Choosing the right bedding to go inside hamster cages is a sometimes a life or death decision! Your hamster is in constant contact with the materials, so these need to be non-toxic and contain nothing remotely abrasive or sharp. This article gives tips for what to use in the cage, what not to use, and how to tidy and clean the cage contents. This should give you a guide for shopping for your hamster and appropriate daily and weekly cleaning duties.
What To Put in
Hamsters chew all sorts of things and the lining of their cheeks (their little pouches) is a delicate membrane that is easily injured. They also have delicate eyes, skin and gastro-intestinal systems, so never introduce any type of bedding that is potentially toxic, abrasive or in any way could develop into a sharp piece, no matter how small. You can try putting a clean layer of sawdust on the floor of the cage (1, 5) and clean white kitchen paper for bedding (1, 5). Or use timothy hay, aspen shavings, shredded paper, pelleted bedding (2,3,4) and/or hamster-specific recycled bedding (3). These should be fine but be aware other materials are very dangerous.
What Not To Put In
Cedar or pine chips or shavings can create poisonous fumes (2, 4) and newspaper or other paper printed inks can also be a poison to hamsters (1, 4, and 5). Don’t use synthetic fluffy, other fluffy, fabric or wool bedding, including cotton wool as it can become lodged in their cheek pouches (4) or cause blockages if eaten which can be fatal (5, 6). Stick to the list of recommended substances unless otherwise directed by your vet for safety and develop good cage hygiene habits to ensure better health.
You will need to tidy the cage daily – this means removing soiled and wet bedding materials and any pieces of discarded food, otherwise it will rot in there. You can also use this time to check for any sharp pieces, although hopefully these won’t ever happen as you’ve already red the Safer Cages Tips. Place your hamster into a safe enclosed area for weekly cleaning, while you empty and wash down the hutch with hamster-safe disinfectant from a pet store or your vet. You may want to retain a little old bedding to mix it, to make your hamster feel at home when she/he gets back to his spring-cleaned cage with otherwise unfamiliar smells all around her/him.
Clean safe materials in the cage are a must – you risk hamster injury or worse by trying different materials. Creating a safe place to put hammy in while you clean is essential, one way to do this is to double up a daily exercise play pen as the cleaning-time enclosure. With a checklist of some known good hamster care ideas and some known harmful materials, you should be equipped to make a cosy home and start your hamster cage cleaning routine.
Jonathon & Jo Boyd
1. RSPCA. Pet care – Hamsters. [online]. Available from:
2. ASPCA. Hamster Care [online]. Available from:
3. Hamster Care The 411 [online]. Available from:
4. EASE. The EASE Guide To caring For Hamsters [online]. Available from:
5. PDSA. Golden Hamsters – A Suitable Environment [online]. Available from:
6. National Hamster Society. Getting Started [online]. Available at:
No discussion on hamster cages would be comlete without mentioning some of the foods that you should and should not feed them. Hamsters like all pets need specialist feeding to stop them getting unhealthy or even dying prematurely. They also need to be carried about safely to prevent escape, or injury, when they’re not in their cages. This article explains a good hamster diet, some tips for harmful foods and carriers. This should give you tips on avoiding injury through malnutrition and poor handling in transit to and from the vets or to your pet-sitters while you’re away.
What to feed
Hamsters need a varied diet. They are herbivores by nature and require grains, nuts and seeds. Buy this from a pet store as some can harm you hamster (see Stuff That Harms Hammies). They also need fresh, washed fruits and vegetables and constant access to fresh water. Hamster treat products can be given in moderation. You may want to consider organic food to avoid chemicals as hamsters weight little compares to ingestion intakes of other animals per grams of bodyweight. Considering hamster food, it’s also useful to know what to avoid.
What Not To Feed
Not all seeds, nuts, fruit and veggies are safe for hamsters. Known foods which can poison them include apple seeds avocado, cherry pits, eggplant, elderberries, grapes, horse chestnuts, mushrooms, onions, garlic, chives, peach pits, potatoes raisins, rhubarb and tomatoes (1, 2). NEVER try to improvise with human foods or plants from the home or garden. The safest way is to have your vet to provide a diet sheet of safe foods. Establishing a good diet is vital, as is having a good carrier for trips outside your home.
You need one in case your hamster needs vet care or for when you go away on holiday to take him or her to a friends or professional pet-sitters. Don’t be tempted to skip getting one – hamsters can easily escape from cardboard boxes and there may not be enough ventilation in one or another ‘DIY’ carrier. They range in price from a few $ or £ to more fancy versions but remember, your hamster won’t care what style it is, so long as its comfy and safe.
Small animal carriers and food are not always interchangeable – food stuffs must be nutritionally species appropriate and carriers the right size. It’s also not necessary to buy a flashy product with a hefty price tag, many supplies are inexpensive. With some tips for a healthy diet and safe transportation, your hamster is more likely to live longer and avoid injuries.
