How to take care of your hamsters teeth

Having healthy teeth is very important for your hamster for many reasons. Their teeth are their main tools – they use them to gnaw on their mostly hard food diet, carry things from place to place, and shred objects to make their nests. In sum, they need them to be in good shape to survive and thrive. Because rodents’ teeth are so different from humans’, it is important that every hamster owner get familiar with hamster dental issues so that they can know to watch out for problems.

Hamster teeth

Hamsters have eight teeth: two pairs of incisors on the top and bottom of their mouth and four molars, with a gap in between the incisors and the molars. Each of these sets of pairs of teeth has a particular function. The incisors are for gnawing, repeatedly chipping away at the food they eat; the molars are for chewing what they have chipped off.

There are other differences between hamster and human teeth than number. They have no root, so they are are more like human fingernails than teeth. And because they are continuously growing and the incisors are covered with an extra layer of hard enamel, hamsters need to gnaw on hard objects regularly to make sure that they don’t get too long. They may not have the opportunity to do enough of this in captivity, causing their teeth to become too long if neglected.

Basics of hamster tooth care

The good news for hamster owners is that their pets are good at taking care of their own teeth, which they are if they have implements to use to do it well. Hamster teeth don’t need to be cleaned, and it shouldn’t concern you if they appear a bit yellow – that’s natural. So the main thing to be concerned about is providing your pet the things they need to gnaw down their ever-growing incisors.

Much of the food that hamsters eat helps them accomplish this naturally (though commercially-prepared hamster food doesn’t provide quite as much help as it does in the wild). In addition, there are things that you can give your hamster to provide any need for additional use of their teeth to keep them the right length. These are sold at pet stores, but luckily cheaper choices are available and sometimes better.

Items designed for hamsters to chew on are some of their most important toys and cage accessories, and things that they shouldn’t chew or aren’t good for them should be kept out of the cage. Things made for dogs and cats to chew on are generally good substitutes for the much more expensive small rodent products. At pet stores there are bulk bins where you can try one of each of the various dog biscuits and chews to see which your hamster most enjoys at a very low price. Also, blocks of wood or Popsicle sticks and cardboard (materials that they use to maintain their nests) can keep a hamster busy with the essential chewing.

Signs of tooth trouble

Aside from the replication of your hamster’s natural amount of gnawing in the wild (which the odds are will prevent most problems) you should watch for one of the following signs that your hamster might be having a dental problem:

• Obvious signs that the hamster’s teeth are too long (they can’t close their mouth normally or they protrude past the lips when closed).

• Failure to eat, drink or engage in normal activity, which could be a result of a dental problem.

• Your hamster might be chewing on something that would be bad for the teeth (bars of a cage or an edge of an acrylic toy). Not only will it be harmful for them to ingest things that aren’t meant to be eaten, they might chip or lose a tooth doing this, and it could be a sign that they aren’t being given enough good things for them to chew on otherwise.

• Loss of one or both incisors. Your hamster’s teeth will grow back, but you may want to supplement their diet with softer foods in the mean time. If your hamster has cagemates, they may begin to pick on it more than usual. It is wise to separate a hamster with any cage mates it might have in case this happens (of course in the case of Syrians that is already essential), because the others will quickly discover its lack of a natural ability to defend itself.

• A bad odor or anything strange coming from the mouth.

Conclusion

Because these or other tooth problems might present from time to time, and because problems with your hamster maintaining its teeth or eating properly is one of the first signs that something is wrong, it is wise to check your hamster’s teeth weekly or so to make sure things look normal. This can be accomplished by turning the hamster over onto its back with one hand and with the other gently grabbing extra skin from the back of its neck until teeth are exposed in the front.

Of course if you suspect a serious problem and are concerned for your pet’s health, it is always wisest to consult a veterinarian to be safest, or at least go online to ask help from experienced pet owners that can give you an idea about how to proceed. But for the most part, following these tips and providing your hamster with an adequate diet and chewing material will keep their teeth in good shape at a minimum of time or expense.