Whether you’re a new hamster owner looking for the best hamster bedding or you’ve owned a hamster for a while, but you’re trying to find something better than what you’re currently using, you’re in the right place.
For such small creatures, hamsters seem to pee a lot. They also hide food around their cage. It’s cute, but just like pee, it can make the cage smelly, moist and unhygienic. Because of all this, bedding has a big role in keeping the cage clean.
Sadly, although marketed and sold as hamster-friendly, many of those alternatives are potentially dangerous.
- Dr. Ivana Crnec, DVM
And it’s not just about having a clean and smell-free cage. Hamsters have a natural instinct to burrow, and they need soft and comfortable bedding for doing it. They also nibble on things around them, so the bedding needs to be safe.
Seems complicated? Not at all when you have the right products. These are the best hamster bedding options out there – tested by hammy owners, vet-approved, safe, smell resistant, and highly absorbent.
And if you want to learn more about hamster bedding, scroll down to our detailed buyer’s guide. Let’s get started.
Best Bedding for Hamsters – Quick Guide & Top 3
When looking for the ultimate hamster bedding, these are the essential factors to consider:
- Soft, comfortable, and suitable for burrowing
- Highly absorbent and controls odors
- Safe and low dust
The most popular types of hamster bedding are paper bedding and aspen shavings. Paper bedding is often preferred because it’s highly absorbent and soft; however, using aspen is a more natural approach and safer for hamsters that try to eat paper bedding.
Mixing aspen and paper bedding is popular too because it combines the best of both types: aspen gives the bedding some structure that helps to burrow, while paper bedding keeps it soft, fluffy, and absorbent.
Now, let’s have a look at the best options for hamster bedding.
Best Paper Bedding for Hamsters
1. Carefresh Small Pet Bedding – Best Absorbency
- Made of all-natural paper fiber
- Soft and excellent for burrowing
- Twice as absorbent as wood shavings
- 10-day odor control
- 99% dust-free
- Biodegradable and compostable
- No chemicals or synthetic dyes
This Carefresh paper bedding is incredibly popular among hamster owners because it’s highly absorbent to keep the cage dry and prevent any respiratory issues caused by ammonia. It’s made of all-natural paper fiber and two times as absorbent as aspen bedding.
The bedding has great odor control for up to 10 days, and it keeps the cage smelling decent pretty long with just some spot cleaning. However, you need to remember that changing the bedding is important even if the cage doesn’t smell because bacteria builds up and is not healthy for your pet.
Carefresh paper bedding is safe for your hamster because it’s 99.9% dust-free to avoid any respiratory issues and doesn’t contain any harmful chemicals or dyes. Paper bedding is generally safe with hamsters, although if your hamster likes to eat it, you should change to aspen to avoid possible blockages in the intestinal tract.
This product is biodegradable and compostable, so when changing the bedding or doing spot cleaning, you can recycle or compost it.
+ Natural materials with no harmful chemicals or dyes
+ Soft and fluffy for hamster’s that enjoy burrowing
+ Highly absorbent and keeps the cage dry
+ Good odor control
+ Low in dust to prevent respiratory problems
- It can be even too soft for hammies that love to dig tunnels (mixing with aspen helps)
2. Kaytee Clean & Cozy White Small Animal Pet Bedding – Best Odor Control
Incredibly soft texture to allow burrowing, excellent absorbency, and odor control. See the latest price here.
- Package 250 cu in
- Expands to 750 cu in
- 2 times absorbent as aspen shavings
- Absorbs 6 times its weight in liquid
- Soft, fluffy, and light texture
- 9% dust-free
- Odor-control guarantee
This paper bedding from Kaytee is another popular choice for bedding among hamster owners. The bedding comes in a compact package and triples its volume when opened.
The texture is very soft and fluffy, so it's an especially good burrowing material for small dwarf hamsters that enjoy the lightweight bedding. If you feel the bedding is even too fluffy, mixing paper bedding with aspen will keep the bedding fluffy and light while providing some texture for tunnels.
Many hamster owners feel Kaytee paper bedding is not as absorbent as Carefresh, but it does absorb 6 times its weight in liquid and is twice as absorbent as wood shavings.
