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Old 06-20-2016, 03:34 AM   #1
MrNibbles
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Default Cleaning - how often?

Hi everyone,
we've had a new Syrian hamster now for four weeks (about 4 months old from an accidental litter). We are sure he's almost deaf as he hardly flinches at any kind of noises. He's very friendly and very keen to get out of his cage so always climbs on our hands in the evening to be lifted out.
Our old hamster unfortunately died (we don't know why, it was a real shock, only had him for five weeks) before we received a bigger house (he always peed in the corner of the house where his food stack was but also used two other toilets in the cage).

Cookie is very clean, he always uses his toilet which is inside his hut (which has three rooms). I put chinchilla sand in it and he also uses it to bath in it. I'm replacing the sand and wash the toilet (just with very hot water and a small drop of washing up liquid) about every three days. Should I clean it more often? I spot clean the cage about every three to four days as it's not that messy at all. He's got a candy jar as a sand bath in one corner and I get the droppings out. I replace the sand in the jar about once a week and also wash it out with hot water. So far I've only done a full change of bedding (we use Filch) after two weeks (reusing some of the old one) but I feel it's not really necessary to do that as he doesn't seem to wee anywhere else apart from the toilet and inside his plastic wheel (I wash that out once a week). When I do a full clean I get everything out and wash the cage out and use a bit of disinfectant spray for pets. I also put some paper at the bottom of the cage (for extra protection, it's got a wooden floor) but I don't think that's necessary with Cookie.
My main concern is his hoard. He does hoard a lot of his food and there are loads of droppings inside it (it's in the same room where he sleeps right next to his sleeping corner). How do I clean it? In order to get rid off all the droppings I need to remove all of his hoard but I know that's not nice for him. He prefers fresh food and I don't think he hoards any of that at all. What do you do about his hoard? Do you ever remove all of it? Do you keep a few food bits, clean his house out and then put it into the new bedding in the same corner? Sorry it's such a long post.

Last edited by MrNibbles; 06-20-2016 at 03:37 AM. Reason: details for bedding
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Old 06-20-2016, 03:53 AM   #2
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Default Re: Cleaning - how often?

Depending on cage size you would need to clean the cage fully every month or less.For example,80 cm x 50 cm cages could go around 1-2 months before a full clean if they have deep substrate and a toilet is used.You could probably get away with the same schedule for spot cleaning since you know that works,though.

For the toilet,weekly washing with warm water should be fine and then every few cleanings of that you can add the washing up liquid.Same goes for the jar!As long as you scoop out droppings it's fine.For the wheel,you really don't need to do much more than wipe it dry every few days if necessary and then every two weeks you can wash it.The paper is a good precaution as accidents do happen even if not urine related.

Disinfectant sprays only really need to be used when an animal is ill.Soap and water or just water is perfectly fine for healthy animals,and you only really need full cleans every 3-6 months if you have a good size cage.Partial cleans monthly could work as well,and would help to keep stress low.

Hamsters do hoard food as well as droppings,but don't worry about the droppings.It seems gross,but some small animals actually get nutrients from a different type of dropping that is actually very beneficial to them.Do not remove them,as they are perfectly fine and even beneficial.Keep the hoard as well,only remove something if it looks close to spoiling.

I actually like the length of the post!You're very thorough and that's always good Never be afraid to have big posts with tons of questions,since you get to learn and it can also help other hamster owners as well.
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Old 06-20-2016, 04:16 AM   #3
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Default Re: Cleaning - how often?

Your situation sounds very similiar to ours That a lot of cleaning isn't necessary because the hamster is clean and tidy and uses a potty, and it's only really necessary to spot clean with rare big cleans. I also find the hoard is the one thing that needs keeping an eye on. But really if it is just dried food it is fine. Even their poops aren't an issue really because they are like hard little seeds and not dirty or smelly. The reason they keep poops in their hoard is partly for emergency food supplies! They can actually eat their poops to redigest extra vitamins (they have two stomachs). When our hamster was a baby he would regularly poop in his food bowl if it was empty (I think to make sure there was always something to eat!). Their instinct is to hoard for when food may be scarce.

Having said that, you need to check the hoard for any fresh food like veg, that could have been hoarded and go off. I have found that hasn't been an issue so am less concerned about that now. Because our hamster eats fresh food or veggies straight away and doesn't hoard them. But it can be difficult poking around in a hoard that is under a nest without disturbing the nest.

