Why Do Hamsters Spit Out Their Food? (Quick Facts)

By Dawn | Filed under:  Hamster Behavior

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The way in which hamsters treat their food and how they eat is vastly different from anything that we, as humans, do. This can be confusing for owners, particularly when your pet spits their food out at you. 

Hamsters may spit out their food to either eat it or when they have reached the location where they wanted to transport it to, after having stored it in their cheek pouches.  If a hamster does this in front of you or spits it out onto your hand, they know that they trust you, and are comfortable eating a meal in your presence.

But this still leaves a lot of unanswered questions, so I decided to do a bit of research and share what I found with you. Let’s explore!

Why Did My Hamster Spit Food On My Hand?

One of the ways that humans find out that hamsters will spit out their food is when they do it on their owner’s hands. However, you might also notice your pet doing this inside their cage, and it will typically be in the same spot every time.

This is because hamsters like to have designated spaces in their cages for different activities. 

For example, you will notice that your hamster will always pee and poop in the same place as well as always sleeping in the same area.   You might think of it in a similar way to us having different rooms in our house. 

However, if you are holding your pet when they are ready to eat, they might spit their food out onto your hand and have their meal right there. 

This is not something that should concern you and instead is something that you should cherish. If your hamster feels comfortable enough to eat while sitting on you, then this is a sign that they trust you and feel comfortable.

But with all of this in mind, it doesn’t tell us why hamsters need to spit their food out in the first place; why aren’t they just eating it when it goes into their mouths?

Unless you are completely new to hamster care, you will likely be familiar with the fact that hamsters have cheek pouches. These pouches are used to store food. In the wild, hamsters may not find their meal close to their nest but having these handy storage compartments in the mouths allows them to forage for food and save it until they return to the safety of their nest. 

Just because a hamster lives in captivity, this does not mean that this instinctive behavior will just disappear so you will often see your pet stuffing their cheeks until their entire face is bulging.

However, there might also be times when your hamster fills their cheek pouches to the brim and some of the contents come spilling out. 

Hamsters are opportunistic and will take food whenever it is presented to them, even if they are not hungry. For this reason, it is not uncommon for them to stuff it into their cheeks, regardless of how much space they have left. 

All of this is pretty cute and many hamster owners love watching their pets fill up. However, having these built-in shopping bags does come with some problems and it is important that you are aware of these.

Cheek Abscesses

Hamster cheek pouches are huge and hamsters will carry all sorts of things around in them from food to bedding and even their young! Inside the cheeks is warm and dry but this is also an excellent environment for infections and abscesses to develop.

Most commonly, this occurs if the hamster has tried to store something sharp that has caused a cut. In most animals, a small cut like this would heal without an issue but hamsters are prone to infections here and due to their small size, these infections can quickly become fatal. 

If you suspect that your hamster might have an abscess, the first thing to do is check whether you can see a visible swelling that will likely appear to be filled with pus. 

If you cannot see anything but still believe that there might be a problem, you can look for other signs including swollen cheeks even when there is no food inside and a loss of appetite. 

But provided that you access medical attention, there is no reason that your hamster cannot recover from this issue. 

Eversion

In some cases, the cheek pouches can turn inside out and protrude from the mouth. This is evident as you will notice a pink material coming from the hamster’s mouth. 

If you notice this, you must seek assistance from a vet as this sometimes requires a surgical procedure to fix it. 

Cheek Impaction

As we mentioned earlier, hamsters are known to stuff their cheek pouches until they are fit to burst and while this might look adorable, it can cause health problems for your pet. 

One problem that this can cause is impaction, but it is important to note that this can also happen for other reasons.

Impaction is when a piece of food becomes stuck inside the pouch and the hamster cannot get it out. If it is left here, the food will begin to deteriorate and rot, causing serious implications for your pet. 

One of the major issues here is that an infection will develop and as we have learned, these can be life-threatening for such small creatures.

Removing the food is the only way to clear up any problems, but you should not attempt this yourself and should always make an emergency appointment to see a vet.

Related Questions

How do I get my hamster to spit out food?

One of the most effective ways to get him to spit out their food is to gently and softly open their mouth. You may need to hold them still which could be distressing for both of you but rather than have them eat something potentially dangerous. 

How much food can a hamster hold in its cheeks?

A hamster’s cheek pouches are surprisingly big and run back as far as their shoulders. It is known that a Syrian hamster can hold an entire shelled peanut in its cheek and something as large as a whole grape.  There is enough suggestion to say that a hamster can hold up to 20% of its own weight in its cheek pouches, so don’t be surprised if you see your pet with chubby cheeks!

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