It also keeps the urine smell very well and is 99.9% dust-free to protect your hamster from ammonia build-up and dust, which both cause respiratory problems.
+ Super soft and comfortable texture
+ Fluffy and lightweight for burrowing
+ Absorbs moisture and controls urine smell
+ Very low-dust to prevent respiratory issues
- Not quite as absorbent as CareFresh bedding
Best Aspen Bedding for Hamsters
3. Small Pet Select Aspen Bedding – Top Choice
All-natural and safe aspen shavings with good moisture and odor control. Read what hamster owners say.
- All-natural aspen bedding
- Made of kiln-dried shaved wood
- 0 cubic feet useable volume
- Recyclable and compostable
- 99% dust-free
This Small Select Aspen Bedding the top choice if you're looking to use aspen bedding for your hammy or mixing it with some paper bedding.
It's light enough to enable burrowing, although dwarf hamsters especially might appreciate adding some paper bedding to fluff it up. The texture is soft and comfortable, and being absorbent, it keeps the cage dry and contains urine smells pretty well.
The bedding is all-natural aspen shavings and 99% dust-free, so it's safe for your hamster and helps avoid respiratory issues caused by dust or ammonia.
+ Safe for hamsters
+ All-natural shaved aspen
+ Good absorbency to keep the cage dry
+ Contains smells efficiently
+ Can be composted
+ Usually low-dust
- Some batches can contain more dust than others
Buyer's Guide -
7 Things to Consider When Choosing Hamster Bedding
With so many available bedding choices, getting lost and confused is easy. To avoid such problems, we will explain which factors are worth considering when choosing the right bedding for your hamster. The following factors can be used as quality indicators.
Safety is factor number one. The ideal hamster bedding must be safe. This is particularly important since hamsters tend to nibble on literally everything that is inside their enclosure. Therefore, the bedding must be safe even if ingested or inhaled.
It is vital to stick to the choices you are 100% sure are safe.
Your hamster will live and perform all daily activities on and within the bedding material. That is why the bedding must be comfortable – for burrowing, stepping, and sleeping.
3. Odor control
Odor control is a feature you need to evaluate thoroughly. Nobody wants to live in a smelly and stinky environment. Not to mention that breathing evaporated urine can be hazardous for the hamster's overall health and wellbeing.
Also, you'll probably not want the habitat smelling like urine and spreading nasty odors in your home.
Some bedding materials can be dusty. Dust is a health concern because it may cause respiratory issues and trigger allergies. If using a dusty bedding material, it is advisable to get rid of the dust before placing the bedding inside the enclosure.
Scented bedding may seem like a practical option, but the added scent chemicals are not safe for hamsters. Same as the dust, they can trigger respiratory issues and allergies.
There is no point in getting a hamster bedding option that can be found in only one store or through a specific retailer. Bedding is something your hamster will always need, so it is more practical to go for a readily available option.
7. Price tag
Hamsters need frequent bedding changes and cleaning. Therefore, although most bedding alternatives are reasonably priced, you will have to buy them on a regular basis which adds to the expenses.
Finding hamster bedding that is fairly priced (for long-term use) yet of high-quality (safe and comfortable) can be a bit challenging.
Safe Hamster Bedding Alternatives
Now that you know which features are worth consideration, we should review several popular and safe hamster bedding alternatives. All options mentioned are easily available and suitable for long-term use.
Aspen is the only wood-based bedding material that is safe for hamsters.
Aspen shavings are an excellent bedding choice in terms of odor control, absorbability, and affordability.
The only drawback of aspen bedding is that it tends to stick on the hamster's fur. However, this issue is worth mentioning only in long-haired Syrian hamsters, but it is not a dangerous issue, only an esthetic one.
If using aspen bedding, it is advisable to combine it with paper-based bedding. For example, you can cover one half of the enclosure with aspen and the other with paper bedding.
We should note that the aspen shavings should not be too small or powder-like – sawdust is a no-no.
Vet's Tip! As a precaution measure, you can freeze the aspen material for 48 hours and then let it thaw before pouring it into the enclosure. The freezing method is quite beneficial for killing the mites and parasites that might live in this type of wood product.
