Posted: October 30, 2014, 5:05 p.m. EDT
© Gina Cioli/I-5 Studio
Hamsters rarely need a full water bath, so check with your veterinarian before bathing your hamster.
Q: We just adopted a hamster and he smells strongly of urine. His cage hadn’t been cleaned for some time. We thoroughly washed his cage and accessories in white vinegar and hot water and replaced his bedding, food and water with fresh. He appears bright and active, but how do we get the urine smell off him?
A: What a lovely thing you’ve done, giving this little hamster a new life!
You made a great choice to clean his environment first and let him try to clean himself. He’s had plenty of changes lately, and even though they’re all for the good, they’re still stressful.
Hamsters are pretty delicate little guys, and water baths can lower their body temperatures as well as strip the natural oils that keep their fur and skin healthy and clean. It's not a good idea to bathe a hamster unless specifically directed by your veterinarian for a medical reason.
But hamsters also ingest some of what they groom off. If a hamster has gotten into something he shouldn't (including his own mess, in this case) set him in a dry basin on a warm, damp washcloth. Use another warm, damp cloth to wipe him gently, removing as much of the dirt as practical. Dry him the same way. Keep him cozy and out of drafts till he's dry. He might enjoy climbing and burrowing through a warmed towel as he dries. Gauge how much you can get done at once by watching his stress levels.
If your hamster has a continued problem grooming and keeping clean, you can give him a sand bath or brush him regularly with a soft toothbrush or baby's hairbrush.
Chinchilla sand or sanitized, soft children's play sand is safe in a container in the cage full-time, and makes a great toy, bath and potty all in one.
Finer chinchilla "dust" is safe for chinchillas, because they have nasal flaps that protect their respiratory systems, much as a camel's nasal flaps protect it from sandstorms. Hamsters don't have these, so chinchilla dust should only be used outside their homes. It's best to use when a hamster needs specific cleaning — such as you've found with your new friend. Sprinkle a big pinch over his back and brush it through the fur with a soft toothbrush, then fluff the rest off with a dry towel.
I'm sure you'll have him clean and settled in no time. Enjoy one another!
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