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Old 09-28-2020, 09:29 AM   #1
Picket
Newborn Pup
 
Join Date: Sep 2020
Location: Michigan, U.S.A.
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Cool Newbie: Picket the WW (we think) and his new house.

Hi there!
Our family adopted a 5 week old hamster from the Michigan Humane Society this summer. We were told he’s a Winter White, although we’re not 100% sure. I had 2 dwarfs over 20 years ago when I was in college, and now that I introduced my daughter to a new hamster (and there is now an internet with tons of info) I know so much more than I did about giving a hamster a happy home versus what I did back then. (I feel awful that I kept them in a small aquarium when I know now how much space they need!)

We are currently in the process of creating an Ikea Kallax habitat for him, but Picket currently resides in a 110 qt. bin cage attached to a Ferplast Favola. I’ll be spending lots of time scouring here for details on how others have set up their Kallax/Expedits. I have questions about sourcing materials in USA, as most “hacks” seem to be done in Europe. I am having a particularly hard time deciding what style doors and back ventilation to use and how to assemble. I also want to make sure everything we use is safe and healthy, especially since things listed as hamster friendly in US aren’t always so, and I’m learning stuff I didn’t know about that is fine for hamsters.

Would love your best input on different types of substrates/bedding, chew toys, bathing sand, potty litters, etc that can be found in US - and what are things to just avoid. And, I saw something that anything “natural” you should bake first to kill any microorganisms? (Wood toys, logs, etc?) We’re just trying to learn all we can to give Picket his best life ever! Can’t wait to learn from everyone. (And see all the cute hamsters.)

Attached is pic of Picket & and my very proud daughter as well as our set ups.
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Old 09-29-2020, 09:40 AM   #2
AmityvilleHams
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Default Re: Newbie: Picket the WW (we think) and his new house.

The highest quality substrate you'll find in the US would be Small Pet Select's paper bedding. It's just pure virgin fiber - nothing recycled, no dyes, low dust, etc which are all things you want in a suitable substrate. I know some people will mention Kaytee Clean and Cozy but that isn't as high quality and does at times have questionable batches with unsuitable dust levels and such.

For litter and bathing sand, just use dye free natural children's play sand. It must be rinsed, sifted, and baked before use but it is an extremely safe option if treated as such before use as well as being very low cost! I would stay away from reptile sand and other similar things. Clay litter and similar "potty litter" type things sold for animals including small animals are completely unsuitable as they can lead to digestive blockages if ingested.

For ventilation, all that really counts and works effectively is a properly spaced mesh or similar bar such as recycled from other cages with suitable spacing(providing the coating is completely intact - rusted surfaces and missing coating is a potential hazard that can easily be overlooked, but ingestion of paint etc or general injury due to this issue is a concern). Drilled holes do not work effectively for small pets like hamsters - neither would things you'd find in reptile enclosures. Excessive humidity and the trapping of odors isn't just unpleasant for humans, improperly ventilated cages actually increase your risk of respiratory infections in hamsters!

For things to avoid, as mentioned clay litter and such is definitely one. Some popular content creators and such will mention soil - this is completely unsuitable for hamsters and should just not be done with no exceptions. A great alternative to soil would be coconut fiber, but even that has to be a pure coconut fiber(no additives etc) and needs to be used with certain precautions to make it safe - only small amounts, never used overly moist, and never used overly dry either.

There are definitely more things to avoid but I'll keep it to just that to avoid an overly long post. I will also add that you didn't ask, but the one suitable food for dwarf hamsters in the US is Higgins Vita Garden.
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Old 09-30-2020, 08:17 AM   #3
Picket
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Join Date: Sep 2020
Location: Michigan, U.S.A.
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Default Re: Newbie w/ Add'l questions! re: Picket the WW (we think) and his new house.

Quote:
Originally Posted by AmityvilleHams View Post
There are definitely more things to avoid but I'll keep it to just that to avoid an overly long post. I will also add that you didn't ask, but the one suitable food for dwarf hamsters in the US is Higgins Vita Garden.
Oh, thank you! Hmmm. Does this mean that I should change his food? We are primarily giving him Oxbow Essentials Hamster & Gerbil - which is kind of a donut shaped pellet food, and the same stuff he was fed when he was housed at the Humane Society. We then add a tiny amount of Kaytee Fiesta Gourmet Variety Diet (which he loves) for some variety, and we also use it as treats, or incentive as we tamed him. We occasionally give him lettuce or other little bits of "people" food too. Was going to pick up some meal worms for an occasional treat too?

