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Substrate Reviews

Black eyed white Chinese hamster
6 June, 2022
There is a wide range of substrates; it makes it so hard to choose!
Each substrate has its own positive and negative aspects. Which you use depends on what is best for you and your hamster. Sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error to find one that suits you both!

Cardboard Squares

Description: Cardboard squares

Sizes: Variable, usually larger amounts

Pros:  Less likely to cause allergies for humans/hamsters. Suitable for other rodents, e.g. rats, mice. Less tangling with long-haired hamsters.

Cons: Not as absorbent as other horse beddings. Tends to dry onto cages after being very wet, e.g. leaky bottle or diabetic. Dwarf hamsters can find climbing over the squares tricky, especially the robos.



Description: Wood pulp small animal bedding

Sizes: 10-60L

Pros: Absobent and forms nests well. Soft, especially for post-operative recovery. Available in different colours (confetti colour shown in the photo on the left).

Cons: Expensive, the ‘natural’ colour can have a funny smell



Cat Litter

Description: Paper or wood cat litter pellets

Sizes: variable but generally smaller amounts

Pros: More absorbent than wood shavings. Less likely to tangle in long-haired hamsters’ coats. Readily available.

Cons: They tend to be more expensive and less absorbent than the horse beddings. The pellets can be hard, especially wood-based ones (middle of photo), and make the cages heavy.

Notes: Never use clay-based cat litter for hamsters as it can cause illness if ingested.

Examples: Back 2 Nature (left side of photo), Biocatolet (right side of photo), wood cat litter (middle of photo)



Description: Shredded cardboard

Sizes: 800g – 20kg

Pros: Easier for smaller hamsters to walk through/on than cardboard squares. Less likely to cause allergies for humans/hamsters. Suitable for other rodents, e.g. rats, mice.

Cons:  Not as good for forming nests. Less absorbent than other horse beddings.

Notes: Smaller sizes are available from the Finacard site.



Description: Recycled paper animal bedding

Sizes: 10kg and 20kg

Pros: Very absorbent and soft, requires less frequent cleanouts. Warm for winter, many hamsters use it to nest with as well. Holds nests and tunnels well. Can be used for other rodents, e.g. mice.

Cons: Limited availability and variable quality in bales. Larger bale requires more room for storage. More expensive than other horse beddings. Can tangle with longhaired Syrians.

Notes:  The size of the 20kg bale is smaller than that of Aubiose despite being the same weight.



Description: wood pulp horse bedding

Sizes: 85L

Pros: Absorbent and therefore requires less frequent cleanouts. Holds tunnels and nests reasonably well, not sharp.

Cons: Bags can be rather dusty. Megazorb tends to tangle in long-haired males’ coats. Larger bale size requires more space for storage.

Notes: Damp can get into the bags if kept outside, for example at stockist.


Wood Shavings

Description: Wood shavings usually pine

Sizes: Variable

Pros:Cheap, widely available and come in many different sized bales.

Cons:Shavings can tangle in long-haired hamsters’ coats. Not suitable for all other rodents (e.g. rats, mice). Some people are concerned about phenols present in shavings/sawdust though others have used them with hamsters for decades without problems (may be more of an issue in the US). I’ve found these harder to compost.

Notes: It is important to get wood shavings that are designed for use in animal cages as some woods and treatment agents can harm hamsters’ lungs. Scented shavings and those made from cedar wood should never be used.


What should I choose?

There is no one right answer here. It really depends on what suits you and your hamster. Things to consider are:

  • Does your hamster have any health conditions, such as diabetes, eye ulceration or allergies?
  • Do you tend to be allergic?
  • What is your budget?
  • Do you prefer to order online or pick up locally?
  • Do you have space to store larger bales or prefer a smaller amounts?
  • Are ability to compost the substrate or production of dust in the hamster’s room important to you?


So, what do I use? I’ve used all of the substrates I’ve mentioned above over time. Currently I’m using teabag bedding and have done for several years. I find it easy to get hold of, non-allergenic, enjoyed by my hamsters and good to compost.

What do you use and why? Let me know in the comments!

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