I just wanted to say I think you are doing all the right things. How often to empty and clean the potty out is a bit variable - sometimes I'll do it after 3 days, sometimes after 5 or 6 - depending on if/when it gets whiffy or looking like it needs it. But on average 3 to 4 days. Sometimes our hamster covers over the wee'd on bit with sand or bedding and kind of keeps it a bit clean himself and that's when I leave it a bit longer. He is so clean and tidy!

So I would say carry on doing what you are doing but maybe when you spot clean have a bit of a poke around in his hoard near the top to see if there is any fresh food there. There probably won't be. And you would smell it if something has gone mouldy lower down. The only times I've had to remove all the hoard is when it has been wee'd on (rarely) and then just put fresh food back in the same place as you removed it from, so they still have a hoard. They can get into a cycle of weeing on it if they think someone is trying to steal it! They wee on it to deter people from stealing it. Our hamster went through a phase of hoarding in his potty after I had to remove some of his hoard and then i had to keep removing it because it was covered in sand and wee. So I used to put new food back next to the potty and let him see. We broke the cycle eventually.

Ok so you say you don't think he hoards fresh food. So leave the hoard then. When you come to need to do a bigger cage clean (I do the substrate about every 2 months and leave some of the old as you do), you can have a poke around in it then. But really their dried food is ok left. At some point you'll probably need to remove some if it becomes too much, and hopefully he won't notice the hoard is smaller!

I found I was giving too much food at one time - the more you give them, the more they hoard! So I reduced the amount in his bowl a bit and only replaced it every other day. If you reduce it too much they panic and hoard all of it! Or start pooping in the bowl sometimes if it's empty.

It all sounds fine to me. Although personally I don't think disinfectant is necessary when you do a cage clean - unless there has been illness, disease or death. A warm damp cloth is fine really to wipe around the cage before replacing the substrate.

I found Erin's hamsters video on cage cleaning tips really helped our routine as our hammy used to get extremely stressed by any change at all, and especially any cage cleaning. Her method worked brilliantly for me and our hamster and I know only do "partial" cleans when doing a bigger cage clean. ie not changing all the substrate at once (as you do) and cleanign the wheel and toys on a different week to doing the substrate. So there is always something that smells familiar. Sometimes if you clean everything all at once they go round peeing on everything to re-scent mark it.

So I'd say just keep doing what you're doing. Spot cleaning and emptying the potty. Our cage stays very clean as well and sometimes I just do a substrate change because it's been two months even though nothing is dirty really, to stop things getting too stale.

If there are masses of poops everywhere, then just spot clean for that - it isn't necessary to remove all of them.

The difficulty I find is checking the hoard without messing up his nest. I had a poke around recently after I gave our hammy a piece of chicken when he was out of the cage. Normally he eats it straight away and leaves what he doesn't want. This time he pouched it. So next morning I needed to check it wasn't in there and had to poke around. It wasn't there - he'd eaten it, but he knew I'd been poking around and started a new hoard somewhere else So now he has two big hoards lol. It's just dried food really - it should be fine.

Next time you do a partial substrate change though, you could maybe remove some of it and put the rest back where it was. I try and lift our hammies house out with the nest in tact when I do the substrate clean. I slid a piece of cardboard under it and lifted it out that way.

At the moment he nests partly under his house in the substrate so it is going to get messed up a bit when I do the substrate. But as long as you leave most of his nesting material behind and some of his hoard, it will all still smell familiar.

I think it sounds like you are doing all the right things. I am also starting to wonder how big the hoard is, but as it's all buried it doesn't seem to be causing any issue and can wait till the next main cage clean.

Anyway, in case you haven't seen it, here's Erin's cage cleaning tips video. I found it really helpful.

You should never remove all of his hoard though. Try and put some of it back in exactly the same place. If you can't (eg it has been wee'd on) put fresh food back in the same place.

If it helps, our hammy starts to clean out his own hoard if I leave it long enough. I have come down twice to find a huge pile of food and substrate outside the door to his house where he has chucked out a load of hoard he doesn't think is worth keeping any more! For me to take away So although you need to check now and then and keep an eye on things, they can do ok for themselves sometimes to a degree.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jVnEjrXbww
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Old 06-20-2016, 05:52 AM   #4
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Default Re: Cleaning - how often?

