Hamsters make great pets: they’re soft, affectionate, and have a lot of personality packed into their tiny bodies. They also make great indoor pets, and are ideal for animal lovers who are a little short on space.
If there’s one disadvantage to keeping a hamster in your home, it’s the fact that their cages can often become smelly. You might think that litter box training is just for cats, but you can actually teach a hamster to relieve themselves in just one spot, too. This not only reduces the smelliness of their home, but also makes it far easier to clean, improving quality of life for both you and your pet.
Potty training your hamster might seem like a complex affair. However, with a little patience and consistency, teaching your fluffy friend this useful behavior is surprisingly easy. Below we run through a simple and effective teaching method, noting tips, tricks, and things to consider as we go.
Get the Right Equipment
Before you start any potty training, it’s important to make sure you have the right tools for the job. To potty train your hamster you will need:
- A Litter Box
Hamster litter boxes usually consist of a triangular tray, designed to slot into any corner of a standard cage. They feature either high sides, to keep litter inside, or a lid covering which also helps to contain odors. You have a few different options when it comes to choosing a litter box for your hamster. You can purchase them at your local pet store, or you might choose to save money and made your own hamster litter tray at home. You could use:
- A glass dish or bowl – they’re easy to rinse and hamsters can’t chew them up
- Clean plastic tupperware with a 2-3 inch hole cut in the side and sanded down
- A glass jar – pint sized is ideal for most hamsters, or a half pint for dwarf varieties
- Hamster Litter
Just like their feline friendly counterparts, hamster litter boxes need to be filled with litter. You can either purchase ‘critter litter’ from your local pet store, or use fine, unscented sand for a budget-friendly alternative. Although sand is less expensive than specifically made hamster litter, it’s not as absorbent, or adept at containing odors. These properties mean that sand needs to be changed more often than critter litter. If your hamster seems reluctant to use a litter box filled with these substances, there’s a third alternative too: paper litter. You can purchase paper pellets at the pet store, or make your own by tearing sheets of newspaper into small strips. Paper absorbs odors much better than sand, and is easy to clean out.
Placing the Litter Box
Once you have a litter box and appropriate litter, the next step is finding a good spot for it in the cage. If you’re introducing a litter box to a hamster who is already well established in their cage, the litter box should be placed in the spot where your hamster tends to relieve themselves already. Hamsters are naturally clean animals, and prefer to return to the same spot, so figuring out your pet’s preferences should be quite straight forward.
If you are placing the litter box in a new cage set-up, it’s best to wait until the hamster has chosen their spot. Once your hamster has worked out their routine, place the litter box in their chosen area. If you place the litter box in your hamster’s cage without considering their preferences, chances are they will either use it for a different function, such as sleeping or eating, or ignore it altogether. By placing it in their chosen toilet corner, you can forge associations between the litter box and your hamster relieving themselves.
Encouraging your Hamster to Use the Litter Box
Once you have placed the litter box in the appropriate corner, fill it with enough litter to cover the bottom. Next, add a little soiled bedding and a few droppings. This will cement the connection between the litter box and going to the toilet in your hamster’s mind.
Once the box has been set up, introduce your hamster to it gradually. Wait until they’re awake, before gently placing them into the litter box. Hamsters are naturally inquisitive, and will most likely investigate this new piece of furniture. While exploring with their nose, they will notice the scent of urine and droppings, helping them to understand what the box is for.
Once the litter box is set up, and your hamster has been introduced to it, the next step is to wait. Most hamsters will get the hang of using the box in a fairly short space of time, but it can take up to four or five weeks for more stubborn rodents.
Changing the Litter Box Location
Once your hamster is used to using their litter box to go to the toilet, you should be able to move it to your desired location in the cage. Just remember that some hamsters are more resistant to change than others, and you may need to move the box little by little to ensure they continue using it.
Litter box maintenance is essential to keep your hamster happy and healthy. Regular maintenance also significantly reduces the odor associated with your hamster’s cage, making for a more comfortable home.
To keep your hamster’s litter box clean, use the following steps:
- Remove the soiled litter from your hamster’s litter box, and dispose of it in the garbage
- Rinse the litter tray with water, and dry off with a rag or paper towel
- Refill the tray with fresh litter, and replace it in your hamster’s cage
- Repeat this process daily
If you have chosen to use a tupperware box, or purchased a plastic litter tray, you may find that your hamster gnaws on it. This gnawing is normal behavior for rodents, who need to keep their ever-growing teeth at an appropriate length. It also means that you may need to replace plastic litter boxes every now and then.
Although some light chewing isn’t a huge issue, gnawing plastic is not healthy for hamsters. This is because plastic can become jagged with regular chewing, and some plastics and dyes are toxic for animals to ingest.
To reduce or prevent this kind of behavior, make sure your hamster has plenty of mental stimulation and appealing chew toys. You may also need to remove plastic items from the cage altogether, and replace them with non-chewable options.
Potty training your hamster is a great way to keep their cage squeaky clean, and gives you a little more control over its layout. However, like any type of training, potty training doesn’t always run smoothly. To help you work through the process successfully, we’ve identified some common potty training problems and solutions.
- Your Hamster is sleeping or eating in the Litter Box
One common potty training issue is when your hamster uses their litter box not as a toilet, but as a bed, dining table, or bath. When this happens, it’s usually a sign that your pet does not consider themselves to have a proper sleeping or eating area.
To rectify the problem, check there is enough space in the cage for your pet to eat, sleep, and relieve themselves in three separate areas. Consider purchasing a larger cage, and make sure you have provided an inviting sleeping area. A good sleeping spot should be enclosed, and filled with plenty of bedding.
On the other hand, if the cage is large, it could be that your hamster feels they need two sleeping or eating areas. In this case, set up another hidey hole or food bowl elsewhere in the cage, and see whether your pet respons.
- Your Hamster is refusing to use the Litter Box
If your hamster is not using their litter box, even though you have placed in their toilet spot, and filled it with some soiled bedding, it’s likely that they haven’t quite grasped what it is for.
If this happens, persistence is key. Simply move the litter box to wherever your hamster has been relieving themselves, changing the spot whenever they do. Eventually, your fluffy friend should understand that the box is their new bathroom, although it may take a few weeks or even a month.
- Your Hamster is using the Litter Box for Urination only
Many owners will find that their hamsters use the new litter box when they need a pee, but won’t ever leave droppings there. This is fairly common and nothing to worry about, since it’s hamster urine, rather than droppings, that has an unpleasant odor. Just remember to pick out the droppings on a regular basis, and dispose of them in the garbage or toilet.
- Your Hamster is only using the Litter Box some of the Time
In some cases, you might find your hamster using their litter box half the time, and simply going to the toilet in a corner at others. If this happens, the cage is probably too large for a single litter box, and it’s a good idea to place a second box in your hamster’s second toilet spot.