Stuffing your face with food is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, hamsters take it seriously. Puffy cheeks are one of the most commonly recognized features of hamsters. Plenty of people know that hamsters store food in their cheeks, but have no understanding of why they do it.
Why Hamsters Store Food in Their Mouth
Research shows that hamsters store food in their mouth because in the wild, they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. They store any food they can find for later consumption and transport it to a safe place. Food hoarding is a natural and comfortable behavior, thanks to their flexible cheek pouches.
Storing food in their cheeks is a classical behavioral trait, and hamsters love to use their cheeks to transport their food to underground chambers for storage. Don’t be surprised to see your hamsters head doubling and even tripling in size when it’s time to stuff their cheeks.
How Long do Hamsters Keep Food in Their Cheeks?
Hamsters store food in their cheek pouches until they’re ready to consume it or store it in a safe place. When hamsters are in the wild, storing food and transporting it back to their nesting area helps reduce the chances of being targeted by predators while eating their meal in dangerous territory.
When removing the food from their cheeks, hamsters often look like they’re struggling. With dry cheek pouches, it can often prove difficult for a hamster to remove the food stored inside. They have a clever knack that involves using their paws to help push out food that’s stuck in their cheek pouch.
Why Do Hamsters Hide Food Under Their Bedding?
Although there’s no threat to their food from wild predators, domestic hamsters still hide food in their bedding because it’s part of their natural burrowing behavior. As well as storing food, hamsters love to make tunnels, play and sleep in their bedding.
Wild hamsters live in the desert and create burrows that allow them to hide from the heat and predators during the day. Hamsters are incredibly flexible with spines that allow them to complete full U-turns even in the tightest of tunnels.
How Much Food Can a Hamster Store in its Cheeks?
So we know hamsters can store a fair amount of food in their cheeks but this is where things really get impressive. Hamsters can carry a whopping half of their body weight in food. A hamster’s cheek pouches can extend all the way back to their hips.
If you think us humans put a lot of food away, hammies blow us out of the water. In fact, when they run out of spaces in their pouch they often carry the last bit of food using their teeth.
Can Hamsters Overstuff Their Cheeks?
For those of you who worry about your hamster overstuffing their cheeks, you shouldn’t worry too much. With cheek stuffing a natural behavior for hamsters they soon learn what they can and can’t fit in their mouth. However, harm can come in rare cases from stuffing sharper foods inside their cheek pouches.
If this is the case abscesses can form from when the sharp food scrapes the insides of your hamster’s cheeks. A telltale sign of this is when you notice the puffing of your hamsters cheeks even when they aren’t storing any food in their mouth. Always get your hamster checked by an appropriate medical professional if you’re concerned about their health. Your vet can give you advice on hamster food specific to your hamster’s individual needs.
Did You Know..
If it wasn’t for a hamster’s cheeks, they would probably have a completely different name. Hamsters get their name from the German word “hamstern” which translates to hoard, a perfect word for describing a hamsters eating habits!
- Fox, Sue. 2006. Hamsters. T.F.H. Publications Inc.
- Pets: Wild At Heart | BBC Earth