It’s useful to understand the hamster anatomy. When you are choosing a hamster cage and when planning what’s inside the hamster habitat it’s helpful to know how a hamster is put together. Knowing about the hamster body also tells you something about hamster behavior and lets you know where to start looking for hamster illness.
Below is information about each part of a hamster’s body.
The hamster is a type of rodent and all rodents share one important characteristic – their front, or incisor teeth. These chisel-shaped teeth continue to grow throughout the hamster’s entire lifetime. That means hamsters must keep gnawing on things to properly file and sharpen those incisors.
When it comes to hamster cages, that means:
- Watching your hamster to be sure it’s doesn’t gnaw its way out.
- Providing chew toys so it can gnaw its teeth every day.
One condition to look out for is overgrown hamster teeth that can grow and cut through your hamster’s mouth. Read Look for Hamster Overgrown Teeth for more detailed information.
The word hamster comes from hamstern, a German word meaning ‘to hoard’. This is where the cheek pouches come in. Hamsters maximize the use of their cheek pouches to gather and carry food and nesting necessities from one place to another. Almost half of a hamster’s body weight can be stored in those pouches.
Food storage was essential in the wild because hamsters put their food in hidden storage until it was needed when the supply of food was at its lowest level. Even your pet hamster, which gets fed every day, will exhibit this hoarding behavior. The hamster’s check pouch lining is tough and dry to ensure that food which is stored will always be fresh and dry.
Despite having large and protruding eyes, which you would expect from an animal that typically only comes out at night in the wild, hamster eyesight isn’t that great.
During the daytime, they are practically blind because of the brightness. They are also color blind, meaning they see only shades of black and white. And they are nearsighted, meaning they can see things very near to them, but not far away.
This can be a problem if you have a hamster cage with many different levels. Your hammy will be able to see the edge of a high platform, but can’t see the bottom of the cage below. If your hamster falls off a high platform, he or she can break its bones.
Hamsters have a very developed hearing system as a compensation for its poor eyesight. Hamster ears can hear various sounds including ultrasonic frequencies which we humans cannot hear.
You’ll notice that the ears are high up on the hamster’s head. That helps them hear any approaching danger – as well as your voice. When they hear what they think is danger, a hamster will freeze. When talking to your pet, please speak softly. And choose a quieter area of your house when locating your hamster cage.
Hamster ears are very thin and delicate so remember to handle your hamster’s head gently when holding it.
Hamsters have an acute sense of smell. They actually use discreet pheromones or scents that are from their own bodies to tell each other apart. Their keen sense of smell also helps them find food, in case you were wondering how a hamster knows and remembers where it has hidden or hoarded its food.
The hamster can also smell you. If your hands have the scent of food, this may be the reason your hamster is nibbling at your fingers. Or, if you have played with a different pet, your hamster may smell the other pet and be afraid to be held in your hands.
A good idea is to wash your hands before playing with your hamster.
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Different hamsters actually have different types of fur.
There is the typical short hair which is associated with most hamsters. But some hamsters have the satin type fur that is smooth, shiny, and short.
Then you will find long-haired hamsters, such as the Teddy Bear hamster.
Hamsters are usually very good about keeping their fur clean and smooth. The bedding materials you use, however, can get caught in the long-haired fur. An occasional gentle brushing can help pull out any tangles. If your hamster’s fur looks matted, it may be an indication of illness.
A hamster can lose some fur because of seasonal changes in temperature. This is typical. Older hamsters also tend to lose some fur. And hamsters that are nursing may lose fur around the areas used for nursing.
If you notice any other hair loss on your hamster, check the hamster skin for some underlying skin problem. Also check that your hamster diet has enough vitamins and proteins to prevent premature fur loss.
It’s not easy to see the hamster skin because it’s covered in fur. But when you get to peek under the hamster fur you should see pink skin color.
Watch out for red or swollen skin which can indicate skin disease. This may be a reaction to the type of bedding you are using or the type of food your hamster eats.
Mites are another common skin disease among hamsters. Pet stores sell anti-mite spray which may help your hamster with this disease.
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Hamster Feet / Paws
Your pet’s feet, also called hamster paws, are like hands to them. They are small and short, although usually in proportion to their body size. The paws have small claws that make it easier for them to use. Your hamster will use their paws for holding food, burrowing into its bedding, climbing, and running.
Hamsters can get a condition in their feet known as bumble foot. This foot infection can make the hamster paws swell up. If untreated, this disease can even spread to the hamster’s legs.
The problem could be caused by a wire floor in the cage or a cage that has not been kept clean. Keep the bedding you use in your hamster cage dry, and clean out your hamster cage weekly to help avoid this foot condition.
Last, and sometimes least, is the hamster tail. For most Syrian and dwarf hamsters, the tail is very, very short. It’s really more of a little stub than a tale. You can’t even see it unless you look very closely.
The Chinese hamster is the only type of hamster that has a tail you can actually see. It doesn’t have hair and grows to be about an inch long.