A wet mouth is a trait that is associated with dogs, but not often associated with hamsters. This might cause a hamster owner some concern if they check their small buddy out one day and find that the sides of the hamster’s mouth have become caked with saliva.
The reason that a hamster’s mouth becomes wet is usually the result of dental problems, such as tooth overgrowth. This is a severe problem in hamsters that can also lead to other medical issues such as weight loss (anorexia) and eventual starvation, as excessive dental growth can cause a hamster to lose the ability to eat entirely.
With proper care, most hamsters should never reach the point where drooling and dental overgrowth becomes a problem. Keep reading to learn more about how to prevent drooling in hamsters and what causes it.
What Causes a Wet Mouth on a Hamster?
The most common cause of drooling in hamsters is an overgrowth of their teeth. While wild hamsters rarely succumb to this kind of medical condition, hamsters that are raised in captivity and aren’t provided with enough materials to cut their teeth on will develop dental overgrowth. (Source: PetMD)
If a hamster has a severe respiratory illness that causes a lot of phlegm, this can also cause the hamster’s mouth and nose to appear wet. A hamster with this medical problem will also exhibit other symptoms as well, such as coughing or sneezing.
There are a few more harmless causes for a hamster having a wet mouth, however. Especially in long-haired hamsters, taking a drink from a leaking water bottle can cause excess water to drip down the front of the hamster’s ruff, making their face and mouth appear wet.
A wet mouth on a hamster can either indicate severe illness, or it may be an indicator of nothing at all—it’s usually essential for the hamster owner to observe the hamster more closely over several days if wetness is observed to make sure that there are no other health problems visible.
Medical Problems in Hamsters That Can Cause a Wet Mouth
There are a few serious health problems in hamsters that can potentially cause their mouths to look wet, and it’s a good idea for owners to watch out carefully for other symptoms along with a wet mouth that might indicate a more severe problem.
Dental overgrowth is easily one of the leading causes of excess saliva in a hamster. When a hamster doesn’t have adequate access to things to chew on and file their teeth down, the teeth continue to grow indefinitely, similar to a rabbit or a beaver.
Without something to chew on other than relatively soften hamster pellets, the teeth start to grow too long and interfere with the hamster’s ability to eat. Excess salivating is caused when a hamster’s teeth are overgrown to the point that it can no longer fully close its mouth.
A veterinarian treats dental overgrowth, and the treatment typically involves the vet clipping or filing the hamster’s teeth shorter so that the hamster can have a natural bite again. While this might be scary for the hamster, it doesn’t cause any damage and makes them much more comfortable in the long run. (Source: Arizona Exotics)
One of the secondary illnesses that can occur as a result of dental overgrowth that can also lead to wet mouth is a cheek abscess. This painful infection is the result of something sharp (such as an overgrown tooth) scratching the inside of the hamster’s mouth over time, exposing it to secondary infections. (Source: Science Direct)
Like dental overgrowth itself, a cheek abscess has to be treated by a vet, since it usually requires antibiotics to kill the infection, and abscesses need to be lanced to remove the pus inside them. Since this surgery is dangerous on a small delicate animal like a hamster, it should only be done by someone with medical experience.
Cheek abscesses in hamsters are most often identified by a swelling in the cheek area but can also be noticed through excessively bad breath from the hamster (halitosis) or the behavior of pawing at the face and mouth as if in discomfort.
A severe case of respiratory illness can result in excess saliva around the hamster’s mouth and nose as it struggles to breathe.
In captive rodents like hamsters, respiratory illnesses can be either contagious, such as an illness passed from a new hamster to an older one when the two are introduced, or environmental. Some types of bedding with phenols such as cedar and pine are way too aromatic for hamsters and can inevitably lead to respiratory distress and illness since the hamsters can’t easily breathe these fumes without lung damage. (Source: Hamster Hideout)
What Causes Wet Mouth Related to Dental Overgrowth in Hamsters?
It is captivity that causes dental overgrowth in hamsters and other captive rodents, and this, in turn, causes the hamster’s mouth to become damp with excess saliva as it loses the ability to close its mouth in a normal fashion.
In the wild, a hamster can grind its teeth down with branches and other scraps of wood that are found in its natural environment. If a hamster isn’t provided with these same materials in captivity, its teeth keep growing with no way to file them down. This eventually leads to excess tooth length and excess saliva to go with it.
Here are some of the other symptoms that may be present when a hamster develops wet mouth related to dental overgrowth:
- Weight loss (from difficulty eating and swallowing)
- Mouth hanging open/difficulty closing the mouth
- Pawing at the mouth
What Causes Wet Mouth Related to Respiratory Illness in Hamsters?
Respiratory illness can be caused by several different factors in the hamster’s environment.
- Aromatic bedding such as pine and cedar are notorious for causing respiratory problems in small rodents and rabbits.
- Another source of illness is adding a new hamster to an existing hamster cage without keeping the newcomer in a period of quarantine for several weeks. Many hamsters are kept in stressful holding conditions in pet stores, which makes them more susceptible to minor illnesses such as colds that can escalate without treatment. Many of these respiratory illnesses are also contagious from hamster to hamster.
- Another cause of respiratory illness in hamsters is a dirty environment—bedding that has been saturated with urine and droppings can give off noxious ammonia fumes that can irritate the hamster’s eyes, nose, and throat, leading to excessive drooling in response.
Here are some of the other symptoms that may be present when a hamster develops wet mouth related to respiratory illness:
- Lethargy (acting tired and out of sorts, abnormally sleepy)
- Loss of appetite
How to Prevent a Wet Mouth in Hamsters
Preventing a wet mouth in hamsters mostly comes down to prevention and good maintenance habits—the happier a hamster is and the better its environment is, the more likely it is to avoid injury and disease.
These are some of the tips you can follow to prevent your hamster from developing a problem with a wet mouth:
- Provide plenty of stuff to
chew on. Dental overgrowth is one of the most significant
contributors to wet mouth in hamsters, and it can be easily prevented by adding
some chewing items to the hamster’s cage to give it something to grind its
teeth down on. Adding natural
chewing items is a great way to keep a hamster happy by encouraging
enrichment behaviors while also keeping the hamster’s teeth nice and short.
- Get a reputable exotic
animal vet. Not only can a vet help you keep your
hamster’s teeth filed or clipped if they start to grow too long, vets are
better at observing other symptoms of a sick hamster that you might otherwise
not notice as a non-expert on the subject. Regular dog and cat vets often don’t
treat hamsters, so seek out an exotic vet that handles small rodents.
- Keep your hamster’s cage
clean. A dirty cage contributes to bacterial
infections and respiratory illnesses. Hamster bedding should be changed at
least once a week, and the cage should be deep-cleaned and sanitized each time
to prevent the build-up of bacteria.
- Use appropriate bedding materials. Using recycled newspaper or other hamster-friendly beddings rather than cedar or pine chips can not only help prevent respiratory illness that contributes to wet mouth, but they can also help prevent painful splinters.
Making sure that a hamster has everything in its environment that it needs to stay healthy can ensure you never have to worry about wet mouth in your little friend.
Wet Mouth is Usually Not a Good Sign in Hamsters
In hamsters, wet mouth is sometimes harmless (especially if they have a leaky water bottle). Still, in many cases, it can also be a subtle indication of more serious medical problems.
If a hamster exhibits other symptoms along with a wet mouth, a trip to the exotic animal vet may be in order.