All About Hamster’s Cheek Pouches (Purpose, How they Work, Disease)

I am sure you have seen ( even if you still do not have a pet hamster) a hamster with big, chunky cheeks. Maybe you have misjudged that it was a chubby one. Actually, everything is all right with the hamster’s weight and those big cheeks you noticed were nothing else than kind of ‘grocery bags’ or hamster’s cheek pouches.

All hamsters have cheek pouches – pockets that can expand incredibly in order to keep as much food as possible. Hamsters are using them to transport the food ( that’s why I have said – grocery bags) from point A to point B. Hamsters use their cheeks pockets to carry bedding or building material for nests. It’s not uncommon for a hamster mum to hide her babies in her cheek pouches if it’s necessary. Some hamsters may experience different health issues with this part of their body, like abscesses or tumors.

Many people find hamsters even cuter when their pouches are full but these ‘pockets’ are not only decoration on their faces. They have a very important role in the feeding process but also many things can go wrong with hamster’s cheek pouches. Keep reading our article and find everything you need to know about this exquisite part of the hamster’s body.

How does Hamster’s Cheek Pouches Work?

In the wild, the hamster is collecting food, store it in the cheek pouches and when they are completely full, rush to its burrow to put the food in a safe place. Ok, we know what cheek pouches are, but how do they work? It is a very interesting solution that nature made for these tiny creatures.

Hamsters are prey animals. In order to survive, they have to be very careful when they are out of their burrows.

They have a lot of enemies. Predators are all around, foxes, coyotes, some birds such as owls, some snakes, wild cats. That is why mother nature made them nocturnal animals.

Hamsters are collecting food at night as it is not safe to get out of the burrow during sunlight. If we know that they are eating every two hours, it is very clear that they need to be very diligent and gather as much food as possible.

Here is the moment when cheeks serving their purpose. Hamsters can fill up their cheeks with an immense amount of food. Usually, hamsters can carry up to 20% of their body weight in their cheeks and Syrian hamsters even more, up to half of their body weight.

This is a very interesting mechanism. Can you imagine holding 30-40 Lbs of food in your mouth?! I do not think so!

One question arises – how do hamsters hold all that food in place? Well, the secret is that pouches are covered with rough skin which keeps the food in place and hamsters secrete no saliva so the food will not soften. Just perfect.

Did you know that hamsters are not carrying only food in their pouches? Hamster’s mum sometimes hides the babies in her cheeks if she feels the danger.

How does Hamster Empty its Cheek Pouches?

Hamsters are using their front paws to push the food out of their cheeks. You might think that your hammy should empty his pouches and if he does not do that you might come in the temptation to help him.

As a matter of fact, your hammy most probably does not need any help. He will empty its cheeks in his own time.

In the wild, hamsters will empty their cheeks food storage once they reach their burrow. In the safety of their home, they can enjoy a pleasant meal. This does not mean that the hamster cannot grab some bite while having its cheeks full. On the contrary, hamsters can eat, sleep, play, and run with full cheeks.

Does Hamster Need Your Help to Empty its Cheek Pouches?

Well, sometimes yes.

There is a big difference between a hamster that lives in the wild and your furry pal that lives cozy in your home.

First of all, the wild areas which hamsters originally come from are deserted regions with poor vegetation and limited sources of food( Syria, Mongolia, parts of Russia, south-eastern Turkey…) Hamster can find some seeds, grains, few veggies, maybe some insects but that’s it.

Unlike wild hamster, your furry pal lives in more comfortable conditions, no predators in his vicinity, he always has an abundance of food at its disposal… But there is a danger that your hammy puts something in its mouth he shouldn’t or something that could make him a problem which does not happen often in the wild.

For example its bedding material, piece of toilet paper, some sticky food (a piece of banana or pinch of peanut butter), some food with sharp edges ( potato chips ), etc.

I will give you an example- you give a pinch of peanut butter or a noodle to your furry friend. He decides to save it for later and start loading the content of the food bowl in its mouth as a part of normal hoarding behavior.

Sticky mass of peanut butter or pasta will paste other food in hamster’s pouches and once he tries to empty them it will be quite difficult to do so. Or your hammy eats a large piece of potato chips which gets stuck and might cut him or hurt him. This is the moment he needs your help! Remember, hamsters cannot use their tongues to clean put their cheeks as we can.

If you notice that your hamster is running around with full cheeks for quite some time and does not try to empty them, maybe you should try to help him or even better take him to the vet. Take a look at your pet’s head and neck. If they appear to be swollen then you should definitely consult the vet.

Hamster’s Cheek Pouches Diseases

There are a few bad things that can happen to cheek pouches and cause your hammy trouble.

In the previous paragraph, I described something that is called Impacted Cheek pouches. Hamsters usually do not have issues to empty their cheek pouches but in case they have some sticky food in them or some material that they shouldn’t have, it might happen that they cannot empty cheek pockets on their own. It may happen they need vet’s help. If you don’t help your tiny friend on time Abscess could develop out of Impacted cheek pouches.

Another cheek pouches disease is Abscess. Remember potato chips that I mentioned earlier ( by the way, potato chips are not appropriate food for your pet, you should avoid it )? If your pet takes that kind of food with sharp edges, could cut himself. That cut could cause the built-up of the pus which eventually will lead to the infection.

This kind of infection has to be treated otherwise you are risking seriously your pet’s health. If you notice that your pet eats less and shows signs of pain, call the vet. Your furry pal must be examined by the vet and treated by antibiotics.

When it comes to Abscess, the food is not always the source of the problem. That could be some sharp object your pet is playing with or overgrown tooth is making a trouble.

Cheek prolapse can occur as a result of Impacted or Infected cheek pouches. Usually happens to hamsters which are overfed and trying to put too much food in their mouth. Your pet may chew on prolapsed tissue and depending on how much time he/she does that, the affected tissue could become necrotic. This condition is very serious and requires medical attention.

Cheek pouches can be also affected by the tumor. This is a common problem and usually, only one pouch is affected. In most of the case, unfortunately, these tumors become cancers.

There is a difference between cheek pouch filled with food and the one with tumor. The cheek pouch with tumor is more firm.

Hamster affected by cheek pouch tumor will not have good outcome unless tumor is removed on time.

Final thought

Considering what we have said here, it is super important to watch out your pet closely. To pay attention what does he do with the food and even more important to check if he empties its cheek pouches regularly. Keeping its cheek pouches healthy you are keeping your pet healthy as well.

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