Thanks for your really quick and detailed replies AmityvilleHams and Serendipity! That's very reassuring. So many ideas, thank you! I had already started the cleaning though.
@Serendipitiy7000, you replied to my post before when I was all so upset when Mr. Crumble died (and he was only about 7 or 8 months old). Ever since then I have been wondering about mistakes on my side. With Cookie, my daughter and I constantly worry about every little detail and I had already planned to see the vet today as I'm so concerned about his weight and his fur (he basically looks a bit thinner than when we initially got him but hasn't lost any weight according to the scales) and I thought maybe he's got parasites.

With the hoard: I just wonder, there must be a point when you have to clear out the hoard? I've only noticed then (worried again ) that Cookie seems to hardly eat anything! Everything (in particular all the things I thought were treats like the peanuts) seems to be in his hoard! He eats all the fresh stuff (he also had some chicken last week and I checked his nest the next day) the same day. Also he prefers scatter feeding and takes the occasional treat from our hands but apart from sunflower seeds I wouldn't be able to tell you whether he eats anything else from his hamster mixture! So here's another question: how much does a hamster actually eat? And drink? As I hardly every see him drinking any more (neither from the bottle nor the bowl). He also doesn't really touch the food in his bowl. If I don't intervene his hoard surely will be pushing him out of his sleeping corner!
My daughter, for some reason, moved his gnawing toothbrush a few inches twice in one evening and the next time Cookie had pulled it back onto his hoard, he left a big pile of droppings on top of it . I thought the message was clear . For this time I kept a part of his hoard and will put it back into his "new" nest. The only reason I feel I have to clean the cage every two weeks is because of the bathing sand that does end up at the bottom of the cage and I do worry about mites.

We'll be going on holiday for two weeks and we booked him into a pet boarding place (part of a pet store). Unfortunately they said they would clean the cages once every week and also disinfect them. I hope I can convince them not to do anything else apart from changing the sand in the toilet and occasional spot cleaning (they claimed they do it daily). I wonder whether it's for general safety reasons as they board quite a few guinea pigs, rabbits etc. but I do worry about the stress level and prepare myself for the worst. Unfortunately most friends are on holiday themselves during that time or didn't want to committ for two weeks.
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Old 06-20-2016, 10:59 AM   #5
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Default Re: Cleaning - how often?

Oh yes I remember about Mr Crumble. It must be very hard after something like that happened and I can quite understand some of your worries. Really though hamsters tend to be healthy and fine with very basic care and Syrians are quite a healthy species - you were just really unlucky with Mr Crumble. You are doing everything fine so please don't worry about every detail. I am sure it was nothing you did or didn't do that caused Mr Crumbles sad early death.

If this helps with reassurance, then when we first had Charlie he nested in a little round plastic house and when I cleaned it out his hoard had turned to mouldy compost under his nest (it was enclosed and the plastic sweated and he'd hoarded lots of broccoli and wee'd on it. He was fit as a fiddle. I've had bits of substrate grow fungus on them after a water bottle leaked and he had a cage full of breeding moths not long ago (nightmare). They can survive many things and be perfectly healthy, just as humans do, as they have common sense and an immune system. They have good little instincts and eat what they need.

I know it isn't easy to be reassured because basically what happened to Mr Crumble was a trauma. And hopefully in time, you will be able to be less anxious about your new hammy. We all get anxious about them to some degree, like Mother hens, but there is only so much we can do and nature has a mind of its own.

How much do hamsters eat? Very little. They hoard most of their food. I find they like eating in bad and snacking from their hoards, rather than eating out in the open, which is partly why they like hoarding under their nests. They also drink very little as well. I used to worry that I couldn't see the water bottle go down much - I still can't. Sometimes they only drink at night as they sleep during the day. Charlie used to get up for a drink mid evening sometimes, but not always. So you might hardly ever see him eat and drink, but they will take what they need. With regard to the peanuts - that peanut will be a prized treasure to save for an extra special snack (maybe only on Sundays!) Half the pleasure is cracking open the nut to find the peanut and then put it in a special place. Charlie put a peanut in his potty recently just to make sure no-one took it (worst place possible to put it Charlie).

You are quite right though, there comes a time to have to clean out the bulk of the hoard. And I guess pruning it during a cage clean is a good idea. If most of the food is fine and dry though when you change the substrate, then replacing most of it is fine too.

What you might find reassuring is what people recommend - weekly health checks - there's a thread on here somewhere showing how to do a weekly health check, including weighing them. Have to go now I'll add a bit later

Don't worry about mites
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Old 06-20-2016, 12:18 PM   #6
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Default Re: Cleaning - how often?

