A Cheeky Question: Why Does a Hamster Have Pouches?

These little animals can hold big amounts of food or nesting materials in their cheeks.

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Surprisingly, a lot can fit in those cheek pouches. By: Sara Spildener

Cats and dogs are probably our most common pets. However, once in a while, someone is bound to strike up a conversation about another awesome roommate — the hamster!

People who are considering caring for these furry little critters sometimes wonder, “Why does a hamster have pouches?”

I will try to enlighten you with a little inside information on the hamster and its mysterious cheek pouch.

Why Does a Hamster Have Pouches?

For beginners, did you know that the word “hamster” comes from the German word hamstern, meaning “to hoard”? That’s fitting, because food hoarding is a behavioral instinct the hamster is well known for. This hoarding activity may be increased when the hamster becomes stressed or when his living arrangements are changed.

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A hamster’s cheeks can sometimes stretch out drastically, making his head look as much as 3 times larger than it actually is. The bulging cheeks on these little fellas are one of their best known features. The bulges will appear on the sides of their faces when they are packed with food (or nesting materials).

Things stored in the hamster pouches will keep nicely until needed, as the pouches are not equipped with salivary glands. The roughness of the cheek-lining is also a plus in protecting a hamster’s stowaway items.

When You Need to De-Pouch

Unfortunately, the stored goods can get stuck in your hamster’s pouch. This problem does not happen often, but hamsters are delicate pets. When they cannot de-pouch, it’s painful to them.

Changes in a hamster’s eating habits could clue you in to this predicament. If you notice the pouch staying full longer than normal, hold your pet and gently massage his cheeks to dislodge whatever he has stored.

Another way to make sure your little one stays comfy is to check the teeth from time to time. They should be worn down a bit by chewing.

As with dogs and cats, hamsters deserve treats now and then. A good choice for your pet hamster would be a small block of untreated lumber to nibble on. Never give anything with a sharp edge, making sure that whatever he has to chew on will not harm the mouth pouch.

I hope I’ve helped you out with a few thoughts on “Why does a hamster have pouches.” As with all our pets, hamsters sometimes need special attention.

If yours shows signs of a pouch problem you can’t fix, definitely seek your veterinarian’s advice. Keep your furry, fat-cheeked friend healthy and happy.

Gayle Hickman

View posts by Gayle Hickman
Gayle Hickman has been researching and writing about pet behaviors since 2011. In addition to Petful, her articles have appeared on Reader's Digest, Yahoo Shine and WebVet, to name a few.

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