Hamsters hoard food in their cheeks, but it may come as a surprise to see your hamster stuffing its cheeks full of bedding. It may leave you wondering, why is my hamster putting bedding in its mouth?
Your hamster hasn’t gone off the deep end. It’s normal for hamsters to stuff their cheeks with bedding, and there’s a rational explanation.
What Does it Mean When Your Hamster Eats its Bedding?
You’ve probably watched your hamster’s cheeks grow as it hastily shovels food into its mouth.
You may not have realized that your hamster isn’t eating when its cheeks are expanding. Instead, it’s storing the food in its cheek pouches.
How Hamster Cheek Pouches Work
Hamster cheeks contain expandable pouches that allow them to store and transport food for later consumption.
According to the Journal of Ethology, golden hamsters (also known as Syrian hamsters) can fill their cheek pouches so full that they extend beneath the skin down the side of the body to the hip.
Because their cheek pouches can expand so much, they can forage for large amounts of food at one time. They can then transport that food back home, where they’ll eat it a little at a time.
This ability to store and transport large amounts of food in their cheeks is most useful in the wild, where it can be unsafe to venture out regularly due to the risk of lurking predators.
Instead, they go out occasionally and forage for all the food they’ll need for an extended time and hoard it back at their home. They can carry up to half their body weight in their pouches.
Because hamsters hoard a large amount of food, they occasionally sort through their stash and get rid of anything moldy, rotten, or otherwise not okay to eat anymore.
Cheek Pouch Uses
Food isn’t all hamsters store in their cheek pouches; they also store things like bedding in their cheeks to transport it to another area like their nest.
So, when you see your hamster eating its bedding, it’s not eating it – just storing it away.
Female hamsters sometimes carry their babies in their cheeks, especially in the wild. If the females need to move to a different home or if they sense danger, they’ll put their babies in their cheek pouches to keep them safe and easily transport them.
Hamsters can inflate their cheek pouches and use them like floatation devices when swimming in water.
Safe Hamster Bedding Choices
Because hamsters stuff their cheeks full of their bedding, you must ensure the bedding in their enclosure won’t hurt them in any way.
Never use any bedding or substrate that is sharp or pointy, like straw or certain types of wood chips. Also, avoid using bedding that has any chemicals on it.
Hamsters like to burrow into the substrate in their enclosures, so the bedding you choose should be soft, easy to dig in, and safe to carry in their cheeks.
You should clean the bedding frequently, even though Applied Animal Behaviour Science stated that Syrian hamsters prefer living in a cage with dirty bedding. They didn’t entirely avoid the cages with clean bedding but preferred the cages that had up to two-week-old bedding in them.
Shredded paper is a good substrate because it’s soft, and your hamster can easily burrow in it. Use plain paper with no ink or other chemicals on it.
A shredded newspaper would be unsafe because it’s covered in ink, which could harm your hamster.
As an alternative to regular paper, you can use shredded paper towels, which would provide your hamster with super soft bedding.
Paper and paper towels will get dirty and smelly quickly, so you’ll have to change them regularly.
If you don’t want to take the time to shred paper, you can buy pre-shredded paper specifically designed for use as bedding for hamsters.
Aspen Wood Shavings
While you want to avoid using most wood shavings because they can splinter and harm your hamster, aspen wood shavings are an acceptable choice.
The shavings won’t provide very soft bedding, which might make burrowing more difficult, but you can combine them with another type of bedding, like shredded paper. Your hamster will love using this type of bedding combination to make its nest.
You can buy aspen shavings in most pet stores or online for use in your hamster’s enclosure.
Although you should avoid using most hay or straw as bedding for your hamster, Timothy hay is okay to use because it’s soft. Most types of hay are stiff and sharp and can poke or injure your hamster when they stuff it in their cheeks.
Because Timothy hay is softer than most other hay, your hamster can burrow in it and build its tunnels easily.
Hamsters can safely eat this type of hay, as it’s often used in manufactured hamster food. This is one bedding that your hamster can not only safely store in its cheeks but can eat, too.
Toilet paper is a cheap alternative to other types of bedding, and you can buy it just about anywhere. It’s plenty soft enough for your hamster to have fun digging, burrowing, and building nests.
The only downside to toilet paper is changing it out more frequently than most other types of bedding. It’s highly absorbent and will get soggy, dirty, and smelly.
Tissue paper torn in strips is a great bedding choice as it’s lightweight and easy for hamsters to tunnel through. It’s not going to be very absorbent, though. You may want to combine tissue paper with another more absorbent type of bedding.
Can Hamsters Choke on Bedding?
Choking is always a potential hazard with an animal that likes to shove its mouth full of stuff.
The key is to minimize the potential for choking as much as possible. You can do this by ensuring that the bedding in your hamster’s enclosure is made of safe materials.
Hamster Choking Hazards
Some people have tried using cat litter and fluffy beddings for their hamsters. However, these are definite choking hazards for your hamster.
Cat litter is unsafe anyway because it contains sand, clay, and sometimes chemicals. Cat litter is also designed to clump together when it gets wet, so it’d be easy for your hamster to choke on it.
Fluffy bedding is a choking hazard because it’s made with artificial fibers that can create internal blockages if your hamster eats it. Your hamster could also get tangled up in it while digging or burrowing, which can cause injuries.
Pebbles work great in some animal tanks but not in hamster cages. While they may be fun to dig in, they’re not soft and can hurt your hamster if it stuffs its cheeks, and they’re also a big choking hazard.
Hamster Choking Precautions
There have been a lot of owners who’ve said their hamster died with bedding in its mouth. Unfortunately, those hamsters probably choked for one reason or another.
If you’re using the hamster-safe bedding and feeding your hamster the right foods, there isn’t much else you can do to keep your hamster from choking, unfortunately.
Sometimes they’ll overstuff their mouths when eating or swallow something they shouldn’t, like inedible bedding.
Check on your hamsters frequently, change their bedding often, and ensure everything in their cage is as safe as possible.