Do pet hamsters need to chew wood?
Something you may not know about your new hamster is that his teeth require special care. Chances are you’ve seen a number of chew products available for hamsters, including wooden toys. You must provide these items for your hamster to ensure his teeth stay healthy. You need to carefully select wood for your hamster to chew on or provide alternative chew treats. Remember, it’s up to you to keep your hamster’s teeth in check.
About hamster teeth
Hamster teeth are not like human teeth. Their teeth keep growing, similar to the way your fingernails grow. In the wild, hamsters grind down teeth through regular eating behavior and chewing on sticks or pine cones. Provide wooden blocks or wooden chew sticks in order to help your hamster keep his teeth ground down. Without items for your hamster to chew on, his teeth can become damaged or cause injury.
Risks of overgrown teeth
The biggest risk of allowing your hamster’s teeth to overgrow is starvation. If the teeth grow faster than a hamster can grind them down through gnawing and chewing, the hamster will not be able to get food into his mouth and could die from starvation. In the case that the teeth are overgrown, you can take the hamster to the vet to have the teeth clipped. During the visit, ask your vet to show you how to clip them at home. Check the teeth monthly to make sure they are not causing obstruction and clip them if necessary.
Choosing safe wood
Unpainted, untreated wooden hamster toys are the safest option for your hamster. Never pick up sticks from the yard, because they could carry parasites — particularly deadwood. Provide hamster chew sticks that are made of apple or pear wood. Avoid woods that contain oils that can cause respiratory upset in hamsters, such as cedar. Also avoid toys that are made in China. These toys may contain toxic chemicals that could kill your hamster.
While wood is the most natural chewing material, you can give your hamster dog biscuits that are free of garlic. Hard, crunchy treats will help grind the teeth down. Another option is paper towel rolls. These make a good chewing material, and hamsters love to hide out in them. Even hard cereal, such as rolled oat cereals, can keep the teeth in check. If you don’t provide chewing materials, the hamster may start to chew on his housing, which can prove dangerous.
Preparing “wild-caught” woods
If you do choose to collect woods rather than buy them, you must be sure the wood hasn’t been treated with pesticides or chemicals. They can leech into the wood and make hamsters sick. It only takes a small amount – think of how small the hamsters are themselves.
In addition to ensuring the wood hasn’t been treated with any chemicals, you should also ensure the wood is clean. You can do this by removing any visible debris (make sure there is no mud or moss on it) and baking it in an oven on low heat for an hour. This will ensure the wood is dry and free from any parasites or bacteria!
If your hamster is not getting enough items to chew on (or if they really don’t like the items you are providing), they will start showing signs of distress. Excessive drooling, disinterest in food, or facial swelling are all indicators that your hamster is not getting their needs met.
Take them to a vet if any problems appear, but making sure they have access to appropriate chewing blocks can go a long way towards preventing dental problems.
Biting on their cage bars or chewing non-wood cage furniture is an early sign that your hamster needs something more or something different to chew.
Try items that are softer (like a plain dog biscuit) or more difficult (like a wooden bird perch) if your hamster is not using the chewing items you have provided.
While hamsters do not actually eat wood; having a tough surface that is safe for them to chew on is integral to their health.
Hamsters need to keep their teeth healthy and manageable just like humans, but they need something a little more heavy-duty than a brush at bedtime. Instead, make sure you’re providing your pet with a pet-safe wood or alternative material to wear down their teeth and to keep them happy and healthy!
If you want more helpful advice on looking after your hamster, including tips on toys, accessories and accommodation, add a comment below to let us know!
Waiting for our next post here.