Why Do Hamsters Eat Their Bedding (And Why It’s Normal)

By Dawn | Hamster Care
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Have you ever seen your hamster eat its bedding?  I have, and it’s a little unnerving to say the least the first time you witness it.  You may wonder whether this is normal behavior and you may worry that it might make your hamster sick.  But, don’t worry, this is perfectly normal and typical behavior for hamsters.  I hope you find this post reassuring.

So, why do hamsters eat their bedding?  Hamsters do not “eat” their bedding, rather they stuff their bedding or nesting material into their cheek pouches in order to carry it from one place to another to make a comfy nest.  Hamsters may also chew their bedding, also known as substrate, in order to keep their continually growing teeth in check.

It’s perfectly normal for hamsters to stuff their cheeks with bedding but certain bedding materials are unsafe for use in your hamsters cage, whether they are ingested or not.  

We’ll be looking in more detail at which substrates to avoid and which ones are safe to use.  We’ll also be looking at some of the more interesting things that hamsters stuff into their cheeks!  

Hamster cheek pouches

On either side of your hamster’s face are cheek pouches and they extend from their jaw all the way back to their chin.  The pouches themselves are basically large, empty pockets of skin that are situated on the inside of their cheeks.

These cheek pouches are not unique to hamsters, but they can be found on other mammals too such as monkeys, chipmunks and squirrels.  The cheek pouches on hamsters are particularly well developed and can be used to store all sorts of things in them.

Hamsters use their cheek pouches to gather food, substrate, bedding or anything that they think may be useful for their nest or that they might want to store away and eat later on.

Hamsters may also use their cheek pouches to carry food to their hoard or even just to transport things from one place to another.  In other words, you can think of them as an in-built backpack on the sides of their face!

So, whenever you see your hamster stuffing its cheeks with bedding – don’t panic and don’t try to stop your hamster from doing this and or attempt to take it out of their mouth.

Your hamster isn’t eating it, they’re simply pouching it, travelling with it and will empty the pouches when they get to where they want to be.  Remember, hamsters don’t tend to eat things that don’t taste very nice!

Other uses for their cheek pouches

Hamster cheek pouches are incredibly versatile and there are a couple of incredible things that hamsters can do with them.

Mother hamsters that have very young pups can store their entire litter in their cheek pouches and transport them from one place to another.  

Hamsters will do this if they think their pups are in any sort of danger and so the mother will quickly stuff the pups into her cheek pouches and move them to somewhere where she feels safe.

The downside to this of course is that the mother only has a limited amount of time and can only travel a certain distance before the oxygen in her pouches runs out.

Another fascinating fact is that some wild hamsters can even inflate their cheek pouches with air and use them to keep them afloat when swimming across water, usually to escape a predator.  

Hamsters should avoid water at all costs because it can strip their fur of its essential oils and can dramatically reduce their body temperature, but in the wild, hamsters will choose to swim if it means that they can escape danger.

Safe and unsafe hamster bedding

Because hamsters will stuff their bedding into their cheek pouches to move it around, it’s important that the bedding or substrate (the stuff that goes onto the floor of the hamster’s cage) is safe for them to do so.

Now there are some substrates that can be harmful to your hamster even if they don’t stuff it into their pouches.

Substrates that you want to avoid using are wood shavings that are derived from Pine or Cedar trees.  Pine and Cedar contain naturally occurring phenols that are designed to protect the tree from being eaten by insects or infested with fungus.  

If your hamster breathes in these harmful chemicals, it can cause problems to their respiratory system.

Instead, you should use either Aspen wood shavings (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned) or any paper-based bedding such as Carefresh (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned) or Kaytee Clean & Cozy (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned).

Toilet paper is also a good option here and is a very common nesting material for hamsters because it is cheap and very cosy for hamsters.  Our hamster Richmond loves to snuggle up in it when he goes to sleep! 

Make sure that if you do use toilet paper as a bedding or nesting material that it is unscented because hamsters have an acute sense of smell and scented toilet paper will be overpowering to them.

You also want to avoid any cotton-based bedding that could get stuck in their cheek pouches or become wrapped around their teeth.  Also, you should avoid sharp materials such as straw which can damage the inside of a hamster’s cheek pouches when foraged.

What if your hamster swallows its bedding?

If your hamster swallows it’s bedding, then as long as it is made from a known safe material, then no harm should come to your hamster and is therefore not something that you need to worry about.  The material will be easily digested and come out the other end!

Related questions

Can hamsters suffocate in bedding? 

It’s highly unlikely that a hamster would suffocate in its bedding.  Hamsters are natural burrowers and love to hide under things such as bedding and in their hideouts as it helps them feel safe.  In the wild, they like to dig tunnels deep underground as it keeps them hidden from predators whilst they are sleeping during daylight hours.

Why does my hamster cover her food with bedding? 

Hamsters cover their food with bedding because in the wild, they like to keep their food hidden from other hamsters and potential predators.  They also keep some of their food stashed away for when winter comes or if it is too dangerous to venture out of their burrow during the daytime.

What is the best hamster bedding for odor control? 

The best hamster bedding for odor control, in my opinion, is the Kaytee Clean & Cozy Extreme Odor Control (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned).  Not only does it keep odours under control for up to 14 days, it’s also a safe and comfortable substrate to use in your hamster’s cage.