For something so small and sweet, hamsters can let off quite a stink. But what is the smell and where does it come from?
Why does my hamster smell? Most hamsters smell to a certain degree, and this is normally due to waste in their cage or the secretion of an odorous pheromone, released from their scent glands. If you think your hamsters’ smell is something more sinister, then you should seek veterinary assistance.
Sensitive hamster scents
Having recently returned from a family holiday we were immediately struck by some noticeable changes to Oscar. Although his cage had been cleaned regularly there was a strong musky scent left hanging in the air and Oscar had developed a couple of bald patches on his flanks. Slightly concerned that he may have developed a skin infection I decided to do some investigating and discovered some useful hints and tips on how to stop your hamster smelling.
Why your hamster grooms itself
If Oscar is not curled up all cozy asleep, then he is trying to break some kind of stamina record by spinning on his wheel or constantly cleaning himself in the corner of his cage.
Contrary to believe, hamsters are not dirty animals, but are actually meticulously thorough with their grooming routine, based on both habit and instinct. In the wild, hamsters are pretty low down in the food chain and are hunted by almost every animal roaming. Therefore, in order to remain as innocuous as possible, a hamster will clean itself regularly to make sure it is as scent free as it can be, making it harder for predators to sniff out.
This goes for owners as well, for as much as your hamster enjoys a play or a cuddle, when cosseted in our hands it does not want to smell like you, and will remove your scent almost immediately.
Grooming is an important part of a hamster’s routine, so if the grooming stops altogether then this could be sign that something is wrong with your pet.
Hamster cage cleanliness
Although hamsters clean themselves regularly, their cages unfortunately do not.
Hamsters are considered low maintenance in comparison to other pets, but it is important that you clean out their cage on a weekly basis, providing them with fresh wood shavings and bedding. This will prevent any offensive odors occurring. But, if you notice that after just a few days the cage has already started to smell, then try spot cleaning specific places that your hamster may be using as a toilet area.
Although it is important to clean your hamster frequently as they have a sensitive sense of smell and can fall sick if the cage is dirty, you should also resist the temptation to change their cage too often as it can stress them out.
Make sure that you choose a comfortable and secure place to put your hamster whilst cleaning out their cage. Ensure that you empty the entire contents and deodorize the cage using a mild soap or a hamster friendly cleanser. Having rinsed the cage, make sure that it has dried thoroughly before placing your hamster back inside amongst its new and fresh smelling shavings.
Potty training your hamster
Most hamsters are creatures of habit and will generally pick a corner of their cage to use as a toilet. Therefore, providing you suss out their preferred area, then potty training your hamster is possible.
There are a number of plastic hamster potty’s available to buy on the market, which can be filled with a substrate such as sand. This is not only an attractive substance for your hamster as it is diggable, but sand is great for soaking up liquid. Add to this some hamster litter and some already urinated shavings, as this will encourage your hamster to use it. Make sure that you regularly spot clean the rest of the cage in order to prevent confusion.
How to make your hamster smell nice
There are some small changes that you can try to make your hamster smell nice, that will make a huge difference to your hamsters’ hygiene.
- Opt for a cage with plenty of ventilation and odor control.
- Deep fill your hamsters cage with plenty of wood shavings. This not only allows your hamster to dig but will help to absorb nasty smells.
- Spot clean your hamsters cage daily, scooping out poop and tossing out soiled bedding.
- Clean the cage thoroughly once a week.
- Add a potty to the corner of the cage.
- Monitor what you feed you hamster. Certain foods (especially those that are acidic) can affect your hamsters’ digestive system.
Hamster scent glands
You may notice a strong musky smell emanating from your hamster’s cage, and this is usually due to their scent glands. Often a cause for alarm when first spotted, scent glands are perfectly normal, and form part of both a male and females’ hamster anatomy. Scent glands look different between sexes and vary among different hamster species.
Also known as flank glands or hip spots, hamsters use their scent glands in order to communicate with each other via pheromones (chemicals that are secreted from the body). They are more prominent in male hamsters, and for Syrian hamsters like Oscar, they are situated on either side of their flanks.
Female hamsters use their scent glands to not only mark their territory but to attract a partner by letting them know when they are coming into heat.
It is important that you recognise your hamsters scent glands and keep a close eye on them, looking out for any signs of infection or changes in appearance. If you notice an increase in size, unusual discharge, redness or bleeding, then you should notify your vet for further clarification. Another indication of a scent gland problem is a reluctance for your hamster to be held or touched or a change in behavior and temperament.
Can you bath a hamster?
Hamsters are clean animals who are quite capable of taking care of their own hygiene. If your hamster does get particularly dirty, however, you should bathe them in sand and never wash them in water.
A basin of sand should be sufficient, as your hamster can roll around allowing the coarse texture to remove any grit and grime. By bathing your hamster in water, however, will wash away any vital, natural protective oils from their coat and could cause them to catch a chill, which can be dangerous and potentially fatal.
So I have learnt that it’s not Oscar specifically making those smells, it’s simply a consequence of the environment he lives in and his habitual instincts, given to him by his wild relatives. And, as long as I continue to motivate the children to clean his cage regularly, monitor his diet and light the odd candle when he is letting off his territorial scent, we can all live together relatively stink free!
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