WHY A SEPARATE SUBSTRATE?
Just like us, your hamster enjoys a comfortable soft bed!
While some bedding substrates do work well because they're soft enough, others may be a little "crisp" or clumpy.
Standard nesting substrates can also work out cheaper than having to toss out your more expensive bedding once or twice a week during spot-cleans.
1-PLY TOILET PAPER
This is the best, safest, and one of the few recommended nesting materials.
Really cheap and all you have to do is thinly strip up a several sheets at a time.
Strips should be placed in and around the bedroom.
Your hamster will know what to do – he'll drag & arrange them in his bedroom/nest, and scrunch them up some more to make them even softer.
Note: do not use super-soft toilet paper, 2-ply toilet paper, facial tissues, or luxury serviettes/paper towel as these make too much dust when stripped up, which can cause eye and respiratory irritation.
PAPER NESTING MATERIAL
Nesting Material is made from shredded plain uncoated paper and can be used in your hamster's hide/nest box, as an additional substrate in the habitat, or to create layers in between your paper bedding like a fake hay, or to simply make extra depth by placing it at the bottom of the deep bedding zone.
Natural / Organic
Safe for hamsters and rats
Softer than what it looks in the pics
KITCHEN WIPES (papery dishcloths) may also be chopped up to use as nesting.
Wash these in plain hot water before chopping and using.
TIP: In instances where a hamster is super sensitive to all general bedding substrates, and where a vet may suggest using fabric, this would be the best and safest option (colours may be a bit gaudy, but your hamster doesn't mind). However, this kind of bedding collapses easily and is therefore not very good for tunneling. As a bedding substrate, add more as it reduces.
DANGEROUS NESTING MATERIALS
AVOID THE FLUFF!
SNUGGLE STUFF & FLUFFY/COTTON NESTING
It can resemble cotton wool, or strips of wool, string, or fabric, and feels very soft. Unfortunately, this nesting kills and injures many hamsters around the world each year. Fluffy nesting is always sold with a 'safe bedding' claim, but it is the most dangerous nesting on sale for hamsters.
Hamsters often naturally ingest a little of their substrate as they make their nest, but this fluffy stuff does not break down in the digestive system and becomes lodged inside their small intestine. It then becomes incredibly painful as the hamster tries to pass it but the blockage prevents the hamster from pooing normally. Eventually, if not helped by a vet, this will end in the tragic and painful death of the hamster.
Fluffy stuff or threads become entangled around limbs. When the limbs are stuck, a hamster’s instinct is to chew the leg off to free itself, and the sudden loss of blood and shock can kill them.
When foreign matter like this becomes entangled and stuck around teeth, it causes infection in the mouth, resulting in rotting teeth and eventually infecting facial bones and eyes too. The hamster may also injure it's face by trying to scratch the irritation loose.
Hamsters often gather nesting material in their pouches to move around the nest. The inside of the pouches are rough and fluff gets stuck, along with any food that also becomes entangled in it, and this eventually causes a bad infection, often infecting the eyes or ears too, that will require veterinary attention, an operation and medication.
TOY & CUSHION STUFFING
FABRIC & WOOL
For similar reasons to the fluff, the risks are too great due to the fluff that they scratch up from fabric, as well as the resulting threads when they nibble and tear up blankets, jerseys, clothing, towels, etc.
Hamsters will instinctively try to make nesting material out of anything soft, so please don't give them any of these materials. You cannot get cheaper and safer than plain old 1-ply toilet paper!!!!
Items like hammocks, fabric tubes, and snuggle pouches sold for rats should not be left inside a hamster's habitat. You may use some of these during play times and bonding only, when you can observe and remove if your hamster starts scratching or nibbling at them.
WOOD AND/OR PAPER “WOOL”
poses an entanglement risk, and may also not be of a safe paper or wood. These are usually not very soft & comfortable anyway.
Other dangerous materials to be avoided include those used for stuffing and packaging, as they will also cause intestinal blockages if ingested, and loose chewed-of bits can also be inhaled, causing issues with the nasal cavity and/or lungs:
POLYSTYRENE BALLS OR CHIPS
BEDROOMS & NESTS
Your hamster may or may not choose to sleep in an actual bedroom/nest box.
Some hamsters prefer to burrow deep into their bedding, and sleep there. Others choose a multi-chamber box, a fat cardboard tube, a wooden cabin, or a plain cardboard box.
Make sure the bedroom is a reasonable & comfortable size for your hamster.
Nests make them feel safe while asleep, and will keep them warm in winter.
In summer, many hamsters will move out of the box and choose to sleep in the open, behind the wheel or somewhere else where it's cooler.
Where ever your hamster decides to nest, it is still important to provide good nesting substrates, and at least one good bedroom box in case he chooses.
A CARBOARD BOX is an inexpensive, easy, healthy option:
A PLAIN small cardboard box with a large entrance/exit hole cut out is perfect.
You may use any little box, but if it has any printing or gloss coating, keep a check that your hamster isn't gnawing at it. Lining these boxes with plain carboard is advised, or placing extra pieces of carboard inside should satisfy your hamster's need to gnaw.
Because they're so breathable, a carboard box can have a bottom to it.
A WOODEN BOX/CABIN may be appealing for you to look at, and can the top can often conveniently double as a food & water platform.
Make sure you can access the inside easily to clean inside.
Unless there is ventilation at the top, or it is a substantial size, make sure that it is bottomless, and that it simply rests on top of deeper bedding.
Similarly, a CHAMBER BOX can be used, which mimics the natural chamber system made by hamsters in the wild
Note that these Critters Cabins are mostly made of MDF or Pressboard. While they are safe to use, they do need to be removed if your hamster starts gnawing on the edges. The resin/glue used to bind the material will be toxic if ingested.
If you choose to buy any of these Log Houses or structures, depending on where they come from, some are poorly made. Check for rough edges and exposed nails inside & out before using.
Keep checking too, if your hamster gnaws.
Ice cream tubs, plastic containers, those domes/igloos & little houses sold in pet shops, etc. are not recommended. They are not 'breathable'
Even if you drill 100 holes in them, humidity from the hamster's own body heat will build up inside, which is very unhealthy for your hamster to sleep in as it can result in respiratory, skin & fur problems.
Even worse is if your new hamster still pees in the nest, he will be at risk of ammonia toxicity, which can cause neurological and respiratory problems.