You just got a new hamster, and you gave him a meal, hoping that he will enjoy it. But after a few minutes, you notice what looks like vomit somewhere in the corner of the cage. You start panicking but your hamster looks just fine without any signs of stomach upset.
What could be the problem here? Why do hamsters throw up their food?
Well, one thing is for sure – your hamster is not really throwing up. Strangely enough, rodents, including hamsters, don’t have gag reflexes.
Continue reading to know why your hamster looks like he is throwing up his food in the first place:
Why Hamsters Cannot Vomit
Rodents, with hamsters included, don’t have a vomit response due to the limitation in their brainstem neurological components and anatomical structures.
This is why rodents are not great study animals when searching for better methods to reduce nausea and vomiting after chemotherapy. This is because rodents seem to have a one-way digestive system.
To begin with, bodily constraints such as thin muscle sheets below the lungs, longer esophagus, and reduced diaphragm muscularity make the act of throwing up hard for hamsters even if they wanted to.
Aside from this, researchers also discovered that rodents show less mouth, throat, shoulder, and nerve activity after consuming foods that trigger nausea. This suggests that these animals don’t have the necessary neurons in the brain required for the production of an up-chunk response. Of course, this is not to mention that rodents still experience nausea.
It is most likely that hamsters lost their ability to throw up at one point during their history of evolution in favor of the rest of the defensive strategies.
For example, rodents have a very astute response to taste, which makes them so much better at staying away from toxins that can make them sick or cause their death.
If Hamsters Don’t Throw Up, What Is It Then?
Instead of throwing up, your hamster is merely spitting out the food it stored inside its cheek pouches. Hamsters, as you may already know by now, have big pockets on the sides of their mouth. These pockets are invaginations of the hamsters’ oral mucosae.
These pouches have one main purpose, and that is transporting food from one place to another. This means that if you notice your hamster spewing out food, chances are he just recently finished transporting his food to a spot where he feels it is much safer.
To understand the process better, hamsters living in the wild take advantage of their cheek pouches for carrying their provisions back to their own burrows.
These cheek pouches are like grocery bags. When a predator shows up, hamsters can simply escape, saving not only their lunch but also their precious lives.
This particular habit of hamsters using their pouches to store food is actually the very reason why these animals are called hamsters in the first place. Its loose translation in the local Arabic dialect in the place where they came from is “mister saddlebags.”
It is important to remember that hamsters can stuff just one or both cheeks with food. These cheek pouches are also very elastic, expanding up to 20% of the body size of the hamster or almost triple the size of their head.
If anything, this particular adaptation may have something to do with the cold climate and harsh terrain where hamsters lived in the beginning. Due to the scarcity of food back then, storage was critical.
The elasticity of the cheek pouches of hamsters and the fact that these have blood vessels make the animals a popular choice for research on transplants and microcirculation.
Hamsters also often spit out half-chewed food if they develop issues with their back teeth. It may also include a choking or gagging motion although this is a rare occurrence.
Are There Other Ways for Hamsters to Throw Up?
No, there are no other ways for hamsters to throw up. Coughing is probably the closest thing to vomiting hamsters can get. Hamsters don’t cough for no reason at all. If your hamster is coughing, it means that something is definitely wrong with him.
Hamsters might cough if they got something stuck in their throat or if they are suffering from some sort of infection. Coughs may also be a sign that your hamster is attempting to clear his throat.
However, you should avoid trying to induce your hamster to vomit because this can put their life at risk. If you suspect that something is really stuck in your hamster’s throat, your best option is to take them to the vet right away.
Medical Issues That Hamsters Can Develop Because of Not Throwing Up
Now, you might be thinking that it is a good thing if your hamster doesn’t throw up. Your cleaning work will also be cut down if your hamsters don’t throw up. However, this is not how things work.
For hamsters, not throwing up is almost like a curse because it can result in some health concerns for them. Here are some of the medical problems that your hamsters may suffer from because of their lack of ability to throw up:
It is hard for hamsters to eliminate any food stuck to their throat. It can result in the risk of choking your hamsters. You need to help out your pet or take him to the vet before he completely loses his ability to breathe properly.
If your hamster overeats, he won’t be able to throw up or vomit the excess undigested food. This can get stuck in the hamster’s digestive tract, creating a blockage that can lead to obstruction. It is the reason why hamsters are constantly prone to digestive blockages.
If a hamster eats up something toxic, he cannot flush it out of his system by throwing it up. It explains why rodents die because of rat poison. Aside from hamsters, other small animals experience the same problems.
So, while hamsters don’t really throw up their food, their inability to throw up is something you should never take lightly.