You might be forgiven for thinking that all of the hamster products for sale in your local pet store are safe to use with your hamster.
Unfortunately, however, this is not always the case.
Some of the products you see may not cause any immediate issues for your hamster, but long-term they can be fatal.
Some of the products that are for sale however are downright dangerous and can have an immediate negative effect on your hamster health.
So without further ado let’s have a look at some products that you need to be aware of, so that you don’t accidentally buy something that can put your hamster in harm’s way.
I’ll also list out some safe alternatives that you can use for peace of mind.
First up is hamster bedding, or substrate as it is sometimes known.
You might think that hamster bedding is harmless but there are some specific types of bedding that you definitely want to avoid. Here they are:
Pine and Cedar bedding
Pine and Cedar bedding is the most common bedding that you will see in pet stores.
Many hamster owners, including myself once, use this type of bedding in their cages because not only is it cheap but it smells nice too.
The problem is pine and Cedar bedding contains naturally produced chemicals which are harmful to small animals.
Cedar trees produce a natural chemical which is designed to protect the tree and from being eaten by insects or being infested with fungus.
Plicatic acid is one such chemical and has been demonstrated to destroy cells within the body.
Not only is Cedar harmful to small animals but it is hazardous for humans too. Western red cedar dust in particular has been known to cause asthma.
Pine is also a dangerous wood to use in your hamster cage and although it is often said that pine isn’t quite as bad as cedar, it does contain similar toxins and chemicals.
Pine contains Abietic acid which can irritate the skin and can have negative effects on the respiratory system.
Kiln-dried pine shavings
One common belief around pine is that if the pine is dried in a kiln then that removes the toxic substances found inside the wood making it safe to use for your hamster bedding.
However, after doing some research, I have found this is not necessarily the case.
The purpose of kiln drying wood is to remove the water rather than the phenols or the acid inside it.
To stand a chance of removing the acid out of the wood it would have to be heated to at least 282F which would allow the acid to ooze out.
The problem with this of course, is that the wood is porous and the liquid will soak back into the wood like a sponge.
Kiln-drying also tends to be done at lower temperatures to prevent damage to the wood.
Therefore it is highly unlikely that kiln-drying pine will remove any dangerous and toxic chemicals from within the wood.
Therefore the only thing that I can advise is that kiln-dried pine may be slightly safer than regular pine, but we do not know the full implications of using it in hamster bedding.
So, air on the side of caution and avoid using it, especially if other bedding types are available.
Another type of bedding that you’ll find in pet shops is corn cob.
The problem with corn cob is that it can easily go mouldy, especially when it gets damp, which will happen all the time when your hamster urinates on it .
This can be harmful if ingested by your hamster because the mould produces bacteria.
Corn cob bedding has also been known to cause obesity in hamsters because it is edible and they enjoy eating it.
It’s a bit like being the cupboards in your house being filled with chocolate – personally I wouldn’t be able to resist eating it all the time!
Always use wood shavings for your hamster bedding or substrate – not sawdust. Saw dust is too fine and can get stuck in your hamster eyes.
It has also been known to cause skin irritations and respiratory problems for small animals.
This type of material is often sold as cosy nesting material but it is very dangerous for your hamster despite being sold in a lot of pet stores.
This type of material is made of cotton and has long strands of fibre which can easily get caught and get tangled around your hamster limbs.
The cotton can also cut off circulation and can potentially get stuck around your hamster’s teeth, especially when they are putting it into their pouches to take it to their nesting area.
If your hamster accidentally swallows this material, it can cause blockages in the intestines or the stomach because cotton isn’t digestible at all.
If you’re still not convinced that this is a dangerous material check out this thread on the Hamster Central forum where one guy reported that cotton wool bedding got wrapped around his hamster leg and pulled it out of joint. Sadly, the hamster was found to have died as a result the following morning.
A safer option here would be to use toilet paper which is very safe to use in your hamster cage because if it is accidentally swallowed, then it won’t matter because it is fully digestible and will simply come out the other end.
We personally use toilet paper for our hamster’s nesting area and he loves it because he can get really warm and snuggly. We have also seen him stuff the toilet paper into his cheeks and take it to his bedding area.
If he accidentally swallows some in the process, it isn’t of any concern.
Soft wood shavings
Softwood is a term used to describe the wood from a conifer which includes pine and cedar.
Anything that is labelled as a softwood is not safe to use for your hamster’s bedding. Instead you should opt for hardwoods such as aspen.
Sometimes you’ll find bags of wood shavings that don’t specify the type of wood used.
In fact I’ve seen these for sale on Amazon and if you come across them, don’t use them for your hamster’s bedding.
They are not considered to be safe because it’s not possible to determine what type of woods have been used to create the shavings.
Bags of aspen, like this Aspen Bedding on Amazon (#CommissionsEarned), for example, are always clearly labelled. But if you get a bag of unlabelled shavings, then chances are it is likely to contain pine or cedar.
Sometimes you’ll find that companies, such as Kaytee, make scented versions of their bedding.
This type of bedding may smell nice to us, but remember, your hamster has an extreme sense of smell and is going to be close to this bedding all the time.
As a result, it will be too strong and overpowering for your hamster and will almost be like living in a perfume factory for your hamster.
Scented bedding doesn’t provide any benefits whatsoever to your hamster and can cause problems for their respiratory system and is a risk to your hamster’s health.
Generally it is said that cat litter is very dangerous for rodents but there are a few exceptions, and I’ll come to those soon.
The reason being is that hamsters generally swallow a bit of their bedding or substrate and cat litter tends to clump together when it gets moist.
So you can imagine what could go wrong here.
These hard, solid clumps of cat litter could either get stuck in their pouches or stuck in their throat causing them to suffocate.
