The question 'do hamsters smell?' is an important one to ask before deciding whether this form of pet is the best choice for a new addition to your household. Overall, hamsters are very clean creatures.
They are constantly washing themselves fastidiously, so any odor is not caused by a lack of cleanliness on your potential furry pal's part. What's more, this cleaning is innate – in the wild they need to do what they can to reduce their scent to prevent them being detected by predators.
That said, there is no doubt they do have a scent detectable to human noses. This comes from the scent glands on their back which they use for marking out their territory.
The females also smell stronger when they come into heat. Their urine is also quite pungent, but a regular cage cleaning routine should help keep that in check, as we go into further detail about below.
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Do male or female hamsters smell worse?
Both male and female hamsters smell, but for different reasons, so the question of which smells worse is a hotly debated topic. Female hamsters come into heat every four days or so and during this time they release a musky scent which some pet owners find reminiscent to burning rubber.
The amount of smell released depends on the species, with female Syrian hamsters particularly noted for their stronger acrid smell compared to dwarf hamsters.
Males will lick their scent glands when sexually excited to release more of their scent so females can find them. This again makes their scent a lot stronger than usual. They can also be more aggressive at marking their territory at certain times of the year, leading to stronger smelling bedding. In this case, male dwarf hamsters are reported to smell stronger than male Syrians.
How to get rid of hamster smell
1. Regularly clean out their cage
The main cause of a potentially problematic pong when keeping hamsters comes from their cages and bedding which is caused by a build-up of urine. Hamsters will choose to urinate as far from their sleeping area as possible, both because they have sensitive noses, and to stop predators finding their hideout.
Regular cage cleaning will reduce this odor, so provided you are willing to put the effort in, you can keep the smells emanating from your furry pal's cage to a minimum.
When it comes to cage cleaning, you need to balance this so as not to disturb your hamster too much. Hamsters can get scared when removed from their cage too often, so it is worth creating another fun place for them to be while you clean their home.
A thorough complete bedding change and deep clean using hamster-friendly disinfectant once a week is about the right balance between making hammy and your nose equally comfortable. You can see more on this in our guide on how to clean your hamster's cage.
Because most of the smell comes from the areas they have chosen as their place to urinate it's worth cleaning these places more regularly. Look for the wet areas of their bedding and replace this every 2 to 3 days.
This will stop the smell building up without disturbing your timid pal. You can make this easier for yourself by putting a small tray or litter box where they are already peeing. This can then be lifted out and cleaned very easily when they are sleeping in their hideout.
2. Check for signs of illness
Compared to their urine, excrement is less of an issue. It is usually dry and doesn't smell. If their poo is smelly and wet, this can be a sign that your hamster is unwell and a trip to the vet is in order. It can be a sign of 'wet tail', a common disease in hamsters.
3. Clean out any hidden food
Another cause of a smelly cage can be hidden food. Dry food won't smell, unless it has got wet, but fresh food like broccoli and cabbage will rot producing unpleasant sulphurous odors.
Again, regular cage cleaning should eliminate this issue. You should also consider the ease of cleaning when purchasing your hamster's home - we have some good options for this in our pick of the best hamster cages.
Should I give my hamster a bath?
It is not a good idea to give your hamster a bath in the traditional sense, or even get them wet. Water - especially soapy water - will strip them of the natural oils they have in their fur which are essential for keeping them warm. When wet they can get cold very quickly, and this can make them susceptible to illness. As such it is better to avoid water all together.
You can use a gently moistened tissue to remove ingrained dirt, but only use it on the affected area and keep them somewhere warm for a few hours after.
You can also provide them with a sand bath for them to roll around in to clean themselves more thoroughly. This will allow them to get clean in a way that they would in the wild. Ensure you are buying hamster sand not hamster dust though, as the smaller dust particles can cause respiratory disorders in your furry friend.
Do hamsters smell more when they are frightened?
Anxious hamsters do tend to urinate more than relaxed ones, and this will cause them to smell more. It may also cause them to spend more time marking their territory, which can increase odors.
Remember to interact with your hamster only gently so they don't feel they are being threatened. Also be aware that strong perfumes or aftershaves will discomfort hamsters as they have a much more sensitive nose than you or I.
Should I keep my hamster in my bedroom?
Provided you keep up a regular cage cleaning regimen you can keep a hamster in your bedroom. Try to avoid strong sunlight or drafts, which may cause your hamster's cage to smell more. However, remember hamsters are sensitive to noise and activity.
If your room is a busy place, you may distress your hamster making them more likely to urinate more. They can also detect ultrasound in a way we can't and many devices like televisions and other electrical devices produce these. Provided your room has a quiet corner away from these devices and other noise sources, there should be no issue with keeping hammy in the same room as you.
Do hamsters smell when they die?
Hamsters will start to smell after they die, but not straight away. The length of time this can take depends on the temperature of the room. In most houses, it will take three days before the smell becomes really bad.
Because of this, as sad as it may be, it is better to bury your dead hamster as soon as you discover them. It's important to wear latex gloves while doing this and dispose of all of their bedding and food, and disinfect their cage to ensure that you aren't exposed to any potentially harmful bacteria.
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Jamie Middleton is a freelance editor and writer who has been editing and creating content for magazines and websites for over 20 years. As well as writing about the pets he loves, he has helped create websites about tech and innovation like TechRadar.com, Innovate UK and TechSPARK, written programmes for music festivals, books on inventions and architecture, TV listings magazines, and edited publications about cars such as Lexus, Toyota and Jaguar. In his spare time he writes fiction books and poetry - or at least he does when he is permitted to by his cat Pirate, who enjoys the warmth of laptops too much to allow being creative to get in the way.