The enormous yellow teeth of a hamster may not be the prettiest set of the teeth in the animal kingdom, but keeping them healthy is vital to a hamster's health and well-being. Hamsters' teeth grow constantly, largely to compensate for the wear they receive dealing with a hamster's typically voracious diet -- however, this constant growth can cause problems too. Hamsters that are not afforded enough opportunities to wear down their teeth can suffer from badly overgrown teeth; given the relative size of a hamster's teeth, a hamster with overgrown teeth may find itself almost completely unable to eat.
Naturally, this is a serious problem that requires a quick solution. Luckily, if your hamster does end up suffering from overgrown teeth, there are ways your vet can treat the problem and return your hamster's mouth to fighting trim.
How can I tell if my hamster's teeth are overgrown?
Despite their size, a hamster's teeth are usually hidden by lips and fur, but you can inspect your hamster's teeth by gently pulling back the hamster's top lip. Hamster teeth should be be long and very straight, with the two top and bottom primary incisors placed closely together. Overgrown teeth generally have a more curved and crooked appearance and will visibly not fit comfortably in your hamster's mouth. Cuts and abrasions caused by crooked teeth may also occur around the cheeks and lips and are a sign of dangerous overgrowth.
How can overgrown teeth be treated?
There are two main ways to treat overgrown teeth in hamsters:
- Clipping -- This involves using a pair of special clippers to trim the overgrown teeth back to a more natural shape. While some breeders choose to do this themselves, it is a potentially dangerous procedure if done incorrectly and should always be performed by a qualified veterinarian. This is done while the hamster is awake and conscious and can be quite distressing for the poor rodent, although clipping generally takes much less time than drilling.
- Drilling -- Alternatively, your vet can reshape the overgrown teeth using a small high-frequency drill. This is generally less painful and distressing than clipping but takes longer, and your hamster may become stressed if restrained for too long. Drill reshaping results in a smoother, more natural edge to your hamster's reshaped teeth.
How can I prevent my hamster's teeth from becoming overgrown?
As you can tell, hamster dentistry is not a pleasant affair, and it is much easier for both you and your hamster if you avoid the problem of overgrown teeth altogether. A hamster with the right opportunities to use its teeth can easily go a whole lifetime without any dental problems, so make sure your hamster has access to the following:
- Hard food -- While particularly young hamsters require soft food, most hamsters should have a diet almost entirely composed of hard food to provide constant tooth wear. While most dry hamster foods provide for this need, you should supplement your hamster's diet with nuts, seeds and vegetables to provide ample gnawing opportunities.
- Chew toys -- Hamsters don't much care for squeaky rubber toys and much prefer a rope toy or piece of wood to gnaw on. Provide your hamster with toys to gnaw on, made from non-toxic materials. Salt licks are also useful for gnawing and also provide your hamster with much-needed sodium intake. Try to prevent your hamster from chewing on the bars of their cage, as the rounded surface can promote crooked teeth and the repetitive motion of the chewing can cause mouth sores.