If you have a hamster you know that hamsters love to eat! In nature hamsters eat a variety of things including seeds, plant roots, insects, and even small animals.To keep your hamster happy, and healthy you need to give him a good variety of foods from which to choose.
Hamsters need fresh food on a daily basis. There are two theories regarding what time to feed; in the morning or in the evening. One side says in the evening because that’s when they are up and about. The other side says to feed in the morning. Results of studies conducted indicate that a hamster doesn’t sleep all day long. Instead, he wakes up a minimum of once every two hours for a “bite to eat.” Plus, in the wild this nocturnal little creature is out foraging for food throughout the night. His “treasures” are taken back to the burrow and added to the “food stash” that he raids during the day. How much to feed? All they can eat! Typically a Syrian only requires about a tablespoon of food per day, plus a supplement or fruits and vegetables. Since the Dwarf has a higher metabolism it is assumed they will consume approximately the same amount. That doesn’t mean to ration food at a tablespoon per day, like all living animals, the daily intake fluctuates. Depending on the size of the food dish, there should be an ample supply of mixed grains to select from. Hamsters instinctively know what grains or seeds to eat to give their body the proper nourishment and essential vitamins to maintain good health.
A staple diet from a respected manufacturer is a good start, but don’t forget fresh vegetables! Hamsters love vegetables and need them to stay at top form. Don’t over do it though, a small amount of grass, clover, or carrots a day is fine. Too much lettuce or leafy greens can cause diarrhea.
To increase the protein content of a premixed food offer some dry cat treats or dog biscuits. The biscuits will not only provide added protein but also help grind the teeth down through the gnawing process.
WHAT A TREAT!
A treat can be special and beneficial at the same time. In addition to the fruits and vegetables already listed, there are several other foods that a hamster considers a treat; but the dietician considers a nutritional dietary supplement such as:
Eggs: Hamsters love hard-boiled eggs and they are high in protein. They are especially good for pregnant mothers and young stock. However, eggs should remain an occasional treat. Care must be exercised in removing all the uneaten egg within 24 hours after feeding so it doesn’t remain in the cage and begin to rot.
Fish Liver Oil: Rich in Vitamins A and D, a few drops of fish-liver oil on top of the grain can be given once a week. It is also possible to buy puppy meal already containing cod-liver oil, which greatly enhances the ease of feeding it.
Meat: The subject of giving meat has been debated for years. Some believe that feeding meat will encourage cannibalism. However, there are reports of breeders who feed meat regularly and never experience abnormal cannibalism. Meat can be provided as small chunks of beef or mutton (totally avoid pork), canned dog foods or mealworms, which are a favorite for most hamsters.
Milk: The basic problem with milk is that it needs to be given in a dish, which can readily be tipped over. Milk also turns sour quickly in warm weather. Because of the inherent problems, milk is seldom given to hamsters, with the exception of pregnant mothers, young and ill stock. Be sure to remove the dish and thoroughly clean it before the milk sours.
Mixed Bird Seed: Another ideal supplement is the seed sold for budgerigars and canaries. It can either be mixed with the grain or a teaspoonful can be fed once a week.
Monkey Chow: No, your hamsters won’t swing from the chandelier if you feed them Monkey Chow. A high quality Monkey Chow (or kibble) is packed full of all sorts of nutritious stuff: corn, wheat germ, whole eggs, brewers yeast, various proteins, etc. Like many other treats, it is recommended that it not be fed more than once a week. As with the cat treats and dog biscuits, Monkey Chow is also good for assisting with keeping the teeth ground down.
Yeast: Yeast is rich in Vitamin B which acts on the nervous system and is extremely effective in reducing stress. (Stress is the primary cause of many hamster diseases, in particular wet tail.) Feeding yeast once a week could very well be one of the greatest preventative measures for many illnesses. Give a pinch of nutritional yeast once a week. (Nutritional yeast, found in health food stores, isn’t bitter like baker’s yeast and your hamster will relish the flavor.) As an alternative, one-half of a yeast tablet found in pet shops for dogs and cats can be fed once a week. (When feeding your hamster yeast tablets, use plain tablets; not those with garlic since garlic is hard on a hamsters’ kidneys.)
