grooming is a regular part of hamster self-hygiene.

Just how clean are hamsters?

Hamsters are meticulous about grooming ????. Hamsters dedicate 20% of their day to grooming. So, no need to entice Hammie into the tub with treats. A healthy hamster needs no provocation to keep clean themselves! 

Cleanliness is important to them for a few reasons. Like humans (most of us anyways), hamsters don’t like to feel gross, but grooming is about more than just having soft, shiny fur. 

Further, hamsters need to groom in order to satisfy their territorial instincts. Their bodies produce natural oils which give off a scent perceived by other rodents. A hamster’s grooming routine redistributes these natural oils. 

You may notice your hamster grooming after they have been in new surroundings, even after you have handled them. This is the hamster’s way of removing your scent. 

Little tan hamster in a blue towel

What if my hamster starts to smell?

I often hear people complain about small animals having a bad odor. A foul odor emanating from a hamster can be a sign of trouble. So don’t assume hamsters are just ‘smelly.’

If you notice an odor coming from your hamster it should be a red flag. First, be sure to clean the hamster cage. Ideally, hamsters would prefer to keep bathroom, dining, and play areas separate. 

If a hamster is living in a small enclosure it will not take long for the combination of waste, food, and other debris to build up. The resulting smell is unpleasant for you, and your hamster.

On the other hand, if you’re vigilant about keeping your hamster’s cage clean and still notice a foul odor, this may be a sign of illness. Seek medical care immediately. It is possible your hamster may have an infection or injury. 

Female hamsters

A female hamster living in clean and well maintained enclosures who is otherwise healthy may periodically emit a musky odor when in heat. Note, this is not cause for alarm and while you may prefer to mask the scent by bathing your hamster, this can be dangerous. 

Bathing a hamster in water will strip away their natural oils, leaving them defenseless against illness. The odor will go away on its own as your hamster goes through her hormone cycles. 

Change in grooming habits: What to look for

If you notice your hamster grooming too much or too little, it can be a sign that something is wrong.

As hamsters age their ability to groom themselves may decrease. If an older hamster has begun to slack in the hygiene department you may need to intervene. Do not give your hamster a bath. However, if you are sure that lack of self cleaning is not related to any injury or illness, you may gently brush your hamster with a soft bristle toothbrush but avoid washing. 

A younger hamster who is not maintaining good hygiene may be suffering from injury or illness and should be taken to a veterinarian. 

You may wonder if there is such a thing as a hamster being too fastidious about self cleaning. Anxiety or skin problems might cause too much grooming. Excessive grooming should be checked out by a vet as well.

Before assuming your hamster is in distress, consider the circumstances in which you see them grooming. 

Has your hamster been handled recently? They may just be grooming to remove your scent (no offense).

Has the hamster been in new enclosures where their scent is covered by unfamiliar new smells? They may groom to return to their scent. 

If other causes have been ruled out, it is possible that your hamster is stressed. Try to identify the source of your hamster’s anxiety. Ensure your hamster has room to move and play as well as appropriate stimulation without overstimulation due to excess noise and chaos. 

Conclusion

Hamsters clean their bodies and living areas out of habit. Their natural tidiness doesn’t require intervention from you in most cases. 

If your hamster is not grooming normally or has become disheveled, rule out injury or illness with the help of your veterinarian. 

Avoid directly intervening and bathing your hamster. This is normally not necessary and can be harmful. A healthy, happy hamster is naturally going to be a clean hamster.

References

PetMD – How to Give Your Hamster a Bath

Omlet – Hamster Hygiene