Table of Contents

Hamster Bedding Depth and The Various Substrate Options

Now you might be thinking that having a bigger cage means that your hamster will be happy and fulfilled. The good news is, you’re almost there! Bedding and substrate both play a very important role in your hamster care. Adequate bedding depth holds significant importance for hamsters due to their innate love for burrowing, a behavior frequently observed in their natural habitat.

In the wild, Syrian hamsters are known to create burrows ranging from depths of 36 to 106 centimeters (Gatterman 2001). Campbell and Winter White hamsters, can construct burrows as deep as 25cm - 100 cm into the ground (Ross 1995, 1998). Chinese hamsters have burrows ranging from 40cm - 100cm (Pallas). Even Roborovski hamsters, the tiniest of all hamster species, have burrows going as deep as 90cm into the ground (Kolynchuk).

When it comes to bedding, the general rule is that more is better, as hamsters provided with ample bedding tend to exhibit greater contentment and improved overall health.

A study by Hauzenberger, Gebhardt-Henrich, and Steiger in 2006 investigated the impact of bedding depth and found that hamsters provided 40 to 80 centimeters of bedding constructed burrows within their enclosures and actively occupied them. Interestingly, this study also revealed a reduction in wire gnawing among hamsters provided with 40 centimeters of bedding, while those with 80 centimeters of bedding displayed no wire gnawing behavior. This emphasizes the need for deep bedding so that hamsters can exhibit their natural behaviors.

These findings underscore the positive influence of deeper bedding on hamsters' natural behaviors and well-being, further highlighting the importance of providing sufficient bedding depth in their enclosures.

Suitable Bedding Materials and Substrate

There are many different types of bedding that are suitable as the main substrate in your hamster’s enclosure.

A good main substrate is one that holds burrows well and isn’t dusty as dusty bedding may lead to respiratory infections. The main substrate should also not be scented and absorb odor and urine well.

Softwood shavings, such as those from pine and cedar trees, are not recommended for hamster bedding because they contain higher levels of phenols. Phenols are natural aromatic compounds found in softwoods that can irritate your hamster’s immune system (Teselle 1993).

  1. Paper Bedding (Non-Scented) - Soft, absorbent, and many brands are not dusty, making it comfortable for your hamster and easy to maintain. Look for non-scented varieties to avoid any potential irritants or allergens. It comes in various colors too, which may also make a good safe additional substrate if you wish to decorate certain parts of your enclosure.
  2. Aspen Bedding - Aspen bedding is derived from aspen wood, a hardwood. It's a popular choice for hamster enclosures and provides a soft, comfortable surface for your hamster to burrow.
  3. Birch Bedding - Birch bedding is another hardwood option that can be suitable for hamsters. Like aspen, it is absorbent.
  4. Spruce Bedding Although this is a softwood bedding, the levels of phenols that make softwood bedding dangerous are very low and make it almost comparable to that of some hardwoods such as aspen. Read FiveLittleHams' discussion on softwood to learn more.

Supplementary Bedding

  1. Corncob Bedding - This type of bedding does not hold burrows well and may be prone to getting moldy easily.
  2. Coconut Fibre / Cocopeat - This is usually used as supplementary bedding to make a digging box. Some brands that sell this bedding are too stringy in quality to be used as a main substrate. This also will dry easily, and in my personal experience has attracted certain unwanted insects.
  3. Soft Granule Bedding - This type of bedding does not hold burrows well but can still be used as added texture to your enclosure.
  4. Hemp Bedding - Unfortunately, this bedding may not be able to hold burrows and tunnels well even when hay is added to it, so it might not be appropriate for a main substrate. It may be good as an additional substrate to add texture or nesting material to your hamster’s enclosure.
  5. Hay - These are often used in between layers of substrate in order to help make the bedding stronger and hold tunnels better. As for all other substrate types, always check for mold.

Your bedding may also need to be compacted/pressed down so that it will become suitable for hamsters to burrow. Here is a handy instagram post that shows how to do it.

How much bedding do I need?

We recommend all hamsters have at least 8 inches (20 cm) of substrate to be able to construct burrows. If possible, we recommend providing 12” of bedding or more, especially for Syrian hamsters. Deep bedding with a suitable substrate should make up the majority of the enclosure.

A combination of deep bedding and a large enclosure will be a great improvement to any hamster’s life. Visit our bedding calculator to learn more.

Reasons Why Your Hamster Is Not Burrowing

Your hamster may not be burrowing due to the following reasons:

  1. Inappropriate substrate depth - There simply isn’t enough substrate for them to actually burrow. They may be able to dig, but if it’s too shallow they cannot make tunnels.
  2. Inappropriate substrate choice - Some substrates do not hold burrows effectively, so when your hamster attempts to construct burrows their efforts may be in vain. The tunnels may collapse since the substrate may not hold enough support. Some substrates may also need to be compacted when you put it in your enclosure in order for it to hold better burrows.
  3. Heavy accessories or hides are not secured on stilts or platforms - If heavy accessories are not secured on stilts or platforms, your hamster may not be able to burrow since these items can collapse on them and injure them.
  4. No areas that are suitable for the hamster to start burrowing - If there are no areas that look suitable or inviting enough to start a burrow, your hamster may not burrow. Things that may make your hamster’s enclosure more inviting to burrow are things such as cork logs or wooden tunnels.

Some hamsters prefer not to burrow and prefer to stay in premade burrows. In the wild, some winter whites actually occupy the burrows of other mammals such as marmots and will seldom make their own burrows (Ross 1998). This does not mean they should be deprived of having deep bedding. You can provide your hamster with a multi-chamber hide, and multi-chamber hides can be beneficial for all hamsters. For more hamster items you can add to your enclosure, see our post on post on enrichment.


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