Do Hamsters Store Food in Their Cheeks?

If you’re looking for an adorable, small, and quirky pet for your family, few animals can beat a hamster. These tiny rodents have many idiosyncrasies that make them stand out.

One such oddity about hamsters is their puffy cheek pouches, which makes one question, “Do hamsters store food in their cheeks?

This article will provide you with the answer to this question and help you learn more about hamsters and their unique cheeks!

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Does a Hamster Store Food in Its Cheeks?

Yes, hamsters tend to store or stuff food in their cheeks. One might think they do this for no reason or worry it might harm them. Let us explain this odd behavior.

In the wild, these rodents have to quickly store food in their stretchy pouches as foraging can be dangerous due to the threat of lurking predators.

Hamsters cannot afford to have their meal out in the open because they feel unsafe outside their habitats. It is why they put their food in their cheeks and eat it when they feel safe.

Since the cheek pouches of hamsters have no salivary glands, all the food they store inside remains completely dry.

Why Does My Hamster Store Food Inside Its Cheeks?

Even though stuffing their cheeks is nothing to worry about, if domesticated hamsters are partaking in this activity, it means they feel unsafe in their habitat.

Since hamsters need to keep themselves hidden from prey in the wild, they only go out once or twice to forage for food at night.

However, since these rodents have a voracious appetite, high metabolic rates, and remain active, they need to eat every 2 hours. So, the best way to ensure they stay full is to stuff their cheeks with food.

This way, hamsters have enough food to last them through the night. It allows them to burrow safely inside their habitats and remain safe.

Running out every 2 hours for foraging food will attract unnecessary attention. So, food storage also enables hamsters not to give away the location of their habitats to potential predators such as snakes.

How Can a Hamster Store So Much Food In Its Cheeks?

A hamster’s cheek is nothing like human cheeks. These rodents can store up to 20% of their body weight in their cheek pouches!

For scale, this is the same as a person carrying about 30 pounds of food. A hamster’s cheeks contain significantly large pouches that can extend back to its shoulders.

An adult Syrian hamster can stuff an entire shelled peanut in one of its cheek pouches. That is how big that area is. Hamsters can also store whole pieces of tiny fruits, such as raspberries.

These cheek pouches have the ability to outspread halfway down the body and inflate like a balloon. Hamster cheeks also have particular retractor muscles that allow them to pack them fully.

When these small mammals stretch their pouches, these muscles contract. It allows the food to get pushed back, keeping it from amassing in one place.

It allows a hamster to carry vast volumes of food discreetly and comfortably. A hamster can also eat quickly while its cheeks are stuffed with food.

How Long Can a Hamster Store Food in Its Cheeks?

When a hamster puts food in its cheek pouches, it will rotate the food around a few times. It enables the mammal to get the food appropriately and make room for more.

However, since the pouches are so flexible, they remain in place. They do not impact the hamster’s movements.

Most often, hamsters only keep food in their cheeks for a few hours at a time. When they return to their safe burrows, they hide the food and save it for later.

If a hamster keeps the food in its pouch for long, it can become impacted and require manual removal.

Can Food Get Stuck in a Hamster’s Cheeks?

Now that you know hamsters can store food in their cheeks, you are bound to think of the follow-up question, “Can food get stuck in a hamster’s cheeks?”

You might have an impacted cheek pouch on your hands when pieces of food get stuck to the cheek. It happens when the hamster is unable to empty its cheek pouches effectively.

Since these pouches do not produce saliva, the dryness can result in blockages. In fact, the hamster can also face abscesses as the food scrapes the soft tissue of the cheek.

Sticky foods like pasta and noodles, soft foods like bananas, and fiber-based bedding can get stuck to the pouches. When left unattended, they can start to rot, causing abscesses and infections.

Here are some cheek impaction signs you should watch out for:

  • Full pouches that the hamster does not empty
  • Swollen head and neck
  • Production of excessive slobber
  • Unexpected weight loss

If these signs appear, check your hamster’s cheek pouches to ensure they are not impacted. If you see signs of infection, immediately take your pet to a reliable veterinarian in Oregon.

Should I Remove Food from My Hamster’s Cheeks?

Never try to forcefully remove food stuck to the side of a hamster’s cheek. It can cause you to stress them out. It can also result in further damage and bruising.

If you feel something is wrong with your pet, take them to the vet immediately. However, you can do it if you have prior experience and your vet’s approval to remove the food.

However, you must know that the hamster will often empty its pouch naturally. It happens even if something is partially stuck.

With that said, when food or bedding becomes impacted, you might need the vet to dislodge whatever is stuck to the hamster’s cheek.

If you have decided to step in yourself, be sure not to damage the fragile tissue or handle it roughly. Here are two ways to dislodge food from a hamster’s cheeks:

Massage the Pouches Gently

Massage the cheek pouches with an exceptionally gentle hand to dislodge the food or bedding stuck to them.

Massaging the pouch like this will mimic the movement hamsters make with their front paws to push out impacted food.

However, you must only do this if your hamster is familiar with your touch. Otherwise, it will only distress the mammal further.

Flush the Stuck Items with Lukewarm Water

You can attempt to flush out the stuck items with lukewarm water. However, you must only try this if you are an experienced and confident owner.

Here are the steps you must follow:

  • Fill lukewarm water in a syringe.
  • Use your fingers to hold the pet in one hand so its body rests in your palm.
  • Gently support the hamster with your fingers and use the syringe to pry its mouth open.
  • Squeeze the water into the impacted area to clear the item.
  • Use your small finger if needed to clear the item.

If unsure about the process, take your hamster to the vet. It is always better to step on the side of caution.

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Other Reasons a Hamster Might Stuff Its Cheeks

The main reason hamsters have such large cheek pouches is to store significant amounts of food in their mouths. They extend them all the way back to their shoulders to amass enough food for days or weeks.

Interestingly, a hamster does not just use its cheeks to stuff food. Here are some other reasons why a hamster might stuff its cheeks:

To Transport Its Babies

As bizarre as it might sound, hamsters use their cheeks to transport their babies. Mother hamsters can be exceptionally protective of their babies, especially in emergencies.

So, when they perceive a threat, they evacuate their burrows and carry their babies inside one cheek. They use the other cheek to store food.

A mother hamster will hold the babies inside its cheek until the danger passes. However, the babies may suffocate while the mother waits for the threat to disappear.

To Transport Bedding or Fix Its Habitat

A hamster might also stuff its cheeks with its bedding. When a hamster builds its burrow, it cannot leave it too often due to the fear of predators.

It is why it stuffs the material it might need to make new bedding in its cheek. It allows the hamster to quickly build a new habitat in a new location to ensure its safety.

However, this can be dangerous for hamsters since the bedding might have sharp objects or materials. They might damage the poor mammals’ cheeks.

Hamsters also stuff their bedding in their mouth to fix their habitat or burrow deeper into it. They do this to keep predators out of their burrows.

To Use as Floaties

It is perhaps the most fun reason hamsters have such huge cheek pouches. They can use them to float. Naturally, this behavior is only observed in wild hamsters.

A hamster can essentially fill up its cheeks with air. This way, hamsters can use their cheeks to float and water and keep themselves from drowning.

The Bottom Line

We hope this article successfully answered the question, “Do hamsters store food in their cheeks?” Hamsters are quirky creatures who can display this odd behavior.

If your hamster stuffs its cheeks with food, be mindful of possible impaction. Give your pet hamster appropriate food and ample bedding, and take it to the vet if a problem occurs.

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