Hamsters are often considered stinky animals, which is why a lot of potential pet owners ultimately decide not to get one. However, what most people don’t realize is that hamsters don’t actually smell that bad themselves, and that the stink most often comes from an unclean cage.
If you are considering getting a hamster, or if you are the owner of one and a pungent odor has started permeating your home: here’s what you need to know.
Why Does My Hamster Smell Bad?
Hamsters will most often smell bad if their cage is unclean. Female hamsters also smell stronger when in heat, while male hamsters will emit a stronger smell when they get territorial. Their diet also impacts their odor.
Most of the unpleasant smell associated with hamsters actually comes from their cage. If you clean it regularly, practically all of it will be eliminated.
It is also true that both male and female hamsters emit their own smells: females when in heat, which is roughly every four days, while males when they get into turf wars with other male hamsters. Illness can of course also impact the way a hamster smells, as will a diet high in protein.
However, as long as you change their bedding regularly, clean out any bits of food they may have stashed away, and give them regular sand baths, if they need them, you should be able to handle the hamster smell.
Their Cage is Dirty
Most of the bothersome smell will be coming from your hamster’s cage and their bedding. If they don’t have a litter box, they will pee all over their cage. Some hamsters have specially designated pee spots, while others, especially older hamsters, can pee wherever.
Hamsters are also hoarders, so there will be stashed away bits of food that will start to smell. The scent from a hamster’s scent glands will also stick to the bedding.
To keep the cage from smelling, you need to spot clean every day. Remove any leftovers and clean up the pee spots. Once every week, change all of their bedding and wash their cage with soap and warm water. You may be able to keep some of the dry bits from the middle layer, but you can also just do a complete swap.
You can also sprinkle some baking soda at the very bottom of a clean cage, below the fresh layer of bedding, that will absorb some of the smell.
Their Diet is High in Protein
If your hamster is eating a lot of protein, their fart will smell quite bad. Hamsters can’t burp, since they have a one-way digestive system, so everything will be coming out of their buts. The food they eat directly impacts the stink level of said farts.
Protein usually comes with an increase in farting and quite a bad smell. The same can happen to humans too.
To make your hamster’s farts smell nicer (well, at least somewhat), feed them a balanced diet, with plenty of foods that are high in fiber, and lower their consumption of sugar.
Remember that even veggies like cauliflower and cabbage can make a hamster’s farts smell quite strongly.
They Are Hiding Their Food
Hamsters are hoarders. They will hide pieces of their fresh meals all around their bedding. If you don’t find it in time, it will start to go bad and can stink up the place. If the little guy also forgets about a hiding place and urinates on it, the smell will be even worse.
Do thorough checkups when spot cleaning, and if you notice an unpleasant smell from the cage, do another round. There’s probably a morsel you missed.
It’s Their Scent Glands
Hamster scent glands smell. Female hamsters smell when in heat, while male hamsters smell when their testosterone levels increase.
Your Female Hamster is in Heat
When a female hamster is in heat, she will secrete pheromones to attract a likely male. Since her cycles last 4 days, you can expect her to start emitting a pungent smell quite often. It will be especially strong on the fourth day.
If you have two females in the same cage, they will also try to outdo each other in marking their territory, so you can expect them to start smelling stronger, as the scent sticks to their fur.
To prevent this smell, first avoid having two female hamsters, as they will regularly try to outshine each other.
Since you can’t neuter hamsters, as putting them under anesthesia is very risky, wipe their bottoms with a clean tissue once every week or so. This will help remove some of the secretions before they spread all around the bedding.
Also avoid using scented bedding, as hamsters have quite sensitive noses, and the scent will bother them, so they may try to cover it up by releasing their own smell.
Your Male Hamster is Territorial
Male hamsters go through an excessive territory marking period about twice a year. They go a bit crazy and wipe their scent glands all over their cage. The smell tends to be quite strong, but they will soon calm down.
If you place two male hamsters in the same cage though, they will start a turf war as soon as they become sexually mature. They will quite literally try to outstink each other, and wipe their own scent anywhere they can detect the other’s.
Don’t put two male hamsters in the same enclosure to avoid this. Wipe their buts when they go into their territory frenzy, and clean their cage more often, to limit the smell.
They Are Urinating All Over the Cage
Some hamsters will pee all over their cage, instead of choosing one or two spots as toilets. They can also urinate in their sand bath, and then choose to bathe in it afterwards.
You can try to potty train your hamster. Get them a couple of small plastic sandboxes and fill them with sand mixed in with some of their pee-soaked urine. This will encourage them to use this spot as their toilet.
If you reward them with a snack every time you see them peeing in the right place, they will soon catch on.
Older hamsters also tend to pee everywhere, so you will need to change the top layer of their bedding more frequently, and do thorough checks to see how wet it really is.
Hamsters who get their pee all over themselves will also need a supervised sand bath, i.e. you need to make sure they don’t pee in the sand while bathing.
They Are Neglecting Their Hygiene
Hamsters are very clean creatures. They understand they need to groom themselves and will take regular sand baths if you provide them.
However, if your hamster is injured or ill, they can neglect their personal hygiene, which will make them stinky, as their coats get saturated with body oils and coated in pee.
