A hamster’s teeth never stop growing and they have a ‘self-sharpening’ system where the incisors grind against each other while gnawing, which wears the teeth down.
Hamsters are born with a full set of 16 teeth. They don’t have milk teeth and adult teeth, but only one set that lasts their entire life. They have four incisors; two on the top and two on the bottom. Hamsters have no canine teeth, only a gap between their incisors and cheek teeth called a diastema.
Hamsters use their incisors to groom, grab food, and occasionally-bite attackers. The incisors are long and thin and curve towards the hamster’s head. They aren’t used for chewing, but without them, hamsters would have a difficult time eating, staying clean, and shredded materials for their bedding.
Hamsters have both premolars and molars, but they are nearly identical, and servce the same purpose, so they are generally grouped together as cheek teeth. Cheek teeth are vital for crushing and chewing the tough foods like seeds and grains that hamsters feed on. The irregular (chewing) surfaces of these teeth do a good job of crushing and masticating tough foods when hamsters chew.
Like many rodent teeth, hamsters chompers keep growing for their entire lives. This is because hamsters have a diet that requires a lot of chewing, and if their teeth didn’t keep growing throughout their lives, they would wear out long before the hamster reached old age. The Latin root of the word ‘rodent’ actually means ‘to gnaw’; so you can see why hamsters are considered rodents.
Hamsters teeth are not like human teeth, which only grow once and then wear down over the course of our lives. Unlike other kinds of teeth, hamster teeth do not have true roots. Instead, they have open roots. This allows their teeth to keep growing forever.
Why do Hamsters Have Brown Teeth.
Many first time hamster owners ask the question; why are my hamster’s teeth brown? Or orange? Or yellow? They expect their healthy hamster to have pearly whites, but hamsters have a unique kind of enamel. This enamel develops below the gumline, and helps the hamsters’ teeth continuously grow. And what color is this enamel? It tends to be yellowish orange to brown, and is almost never white.
Yellow or brown teeth are perfectly normal and healthy in hamsters. The older they are, the darker their teeth get. So it’s even possible to tell how old a hamster is by the darkness of its teeth.
Because their teeth never stop growing, pet hamsters often have tooth issues. If you choose a hamster as a pet, it’s important to provide them with the appropriate diet and plenty of pet safe wood blocks to chew. However, even with a good diet and plenty to chew on, hamsters may still develop dental problems. Let’s take a look at some of the most common issues that plague hamsters’ teeth.
One of the most common health problems hamsters face is overgrown teeth. Teeth become overgrown when the hamster doesn’t use them enough, either for chewing up tough food or for chewing on things like wood and cardboard. Their teeth keep growing, whether they use them or not, and this can quickly become a problem if they’re not worn down fast enough.
Overgrown incisors can quickly become misaligned, meaning they get so long they actually start growing crooked. They can also pierce the gums or mouth, and may even cause abscesses or infections.
The cheek teeth can become overgrown too, though it’s much harder for owners to see these teeth to know whether they are too long. Overgrown cheek teeth may cause a variety of problems; including entrapment of the tongue and interference with the cheek pouches. Tongue entrapment happens when the cheek teeth get so long that they actually prevent the tongue from moving, which severely impacts the hamster’s ability to eat. Because hamsters have cheek pouches located right next to their cheek teeth, overgrown cheek teeth may actually lacerate the cheek pouches, and could cause infection.
Hamsters spend much of their lives chewing with their cheek teeth. The cheek teeth are pressed close together, and it’s not uncommon for food to get stuck in between or behind them. Because of this, hamsters are prone to caries (cavities). Left untreated, caries can rot the tooth, and may even cause an infection or abscess. If you suspect that your hamster has any kind of tooth problem, be sure to consult a veterinary specialist immediately.
In order to maintain good tooth health throughout their lives, two things are extremely important for your pet hamster.
