Here’s a fun fact for hamster owners: ever wonder where the word “rodent” comes from? It’s actually derived from the Latin word “rodere”, which means “to gnaw”.
This name was given because rats, hamsters, and other members of the Rodentia order usually have large front teeth and have a need to continuously gnaw or bite on something.
This need draws from the fact that their front teeth, called incisors, continue to grow non-stop throughout their lives.
Potential Hamster Teeth Problems
Hamsters gnaw on objects in a constant effort to file down their incisors and keep them at an optimal length. If the upper or lower incisors overgrow, it can cause some serious problems for the poor hamsters.
Overly long incisors can interfere when a hamster is trying to eat, as it will be unable to close its mouth properly. They can also stab into the gums and tongue, possibly causing slight lacerations and subsequent bleeding.
Once an incisor breaks, there is a possibility that it will never grow back. If it does, it could grow back crooked. A hamster with overgrown incisors and without any adequate objects to chew on may resort to biting the bars of its cage which can cause its teeth to break.
Overgrown incisors on the top and bottom can also bump into each other when a hamster tries to eat which may cause bone damage or breakage as well.
A broken bottom incisor that has a sharp edge can potentially puncture the roof of the hamster’s mouth. Besides the immense pain that this will surely cause the hamster, the wound can also form a hole (called a fistula) that connects to the nasal cavity. These fistulas will cause the hamster to experience frequent sneezing and nasal dripping.
Most people aren’t aware of how many teeth hamsters have. Another less common dental issue that hamsters experience is with their back teeth, which are called “cheek teeth”.
Food can occasionally become stuck in-between these cheek teeth and lead to the formation and growth of bacteria which will ultimately result in an infection.
If you suspect your hamster of having issues with its back teeth, be on the lookout for telltale signs such as swollen jaws, weight loss, and difficulty eating.
All potential incisor issues aside, a hamster’s teeth can also have issues which are not related to overgrowth. Teeth may break due to calcium deficiencies which are a result of an unbalanced diet.
Broken teeth due to lack of calcium can cause all sorts of abnormalities to manifest such as when one tooth grows larger than its opposite counterpart.
Whether you’re a hamster veteran or just welcome a new furball into your home, these tips will help you keep your hamster healthy and happy!
Let your hamster eat well! However, what they eat is just as important as how much they eat. Hamsters like to pick out the tasty fattening food first out of the dish. Often you’ll see the sunflower seeds disappear first, followed by the less fatty (and less tasty) seeds. It’s very important that you provide your hamster with well-balanced food. Just because they love sunflower seeds doesn’t mean that’s all they should eat! Kids like cookies but need their fruits and vegetables, too.
Speaking of fruits and vegetables – hamsters need them too! The best treats for hamsters are foods that are similar to what they might eat in the wild. Fresh (rinsed with water) veggies are good, and examples include carrots, squash, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, romaine lettuce, spinach and other greens. Fresh fruits (rinsed in water) are good too, such as apples, pears, bananas, grapes and most berries. But remember never to give any citrus fruits like oranges, limes, lemons or grapefruit. Only give small amounts at a time.
In addition to fresh fruits and veggies, hamsters love whole grain breads and cereals . Also, protein is an important part of a hamster’s diet as well. Plain scrambled or boiled eggs are a nice treat. The thing to remember when fixing your hamsters’ dinner is that moderation and variety are very important. Always provide the standard seed and pellet mix daily, and only offer some of these treats in addition to it.
Make your hamster’s bed. Choose your hamster’s bedding carefully. Some times of bedding, such as cedar shavings, can cause skin irritations because of the oils in the cedar chips. Change your hamster’s bedding regularly, and while you’re at it, give his cage a hearty scrub. Also, be sure to rinse his water bottle, as room temperature water can grow algae and acquire bacteria that will make a hamster sick. Your little furball will by much happier (and less stinky) in a clean cage.
