Have you noticed how your hamster loves to stuff his cheeks like a little child in an all-you-can-eat buffet? Despite the small size of these rodents, you might be surprised how much they can squeeze into their cute cheek pouches. If this is the case, does it pose a risk of choking? Can hamsters choke on food?
So far, hamsters choking on food is a rare occurrence. But it doesn’t mean that these animals don’t choke at all.
Read on below to know more about choking in hamsters, their cheek pouches, and some tips to help your small animal stay fit, healthy, and happy for a long time.
Do Hamsters Choke?
Unfortunately, yes, your hamster can choke. This is the reason why it is extremely important that you keep everything hazardous out of your hamster’s reach, including wires and cables.
Hamsters can also choke every time they chew and store their bedding. When they stuff their cheek pouches with bedding and it accidentally gets caught on their sharp teeth, this can lead to a serious blockage. There is also the risk that your hamster may end up swallowing pieces of their bedding.
To ensure that your hamster doesn’t choke on his bedding materials, it is highly recommended that you stay away from cotton or floss materials for their bedding because these are hard to digest.
What are Cheek Pouches in Hamsters?
Hamsters are all born with the so-called cheek pouches. These are the flexible large pockets found on both sides of a hamster’s mouth. The cheek pouches of hamsters don’t contain salivary glands and can also stretch all the back to the front part of the hamster’s shoulders.
Instead of filling their faces as a result of hunger, hamsters do it mainly for survival. The truth is that hamsters should consume food every few hours for them to function normally. However, when in the wild, foraging for food this often will only make them easy prey for predators. This is the reason why these small nocturnal animals gather food during the night and anything they don’t store is consumed as snacks along the way.
The cheek pouches of a hamster serve as an excellent hidey-hole to keep things dry and safe. It is also common among female hamsters to carry their offspring in their cheek pouches.
Contortionists themselves will surely be impressed by hamsters and their remarkable physical flexibility when stuffing their cheeks. These cheek pouches don’t just expand to store items because they also let hamsters enjoy their snacks at the same time. Now, isn’t that amazing?
How Hamster Cheeks Work
The pouches found in the cheeks of a hamster are similar to two small, deflated balloons. If you try to closely observe your hamster, you will surely notice that once your hamster put food inside his mouth, he rotates the food around these pockets to make it much easier to slide back.
These pouches will expand after the snacks are positioned properly, and the retractor muscles will then squeeze the pouch and pull back the food with it.
How Much Can Hamster Cheek Pouches Store?
It has been discovered that the cheek pouches of hamsters can hold up food that is approximately 20% of their total body weight. It can be anything from a whole shelled peanut, whole grapes, big chunks of cucumber, and pieces of bedding.
What to Do If Your Hamster Can’t Remove Food from His Cheeks
Many hamsters can efficiently empty out their cheek pouches with the use of their front paws. However, if you notice that it is impacted and your pet is unable to clear his cheek pouches for whatever reason, then, it might be time for you to intervene.
The first thing you can do is to try to massage the cheek pouch to break up and dislodge the blockage. If this method doesn’t work, you can then attempt to get rid of it on behalf of your hamster. Probably the least stressful way is to flush out the debris using a small eyedropper. Just fill the eyedropper with some warm salt water then gently squeeze it into the mouth of your hamster.
If the cheek of your hamster is still impacted even after you do it, the best thing you can do is to seek the help of a veterinarian.
Common Diseases of Hamster Cheeks
Just like other muscles and organs of your hamster’s body, the cheeks can also be prone to potential health issues. If you want to ensure that your hamster’s cheeks are always healthy, there are several hamster cheek diseases you should be familiar with, and these are the following:
- Cheek pouch abscesses
- Cheek pouch eversion
- Cheek pouch tumors
- Cheek pouch impactions
How to Keep the Cheeks of Your Hamster Healthy
Even if there is no way for you to stop your small animal from overstuffing his cheeks or catching his cheeks on one corner of the cage, you can still put in place several preventative measures to encourage a healthy lifestyle for your pet.
Below are some tips you can follow:
- Check for bad breath and swollen cheek pouches.
- Never give your hamster any sticky, scratchy, or sharp food substances.
- Know and keep the number of your local vet in case of emergency.
- Always ensure that there are no sharp objects or edges anywhere inside the cage.
- Observe the eating habits and behavior of your hamster.
The Bottom Line
While choking on food is not very common among hamsters, this can still happen not just with food but also with other materials like bedding. Also, while the chubby cheeks of your hamster might be their most adorable characteristic, it is still important to remember that they might also be exposed to some conditions and diseases that can harbor inside their mouth.
If you don’t dislodge the food or other items stuck in your pet’s cheeks, damage to the cheek pouches and dangerous bumps and lumps can lead to some serious issues with your cute hamster.