Can hamsters chew on wood?

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And what kind of wood would a hamster chew, if a hamster could chew, too?

If dentists had a favorite pet, it would surely be the hamster. They are one of the few mammals born with teeth, and their front teeth keep growing through their whole life! In order to keep their pearly whites in shape, hamsters love to sit down with a big old stick and chew until their teeth are clean and trim. Hamsters may not brush their teeth like humans do, but it’s just as important that they follow their oral hygiene routine. If they don’t, their teeth might grow so long that the hamster can’t close their mouth! Obviously, this is uncomfortable for them and makes it hard to eat, so its important to provide them with the proper tools to prevent their teeth from becoming overgrown.

Knowing this, you might wonder, can hamster chew on wood? Yes, hamsters can chew soft woods. In the wild, hamsters forage around for a tasty-looking wood and go to town. They live in a variety of environments, so each type of hamster has different woods that are available to them in nature, but typically they enjoy all soft woods. The hamsters don’t actually eat the wood—think of it more like bubblegum. They’ll grab a piece and chew on it for a while, but they’re not actually having a snack, just getting a good workout in for their teeth. Flowering trees (like dogwood and magnolia), fruit trees (like pear and apple trees), nut trees (like pecan and walnut trees), and a handful of others (hawthorn, willow, poplar, and balsa to name a few) fall into the category of “soft woods”. 

Not all woods are the same!

Many woods that are safe for humans are dangerous for hamsters. 

People enjoy woods like cedar and pine because of their nice smell. However, these aromatic woods are dangerous for hamsters. 

The oils (which are what makes them smell so nice) can make hamsters sick when they eat them. 

Another example is popsicle sticks, which are made from birch. This is a brittle and dry wood and will splinter when it breaks, leaving sharp edges your hamster can cut themselves on! 

Even a “safe” wood can make a hamster sick if it has been treated with paints, dyes, chemicals, or pesticides.

Variety is the spice of (a hamster’s) life!

One way to make sure your hamster has truly safe wood to nibble on is to purchase wood from a pet store that is labelled “pet-safe”. 

Usually they will have products designed specifically for hamsters, but also bird perches and reptile hideaways can make perfect chomping blocks for a hamster. 

Don’t be afraid to find something fun—hamsters love a chewing challenge! Coconut shells, raw carrots, plain dog treats, or hay cubes can make interesting additions to your hamster’s home and they also provide them with a chewing outlet. 

Each hamster is different, though, and each hamster will have materials they like and dislike. 

Try changing it up to provide entertainment and enrichment to your hamster.

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!

Warning Signs

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. 

Conclusion

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!

References

The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals – Your hamster’s diet

Furry Facts – Can hamsters eat wood

Rodent Life – Wild hamster diet: Food list, habitat and nutrition

Garden Guides – What kind of wood is safe for hamsters to gnaw on?