For bedding we have been using Carefresh Small Animal Bedding - White. I chose white because we wanted to easily tell where he has been soiling. Now that he is more established and we're learning his habits and preferences, I was going to switch to "natural" to avoid dye/bleach. He does have a sand/litter box which he uses some. (He also loves to pee on his wheels.) The sand we have been using is Tiny Friends Farm Small Animal Bathing Sand.

One of my concerns is stressing him out when switching too much stuff at once. He has had several cage configurations, which were doing when it was time for full cleanouts. We stopped that so he won't have too many big changes at same time. Since we will be switching him soon to the Ikea Kallax, where he'll have two floors x four "squares" across, I was planning on using different substrates in different areas then see what he leans toward. (Was thinking of trying some hemp, a bigger sand area, aspen shavings, etc.. I was nervous about the coconut for the reasons you mentioned - not sure how to ensure quality. Will definitely add the Small Pet Select Paper now too!!) I like the natural style cages I've seen online that have millet sprays and the like, but also not sure where to find that sort of stuff (especially organic) either.

Thanks again for your input!
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Old 10-02-2020, 05:16 AM   #4
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Default Re: Newbie: Picket the WW (we think) and his new house.

Definitely change the food. Kaytee foods are extremely low quality and quite unsuitable, while Oxbow is an extremely inappropriate diet with hamsters despite making decent products for other pets. Pelleted diets in general are also unsuitable for hamsters. I would go for Pure Bites freeze dried shrimp, chicken, turkey, etc over mealworms though.

Carefresh in general is known to have really high dust levels so unfortunately I would strongly recommend changing that. It may not be ideal to have to change substrates so quickly, but it is enough of a concern to justify it.

With cages, keep in mind that levels and such don't really add to floor space. For anything to count as part of actual floor space, it has to all be on the same continuous level - no modular cages, no levels, no shelves, no platforms, no tube extensions, etc. Hamsters are not naturally climbing animals either, and with a Kallax setup like that you'd have very little actual floor space!

For millet sprays etc in the US, I do know you can sometimes find things like that and oat sprays through the brand Brown's which can even be found in grocery stores. While a lot of their products are pretty low quality and unsuitable they do at least have those very specific decent products.

As far as substrates go, personally I wouldn't bother with aspen or any wood in general other than maybe as an extra litter option. Wood shavings are a very common source for hamster allergic reactions and they also aren't going to be nearly as good for burrowing as a high quality paper(like Small Pet Select's paper bedding). Hemp could be interesting for different texture and unlike wood isn't really known to cause reactions in hamsters from what I've found. It does sometimes cause reactions in humans, but even that is uncommon enough to not rule it out as a good additional substrate. Quality is really important too though, as hemp can sometimes have unsafe additives(citronella being fairly common even with "natural" hemp products which is not safe for hamsters). Aubiose hemp is probably going to be the best choice in the US providing you find a source for it.
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Old 10-05-2020, 11:59 AM   #5
Engel
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Default Re: Newbie: Picket the WW (we think) and his new house.

Hello and welcome to the forum and congrats on your new furry friend, he looks so cute!

Your bin cage looks great so far although it would be better if it was all one level but as you'll be upgrading anyway. What are the dimensions of the bin cage only?

Substrates that are safe to use:
- paper based bedding like kaytee clean and cosy and carefresh.
- pine bedding but ONLY if its been dust extracted and kiln-dried. It shouldn't smell like pine. It should smell of just wood.
- Aspen is ok too but needs to be mixed with another substrate like soft hay as it doesn't hold tunnels well by itself
- Hemp can be used but can cause allergy issues in hamsters. My late Lilith and Athena had issues with hemp and so did I. This doesn't mean every hamster will react to it but its not uncommon. You also need to mix this with another substrate or hay as it too doesn't hold tunnels well by itself.
- Shredded cardboard can be used as nesting materials and so can unscented toilet roll.
- Coco coir. Can be found in the reptile section of most pet stores. It needs to be kept damp. It should look like damp soil.
- Sand. You can use plain sand marketed for reptiles. Beware of calci-sand, this is where calcium is mixed in which hamsters don't need so best avoided. Also some chinchilla sands are ok to use, its got to be the consistency of sand and not powder.