If your hamster stops grooming itself, check for injuries. They may have broken a paw and are now unable to bathe properly. They may also be ill, in which case they will need to see a vet.
Older hamsters can start urinating all over the place, even sleeping in their own pee. They may also stop grooming themselves, so you may need to encourage sand baths.
They Need Help Staying Clean
If you have a long-haired Syrian hamster, you may need to give them a hand while they are bathing. Since they have so much fur, they may get tired or bored in the middle of a grooming session and never actually finish.
They may also have trouble pulling out bits of dirt from their coats, or reaching all of their back.
When your hamster is having a sand bath, help them out by pouring sand on their back and brushing them. You’ll find they enjoy it very much.
It’s Their Bedding
Hamsters need paper-based bedding. Wood shavings will only soak up the smell of urine, and their cage will smell bad.
Cheap bedding is also not very good at absorbing the smell, while scented bedding will only stress your hamster out and make matters worse.
An enclosure should have at least 12 inches of bedding, as it will both ensure hamsters have the space to tunnel, and that the urine does not soak down to the bottom and into the wood, if that’s what the cage is made of.
Cleaning the cage regularly will help. Spot clean daily, and change the bedding every couple of weeks. Remove your hamster from their home, take everything out and wash the cage with water and vinegar or soapy water. Wait for it to dry before you place your pet back inside.
They Are Ill
Sick hamsters can also smell bad. If they have a wound that has gotten infected, it will emit a foul odor.
Hamsters also stash food in their cheeks, so if it has started to rot, they will also start to smell.
Kidney or bladder infections or digestive issues can also make a hamster’s pee or poop smell very badly. If it sticks to their fur, they will stink.
Wet tail is the most dangerous illness to watch out for. It causes foul diarrhea, and your pet will need immediate attention. You’ll notice liquid poop in their cage, and their bottom may also be quite filthy.
If your hamster is not behaving like their usual self: they are hunched over, are not as playful or aren’t eating well, take them to the vet to see what is causing it.
Is it Normal for Hamsters to Stink?
Hamsters themselves don’t stink unless they are sick or if their scent glands are in overdrive. Their cages are usually the ones that are the cause of the smell.
Hamsters get a lot of bad rap for their smell, when in truth, it’s usually their owners who neglect to clean out their cage.
If you notice your hamster (or their cage) has started to stink, it’s time to start cleaning more regularly and more thoroughly.
What to do if Your Hamster Suddenly Starts Smelling Bad
If you are sure that the hamster smells bad and it’s not the cage, you should check them for wet tail and diarrhea, check that they have not broken a paw, and give them a sand bath.
If your hamster has diarrhea, they will need to see a vet. If they have urinated all over themselves or rolled around in wet bedding, you can use a moist (not wet!) cloth to wipe their fur. Make sure to also give them a thorough wipe with a dry cloth, until they are clean and completely dry. Don’t dry them with a hairdryer, and don’t get them wet.
If your hamster is unable to groom themselves, they may have broken a paw, in which case they also need to see a vet.
Sand baths can also help if the smell is caused by a temporary lapse, like rolling around in wet bedding. If you don’t keep one in their enclosure at all times, you can break one out now.
What NOT to do if Your Hamster Smells Bad
If your hamster smells bad, don’t do any of the following:
- Bathe them in water: it will remove the oil from their coat, making them produce even more of it, which can make them smell even worse, and it’s also not good for them.
- Put deodorant or perfume in their cage: it may mask the smell, but the hamster will be under a lot of stress, and they may start producing even more stink, just to cover it up.
- Expose your hamster to cold weather: if you want to air the room, make sure the hamster stays warm and that the temperatures don’t suddenly drop too much. Your hamster may decide they need to go into hibernation, but they may also catch a cold.
- Blame your hamster: it’s not their fault they smell the way they do, it’s your job as their owner to keep their environment clean.
Do Male Hamsters Smell Worse Than Females?
Neither male nor female hamsters smell worse. Both sexes have their own distinct smell which can get more acute at certain times.
Male hamsters smell when they want to mark their territory. If they live with another male, they will use their scent glands to try to assert dominance.
Female hamsters go into heat every few days, and will smell when at its height.
Regularly wiping your hamster’s bottom (gently!) and cleaning their cage should be enough to take care of the smell.
How Can I Prevent My Hamster From Smelling Bad?
Here is what you can do to prevent your hamster from smelling:
- Clean their cage every day: all soiled and wet bedding, pee and poop, as well as food leftovers need to be removed from your hamster’s cage daily.
- Scrub their cage weekly: use warm water and soap, or water and vinegar to scrub your hamster’s cage every week. Use this time to replace their bedding too.
- Improve ventilation: place the cage in a well-ventilated area and make sure enough air is able to move around by reducing clutter inside it.
- Potty-train your pet: teach your hamster to use a toilet, so to speak. This will reduce the amount of urine in their bedding, keeping them cleaner too.
- Feed them a balanced diet: pellets, fruits and veggies all need to be a part of your hamster’s diet. Protein can make their poop smell worse, so make sure you are not giving it too often.
Wrapping It Up
Hamsters can smell pretty bad, we’ll give you that. However, it’s usually down to an unclean cage or an illness, and not their very nature. As long as you make sure their cage is regularly cleaned and take good care of your hamster, they shouldn’t smell bad at all.