If that doesn’t happen then there’s a chance that it could clump together in your hamster stomach or intestines which can cause anything from a lack of appetite and bloating though to preventing your hamster from bedding able to pass feces, which can be deadly for your hamster.
Not all cat litter is unsafe for your hamster however.
Cat litter that is biodegradable and breaks down is safe for your hamster. You just need to avoid cat litter that clumps together.
The two types of cat litter that are safe for your hamster are wood pellet cat litters and paper based cat litters.
Toys that are glued together
Hamster toys are often glued to hold them together. The problem with this is that your hamster may nibble at it and swallow it, which can be very harmful to them.
So unless you’re keeping a very close eye on your hamster when they’re nibbling at their new toy, then personally I would not take the risk of giving it to your hamster and leaving it in their cage.
These types of wheels are especially dangerous for hamsters.
They are made out of metal and have rungs on them to help the hamster spin around on their wheel.
The problem is that there are gaps in between each of the rungs and it is common for hamsters to get their limbs caught in these openings which can potentially result in a broken leg.
It is also possible for your hamster’s nails to get caught and ripped off, especially if they’re exercising on their wheel at speed.
It is also possible that your hamster may get cuts on their paws which can lead to her condition known as bumblefoot which is a bacteria infection which can occur in the feet of rodents and birds.
A safer option would be to use a wheel that has a solid running surface such as the Silent Runner (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned) (not to be confused with the Silent Spinner).
I can’t believe I’m writing about this but hamster leashes are actually a thing.
I think it goes without saying that hamster’s should definitely not be on leash, they’re nothing like dogs, so do not be tempted to do this.
Hamsters are extremely fragile creatures and if you were to yank the leash the hamster could easily choke or at the very least get injured.
If you want to let your hamster roam about freely, then consider letting your hamster loose in a safe room or getting a playpen, which is what I use and in my opinion, a much better option.
What I would say however is that, depending on the type of playpen you buy, you do have to watch your hamster to make sure that they don’t escape.
We bought a similar playpen to this play pen on Amazon (#CommissionsEarned). Whilst this is a good product, Richmond does have a habit of trying to climb out of it by climbing up the sides (which I’m sure he would succeed at if left to his own devices!).
Hamster balls are controversial and you either agree with them or you don’t. Personally I’m opposed to them and here are my reasons why:
- First of all I think it’s cruel to force your hamster into a ball to do some exercise.
- Your hamster can’t stop to get through the water as and when required.
- Your hamster is combined to a small place which has poor ventilation, and even if you get a ball with bigger ventilation holes, your hamster feet can get stuck in them.
- Your hamster can potentially escape as it is relatively easy for them to open the lid of the ball.
- Your hamster doesn’t have the freedom to leave the ball when they choose.
- If your hamster ball crashes into a wall or another obstacle that can frighten your hamster and they will want to try and escape. As a result, your hamster will panic and run in an attempt to take cover.
- The hamster ball itself will distort your hamster’s vision. Hamsters don’t have fantastic eyesite and the ball will further inhibit their ability to see.
- If your hamster happens to poop in the ball they will get covered in their own excrement, which, unlike a wheel, the excrement can’t fall out.
- Most hamster balls aren’t very wide in terms of diameter which can cause your hamster back to be arched when they’re trying to run. Dwarf hamsters need at least an 8-in diameter ball and Syrians need at least a 10-inch ball to be able to run to help keep their backs straight.
So I would really advise against getting a hamster ball. It’s much better to use a playpen or a safe room; that way you will be able to interact and bond with your hamster, which isn’t possible with a hamster ball.
Wet tail drops
Wet tail drops are often sold in pet stores as a way to treat wet tail (a disease in young hamsters most often caused by stress).
The problem with these drops is that they don’t cure it, rather they hide the symptoms such as diarrhoea, lack of appetite, lethargic or walking with a hunchback.
If you suspect that your hamster has wet tail disease then you need to get them to a vet ASAP.
Curing wet tail in hamsters is possible but only by giving them antibiotics. If you do not do this your hamster can die.
Despite their small size, hamsters need a lot of space to run around. In the wild they can cover many miles foraging for food.
Despite this, you will often see small cages for sale in pet stores.
Often these cages are brightly coloured, have lots of accessories on them and they’re often bought as toys by parents for their children.
One such example of small cages are crittertrail cages.
These are way too small for hamsters and should only ever be used to transport your hamster to a vet. Hamsters need at least 450 sq in of floor space as a minimum.
Even this is considered too small for a hamster.
Hamster tubes often come with a hamster cage and are fun for your hamster to roam around in.
Hamster tubes are fine when your hamster is young but when they get older and a little bigger, your hamster can easily get stuck in these tubes.
This is especially the case with Syrian hamsters which can grow up to 6 inches in length.
Another way hamsters can get stuck in tubes is when they fill their cheek pouches with food. This can potentially cause them to suffocate.
If you do want to use hamster tubes, I would consider getting a Habitrail Ovo Pet Habitat tube from Amazon (#CommissionsEarned) which is considered safe. You could also get some 3 inch plumbing tubing from a hardware store if you like DIY.
When giving your hamster a sand bath you have two options. You can use either children’s play sand or you can use chinchilla sand from your local pet store.
Alternatively, I recommend this chinchilla bath sand (#CommissionsEarned) from Amazon.
However you must never use chinchilla dust as this can cause respiratory problems for your hamster.
In this blog, we’ve looked at several products which are not only unsafe but some of them can be downright dangerous for your hamster.
But don’t worry, if you have happened to use some of these products (I know I have), then just discontinue their use and opt for the alternatives that I’ve mentioned.
And finally, as the saying goes, “when in doubt, leave it out”!