Paper is a trendy bedding choice for hamsters because it is available in different colors (pink, blue, green, purple) that improve the overall esthetics of the cage.
However, esthetics is not the only reason many hamster parents choose paper bedding. Paper offers high absorbability, and it easy to use. It is a bit more expensive than aspen, but quality usually comes at a higher price.
Vet Tip! Always opt for non-scented paper bedding versions. Although marketed for rodents use, scented alternatives are troublesome and likely to cause respiratory irritations and allergies.
This is not a joke – the simple, old-fashioned toilet paper is a suitable bedding alternative for hamsters. Toilet paper is safe, readily available, and budget-friendly bedding.
However, there is one caveat – it does not ensure satisfactory odor control. Therefore, if using toilet paper, you will have to change the bedding very frequently.
Paper pellets are safe and practical choice but only if used as supplementary bedding. Paper pellets should not be used as the main bedding because they are too soft and do not support burrowing.
Paper pellets can be used in combination with either paper beddings or aspen beddings.
From a nutritional point of view, hay is not a vital part of the hamster's menu—however, most hamsters like nibbling on hay, thus making it a safe bedding choice.
Vet's Tip! Ensure all strands are soft, paw-friendly, and non-abrasive. If using soft hay, keep in mind that it needs to be combined with other bedding materials.
Materials That Should Not Be Used as Hamster Bedding
Now that we have covered the safe hamster bedding alternatives and explained their main features, we should say a word or two about the materials that need to be avoided.
It is paramount to know which materials are not safe for hamsters because, sadly, many manufacturers advertise them as rodent-friendly.
Pine and cedar shavings
Pine and cedar shavings are dangerous for both you and your hamster. These softwoods are rich in aromatic phenols and toxic acids, which, if inhaled, can lead to respiratory irritations (lung and windpipe damage) and allergies. [1.]
In theory, the heat treatment (kiln-drying) softwood shavings go through should remove these toxins. However, practical evidence suggests otherwise – heat cannot remove or deactivate all toxins.
There is a popular misconception that corncobs are a safe bedding option for hamsters. Corncobs are particularly dangerous because of several reasons.
First of all, they mold easily, and eating molded foods can have long-term effects on the hamster's health. Even if not molded, they pose a health hazard – corncobs are likely to cause impaction.
Secondly, they are very dusty, and hamsters are prone to upper respiratory tract infections and allergies.
Finally, corncobs are particularly uncomfortable to walk on and can cause cuts and damages to the hamster's sensitive paws.
Clumping cat litter
Cat litter is a practical and powerful odor-control option. However, you should not use it for hamsters because of two main reasons.
First, the clumping agent can stimulate clumping inside the hamster's belly and intestines, thus causing a life-threatening situation. Secondly, cat litter is not designed for continuous use and cannot be classified as a paw-friendly option.
Because of the excellent absorbing and odor-controlling properties, you can use a non-clumping (wood or paper-based) cat litter to cover the cage base and then scatter a thick layer of some other softer and more comfortable bedding material.
Floss or cotton bedding
Although marketed for hamster use, floss is definitely something you want to keep as far as possible from your hamster's cage. Namely, floss is not something hamsters can digest, which means it poses an impaction risk.
Impaction is a life-threatening condition that warrants immediate veterinary attention. The most common clinical signs indicating impaction are abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and discoloration of the abdominal skin.
Additionally, floss can easily tangle around the hamster's legs and cause injury or, worst-case scenario, around its neck and trigger choking.
Shredded newspapers and magazines
This may seem like a budget-friendly and practical choice, but it can be dangerous. The accent is put on the word can. Namely, the ink most papers use is toxic to rodents.
However, some papers use soy-based inks, which are safe. Since you cannot know what type of ink the paper you buy uses, it is best advised to avoid this bedding alternative.
Do Hamsters Need Bedding?
Yes, hamsters need bedding in their cages. Basically, by providing your hamster with bedding, you are replicating its natural habitat. Hamsters are burrowers and like to dig cozy nests for themselves. The bedding enables this instinctive habit and makes them feel happy, safe, and relaxed.
The bedding is paw-friendly and will keep the hamster from slipping the plastic.