First, owners should provide a suitable diet of primarily seeds and hamster formulated pellets. Hamsters can also be give produce and fresh greens, but these should be given sparingly as treats, and should not make up the bulk of the hamster’s diet. Sugary treats should also be avoided, as these can contribute to dental caries.
Second, hamsters love to chew. This means they need more than just food in their enclosure; they need wood blocks too. The best place to buy these is at the pet store, where pet safe, non-toxic wood blocks formulated specially for hamster teeth can be found.
It’s fairly simple to prevent dental problems in your pet hamster with the appropriate diet and chewing supplements, but tooth maladies may still occur. Most issues are treatable by veterinary specialists, who can file or even extract problem teeth.
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What do hamsters eat?
Hamsters are one of the most popular rodent species to keep as pets throughout the world, and that has a lot to do with how low maintenance their diet is. When kept as pets in captivity, hamsters can be raised as gentle herbivores with relatively simple nutritional needs. Grains, seeds, and nuts are the cornerstone of the hamster’s diet both in the wild and in captivity — but dark greens and other vegetables should be a part of the diet as well. Hamsters enjoy fruit but should enjoy them in moderation as they’re prone to diabetes.
Human food like sugar, caffeine, and alcohol should be avoided. Processed hamster feed and blocks are available that help finds a nutritional balance, but many owners choose to feed their pets human food like fresh fruits and vegetables. If you feed your hamster dry food rather than human food, they should generally be fine with a tablespoon or two of feed a day. Dwarf hamsters require less food than the common Syrian hamster. Both Syrian and dwarf hamsters should be fed timothy hay for the health of their teeth rather than for its nutritional value.
Diet is a bit more complicated for hamsters in the wild. While most hamster owners aren’t in the habit of feeding their pets live animals, hamsters in the wild are actually omnivores, although meat isn’t a major part of their diet. The ideal hamster diet consists of 16% protein and 5% fat, and many nuts and seeds offer both. But hamsters in the wild can help fulfill those requirements through protein-heavy meat sources like mealworms and insects. Syrian and dwarf hamsters are the two most popular choices for pets, but they’re just two of 18 species found in the wild. And while all of these are omnivores who eat fruits and vegetables in addition to rare pieces of meat, the specific foods that make up their diet can vary depending on their environment. In captivity, some owners will help these omnivores achieve their protein needs by providing them with pieces of boiled egg.
How Do Hamsters Find Food?
Though their diets may be roughly the same, the hunting and foraging habits of hamsters can actually vary wildly. Some rare hamsters in Africa have been observed hunting insects in packs, but most species are solitary foragers more likely to end up with a piece of meat by happenstance more than from an active attempt at hunting. Most hamster species prefer desert environments where they build elaborate burrows. These dens keep them cool during the hottest parts of the day, and they venture out only when it grows darker and cooler outside. For the most part, hamsters look to minimize their time spent outside. Most species will only journey out for about an hour after daylight and keep their time spent out in the wild as limited as possible.
Fortunately, hamsters have developed a unique quirk that helps them dramatically minimize their time spent outdoors. This helps them avoid predators, but it also keeps them insulated against the frequently frigid desert nights. Their cheeks are designed to be both highly durable and highly flexible, able to expand outward like a balloon as the hamster stuffs its mouth. With the ability to store up to 20% of their body weight inside their mouths, hamsters are capable of stockpiling food in large quantities and bringing them back to their dens. Considering that the typical wild hamster needs to eat every two hours and only has a precious window of safe time to forage, stuffing nuts, fruits and vegetables is more necessity than a convenience.
While mothers have been known to sometimes eat baby hamsters when stressed or starving, they’re generally very protective of their young. In fact, mothers will sometimes hide baby hamsters in their cheeks to carry them away to safety. Baby hamsters are nursed for about two to three weeks. After that, baby hamsters can subsist on a diet resembling those of adults — but mothers will usually continue to forage for their young for a while after.