How Deep Should Hamster Bedding Be? (The Answer May Surprise You!)

By Dawn | Filed under:  Hamster Care

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When we first bought Richmond, our brown and white Syrian hamster, we had a ton of questions.

Even basic questions of how much bedding to put into your hamster cage can seem like a big dilemma. So how much do you need?

A depth of at least 6 inches of bedding is enough to put into the bottom of your hamster cage, to allow your hamster to burrow (not just dig). This will also enable your hamster to build piles of bedding without leaving empty spaces on the floor of the cage.

Oh and just to clear up any confusion, bedding (or substrate, as it is sometimes known), is basically the stuff that goes on the bottom of the cage to keep your hamster warm, comfortable and to keep the cage much cleaner.

I recently came across a study on the influence of bedding depth on behaviour in golden hamsters.

In the study, they found that cages with at least 40 cm of bedding (about 15 inches) seemed to enhance the welfare of golden hamsters.  

Interestingly, they also found that hamsters in 80 cm (about 31 inches) of bedding had more body fat compared to other groups of hamsters that they tested.

Personally, I think 6 inches is a good amount.  Hamsters can get a little scared when there isn’t enough shavings, but 6 inches will allow them to burrow and they will still have a lot of bedding above them.  

Generally speaking though, more is better as hamsters are extremely happy when they can dig around and build tunnels all night. 

Hamster In Wood Shavings

How much bedding do you need to buy?

So how much bedding do you need to buy to enable your hamster to burrow in 6 inches?

Well, it depends on the size of your cage of course, but let’s look at a simple example.

Let’s say your cage measures 24 inches in length and 12 inches in width and we want 6 inches of bedding, then that would be a bedding volume of 1,728 cubic inches (24 x 12 x 6).

Now given that there are 61.02374 cubic inches in a Liter, we simply need to divide 1,728 by 61.02374 to get the number of Liters of bedding that we need to buy, which is approximately 28 Liters.

To make this easier, I’ve created a table below to show how much bedding you need to buy according to some example cages.

CageCage Length (inches)Cage Width (inches)Bedding Depth (inches)Bedding Quantity (Litres)
Prevue Pet Products 528 Small Pets Cage (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned)32.519660.71
Niteangel Glass Tank for hamsters (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned)3618663.71
Living World Deluxe Habitat (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned)47236106.29

Can hamsters suffocate in bedding?

In the wild, hamsters dig burrows, which are basically a series of tunnels that they create to live and breed in.  

They also store food in their burrows and by living underground, it also helps to keep them cool in hot climates.  Burrows also offer them protection from their natural predators!

So should you be concerned that your hamster is going to suffocate in your 6 inches of bedding?  

Absolutely not.  Building deep burrows is what hamsters do naturally in the wild and so if your hamster really likes burrowing, then don’t worry.  

As long as the bedding that you use is clean and not in itself harmful to your hamster, then burrowing is totally healthy.

What can I use for hamster bedding?

There are many different types of hamster bedding commercially available, but unfortunately, they are not all safe to use in your hamster’s cage.

One of the safest types of bedding to use is Aspen wood shavings (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned).

Aspen is a type of wood that isn’t easily available in every country in the world.

But before thinking that your local pet shop doesn’t have any, it is always worth checking in the reptile section, as this is a product mostly sold towards reptiles.

Reptile Aspen is exactly the same as Rodent Aspen and it is absolutely safe to use either one of them with your hamster.

Another type of bedding that you can use with your hamster are paper based substrates.

The best brands that make this type of bedding are Carefresh (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned) and Fitch although these have been known to be a little on the expensive side.

Also, Fitch only seems to be available in the United Kingdom.

As a last resort, it is also safe to use wood pellets.

I say last resort because they’re not the cheapest substrate you can buy and they’re not exactly very comfy for your hamster.

But, if you can’t get hold of anything else, or you live in a country where safe substrates are hard to get hold of, then feel free to go and get some wood pellets.

Hamster bedding to avoid

Now let’s move on to some bedding that you should never use for your hamsters’ bedding.

Pine and Cedar wood shavings

These substrates are probably the most widely known and they are also widely available in pet shops.

Pine and Cedar wood shavings are known to be dangerous to almost all small animals and there are scientific studies to back this up.

This is due to the toxic phenols and acids that the woods contain.  The phenols are what you can smell in the wood shavings.

These woods are also commonly used for parasite repellants and also in some disinfectants.

If you give your hamster Pine and Cedar wood shavings for their bedding, they are breathing in these phenols all day long.  

The phenols get into their respiratory system and into their blood as well which can be hugely damaging.

The acidic fumes given off by these shavings are also very dangerous.

Again, if they are breathing them in, all day long, it can be very damaging to their respiratory system and can even destroy cells in the lungs and the trachea.

So these types of shavings and in fact any other shavings that don’t specify the type of wood used to make the shavings should be avoided.

Sawdust

Many people, including myself sometimes, refer to wood shavings as “sawdust”, but the two are not really the same.

You see, “sawdust” is a lot more fine grained and dusty.

For this reason, you really shouldn’t be using it for your hamster’s bedding, because again, they will be breathing in, what is basically wood dust, all day and will cause lots of damage to their respiratory system.

Corn Cob

Corn Cob substrate is an alternative plant-based substrate that many use in place of Pine or Cedar substrate because they see it as a safer alternative.

However, that isn’t the case.

Corn Cob is known to mould very quickly, especially when it gets damp, i.e. when your hamster is urinating on it.

When things mould, they produce more bacteria which can be harmful to your hamster.

Corn Cob has also been known to cause obesity in hamsters because they find it to be a very tasty snack, which they are surrounded by all day long, so they’re even more tempted to eat it.

It has also been speculated that Corn Cob has a higher chance of carrying insect and parasite eggs which are also harmful to your hamster.

So although Corn Cob is safer than Pine or Cedar wood shavings, you should definitely avoid Corn Cob as it can still be detrimental to your hamsters’ health.

How often to change hamster bedding

Once a week, we completely clean out our hamster’s cage.

This involves putting him in his playpen (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned) whilst we completely remove his old bedding, disinfect his cage and replace it with fresh clean bedding.

This is also inline with what the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) recommends in their Hamster Care Guide.

Sometimes however, the cage can get a bit smelly, so you might want to “spot clean” the cage every day or a couple of times a week. 

This involves cleaning spots of dirt that has built up around your hamsters’ food or toilet area.

Wrapping up

In this post, we’ve covered how much bedding or substrate to actually use in your hamsters’ cage and we’ve established that more is definitely better as hamsters like to burrow naturally in the wild.

Although your pet hamster will be a lot more domesticated than a wild hamster, it is a good idea to consider its natural environment.

In fact, if you can try to replicate a hamster’s natural environment as much as possible, your hamster will be a lot happier and ultimately healther.

Finally, we’ve looked at some of the materials that you should and shouldn’t use for your hamsters’ bedding and how often the bedding should be changed.