How did you get on at the vets today? It's always reassuring to have a vet check. The can sometimes look a bit leaner as they grow longer. If he had parasites he would probably have some bald patches and have scratched raw in some places. I also used to worry about this when I saw Charlie grooming so much but they do groom a lot and scratching is part of that.

It's a shame the little hammy is deaf but he clearly has a loving, caring family. I hope the vet gave some good answers today - let us know how you get on.

Someone else might have better advice about the hoards There is more than one way to do something and some depends on your hamster's personality as well.

It was so very sad about Mr Crumble but I really think there was nothing you did and it must have been a genetic thing he was born with - a lot of these things are breeding and genetics. Hamsters have eaten all kinds of awful things and been perfectly fine as a one off. One dog biscuit wasn't going to do that. It was just his time - and very sad when it was so soon.

Does Cookie like chews and chew sticks? Four weeks isn't long for him to develop lots of habits and when they're babies they sometimes don't even pouch food at first - that's something they develop later. He's just finding his feet probably.
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Old 06-20-2016, 04:05 PM   #7
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Default Re: Cleaning - how often?

Hi Serendipity7000 - thanks for your great reassurance and understanding! After Mr. Crumble died so suddenly I really did think they must be the most delicate pets on Earth! But your experience with mould and stuff puts things back into perspective. Thank you for that.
I think Cookie's fur doesn't look as nice as in the beginning and his ears aren't furry anymore which I'm almost sure wasn't like that when we got him. He does groom and clean himself a lot but I can't see any patches due to too much scratching. He's also only put on a few grams in weight but at least hasn't lost any. I didn't go to the vet in the end as I had a good look at him last night and apart from his slim waistline he seems fine, alert and active. One thing I can't check is his teeth. He's not much of a chewer at all. He does like the vegetarian dog tooth brushes though. We have a few wooden chews in his cage and also lots of wooden stuff in general but I think all in all we might have to visit the vet regularly to get his teeth trimmed. I'm planning a visit to the vet a couple of weeks before we go on holiday, just for a proper health check and maybe teeth trimming. Dreading to leave him at the pet boarding when we go on holiday.

Cookie really doesn't eat much - I was quite shocked to see his hoard. He also seems quite picky (with Mr. Crumble he would always eat pumpkin seeds straight from our hands, also peanuts were his favourites), he won't touch either dried nor water soaked mealworms. But what he really likes is fresh veg and fruit! And yes, he does love snacking in bed as well , I can sometimes hear him nibbling on something during the day.

We are not too concerned about Cookie being deaf, it can get a bit noisy here with the kids, so it's kind of handy in a way.

I still have to write my cage review (Living world green eco habitat). For now we are all hoping that Cookie will be with us for a long(er) time.
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Old 06-21-2016, 12:59 AM   #8
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They all have different personalities. Cookie sounds quite similar to our little boy Charlie. Who is very picky and quite contrary! A bit like a child. If you want him to take something, he won't. If you try and stop him doing something he'll put all his energy into trying to do it lol.

I would just weigh him weekly and keep an eye on things. I think they are supposed to be quite lean and not too fat really. I used to think Charlie was a bit thin but he was consistently the same weight and never lost any. They look chubbier sat in certain positions and leaner when stretched out.

I think everything sounds quite normal. Charlie's hair also thinned on his ears quite early on - maybe it's like a kind of male pattern baldness of the ears

Charlie will not eat anything from my hand even now. He is very independent. You have to put it down and he will take it, but he will not tolerate being treated like a baby ha ha. The only thing he will take from my hand is a piece of chicken but only if I hold it out - he won't walk on the palm of your hand to take it.

Their fur can go in and out of condition a bit sometimes. Does he use a sandbath (this can sometimes make it look better or worse!)?

I'm not saying mould is good in a hamster cage (I spotted it quickly) but like humans it all depends on their genetics as to how hardy they are and most Syrians are thankfully pretty disease free and have healthy immune systems. Sometimes people are very unlucky having a hamster with a genetic defect they were born with. The only area to be a bit careful with is if anyone has colds or flu as best to use antibacterial hand wash then and avoid them a bit until better.

Looking forward to seeing photos of your little Cookie and seeing your review! It's a lovely cage.

What hamster mix are you using? I think some people add the occasional bit of linseed to help fur condition.

Do you know much about his first four months of life?
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Old 06-21-2016, 05:03 AM   #9
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Default Re: Cleaning - how often?