Enabling burrowing is not the only benefit from the bedding. Namely, bedding is suitable for thermoregulation. In the summer, when it is hot, burrowing under the bedding will keep hamsters cool, and in winter, it will keep them warm.
Additionally, the bedding is excellent for absorbing and covering the hamster's pee and poop. It will absorb these waste products and prevent fluid pooling within the enclosure.
Last but not least, it is much more comfortable to step and lay on comfortable bedding than the bare cage's bottom. The bedding is paw-friendly and will keep the hamster from slipping the plastic.
Alternatively, instead of classical bedding scattered through the enclosure, you can provide a digging box and fill it with bedding material or old cloth scraps. However, covering the cage's bottom with bedding is a much better option.
How Much Bedding Do Hamsters Need?
Just covering the enclosure's floor with bedding material is not enough. The amount of bedding should be enough to allow your hamster to dig and build piles without leaving empty areas on the floor.
The ideal bedding material depth for hamsters is between 2 and 3 inches.
The reason for bedding is to allow burrowing, ensure comfort, and promote temperature regulation. The bedding can fulfill neither one of these roles unless used sparingly.
The ideal bedding material depth for hamsters is between 2 and 3 inches.
A recent study showed that Syrian hamsters living in cages with particularly thick bedding layers show lower wire-gnawing tendencies and spend more time working out in their running wheels. [2.]
It is advisable to dedicate one area of the enclosure for digging. In this so-called digging zone, the bedding layer should be particularly deep or, better said, extra high. In simple words, you should create a mountain of bedding material in one corner of the enclosure.
How Often Should You Change Hamster Bedding?
Hamsters spend their entire time inside the enclosure, and they are particularly strict when it comes to hygiene. Living and spending time in an unpleasant and dirty environment is distressing. Plus, dirty bedding is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria, increasing the risk of infection and disease spreading.
When it comes to bedding change, there are two common mistakes.
When it comes to bedding change, there are two common mistakes. The first mistake is cleaning or removing only wet spots over changing the bedding in the entire cage. This approach is quite risky as it is impossible to remove all dirty areas.
Additionally, hamsters are notorious for their food burrowing tendencies, meaning by not checking the entire cage, you risk having your hamster nibble on urine-soaked food chunks.
However, you should never replace the entire bedding at once. Hamsters can become stressed if placed back in a cage that does not have any familiar smells. You already destroyed all their hides for food, so you should leave at least something that hasn't changed. That something is 1/3 of the bedding. Always take some of the bedding that isn't wet or dirty, and mix it with the new bedding to give the habitat that homely smell your hamster will appreciate.
The second mistake is setting a fixed changing schedule. Just because it usually takes one week for the bedding to become damp and smelly, it does not mean that it will always take that long. It would be best if you modified the changing frequency based on actual needs, not schedules.
Summing Up – Good Bedding for Hamsters
The modern pet market offers many bedding alternatives for hamsters. Sadly, although marketed and sold as hamster-friendly, many of those alternatives are potentially dangerous.
Therefore, it is vital to stick to the choices you are 100% sure are safe. The two most popular safe bedding choices for hamsters are aspen and paper.
You can easily find both options in every pet store. They are highly absorbent, ensure high-quality odor control, and are reasonably priced. Last but not least, they are straightforward to use and support your hamster's burrowing inclination.
Regardless of which safe bedding alternative you choose, the critical factor is regular cleaning. As a devoted hamster parent keeping the cage hygiene on a satisfactory level is a number one priority.
Generally speaking, spot cleaning should not be the only cleaning method. However, it is a good idea to change the bedding about once a week and practice spot cleaning daily.
In such cases, it is more practical to use white-colored bedding (makes the dirty spots easily visible). And if you want to improve the esthetics and add some colors, you can use shredded napkins.
- Dr. Ivana Crnec, DVM
Ivana Crnec is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine specialized in domestic carnivores. She graduated from the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia. Ivana is a certified canine nutritionist and also certified in HAACP food safety system implementation. She currently works as a veterinarian while completing her postgraduate studies. Her research has been published in international journals.
NOTE: Advice provided within this article by FeedingMyPet.com is not a substitute for veterinary advice. Please discuss your hamster's specific dietary needs (based on his breed, weight, age, and health status) with a veterinarian.