What food can hamsters eat?
When it comes to food, hamsters like to forage and hoard – and they are extremely well equipped to carry their provisions from one place to another thanks to their ingenious cheek pouches. What’s more, these small omnivores also have very specific nutritional requirements.
Native to the arid landscapes of Syria and Turkey, hamsters evolved their cheek pouches so they could take full advantage of food wherever it happens to turn up. When you’re a very small animal it’s not always practical to eat what you’ve found right there and then – particularly if you’re at risk of becoming a hot lunch yourself. So, it makes perfect sense to stuff what you’ve foraged into your cheeks to take back to your burrow to eat it in safety. This is a natural behaviour that our pet hamsters continue to do. And, as hamster cheek pouches don’t contain saliva glands, everything is kept fresh and dry during transit.
Serve up the ideal hamster diet
In their natural habitat, wild hamsters eat grasses, seeds and grain. And, although they are often thought of as herbivores, they are actually omnivores and need protein in their diet to keep them healthy. The Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA) has some helpful pointers:
- Hamsters have delicate cheek pouches so don’t give foods that contain whole oats as these can puncture them. Also avoid sticky foods, as these can cling to their pouches.
- Hamsters have teeth which grow continually. If fed unsuitable foods, these fail to wear the teeth sufficiently and this can lead to painful dental conditions. Plenty of hay and safe twigs to chew are a good idea.
- Your pets may like an occasional treat of hamster-safe fresh food, such as a small piece of fruit or vegetable, but too much green food can cause diarrhoea.
Start with some nutritious nuggets
Nutrition-packed nuggets specially designed for hamsters are the best choice – steer away from ‘muesli-type’ mixtures as hamsters may pick out the bits that are high in sugar, which can cause painful problems with their teeth, and discard other parts leading to an imbalanced diet
The best feeding time for a hamster is in the evening when they start to wake up. As a nocturnal animal, this is breakfast time!
Add some gnaw material
Hamsters also need some tasty, high-quality Timothy hay to munch on, along with some untreated softwood such as hawthorn, hazelnut, pear, poplar or apple wood to chew. This will help keep their teeth healthy and stop them getting overgrown and keep them happily occupied.
Before you offer any softwood branches to your hamster to chew, give them a good clean and bake them on a low heat for an hour. You could also try some Excel Gnaw Sticks, made from willow, apple and hazel wood.
Chewing, gnawing and shredding stuff is a natural hamster behaviour, so provide a variety of things for them to get their teeth into such as:
- Coconut shells
- Hay cubes
- Pumice stone
Top up with healthy treats that hamsters can eat
As a treat, you can also provide a tiny portion of hamster-safe, fresh veg a couple of times a week. Animal charity PDSA advises that the following fruits, vegetables and herbs are suitable for hamsters. Make sure you give them a good wash first.
Veg: Carrot, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chicory, spinach, sweet peppers, cucumber, cress, courgette
Fresh herbs: Basil, sage, parsley, coriander
Fruits: Apple, pear, peach, melon. NEVER feed citrus fruits, rhubarb or grapes to your hamster
DID YOU KNOW?
Hamsters like to sit up and hold pieces of food in their tiny paws to gnaw.
Check there’s always plenty of fresh water
Don’t forget to provide fresh water daily in a bottle specially designed for these tiny rodents, placed with the spout at the appropriate height for the type of hamster you have. The RSPCA advises:
- Check the water bottle daily for leaks and/or blockages
- Change the water regularly and clean the bottle and nozzle properly to avoid contamination
- Hamsters aren’t able to apply strong suction and may have difficulty getting a drink from traditional ball-valve tubes, so choose a bottle with a valveless sipper tube
Make finding food a fun activity
Rather than just putting food in a gnaw-proof ceramic bowl, scattering it around is a great idea as it encourages natural foraging behaviours and your hamster will love rummaging around to find tasty titbits. This is also a good solution if you have more than one hamster (as it’s only the Syrian or Golden hamster that likes to lead a solitary life) and one is very protective of the food bowl and won’t let his or her roomies have their fair share.
Add extra fun by hiding hay, hamster pellets or fresh greens inside paper bags or cardboard tubes. Not only is searching out food an enjoyable task, your hamster will also love shredding the packaging you hide it in, which all serves to enrich their life.
Keeping your hamster on track
While hamsters’ pouch-stuffing behaviour is endearing – who can resist those chubby little cheeks – it does mean that it’s very easy to overfeed them. The food you put out for them may quickly disappear – but beware – the chances are they haven’t eaten it but have simply hidden it away. As hamsters’ cheek pouches actually extend all the way down to their hips, they can store an amazing amount of food in them, so don’t be fooled by an empty dish.
It’s essential that you only feed your hamster with the amount of food they need each day – around a tablespoon of specially-formulated hamster nuggets each evening, depending on the species of hamster you have. Any more than that and you put your hamster at risk of getting tubby, which can lead to health problems.
For more general questions about feeding your hamster, add a comment below to let us know!
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