Here’s a fun fact for hamster owners: ever wonder where the word “rodent” comes from? It’s actually derived from the Latin word “rodere”, which means “to gnaw”.
This name was given because rats, hamsters, and other members of the Rodentia order usually have large front teeth and have a need to continuously gnaw or bite on something.
This need draws from the fact that their front teeth, called incisors, continue to grow non-stop throughout their lives.
Potential Hamster Teeth Problems
Hamsters gnaw on objects in a constant effort to file down their incisors and keep them at an optimal length. If the upper or lower incisors overgrow, it can cause some serious problems for the poor hamsters.
Overly long incisors can interfere when a hamster is trying to eat, as it will be unable to close its mouth properly. They can also stab into the gums and tongue, possibly causing slight lacerations and subsequent bleeding.
Once an incisor breaks, there is a possibility that it will never grow back. If it does, it could grow back crooked. A hamster with overgrown incisors and without any adequate objects to chew on may resort to biting the bars of its cage which can cause its teeth to break.
Overgrown incisors on the top and bottom can also bump into each other when a hamster tries to eat which may cause bone damage or breakage as well.
A broken bottom incisor that has a sharp edge can potentially puncture the roof of the hamster’s mouth. Besides the immense pain that this will surely cause the hamster, the wound can also form a hole (called a fistula) that connects to the nasal cavity. These fistulas will cause the hamster to experience frequent sneezing and nasal dripping.
Most people aren’t aware of how many teeth hamsters have. Another less common dental issue that hamsters experience is with their back teeth, which are called “cheek teeth”.
Food can occasionally become stuck in-between these cheek teeth and lead to the formation and growth of bacteria which will ultimately result in an infection.
If you suspect your hamster of having issues with its back teeth, be on the lookout for telltale signs such as swollen jaws, weight loss, and difficulty eating.
All potential incisor issues aside, a hamster’s teeth can also have issues which are not related to overgrowth. Teeth may break due to calcium deficiencies which are a result of an unbalanced diet.
Broken teeth due to lack of calcium can cause all sorts of abnormalities to manifest such as when one tooth grows larger than its opposite counterpart.
Detecting a Hamster Dental Issue
Hamsters have very small mouths, making it quite difficult for us to see inside. This makes it hard to tell when a hamster is having problems with its teeth.
Hamsters don’t open their mouths wide enough to allow brushing, either. To make matters worse, they tend to hide their symptoms until they become very sick as most prey animals do.
Be that as it may, there are several signs that can alert you to potential hamster tooth problems. The easiest one to spot is when you notice that your hamster’s food bowl remains untouched at the end of the day (or the start of the day). You’ll become aware of this by monitoring its food intake daily.
Some physical symptoms can be dead giveaways of a dental issue. These include noticeable weight loss, nasal discharge, and facial swelling.
How to Care for a Hamster’s Teeth
To prevent incisors from overgrowing, make sure that your hamster has plenty of objects inside its cage to chew on. Soft wooden blocks are excellent toys that will help your hamster keep its teeth nicely trimmed.
Newspaper and cardboard are also good choices as they serve double purposes of being bite-worthy objects as well as providing the hamster with something to focus its attention on (they love shredding paper). There are also plenty of commercial products available for hamsters such as calcium chews and mineral blocks.
Having the running wheel present in its home gives your hamster a way to exercise at night. Without it, your pet might resort to scampering about and gnawing on things that it shouldn’t such as the food bowl or the cage bars.
Always make sure there are plenty of distractions for it to play with to avoid potentially broken teeth.
Older hamsters have weaker bones and therefore are more susceptible to teeth breakage. Pet hamsters only live for about 2 to 2.5 years on the average, so keep an eagle eye on your hamster if it’s a senior.
To prevent tooth deficiencies and oral diseases, ensure that your hamster has a balanced diet. Commercial rodent pellets are complete with the nutrients that a hamster needs and are enough to make up the bulk of its everyday meals.
Fresh fruits and vegetables provide great supplementary value, as do grains and seeds in moderation. Having a balanced diet will result in a healthy hamster with strong bones and teeth.
Resolutions After the Fact
If you were unable to prevent any of the aforementioned dental issues, steps must be taken to help the hamster before the condition gets any worse.
You may need to trim hamster’s overgrown teeth or have them extracted via surgery. Tooth clipping can be done at home or by a veterinarian if you’re not confident enough. Those with infected teeth or oral-nasal fistulas will need surgery, antibiotics, and painkillers.
Keep in mind that hamsters are classified as exotic animals and not every vet is qualified to handle them. The cost of operations, medicine, and surgery for exotic animals are also significantly higher than for other pets.
Try to schedule a visit to a vet at least once a year for your hamster. It’s a preventative measure that can help stop small problems before they become big ones. A veterinarian can also provide you with dietary consultation and a postoperative plan for recovery and prevention of future dental issues.