Hamsters appreciate spacious and exciting living quarters as much as we do. Your hamster needs space to exercise and keep fit in his own cute way. Paper towel tubes, plain brown boxes and other items are cheap entertainment and provide your hamster with something to chew on regularly. There also many great toys you can buy for your furry friend.
When it comes to cages, you can go with plastic or wire, but be aware that hamsters chew, so you’ll want to keep an eye on your hamster and make sure he isn’t successful in carrying out his own version of “The Great Escape.”
Speaking of chewing, did you know a hamster’s teeth grow like fingernails? Amazingly, hamster teeth never quit growing and they are one of the few furry creatures who are born with a full set of teeth! Hamsters usually take care of their own teeth by chewing on hard items (such as paper towel tubes or wooden treats). Dog biscuits are also a great treat as they are hard and help keep a hamster’s teeth short while providing a good source of calcium! If you ever notice your hamster has trouble eating it could mean his teeth need to be trimmed by a professional!
Put your hamster’s cage in a safe place– not in direct sunlight or on a heater, not in the dark, cold basement, and not in an exposed place where his cage can be knocked over by other pets or wobbly toddlers.
Exercise! Hamsters need to move about, or they’ll have can have digestive problems, get big and fat, and have other health problems. Make sure your hamster has access to toys, like a running wheel or things to climb on and in. Tubing additions to a plastic cage allows you to expand his stomping grounds by building onto his cage – if it’s the right kind of cage – and you can also let him take a spin in a hamster ball.
Decide on whether or not your hamster wants a friend right from the start! Hamsters are not always the friendliest with others, especially hamsters introduced later in life. If you decide on more than one hamster make sure you get the same sex. Hamsters are prolific little creatures. A litter of hamsters can range from 3 to 18 and moms can give birth approximately every 30 days. Female hamsters tend to have 2-3 litters in their lifetime.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
Not all exotics have problems with their teeth, but hamster teeth can cause problems. Hamsters, like some other exotic pets, have the type of teeth that grow continuously throughout their lives. These teeth may periodically require tooth trims if your hamster doesn’t wear them down himself.
Herbivores such as rabbits, and omnivores like chinchillas and hamsters, have long teeth that continuously grow, often requiring tooth trims. These teeth are called hypsodontal teeth. Hypsodont teeth have crowns (the part of the teeth you can see) that extend a great length beyond the gums. Therefore hypsodontal teeth are unusually long when compared to the teeth of dogs, cats, or humans. The natural grinding action of chewing on toys, hay, and other food items, causes the teeth to stay at an ideal length in normal herbivores, but many need to have their teeth manually cut regularly due to several health and genetic factors.
The incisors, or front teeth, of your hamster, are the easiest to identify when they become overgrown. They will usually grow so long that they begin to curve and stick out between the lips. Once they get too long they can become stuck on things, or worse yet, grow into the gums or roof of your hamster’s mouth. The molars, or teeth in the back of the mouth, can also reach excessive lengths, but in hamsters they rarely become overgrown. Molars are difficult to observe without the use of a speculum to look in the back of the mouth, but hamsters with overgrown molars will commonly hypersalivate and have difficulty chewing and swallowing.
Incisor Tooth Trims
If done correctly, tooth trims are not painful. Since hamster mouths are so small, a Dremel tool is not safe to use as it is for larger herbivores such as rabbits and chinchillas. A pair of suture scissors or small nail clippers work to clip the overgrown incisors. Care should be taken not to clip the teeth too short which will cause pain and possible trauma to the teeth. Many exotic pet hospitals will perform these tooth trims inexpensively with a technician or a doctor.
Molar Tooth Trims
Trimming molars can be more difficult than trimming incisors and thankfully doesn’t need to be done very often or at all. Molars are not as easily identified as being overgrown, so the pet is usually already being seen by a veterinarian by this point. After the veterinarian confirms that your hamster’s molars are too long, they may be able to trim them with the pet awake using a surgical instrument designed for bone or tooth removal called a rongeur (interestingly enough, the word “rongeur” is French for “rodent”) or a tooth-specific instrument. If your hamster allows them (although they typically don’t), and the veterinarian can grasp the correct tooth, the overgrown portion is simply snipped off. There is a possibility for trauma, but unlike dog nail clippers, rongeurs are much sharper and don’t usually cause any damage. If the trimming is too complex or the pet is too fractious (which is probably going to be the case for your hamster), anesthesia or sedation can be administered to perform the trim. With your hamster temporarily incapacitated, the molars can be trimmed and filed down to an appropriate length. This is the ideal method of trimming molars, but some owners may have financial constraints that restrict them from anesthetizing or sedating their exotic pets.
Owners of hamsters and other exotic pets with hypsodontal teeth must be aware of the possible complications regarding their pet’s teeth. Without proper attention, overgrown teeth can cause serious trauma, anorexia, and even death from the inability to chew and swallow. Thankfully the problem of overgrown teeth is easily controlled with regular tooth trims and proper chewing behaviors. But if you need help with your hamster’s teeth, give your local exotics vet a call.
If you are thinking about getting a pet hamster for you or a child, it is important that you know how to choose one, what supplies you need, and how to feed and care for your new pet. Hamsters are typically low-maintenance pets but proper care is essential to keeping them happy and healthy.
Click Play to Learn More About the Low-Maintenance Hamster
Choosing a Pet Hamster
Hamsters are popular pets for children and adults alike. They are small rodents that typically live about two years, and are usually best housed alone. Hamsters come in a variety of colors and breeds, and different breeds are known for distinctive traits.
- Chinese Hamsters: These small hamsters are not as common as other kinds of hamsters. Many people often mistake them for dwarf hamsters but they are not true dwarfs. They only grow to be 4 inches long.
- Dwarf Hamsters: There are several varieties of dwarf hamsters, such as Roborovskis and Russians, and they’re similar to Chinese hamsters, but much more commonly found in pet stores.
- Syrian Hamsters: Syrian hamsters come in several color variations and go by different names, such as goldens, panda, and teddy bears. They are much larger than dwarf and Chinese hamsters and are the most commonly seen type of hamster.
Choose a Healthy Hamster
Not every hamster in the pet store is in optimal health. Moving from a breeder or supplier to a store can be a stressful period for baby hamsters, and they will often get sick from it. Choose an active hamster that doesn’t look like it has a wet rear end or watery eyes. Both eyes should be open and, ideally, the hamster will be eating or running around the cage. If a cage seems to have a few sick hamsters, it is probably best to avoid buying any hamster from that group since hamster diseases are very contagious.
Choosing a hamster that is easy to tame is another factor to consider. Young hamsters will be easier to train and hand-tame than older hamsters, who may have had bad experiences or have never interacted with humans.
Hamster Cages and Supplies
There are many hamster cage options available both online and at pet stores but some cages are definitely better than others. Several cages may look cool, but aren’t very functional and are extremely difficult to clean (cages with colorful tubes are a good example of this). Fish tanks aren’t good options for hamsters either, since they lack proper ventilation. You may also have to consider that smaller hamster breeds have different cage needs than the larger Syrian varieties, since cage wire spacing can determine whether or not a hamster is able to escape. Choose a cage that has good ventilation, is easy to clean, has space for a hamster to run and explore, and won’t allow your hamster to escape.
Inside the hamster cage you’ll need to provide soft and absorbent bedding, a water bottle, an exercise wheel, chew toys, a house, and food dish. Keep in mind that hamsters like and need to chew on items so wood, cardboard, plastic, and other items that are able to be chewed may not last very long inside the enclosure.
Most people assume that a store-bought bag of hamster seed is what is best for a hamster but they actually need a variety of proteins, fruits, and vegetables to keep them healthy and happy. Hamsters may pick and choose what they want to eat from seed mixtures and therefore will not receive a balanced diet. But if you offer a pelleted diet instead of a seed mixture and supplement it with a variety of other safe foods, you will be providing your hamster with everything it needs to thrive.
Hand Taming Hamsters
Hamsters can be tamed to be very sweet little pets but for anyone who has ever been bitten by one, they know hamster bites definitely aren’t fun. Young hamsters are typically easier to hand-tame, but you can start teaching your hamster not to bite by making sure you don’t startle it. Try not to wake it up, and instead entice it to climb onto your hand on its own using a tasty treat. This will allow you to gain your hamster’s trust over time, and allow you to pet and hold your hamster while avoiding being bitten. Hamsters are not aggressive pets but if they are scared or startled they may bite.
Toys for Hamsters
Hamsters need to be active and have enrichment so they don’t get bored and overweight. They also need chew toys to keep their teeth neat and trim. There are a variety of hamster toys that are designed to be chewed so your hamster’s teeth can be properly cared for, and an exercise wheel will allow a hamster to run as much as they want. Special balls can also be purchased to allow a hamster to run around safely outside its cage; cute houses and other climbable options are available to provide your hamster with ample exercise.
Hamster breeding is not something the casual hamster owner should do. It is best left to hamster breeders who are breeding for specific qualities and temperaments but accidents do happen. Many unsuspecting new hamster owners find themselves with a pregnant hamster after purchasing it from a pet store. Extra food and a quiet nesting area inside the cage need to be provided to a pregnant hamster.
Hamsters are members of the rodent family and as such have very strong incisors they use to gnaw or nibble on just about anything that crosses their path. In order to keep hamster teeth healthy and clean they need to be regularly checked, and this helps keep the hamster healthy too!
Hamsters have 16 teeth: two upper and two lower incisors with open roots, meaning they grow all the time, and molars, which all have closed roots. Hamsters are cute puffy cheeked little creatures that have neither canines nor premolars and their teeth are not white, but a yellow or orange colour. Another dental characteristic is that the lower teeth are longer than the upper teeth, so don’t let that scare you, it’s normal! What you do have to worry about is if their teeth get fractures, cavities or grow crooked. Then a trip to the vet is in order!
How to keep their teeth the right length
In the wild, rodents keep the length of their teeth in check by gnawing on leaves and branches they find on their daily meanderings, thus keeping a proper balance in their mouths. When they live in captivity it is our task, as their caretakers, to help keep the teeth at the right length. This is important because if they can’t close their mouths properly, they cannot nourish themselves properly, and this could harm their health. Just think, some scientists have calculated hamster incisor growth to be a millimetre every two days!
The best thing you can do is make sure your hamster has twigs from fruit trees – cut about a centimetre thick – to chew on. If finding fruit tree twigs is not an option, then you could get them chewing toys like Ferplast’s GoodBiteTiny & Natural line, toys made of non-toxic, biodegradable material that just beg to be gnawed on. Chewing and gnawing are important activities that go far in limiting excessive incisor growth, and the toys provide the added benefit that they are not extra food.
Taking care of cavities
Hamsters get cavities in their teeth too! And when they do, you must get them to the vet for treatment. Cavity prevention goes hand in hand with good oral hygiene, which in turn is based on proper nutrition: a well-balanced mix of soy seeds, spelt, millet seeds, sunflower seeds, oats and linseed goes very far in keeping the furry little creature in good health. Even better if you add some fresh and dried fruits and vegetables, just to make sure its nutrition is perfectly rounded.
If you have a hamster at home, do check its mouth about once a month, and if the hamster is a senior citizen, do so even more often as old teeth are weaker and break more easily.
From proper nutrition and preventative medications to grooming and mental stimulation, these tips will keep your dog or cat in tiptop shape.
1. Proper nutrition . Feeding your pet the right amount and type of food helps him maintain a healthy weight, which is one of the best ways to prevent obesity-related illnesses and extend his lifespan. Pets can usually meet their nutritional needs from a balanced diet of quality food, but check with your veterinarian to see if he needs any supplements. Also be sure your pet gets enough fresh water, and keep an eye on the amount of treats you give him; most veterinarians suggest they should make up no more than 10% of your pet’s daily calories. Find a vet to reach out to for consultation.