IMPORTANT: IF YOU SUSPECT YOUR HAMSTER HAS EATEN OR CHEWED OR ‘POUCHED’ SOMETHING HARMFUL OR IS INJURED/HARMED IN ANY WAY, PLEASE ONLY TAKE IT TO THE VETS – DO NOT TRY TO DIAGNOSE USING THIS ARTICLE. IT CANOT COVER ALL THE FOODS AND SITAUTIONS THAT CAN BE DANGEROUS. LIKEWISE, PLEASE CONSULT YOU VET FOR YOUR INDIVDIUAL HAMSTERS NUTRITIONAL NEEDS AND STATUS.
1. The Hamster Society. Husbandry – List of Poisonous Plants [onine]. Available from:
2. ASPCA. People Foods To Avoid Feeding Your Pets [online]. Available from:
All animals need special care and the environment of your hamster cage needs to be carefully checked. There are many plants and ordinary everyday products that can seriously poison hamsters. This article gives some top tips on household hazards, plants and poisons to eliminate from the hamster cage and other hamster care environments. This can give you a checklist as a starter checklist for keeping your hamster safe.
Another Word About Chewing Hazards
All rodents chew and hamsters will chew anything as they like to keep their ever growing teeth in check. All electrical wires must be moved right out of the way for this reason. Chewing toys and gnaw blocks must be made of materials which are not treated with chemicals nor contain any toxic components. Also don’t give anything that could create sharp parts through chewing as these can seriously injure both outside of the body and in. This point can’t be emphasised enough, although there are of course, other household dangers that deserve special attention.
Household Hazards & Poison
If you allow your hamster out of its cage, make sure its play area is enclosed so it can’t escape – they can get into the oddest spaces and you may have a job getting them out again unharmed. Other pets may also show a menacing interest, even if they’re only ‘playing’ this can be extremely frightening and dangerous. Make sure there are no medications, plants or household products such as cleaners that they could reach. Don’t smoke tobacco near your hamster as pets do suffer from secondary smoke.
Some Common Dangerous Human Medicines, Foods, Household & Garden Plants
Most advice on human medicines that harm pets is based on responses in cats and dogs, but to be on the safe side, the list includes (1):
- Non-steroidal-anit-inflammatories, or NSAIDs as they’re known, often given to control pain in humans
- Methylphenidate (often prescribed for ADHD in humans)
- Fluorouracil (prescribed for skin cancers in humans)
- Isoniazid (used for respiratory conditions such as TB)
- Pseudoephedrine (found in decongestant remedies)
- Vitamin D derivatives
- Baclofen (a muscle relaxant drug for humans)
Human food and garden plants can be harmful, here is just a snapshot of some more common ones (1, 2). This list is simply some of the more common ones in the home or garden –there are more (references given below):
- Almond pits
- Apple seeds
- Avocado – for hamsters (and other rodents) this can be fatal if ingested
- Autumn crocuses
- Buttercups – the yellow flowers in the garden
- Cherry pits and cherry laurel
- Chocolate Coffee, Caffeine
- Christmas rose
- Common privet
- Daffodil (or jonquil)
- Deadly nightshade
- Easter lily
- English ivy Evergreens
- Grapes & Raisins – known to have especially harmed pets with kidney problems
- Horse chestnuts
- Milk – is known to cause digestive upsets in many animals
- Mistletoe Mushrooms
- Nightshade plants varieties
- Onions, Garlic, Chives – are known to harm cats and dogs in higher quantities, we suggest avoidance for hamsters
- Peach pits
- Poison ivy / oak
- Rubber plants
- Salt – can cause extreme thirst and passing too much urine – one common source is chips (UK: crisps). Simply do not feed salty foods from any source.
- Sweet pea plants
- Wisteria yews
- Yeast Dough – because it can rise inside the hamster, causing pain even intestinal rupture
- Xylitol – for most animals, this sweetener is harmful if ingested
IF YOU SUSPECT YOUR HAMSTER HAS EATEN SOMETHING HARMFUL OR IS HARMED IN ANY WAY, TAKE IT TO THE VETS IMMEDIATELY, DO NOT TRY TO DIAGNOSE BY USING THIS ARTICLE. This list does not contain every substance or situation dangerous to hamsters – please research carefully for local plants, food specialities, products and drugs and ask your vet for advice.
References – useful resources on things that poison hamsters/other pets:
1. ASPCA. Top 10 Human Medications That Poison Our Pets [online]. Available from:
2. ASPCA. People Foods To Avoid Feeding Your Pets [online]. Available from:
3. The Hamster Society. Husbandry – List of Poisonous Plants [onine]. Available from: