You were probably startled the first time you noticed it. You served your new furry little friend his usual meal and left him to enjoy himself.
Only to come back and find what looked like spew somewhere in a corner. Interestingly, your hamster appeared just fine. No signs of stomach issues whatsoever.
You may have also noticed that this has since become something that occurs regularly. What could be the issue? One thing’s for sure-your hamster isn’t throwing up.
Rodents, oddly, don’t have gag reflexes. Here’s why:
Why Hamsters Can’t Vomit?
According to research by neuroscientists from the University of Pittsburg’s Cancer Centre, rodents including hamsters lack a vomit response because of limitations in their anatomical structures and brainstem neurological components.
As researcher and neuroscientist Charles Horn notes, “rodents are not good study-animals when looking for better ways to alleviate vomiting and nausea after chemotherapy. Because they seem to have one-way digestive systems“.
To start with, bodily constraints like reduced muscularity of their diaphragms, thin sheets of muscle underneath the lungs, and longer oesophagus, make it quite difficult for hamsters to throw up, even if they wanted to.
What’s more, researchers also realized that rodents show less nerve, shoulder, throat, and mouth activity after ingesting nausea-triggering foods.
Which suggests that these mammals lack the necessary brain neurons needed to produce an up-chuck response. Not to mention that they do experience nausea nonetheless.
According to Charles Choi, a LiveScience contributor, “hamsters most likely lost the ability to vomit at some point in their evolutionary history in favour of other defensive strategies“.
For instance, rodents feature an extremely sharp response to taste, making them way better at avoiding toxins that kill or sicken them.
If Not Vomit, then What is it?
Food. Your hamster is spitting out food it had stored in its cheek pouches. As you may know, hamsters feature large pockets on the sides of their mouth, which are invaginations of their oral mucosae.
The primary purpose of these pouches is to transport food from one spot to another. So when you see your hamster spew out food, he has probably just finished transporting food to a place where he feels it’s safer.
To illustrate this, hamsters in the wild use their cheek pouches to carry ‘provisions’ back to their burrows.
Think of these pouches as “grocery bags”. If a predator appears, the hamster can escape and save both its life and lunch.
This habit of hamsters storing food in their pouches is even what led to their name (hamster), which loosely translates to “mister saddlebags” in the local Arabic dialect around the area they originate from.
It’s important to note that hamsters can stuff both of their cheeks or one of them with food. All the same, their cheek pouches are extremely elastic. They can expand up to 20% their body sizes or nearly triple their head sizes.
If anything, this adaptation has a lot to do with the harsh terrain and cold climate hamsters originally lived in. Food was scarce and so its storage was vital.
As La’Toya Lateny of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine notes, “the elasticity of hamster’s pouch and the fact that it has blood vessels makes this animal popular for research on microcirculation and transplants“. Not only that.
Sometimes, hamsters will also spit-out half-chewed food when they develop problems with their back teeth. This may even include a gagging or choking motion. Though it’s rare.
What Happens when Hamsters Eat Something Toxic?
As you know, most animals spew out poisonous substances before they fully absorb them in their systems. Vomiting also comes in handy when getting rid of a blockage or ingested toxin. A cat, for instance, will vomit to remove a lodged hairball that would otherwise have choked it.
This isn’t the same for hamsters though. Once your hamster ingests a toxic substance, it must exit from its rear end. In fact, unless your hammy is actively choking on something, trying to induce vomiting can make the situation worse.
And no wonder poison works well on rodents like rats. They simply can’t vomit it out. So if your pet ingests something he/ she shouldn’t, it’s best to quickly call your vet.
Also, being aware of a hamster’s potential poisons and choking hazards will go a long way to ensure you care for your pet correctly.
Can Hamsters Get Stomach Upsets or Sickness?
Yes, they can. But vomiting won’t be one of the symptoms. The following are some of the most common signs and symptoms of a sick hamster. Most of them will begin to show shortly after your pet has ingested bad food:
- Lethargy – Hamsters are fairly active and energetic little guys. So it should be a cause for concern when a hamster merely wants to hide or sleep. Lethargy, also characterized by a lack of general alertness, is one of the first signs a hamster will show when in distress.
- Lack of Appetite – Most owners report to see their hamsters hoarding food even when their cheek pouches seem completely full. Without a doubt, these little guys exhibit quite a hearty appetite for their size. So if you notice your hammy refusing a meal or snack, he probably isn’t feeling well.
- Excessive Thirst- Is your hamster drinking more water than normal? She is trying to aid her liver and kidneys get rid of the poison in her body.
- A Dull Coat- Hamsters are quite dapper guys. They love to stay clean and are normally quite conscious of how they appear. The only time they’ll find it difficult to upkeep their hygiene and groom is when they’re sick.
- Rapid Breathing- Panting in hamsters is usually as a result of heart or respiratory issues. Both of which can come about due to the ingestion of toxins and can easily be fatal. When this sign appears, move quickly and get emergency pet assistance.
What to Do When a Hamster Ingests Toxins?
As mentioned earlier, seeing a vet is the best possible option. Hamsters are delicate and small, meaning they can be quite tricky to treat. Also, their small size makes it easy for toxins to quickly work through their systems.
It, thus, paramount to ring a vet immediately you note any of the aforementioned signs of sickness. Not only that. Taking the poisonous substance with you to the vet will help develop a proper diagnosis and treatment regimen for your pet.
Therefore, knowing what exactly has poisoned your hamster is crucial. And if you can’t pinpoint the toxic agents, simply create a list of all possible poisonous substances around your hamster’s environment. These may include:
- Fruits – Any fruit that is too acidic or has cyanide is bad for your hamster. So avoid feeding your hamster apples and citrus fruits.
- Vegetables – Allium species of vegetables like onions, chives, leek, scallions, shallots and garlic cause blood disorders and acute anaemia in hamsters and many other animals. Even Iceberg lettuce, which is one of the most common pet rodent feeds, isn’t healthy for hamsters.
- Candy – Unsurprisingly, candy and sugar are some of the things your hamster should never consume as they may even shut down its digestive system.
- Human Snacks – Since most human snacks (potato chips, pretzels) have lots of salts and fats, they are quite harmful to hamsters.
Considering that hamsters can’t vomit, you must be extra careful not to provide them with things that chokes or poisons them.
This also means watching them carefully every time they step out of their cages, considering that they love chewing on everything and anything.
If anything seems amiss, talk to your vet first before trying any remedy.