2. Exercise. Regular walks, hiking, playing fetch and swimming can keep your pet physically active and fit. But don’t forget about mental stimulation! Providing toys to play with, hiding treats, building obstacle courses and practicing new tricks all keep your dog or cat interested and engaged. You can also change up your walking routine to expose your pet to new scenery and smells.
3. Regular checkups. An annual wellness exam provides the best opportunity for your veterinarian to perform a variety of health screens that can lead to early detection of diseases and to spot warning signs of serious illness. Yearly dental appointments may also be recommended to remove plaque and tartar buildup.
4. Preventative medications. Taking preventative measures go hand in hand with regular veterinarian checkups. Preventative medications can keep your pet free of unwanted health issues, like heartworm, flea-related diseases and tick-borne illnesses. In addition, regularly brushing your pet’s teeth and giving him dental chews help prevent periodontal disease, which can lead to more serious health problems.
5. Grooming. This involves keeping your pet’s nails trimmed, brushing him a couple times a week and giving him regular baths. Grooming is also a good way to keep an eye on changes in your pet’s fur or skin, like dandruff, bald patches or dry skin. And it’s an ideal time to check for lumps and bumps that may be cause for concern. Check with your veterinarian for the best grooming protocol for your particular pet.
6. Affection. Establishing a strong bond with your dog or cat is good for both of you. Cuddles, petting, belly rubs and even brushing his coat are great ways to show your pet some love. Not only does this strengthen the emotional connection with your pet, but it promotes your pet having positive interactions with other animals and humans.
7. Socialization. According to the American Animal Hospital Association, “Early socialization [in dogs] and appropriate exposure to various people and situations at a young age decreases the odds of antisocial or fearfully aggressive behaviors as an adult.” A puppy’s or kitten’s formative years — from a few weeks old to about 16-18 weeks — is the most critical period for socialization. So be sure they get enough people and animal interaction, not just in the early months but throughout their life. A few options include visiting family and friends, taking a trip to the dog park, going for a walk around the neighborhood or letting your pet spend an afternoon at daycare after they’ve received the all clear from your vet.
8. Spay/neuter. Getting your pet fixed has several benefits. It can prevent some cancers and diseases, extend your pet’s life expectancy and cut down on aggressive behavior in males. For females, it can prevent them from going into heat and reduce unwanted behaviors associated with their cycle, such as irritability, yowling and spraying urine.
9. Know what’s “normal.” Has your pet’s behavior changed recently? Is he scratching more than usual? Is he eating more or less than he normally does? Changes from the norm could be cause for concern and indicate an underlying issue. If you notice abnormal behavior in your dog or cat, give your vet a call to see if an exam is necessary.
10. Pet safety. There are several ways to keep your pet safe: collars with ID tags, microchips , making sure your home is free of safety hazards and putting toxic substances out of reach. Along with the other tips above, you’ll be able to keep your furry friend happy, healthy and with you for many years to come!
The Spruce / Adrienne Legault
The majority of a pet hamster’s food should be made up of a good quality, store-bought food designed specifically for hamsters (not for rats, mice, or cats). But your pet food choices at the pet store can be overwhelming even by narrowing it down to hamster food. The decisions don’t end when you get home and want to offer fresh foods and treats to your hamster. Learn the best diet to give your hamster and the safe foods you can offer as treats.
Pelleted Hamster Diets
Pelleted hamster foods offer a completely balanced diet in every bite, and they are often recommended for this reason. Pelleted diets can come in many shapes but usually look like small biscuits, cookies, or cereal. A hamster can be picky with loose seed mixes, eating only their favorite items, resulting in an unbalanced diet. Pelleted diets prevent this from happening, but they are a bit monotonous and some hamsters will refuse them. A pelleted mix can be supplemented with a variety of other items as long as the pelleted food makes up the bulk of the diet.
