Water Bottles vs Water Bowls
Water bottles vs Water bowls; which is better? Seemingly one of the great debates the hamster community loves to have. You've probably been told that water bowls are dangerous due to drowning risk and that water bottles are a safer, and more hygienic option to use - but both of these arguments are very heavily flawed, for reasons we'll discuss why in this article.
Water bottles are often highly praised in many hamster communities - but are they really that better than bowls, and are bowls as bad as some often make them out to be?
Water bottles are used with good intention; to provide the hamster with a clean source of water that cannot be contaminated with bedding or knocked over in the enclosure. While this sounds great in theory, in practice it's not actually so straightforward. Regardless of what position you place the bottle in, your hamster will have to tilt its head at an unnatural (and often uncomfortable) angle to drink. There is also the concern with hamsters chewing the spout of bottles; this can be the result of boredom, frustration, or even just because they're presented with the opportunity. Due to the spout being metal, this can result in broken or chipped teeth which often require veterinary attention to correct. This has also been an issue with animals who haven't been observed chewing the spout, but instead the damage was caused by the metal ball within the spout (that the animal has to hit with its tongue to release water) hitting against their teeth while drinking. If not cleaned regularly, the spout of water bottles can also harbour bacteria growth and so while the bottle itself may be clean, the water is passing through a filthy spout before it gets to your hamster. This issue in particular can be solved by taking a q-tip or bottle brush to the spout two or three times a week (as rinsing alone will not suffice) which will remove the majority of any build up, but the other issues still stand and cannot be avoided.
Tip: Use a bowl with an 8cm diameter or less to discourage hamsters from sitting in water bowls. Shown above is the 80ml Trixie bowl, which has an 8cm diameter, being used by female Winter White dwarf hamster, 'Sterling'.
Bowls on the other hand, unlike with water bottles which only release small droplets of water at a time, allow your hamster to drink freely and unobstructed in a natural and much more comfortable drinking position. There is no metal spout for them to chew (which many do out of frustration from the bottle only releasing small amounts of water at a time) and no metal ball to hit off-or cause damage to- their teeth. There is no dark spout to create the perfect breeding ground for bacteria which makes them very easy to regularly sanitise and due to lack of said spout, they are easy & quick to clean on even a regular day-to-day basis without taking pieces apart and messing around with bottle brushes worrying if you managed to clean out all the build up in the spout. Water bottles are also known to stop dispensing water at random intervals due to pressure changes or the spout becoming blocked by something as little as just one piece of bedding. This can happen during the night or when you're out, leaving your hamster without access to water often for hours before you realise. On the contrary, bottles can also leak and completely drain out, soaking the bedding and leaving your pet without water. If a water bowl is managed correctly, neither of these issues commonly seen with bottles should be a major (if any) concern.
So how do you avoid having issues with bowls?
Tip: Place bowls on a solid surface (i.e. a tile or slate of granite like shown above) to help prevent bedding and other contaminants from being kicked into the bowl.
If you choose to use a water bowl, it must be a small ceramic or glass bowl so that it will not tip under the animals weight (examples are small tealight holders, rodipet bowls, or trixie bowls). It must be shallow so that your hamster can drink from it with ease without straining their neck, and placed on a flat surface (i.e. tile or wooden platform) so that it cannot become logged with bedding from the cage. If you follow these guidelines and use a heavy dish of a small diameter and place it on a flat surface, you will not encounter any issues with drowning, coat damage, easy contamination with bedding, or problems with bowls being knocked over in the enclosure.
Water bowls are often demonised in many hamster communities with reasonings for disliking such as "they're too easily contaminated", "they can be knocked over". "they'll sit in them and their coats will be destroyed" or, my personal favourite, "your hamster will drown!". These are all frankly very silly reasonings, and these concerns or issues are very easily solved once you exercise common sense & care. Water bowls are the favoured option by many hamsters and due to the reasons discusses in this article, it is not difficult to see why.
Additional Reads: How to Set-up a Natural Hamster Enclosure