TO BOWL OR NOT TO BOWL
Toss it on the floor of the cage or put it in a bowl? Because hamsters are known hoarders, many are of the opinion that their food might as well be put on the cage floor because that’s what they will do with it anyway. Quite the contrary, if accustomed to having their food in a dish, hamsters view that as their “stash” and don’t feel the urge to hoard it because there is a continuous supply. Granted, mothers take some to the nest for the little ones and there are those that put some in their nest to snack on in between naps during the day.
Bear in mind however that dishes provide cleaner food in addition to the ability for you to monitor your hamster’s eating habits. It only takes a glance at a dish to determine whether or not he/she is eating. (With the grain spread all over the floor of the cage there’s no way of knowing for sure whether or not any substance has been taken.) The unused portion of grain should be dumped daily and replaced with fresh grain. (Don’t discard the used grain instead save it and feed it to the wild birds, chipmunks, squirrels, etc. – they will savor every bite.)
A BALANCED HAMSTER DIET
A balanced diet provides all the ingredients to maintain a hamster in good health and condition. Some foods require the addition of other food items so the body can utilize them effectively.
The primary items of a balanced diet are:
- Carbohydrates and Fats
Proteins: Necessary for growth and tissue-building and are especially important for young stock and pregnant mothers. Good sources of protein are barley, beans, corn, nuts, oats, peas and wheat.
Carbohydrates and Fats: Provide energy and warmth; but if fed in excess are stored in the body as fat, which can cause breeding problems and ill health. Carbohydrates are found in sugar, yeast, potato and milk. Both carbohydrates and fat are found in barley, corn, oats and wheat.
Vitamins: Only small amounts of vitamins are required; but they are essential to your hamster’s good health. Lack of vitamins can create several health problems.
Minerals: Again, minerals are only required in small amounts and are basically found in milk, vegetables, green foods and grains.
Water: Of course. Water bottles are preferred over dishes because the dishes are easily upset, flipped over and fouled.
HEALTHY DIET = HEALTHY HAMSTER
Although they are domesticated and will eat most anything put before them, hamsters are still a product of their wild cousins. Their preferred lifestyle, instincts, metabolism and nutritional requirements remain the same as their ancestors. Since wild hamsters are desert dwellers, their basic diets would, in nature, consist of grains found in nearby fields, vegetables available in the local farmer’s garden, insects and wild grasses. Domestic hamsters will thrive on the same diet their wild counterparts forage for. A good balanced daily diet consisting of the following will provide all the nutrients a healthy hamster needs: sunflower seeds, corn, oats, barley, wheat, rabbit or alfalfa pellets, cat treats or dog biscuits and dehydrated vegetables. Many of the prepackaged hamster mixes available at pet shops contain the basics. Or, some feed and grain stores already have a custom mix available or will assist with the formulation of a balanced mix. Mixed birdseeds for budgies and canaries are an excellent addition. (Besides providing extra protein, gnawing on the cat and dog biscuits help keep the teeth trimmed.) Small amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables can be given two or three times a week.
When all the basic nutritional requirements are provided daily, a hamster will select the grains and/or seeds needed to maintain their good health. If a record is maintained of what is left in the food dish on a daily basis, it will reveal that the choice of grains eaten will vary (this will be particularly evident in pregnant and nursing females).
Hamsters enjoy an occasional tidbit just as much as any animal; but care should be exercised in selecting treats. Chose treats that provide additional nutrition to their regular diet such as fresh vegetables and fruits. See our Recommended Food List.
Never ever feed your hamster chocolate or sweets, In addition to having virtually no food value, they can get stuck in the hamster’s pouch creating considerable damage which can be difficult or impossible to treat. (Note: many commercial hamster treats contain large quantities of sugar.)
So, the bottom line? Diet can be a major contributing factor in their dispositions towards you and other hamsters. If you spoil that hamster with love and proper care including a properly balanced diet and they’ll be happy, healthy and lovable.