Posted: April 24, 2014, 9:05 p.m. EDT
© Gina Cioli/I-5 Studio
Hamsters need hard food items and toys to gnaw on to keep their constantly growing incisors trimmed.
Q: Our new hamster Syrian teddy bear does not have teeth. She is very sweet, doesn't bite and seems quite tame. What should we feed her? She doesn't seem to eat the nuts from the pet store. I gave her frozen peas, carrots and egg, and she loved it, but I'm sure she needs a balanced diet. Will her teeth grow back if they have fallen out for some reason?
A: Congratulations on your new pet!
Syrian and dwarf hamsters have two kinds of teeth. The four long ones at the front are incisors for gnawing. Incisors grow throughout their lives. That’s why hamsters need some hard foods and wood or cardboard toys to gnaw on to keep those teeth trimmed.
If an incisor is lost or broken and the root structure is undamaged, it may regrow. A new tooth can appear within days and achieve normal length quickly.
The teeth you may never glimpse are the 12 molars in the back. Molars do not grow continually. If lost, they do not regrow.
It’s always important to check the incisors during play or snack time every couple days. But when any are missing or damaged, it’s critical to check more carefully and often. The teeth beside or opposite them may need to be cut to ensure a safe length and a normal alignment. A veterinarian experienced with hamsters can do this and may show you how to if the situation is ongoing.
It’s easy to adjust a hamster’s diet for missing teeth. It’s a bit more challenging with a hamster you don’t know well yet, but most are curious and like variety, which helps and provides better nutrition too.
If you can find a high-quality lab block feed, you’ll have a complete basic to work with. If not, a good mixed hamster feed will be fine. Either can be crushed in a small food processor or by hand to open shells and make bite-sized bits. Even if she can’t chew much dry food, her instincts to hunt, pouch and store food won’t go away, so make sure she has some.
If she’s not able to manage the bulk of her diet this way, she’ll need soft foods. One of the best is a good lab block softened with water.
Other soft favorites are cooked rice, whole-grain pasta, barley, quinoa and cereal grains like oatmeal. A dish of one or more of these staples should be in her home at all times, replaced daily. A thick, undercooked consistency might help her scoop up handfuls to eat, as hamsters generally prefer to do. Add nutrition and variety by alternating add-ins like sesame seeds, wheat germ, plain breakfast cereals, a drop or two of different vegetable oils, yogurt, broccoli florets and other soft or steamed fruits and vegetables, and small bits of tofu or minced cooked poultry, egg or fish.
Choose human foods with the fewest additives possible, and present more challenging bits alongside easy ones to see what she’s able to manage, as that may change over time, even if the teeth never reappear. And as always with any hamster that has eating challenges, document her weight regularly.
All the best to you and your new little girl. Enjoy one another!
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