Hamster Storing Food in Toilet Corner

filling cheek pouches to capacity

A video of a hamster filling her cheek pouches to capacity.

Why does my hamster store her food in the toilet corner? And how can I stop her from doing this? Despite the fact this habit may seem distasteful to us; it does the hamster no harm. It is a behaviour that many hamster owners may find repulsive, but once they can understand why they do it then you may be able to prevent or resolve this problem.
Hamsters are natural hoarders and are notorious for stockpiling their food. They have elongated pouches on either side of their mouth that extend to their shoulders; these pouches can hold approximately a quarter the hamster's weight in food.

In the wild, hamsters leave their nest and burrows in the fading light of the evening to forage for whatever available food there is that nature has to offer. They will fill their pouches with food and carry it back to their burrow where they will empty their pouches and store the food they have found, to be eaten when necessary at their leisure. They will repeat this process many times during the evening and early mornings.
They can store large quantities of food depending on the availability. This is an innate (instinctive) behaviour of the hamster. Although in captivity hamsters do not really need to store food as it is plentiful. This instinctive behaviour inherited from their wild counter parts still remains with them even in captivity. Every time the food bowl is filled the hamster will sift through it picking their most favorite bits, fill the cheek pouches and take it to their store.

Many animals and insects are food hoarders’ some will hide food in different places (like the Squirrel) to be eaten later. Many stockpile food in their burrow, lair, or web. Hamster owners fail to realize the importance of this behaviour. It is a natural and instinctive behaviour governed by their genes inherited from their wild ancestors.
The climate in Syria: The Syrian or Golden hamsters' habitat is dry and hot in summer and can be cold in winter. About 60% of Syria lying east of Aleppo and Damascus has a desert or semi-desert climate with an annual rainfall below 200mm/8 in. This is the hottest region in summer and it is often quite cold in winter with occasional snow and frequent frost.

In the wild, food at times can become very hard to find particularly in winter when others are also competing for what little food there is. So when times are good and food is in abundance for all hamsters will store whatever food they can get hold of, So during the bad times when food is scarce the hamster will feel secure knowing there is plenty of food in store for her survival and any little ones she may have in the nest. They become very protective and possessive over their hoard, their life depends on it. They spend a considerable amount of their time and energy collecting sorting and storing food, and after all that hard work the last thing they want is for someone, or some scavenger to come along and take it away from them. In the wild and in captivity they go to great lengths to protect it, and should something remove it can cause her to become very anxious and distressed.

When it is time to clean out the cage some owners don't realize the significance of that pile of food the hamster has stored, and usually throw it away with the rest of the rubbish. As soon as you put her back in the cage after cleaning she becomes fully aware that everything is different, smells different and her food store has gone. When she does begin to build her food store again she doesn't want something to take it again, so she may store it in the toilet corner in the belief it may be safe there, it is a way of scent marking. This scent marking is usually done by urinating on or around it. Scent marking is an animal’s way of communicating with other animals; and it can have different meanings, but mostly it is to establish ownership of something such as territory. This marking is to warn and deter the thieves that took her previous food store, this is mine!! So leave it alone.

So when you see that little pile of food stashed or hidden away in a corner of the cage give a little thought to what it means to her, collect and save the bulk of it and put it back in the same place you found it once the cage has been cleaned.
If she has already started to use the toilet corner to store her food, then it may take some time to break this habit. The fact that she is doing it is to accomplish the need to protect it from being stolen again by others. The way I have overcome this problem in the past is to remove a very small amount of the contaminated food from the toilet corner and place it in a different but clean corner. Placing some fresh food on top along with some of their favorite treats, she will be able to detect her own scent on the new food stash, therefore fooling her into believing that she has already marked the new food storage corner. Then clean out the toilet corner, and throw away any remaining contaminated food. Hopefully she will accept the new corner for storing food and will still use her toilet area for its intended purpose.


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