Can Hamsters Fill Their Cheeks?

Hamsters have distinctive, stretchy cheeks that they use to carry bedding and store food. Syrian hamsters are a popular research subject because of the special features of their cheek pouches. Interestingly, they got their name because of their collecting behavior. The name hamster is derived from the German word “hamastra”, which means “Hoarding”. Also, a group of hamsters is commonly known as hoarders.

I am sure you have a lot of questions regarding these little hoarders and their unique cheeks. In this article, I am going to specifically discuss hamster cheeks and problems arise related to their cheeks.

Hamster cheeks

Hamster cheeks are large pockets that have evaginations of the oral mucosa. It can stretch up to their shoulders. The Hamster cheeks fulfill purposes such as storing food and protecting their babies.  Most importantly, when they are in the wild, they use their cheeks to transport food to their burrows. This characteristic has made them inherit the name “horders”.

Similar to all animals hamsters come up with two cheeks. Hamsters can stuff their cheeks on both sides or just one side. They can keep eating their food even after they fill their cheek pouches, that is their speciality. Apart from that female hamsters can carry their baby using their cheek pouches.

Can hamsters fill their cheeks?

hamster with full cheeks of food

Yes, hamsters can fill their cheeks up to 1/5 of their body weight. For example, if the hamster weighs 200g it can carry an extra 40g in its cheeks. This behavior fascinates many scientists all over the world and they conduct various research to understand how they inherit this behavior.

Hamsters fill their cheeks mainly with food or female animal can carry their babies on those cheeks. If I explain hamster cheek with an example it is like a small, deflated balloon. Once the food reaches them, their pouch would expand, and their retractor muscles would squeeze and pull the food inside. You could relate this to a normal person carrying 30 extra pounds of food or about 120 quarter-pounders. I am sure it is not a pleasant experience for us. But for hamsters, it is as easy as eating.

Why do hamsters fill their cheeks with food?

Hamsters fill their cheeks with food to carry them from one place to another. They have very small hands and they cannot carry larger food items with those tiny hands. So they invent a new way to carry food from one place to another. Literally, they do that for their survival. The more they store the better it would be for them. When they find a lot of food at once. They fill their cheeks with food and bring it back to their nest. So the hamster family can consume that food later.  Normally wild Hamsters like to consume food leaves, shoots, veggies and fruits. However, they would not eat them at that time. Instead, they would store them in the cheeks and store them for later.

In addition to that, they do this to protect themselves from predators as well. In fact, they collect their food at night. Consequently, it would allow them to hide from predators during the daytime.

How much can a hamster fit in its mouth?

Hamster Stuffing foods in their mouth

Hamsters can fit food for about 20 % of the total body weight. Thats ⅕ th of its body weight. As I explained earlier if the hamster weight 200g, they can carry approximately 40g in their cheek pouches.

How do hamsters fit so much in their cheeks?

The Hamster’s stretching abilities help them to store the food. Literally, they can extend halfway down the body and expand extensively. Besides, they also have this special retractor muscle which would be crucial for them to stuff as much as they can. In fact, once the food plops in their mouth, it would reorient the food. They would angle the food first as it would make it easy for them to eat more and more food. In fact, Once they angle the food would easily slip to the back of the pouch which would allow them to store more.

When the food is in its way, retractor muscles would do their part. Once the pouch stretches, the muscle would push away the food to the back so that it would avoid any clogging up of the food. How impressive is that? Besides, there are some Hamster species which can hide their babies so that they could keep them secure. In addition to that as per some researches some Hamsters can use their pouches for swimming as well.

Why won’t my hamster empty her cheeks?

One possible reason is they are not just ready to give up their food, that’s why they are keeping food in their pouches. Apart from that when they get scared or stressed they refused to give up their food. So give them some space and observe your hamster carefully from distance. If they keep doing that you have to involve and help them to empty their cheeks. Lets find out how.

How to empty hamster cheek pouch

Usually, Hamsters empty their pouches normally and it is a natural mechanism. In fact, even if something gets stuck partiall , they would tend to do that. That said, once the food and bedding impact this process, you may have to get involved with this and dislodge what is available there. That said, when you do this you need to be really careful as it could damage tissues and cause damage. So, you could try out the following steps to empty the Hamsters cheeks. Ensure that you don’t handle them too hard.