Seed Hamster Diets
It is important to pick a loose seed mix diet that contains a variety of foods such as grains and dried vegetables along with some seeds. Some loose seed mixed foods also contain a balanced pellet food as part of the mix (which is ideal). When feeding a loose seed mix, make sure your hamster empties the food bowl before adding more, not allowing your hamster to eat only its favorite things.
Fresh Foods and Treats for Hamsters
You can feed your hamster a variety of human foods as long as you limit the treats to no more than 10 percent of your hamster’s diet. Skip the junk food and stick to healthy things like whole grains, fresh vegetables, and fruit (in moderation, otherwise diarrhea may result). Store-bought treats such as yogurt drops and honey/seed sticks are too sugary for a hamster and they should be avoided. Since dwarf hamsters are somewhat prone to diabetes it is also especially prudent to avoid sugar in their diet, so avoid fruits altogether as treats for them. Some safe foods you can offer to your hamster are:
- Apples (no seeds)
- Dandelion greens
- Potato (cooked)
- Romaine lettuce
- Sweet potato
- Whole grain bread or toast
- Whole wheat pasta (cooked)
- Brown rice (cooked)
- Whole grain cereal (no sugary cereal)
- Small pieces of cooked chicken
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Nuts (unsalted, no almonds)
- Peanuts (unsalted)
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Plain air-popped popcorn (no butter or salt)
Hamsters also usually love peanut butter but it must be fed carefully (as with any other sticky food) because it can get stuck in their cheek pouches and cause severe problems. A very thin layer on a piece of wood is okay as an occasional treat, but peanut butter must be given with caution.
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The Spruce / Adrienne Legault
Foods You Should Not Feed Hamsters
- Apple seeds
- Raw beans
- Raw potatoes
- Citrus fruit
- Rhubarb leaves or raw rhubarb
- Any sugary or salty foods
- Any junk food
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The Spruce / Adrienne Legault
The Best Hamster Diet
The ideal diet for a hamster is a pelleted diet that is supplemented with a variety of other safe and human foods. If your hamster won’t eat the pelleted diet then sprinkle some seed mixture onto the pellets or find a seed diet that already has pellets in it.
Our small animal’s teeth are essential to their well being. If they are getting too long, it’s important to know how to cut them back to size.
Most pet rats and pet hamsters will not have a problem with their teeth during their lifetime. If your small pet is happily chewing on toys and food during the day, he will keep his teeth healthy and you will not need to trim them. However, if your furry friend hurts a tooth or becomes sick, it’s possible that tooth overgrowth or another problem will arise that will necessitate a tooth clipping. If you notice that some of your pet’s teeth are distinctly longer than others, your pet is drooling, or that your pet has stopped chewing, he may need to get his teeth trimmed.
Clipping your small animal’s teeth is not an easy task, so if you have never attempted it before, you should take your rat or hamster to the veterinarian and have him instruct you on how to do it. You should also make sure you have correctly identified that your animal needs a tooth clipping. If you don’t feel comfortable clipping your small animal’s teeth, then you should take him to the veterinarian each time it needs to be done. A confident, steady hand will be calming for your pet.
When clipping your rat or hamster’s teeth, follow these steps:
- Wrap your pet in a small towel to help you hold him.
- When clipping, it’s easiest to have two people doing the job. The first person should hold the animal and grip him at the scruff of the neck. This immobilizes the pet and forces him to open his mouth. The other person should do the clipping.
- Feline nail clippers work well for this task, and when you cut, make sure to cut at an angle, slanting in towards the mouth. It’s important to leave the teeth at least a ½ inch long. For a guide, this is often where the teeth turn opaque.
- When cutting, be careful that the rat or hamster’s tongue or cheek is not in between the tooth and the clippers. Be sure that your pet is steady and relaxed.
- Make sure to cut each tooth separately, as cutting them together could cause them to split or shatter.
- You can use a nail file to smooth down sharp edges on freshly cut teeth.