Technical Writing - Hamsters

Hamsters have four chisel-shaped upper and lower front incisors and eight molars. Like all rodents, their teeth continue to grow throughout their lives, hence they have a natural urge to bite on anything that is sharp -- sharp enough to smooth their yellow (or sometimes light-brown) set of fangs. Therefore their staple diet consists of hard grains such as nuts, corn and oats. Using their forepaws, hamsters usually take in large amounts of food at a time and push it into spacious cheek pockets placed on either side of their mouth. With their bristly texture ensuring the food remains securely in the pouches, hamsters can store and transport excess food. In harsh weather conditions, when hunting for food can become troublesome, this ability to store food is an important asset. The skin lining these pockets is also dry and sturdy, so food inside them maintains its freshness for hours. When filled to capacity, they resemble trumpter, Dizzy Gillespie’s famous cheeks.

The food is then emptied by the hamster into its nest. When the animal is ready to eat it places the desired amount back into its mouth and begins chewing. Hamsters are slow eaters -- at times they can take up to five minutes to gnaw on one piece of grain. The enzymes present in the salivary glands in the rodent’s mouth aid in breaking down the food into smaller molecules, a process that involves the chemical conversion of carbohydrates to acids. The masticated food then flows to the esophagus (a muscular tube carrying food from the mouth to the stomach). From there, it enters the small intestine, where adequate amounts of nutrients are absorbed while the remainder makes its way into the anus for secretion. However, unlike humans, hamsters produce two types of excrement -- one is digested, containing essential nutrients such as vitamins K and B, produced by the bacteria within their guts, while the other is merely waste and of no use to the animal. They eat the first, named cecotropes (night feces) without which they would suffer from extreme malnutrition. Consequently, hamsters are one of the few animals which fall under the coprophagous (species known for consuming their own feces) category.

A description of hamsters eating and their digestive process, from “Bubbly, The Hamster,” by Qurrat-ul-Aine Moorad, Unpublished