You shouldn't need to clean out the hamster thoroughly very regularly. My hamsters get never get a full cleanout. I only remove soiled areas and replace with fresh when needed.

Id scatter feed him even while on the pellets as foraging is fun and natural for them.

For more information on hamster care, food and substrate within the US I'd strongly recommend going on youtube and watching videos from the channels Munchies Place and Victoria Rachel.

If you need any more advice feel free to ask
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Old 10-05-2020, 09:50 PM   #6
cypher
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Default Re: Newbie: Picket the WW (we think) and his new house.

engel I wouldn’t recommend coir, you really don’t want anything wet or damp in a hamster cage as it can lead to mould & that can cause health problems, even if you put coir in dry it will absorb any moisture of pee & just not dry out so not a good idea.
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Old 10-06-2020, 04:47 AM   #7
Engel
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Default Re: Newbie: Picket the WW (we think) and his new house.

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engel I wouldn’t recommend coir, you really don’t want anything wet or damp in a hamster cage as it can lead to mould & that can cause health problems, even if you put coir in dry it will absorb any moisture of pee & just not dry out so not a good idea.
If done correctly (right consistency and refreshed regularly) there shouldn't be any mold. Another option could be to make it bioactive and self cleaning. However I don't know enough about bioactivity in regards to hamsters, only rats, so if anyone wants to know more about that them research is key. Obviously if OP isnt comfortable with the idea then don't do it, but as a temporary extra bit of enrichment in a tub that's removed after 2-3 days will be ok. My lot have a great time digging in it, not to get anything, they just like digging
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Old 10-06-2020, 05:21 AM   #8
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Default Re: Newbie: Picket the WW (we think) and his new house.

Engel is right about coco coir/fiber(or anything else a pure coconut fiber substance ended up labelled as) not molding if it is properly maintained. While you still should only use a very small contained section of it at a shallow depth, if it isn't too moist or too dry it can be a wonderful addition to an enclosure. Overly dry coconut fiber isn't going to be good for respiratory health either. Alternatively if you definitely don't want to take the chance there is always the option to just use it in a playpen/play bin/etc!

As far as bioactive enclosures go with hamsters, I wouldn't recommend them at all and would honestly stay away from them. They have their place with some other species though.
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Old 10-07-2020, 01:13 PM   #9
Picket
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Default Re: Newbie: Picket the WW (we think) and his new house.

Thanks again everybody. I think I'll avoid the coco since I am not sure what would be considered too damp, or too dry. Maybe I'll try some from the reptile/aquarium section but just for play time, not everyday. His current bin cage alone is 612 square inches (not counting the upper Ferplast Favola level). Each floor of his Ikea Kallax will be 810 square inches, for a total of more than 1600 square inches to explore. I don't understand how the setups are not good/big enough? (They each have a single floor that is decent size, sections of very deep substrate, plus other spaces to explore and play.) Right now, he utilizes his tubes often to navigate between floors. He'll have less of a distance to travel in between levels in the Kallax, and not have to utilize tubes.

We have been scatter feeding, which he loves. We also poke food into folded toilet paper rolls for a "puzzle" or into some of his wood chew toys so we has to work to get to it, which seems to keep him busy/entertained.

I appreciate all the feedback, there is certainly lots of information out there, a lot of it conflicting, so it's helpful to have this forum to help navigate and weigh all the options out there. We all just want the best for our hammies!
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Old 10-07-2020, 01:23 PM   #10
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Default Re: Newbie: Picket the WW (we think) and his new house.

Ikea Kallax sections, as in the cubes, are not going to be very large and will not count as continuous floor space. The exact same thing also applies to everything else mentioned previously - shelves, modular additions, basically anything not all on the same uninterrupted level does not count towards floor space.
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