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Why Do Hamsters Stuff Their Cheeks With Bedding?

As a dedicated hamster owner, you’ve likely witnessed one of the most peculiar behaviors your hamster shows: stuffing their cheeks with bedding. 

It’s a sight that is confusing, leaving you with many questions. Why do they do it? What drives this seemingly quirky act? And is it normal?

We outline the reasons why hamsters stuff their cheeks with bedding.

Here’s why hamsters stuff their cheeks with bedding

Hamsters stuff their cheeks with bedding primarily as a natural instinct for survival and comfort. This behavior allows them to store and transport food, create warm and cozy nests, and even protect their offspring.

Why Do Hamsters Stuff Their Cheeks With Bedding

Hamster cheek pouches

Hamster cheek pouches are specialized and expandable pockets located on either side of a hamster’s head, stretching from their jaws down to their shoulders. 

These remarkable anatomical features serve several crucial functions in a hamster’s life. 

The pouches are lined with a thick, muscular layer that allows them to stretch and hold various objects, which is a unique and important aspect of a hamster’s biology.

Reasons why hamsters stuff their cheeks with bedding

Food storage and foraging

Hamsters possess an astonishing capacity to expand their cheek pouches, allowing them to gather substantial quantities of food during the cover of darkness. 

They then transport this bounty back to their burrows, where they dine at their leisure. This unique ability proves particularly valuable in the wild, where frequent trips for sustenance can expose them to predators and harsh weather conditions.

Transportation of their offspring

Female hamsters, on occasion, use their cheek pouches as a secure mode of transporting their offspring to safety. 

In situations where they sense impending danger or the need to relocate their nest, these dedicated mothers place their pups within their cheek pouches, safeguarding them from harm and dampness during the journey.

Transporting bedding 

Hamsters ingeniously employ their cheek pouches to carry bedding materials such as fur, leaves, and grass to their nests. 

When you observe a hamster munching on its bedding, it’s diligently crafting a snug haven for rest and sleep. 

This bedding offers vital insulation against chilly temperatures, ensuring the hamster stays warm and cozy.

Floating  in water

Although hamsters generally avoid water, they can inflate their cheek pouches to act as flotation devices when compelled to swim. 

This unique adaptation helps them avoid the risk of drowning, showcasing their remarkable survival instincts.

Communication and expression of emotions

Hamsters possess the ability to inflate their cheek pouches with air when they sense danger, creating a distinctive squeaking noise that serves as an alert signal to other hamsters. 

This vocalization isn’t solely reserved for alarm; it’s also a means of expressing joy and excitement.

What is the risk associated with this habit?

Hamsters, with their cheek-stuffing habit, face a potential choking hazard. Some hamster owners have sadly witnessed their pets choking on bedding material. 

To minimize this risk, it’s important to ensure that the chosen bedding materials are safe.

Related: Why do hamsters get bald spots?

Choosing Safe Hamster Bedding

While the stuffing of cheeks with their bedding is a natural hamster habit, it is important for hamster owners to choose safe bedding materials to minimize any potential risks associated with this.

Selecting appropriate bedding for your hamster is important to ensure their well-being:

Opt for soft and easily to-burrow bedding materials, avoiding sharp or pointy options like straw or certain wood chips to prevent cheek pouch impaction.

Hamsters have a preference for old bedding that retains their scent and pheromones, offering them a sense of security. However, it’s important to replace soiled bedding regularly to reduce the risk of bacterial infections.

Safe hamster bedding includes:

Shredded Paper

Shredded paper is an excellent choice as it is soft and conducive to burrowing. Use plain paper without ink or chemicals, although most modern inks are soy-based and safe. 

Alternatively, you can utilize shredded paper towels to create a soft bedding alternative. Keep in mind that paper bedding needs frequent replacement due to odors.

Aspen Wood Shavings

While most wood shavings are unsuitable due to the risk of splintering, Aspen wood shavings are a safe option. 

They may not offer the softest bedding but can be combined with other materials like shredded paper for a comfortable and secure nesting environment.

Timothy Hay

When it comes to choosing the right bedding for your hamster, one of the top contenders is Timothy Hay. Unlike most hay types that are rigid and sharp, Timothy hay stands out for its softness.

This softness is important because it prevents any poking or injury when your furry friend stuffs it into their cheeks.

But the benefits of Timothy hay don’t stop there. Hamsters adore it for another reason – its fluffiness makes it perfect for burrowing. They can craft intricate tunnels and cozy hideaways within its soft embrace.

Additionally, Timothy hay often finds its way into commercially manufactured hamster food, underlining its safety as a dietary choice.

Toilet Paper 

Toilet paper, surprisingly, can be a hamster’s playground. Its softness encourages digging, burrowing, and nest-building, activities that hamsters thoroughly enjoy.

However, there’s a catch. Toilet paper demands more frequent changes compared to other bedding. It’s highly absorbent, but this quality also means it can become soggy, dirty, and odorous swiftly.

Tissue Paper

Tissue paper, torn into strips, serves as another suitable bedding option for hamsters. Its lightweight nature makes it easy for hamsters to tunnel through and create their cozy nooks. However, it’s not highly absorbent, so it’s advisable to combine it with more absorbent bedding materials for optimal comfort.

What to Avoid

Cat Litter

Cat litter is a definite no-go for hamster bedding. It often contains sand, clay, and sometimes chemicals that pose a danger to hamsters. Additionally, cat litter clumps when it gets wet, making it easy for hamsters to choke on.

Fluffy Bedding

While fluffy bedding may seem cozy, it comes with risks. It’s typically made from artificial fibers that can lead to internal blockages if ingested. Moreover, hamsters can get entangled in it while digging or burrowing, resulting in injuries.

Small Pebbles

Although pebbles can be fun in some animal enclosures, they are not suitable for hamster cages. They lack softness and can lead to cheek pouch impaction or choking hazards.

Minimizing Risks

While you can’t prevent a hamster from indulging in its natural cheek-stuffing behavior, you can take proactive steps to safeguard their well-being. Choosing hamster-safe bedding and providing the right foods are the primary ways to protect your beloved pet. By making informed choices, you can create a safe and comfortable environment for your hamster to thrive without unnecessary risks.

Related: Why is my hamster wobbling and falling over?


Hamsters stuff their cheeks with bedding primarily as a natural instinct for survival and comfort. This behavior allows them to store and transport food, create warm and cozy nests, and even protect their offspring. 

While it’s a natural hamster habit, it is important for hamster owners to choose safe bedding materials to minimize any potential risks associated with this.

Ensuring your hamster has the right bedding not only contributes to their physical comfort but also supports their natural behaviors and instincts.