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why is my hamster putting bedding in its mouth?

Why Do Hamsters Stuff Their Cheeks with Bedding?

Last Updated on: 2nd January 2024, 10:12 pm

Hamsters’ cheeks contain expandable pouches on both sides of their head, allowing them to store and transport food and other things they consider essential to their comfort and survival.

Hamsters can carry 20-25% of their body weight in their cheek pouches.

According to Science Direct, hamsters’ pouches are 35–40 mm long and 4–8 mm wide when empty. When full, they can be up to 5 times this width.

Pouching means a hamster can gather what it needs without using its paws. Also, hamsters’ mouths don’t contain salivary glands, so anything they put in their cheeks is kept dry and warm.

Hamsters hoard food in their cheeks, but it may be surprising to find a hamster stuffing its cheeks with bedding and other things. So, why is a hamster putting bedding in its mouth?

Hamster Cheek Pouch Uses

According to the Journal of Ethology, hamsters’ cheeks extend from the jaws to the shoulders. Due to their temporary storage capacity, cheek pouches are invaluable for the following reasons:

Carrying Food

Because hamsters’ cheek pouches can expand so much, they can forage for large amounts of food when it’s dark. They can then transport that food back to their burrows, where they’ll eat it gradually.

This ability to store and transport food in their cheeks is most useful in the wild, where it can be unsafe to venture out regularly due to the risk of predation and extreme weather (hot and cold).

Instead, hamsters forage for the food they’ll need for an extended time and hoard it in their burrows.

Moving Bedding

Hamsters store bedding (fur, leaves, and grasses) in their cheeks and transport it to their nests. So, when you see a hamster eating its bedding, it’s using it to build a place to rest and sleep.

The bedding will provide essential insulation from cold temperatures, keeping the hamster warm.

Transporting Pups

Female hamsters sometimes carry their babies in their cheek pouches to move them to safety.

If a female needs to move to a new nest, perhaps because she senses impending danger, she’ll put her pups in her cheek pouches and carry them while keeping them safe and dry.

Expressing Emotions

When hamsters sense danger, they may inflate their pouches with air to produce a squeaking noise to alert other hamsters. This sound is also used to express emotions like happiness and excitement.

Floating in Water

Hamsters can inflate their cheek pouches like floatation devices when forced to swim. While hamsters avoid water whenever possible, this is one of the ways they avoid drowning. 

Safe Hamster Bedding Choices

Hamsters like to burrow, so bedding must be soft, easy to dig, and safe to carry in their cheeks.

Never use bedding or substrate that’s sharp or pointy, like straw or certain wood chips, to minimize the risk of cheek pouch impaction.

Applied Animal Behaviour Science stated that hamsters prefer old bedding because it holds their scent and pheromones, giving them a sense of comfort and safety.

However, ensure that any soiled bedding is replaced to minimize the risk of bacterial infection.

Shredded Paper

Shredded paper is a suitable substrate because it’s soft and easy to burrow. Ideally, use plain paper without ink or chemicals on it. That said, most inks used today are soy-based and non-toxic.

You can use shredded paper towels to create soft bedding as an alternative to paper.  

Paper and paper towels will get dirty and smelly quickly, so you must change them regularly. If you don’t want to shred paper, you can buy pre-shredded paper for hamsters.

Aspen Wood Shavings

While you should avoid using most wood shavings because they can splinter and harm a hamster, Aspen wood shavings are an acceptable choice.

Aspen shavings won’t provide very soft bedding, which might make burrowing more difficult, but you can combine them with other bedding, like shredded paper.

what does it mean when your hamster eats its bedding?

Timothy Hay

Most hay should be avoided, but Timothy hay is fine because it’s soft. Most types of hay are stiff and sharp and can poke or injure the hamster when they stuff it in their cheeks.

A hamster can burrow in it and build tunnels because Timothy hay is softer than most other hay.

Hamsters can safely eat this type of hay, as it’s often used in manufactured hamster food.

Toilet Paper

Toilet paper is soft enough for a hamster to have fun digging, burrowing, and building nests.

The downside to toilet paper is the need to change it out more frequently than most other types of bedding. It’s highly absorbent and will get soggy, dirty, and smelly.

Tissue Paper

Tissue paper torn into strips is a good bedding choice as it’s lightweight and easy to tunnel through. It’s not very absorbent, so combine tissue paper with more absorbent bedding.

Can Hamsters Choke on Bedding?

There have been many owners who’ve said their hamster died with bedding in its mouth. Unfortunately, those hamsters probably choked on their bedding.

Choking is always a potential hazard for an animal that fills its cheeks. However, you can minimize the risk of choking by ensuring the bedding is made of safe materials.

Cat Litter

Cat litter is unsafe because it contains sand, clay, and sometimes chemicals. Cat litter is also designed to clump together when wet, making it easy for a hamster to choke on it.

Fluffy Bedding

Fluffy bedding is a choking hazard because it’s made from artificial fibers that can create internal blockages if consumed.

A hamster could also get tangled up while digging or burrowing, resulting in a leg or paw injury.

Small Pebbles

Pebbles are an excellent addition in some animal tanks but not in hamsters’ cages. While they may be fun to dig, they’re not soft and can lead to cheek pouch impaction or be a choking hazard.

If you’re using hamster-safe bedding and feeding them the right foods, there isn’t much else you can do to prevent a hamster from choking or experiencing cheek pouch impaction.

Because it’s natural, you can’t stop a hamster from stuffing its cheeks with bedding. However, you can provide materials that are less likely to cause harm to hamsters.