Massage

Sadly hamsters cannot use their tongue to clean their pouches. In fact, what they do is they would use their front paws to remove the impacted food. If you don’t spot them doing this, you could do this by massaging the cheek pouches. It would dislodge what is stuck there. Hamsters may sometimes not let you do that. Thus, you need to grip them firmly for this procedure.

Water flush

In addition to massing, you can try flushing the items which have got stuck there. However, ensure that you use lukewarm water to do this task. You could do this step only if you are experienced person and confident only. First, you can take a syringe and then fill it with water. In the meantime, you need to hold the hamster in one hand and then let their body in your palm using your fingers. Try to make them feel good and prise your Hamster’s mouth using the syringe. Once you open the Hamster’s mouth, you can squeeze the water into their cheek pouches and then clean the stuck items. That said if you are not confident doing this you can contact a vet doctor and get it done.

Can hamsters over-stuff their cheeks?

Hamsters can stuff their cheeks up to 20 % of their body weight. But if they end up doing that it would create unnecessary problems for hamsters. For example, that will cause abscesses. Abscesses are localized infections that can start at the cheek pouch and spread to the entire body quite faster.

How long can a hamster store food in its cheeks?

Most hamsters can keep food in their pouches for a few hours. Once they reach the burrows, they would store their food for future uses. However, if your Hamsters keep food for more than this, it is very likely that something is wrong with them. In other words, it is very likely that food has become impacted and you need to take them out manually.

Hamster carrying babies in mouth

Not all Hamster species can carry babies in their cheeks. However, there are so many different Hamsters species that would carry their babies in their pouches. The purpose of doing so is to protect them, especially from predators. Further, if the Hamsters feel they are under threat or if they feel like they are anxious they would tend to place their babies in the cheek pouches. It is very rare that pet Hamsters would do such a thing.

Hamster cheek pouch infections

Cheek pouch abscesses

One of the most commonly found Hamster cheek pouch infections is cheek pouch abscesses. These are localized infections and they would form right in the cheek pouch. They would spread to the rest of their body rapidly. To treat them, you need to go to a veterinarian and it is very likely that they will use antibiotics to treat this. if you don’t treat them properly, it would make the infection more severe and painful. Ultimately it would stop the Hamster from eating.

Some of the common root causes for this condition are when the Hamsters tend to eat something sharp or when they nick their face on something and if it resulted in a small cut or a puncture. Further, if Hamsters have overgrown teeth would also contribute to this condition.

Tumors

Besides abscesses,  Hamsters may suffer from tumors too and it is also a commonly found condition, especially in pet Hamsters. These are firm and they would not feel it the same way they feel when they stuff their cheeks with food. These tumors are squamous cell carcinomas. It would be difficult to predict this condition. However, you can treat this condition whilst letting them eat normally.

Eversion

This is not as common as the above conditions. Once the cheek pouch flips out of the mouth it means the Hamsters are suffering from the eversion. Further, you may see a pink bulge right in the corner of the mouth. Further, when the Hamsters experience this, it is difficult for them to eat. The best thing you could do here is to consult a vet doctor. In fact, they would stitch them and keep those popped-out parts right in place.

Impactions

This is yet another rarely found condition among hamsters. If your Hamsters consume large food pieces and beddings and if they have stuck in the cheek pouch, it literally means they are going through an impaction condition. If you fail to attend to this condition, chances are that it can get infected or result in abscesses as well.

Hamster everted cheek pouch surgery cost

According to my research, it will cost $150 dollars for consultation, anesthesia and surgery. This price may be changed due to the severity of the case.

Hamster everted cheek pouch treatment

During this process,  the hamster will get anesthetized and their food and bedding would be washed out. Usually, the vet doctor will evert the pouch manually.

How to ensure that your hamster’s cheeks are healthy

You could try out some precautionary methods to ensure that hamster cheeks are healthy. So, the first thing you need to do is avoid giving them sharp, scratchy, or sticky foods. Ensure that you keep checking the Hamster’s behaviors well as well as their eating habits.  Closely monitor whether you could spot any swollen cheek pouches or whether they are growing healthily. Ensure that there are no sharp edges in the cage and consult the vet doctor when it is necessary.

Conclusion

The most beautiful feature of the hamster is their chubby cheeks. However, ensure that they don’t dislodge the food in the cheeks and that their cheek pockets are protected. In addition to that check whether they contain dangerous lumps or bumps as it would cause unnecessary problems and discomfort to your pet.

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