Charlie and Cookie do sound like they have a lot in common . Mr. Crumble also was bald on his ears but when we got Cookie he looked a lot fluffier somehow. I'm weighing him weekly, since he is fairly tame it's not too hard to do - whereas with Mr. Crumble we thought we would give him more time to settle, and I thought he must have been checked by the vet at the animal shelter anyway so we didn't really have a closer look (he also bit my daughter on the second day we had him quite badly, so we were a bit tensed when handling him). Didn't think in the world he would die after just five weeks. Now that you say it, I did have a very nasty and persistent cough for a long time round that time we lost him and he did seem to sneeze every now and again (but again not having any experience with hamsters it didn't seem extreme). Now looking back we think it might have been kidney related as he weed so much more than Cookie seems to do, especially inside his wheel (which he spent most of the night in) and the smell was very strong.

Very soon after Mr. Crumble died the kids and I knew we wanted to have another hamster (after all the cage and stuff was quite an investment and had hardly been used). So I looked online to try and find another hamster we could "rescue" and I found this little chap who at the time was about 13 weeks old and the last one left of an accidental litter (probably inbred) of 9 pups, free to go to a good home. His owner said he was supposedly more shy than the others. He had been seen by their local RSPCA to determine the gender (the mum started to turn against her pups and got aggressive towards the owners as well). He was raised by hand. I think he had been looked after really well and he looked very healthy. He was kept with other Syrian hamsters (his dad and one brother), at times in the same cage I think, and they got on well supposedly but it probably was just about the right time to separate him from his family. My daughter fell in love with him straight away. His colour reminded us of 'cookies and cream' ice-cream .

We use the "Crispy Muesli - Hamsters & Co" by Versele-Laga, which had good reviews. For some reason I went for a 2.75 kg pack when we were getting prepared for our first hamster, and it will probably last a whole hamster life or goes off before . I will have a look for extra linseed, he does go for some of the really tiny seeds in his Muesli so maybe that's a winner in terms of pleasing his taste buds as well as being good for his fur.

Cookie has two sand baths - one is actually his toilet (one of these plastic corner ones with a roof) and inside his hut (I have to get a picture up somehow because that hamster house is just fantastic!), it's kind of tiny when he squeezes in but he does do his business in it and also uses it as a bathroom to clean himself. His "proper" sand bath (probably too small but he likes it) is a sweetie jar and he spends a great deal of time in it. It's in his cage permanently.

I haven't worked out how to include pictures, yet. It asks me for a URL but surely there must be another way. Also I don't get notifications of answers to my posts even though I've subscribed to the thread. I'm a real newbie .
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Old 06-21-2016, 05:36 AM   #10
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Default Re: Cleaning - how often?

I'm not good on notifications either - someone else might help there. There's another way to add photos - by clicking on 'Advanced' at the bottom of this message box (if you were writing the message) then clicking on the paperclip. A new window opens and lets you "browse" your computer for a photo. You select the photo and 'open' on the computer photo page then click "upload" on the "browse" window that opened. Then wait until it says it has finished uploading (it limits you to uploading 5 photos). Then click "close" on the new window and post your message. The photos appear small at the bottom of the message after it has been posted, and they enlarge when someone moves their mouse over them. One warning though, if the file size of the photo is quite big they take forever to upload. You can shrink the file size to say 25% of the original in some programs and then they upload in seconds.

Food - The Crispy Muesli mix is nice and has some very good ingredients, but it is quite low in protein (15%) and they need at least 18% in their first year, so you could do to supplement the protein really. It's one reason I stuck with Harry hamster because I didn't need to worry about the protein levels in it (it has 18% protein). They need a lot of protein when they're young. The 15% is fine for over 1 year old, but for now you could supplement it. You could get some Science Selective and mix a few of those in with it each time (that's an all in one food with all the required nutrients, but not the variety) then you'd have the best of both worlds. As long as Cookie actually eats the Science Selective biscuits! (Although hamsters do seem to like them generally). Plus you could put "extras" out each day. Apart from a tiny piece of veg each day I always put another extra somewhere other than the food bowl (so he has to hunt it down!). Say half a brazil nut, half a shelled walnut, a small piece of cheese, a couple of pumpkin seeds (pumpkin seeds are high in protein).

It might actually be easier to just feed Harry Hamster as the main mix and sprinkle a bit of the Crispy Muesli around the cage as extras. And keep walnuts and pumpkin seeds as treats

If you do change the food mix, it's best done gradually over a week or two so as not to upset their tummies. So mixing some of the new in with the old, then half and half for a week or so and then mostly the new mix and then fully over to it.
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