Feeding your hamster
Our hamster was definitely meant to be part of our family as he, like all of us, absolutely loves his food. But having feasted on pre-bought hamster muesli for many months, I was keen to expand his palate and find out what other types of food Oscar could eat.
Hamsters are omnivores by nature, which means they enjoy a diverse range of foods including plants, insects and vegetables. Pre-packaged muesli or pellets bought from your local pet store offer a great source of nutrients and minerals for your hamster, however, small quantities of fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs offer a great way to supplement their diet.
The best types of food you can give your hamster, therefore, are those similar to what they would eat in the wild. Read my article below to find out more on what we should and shouldn’t be giving our hamsters at mealtimes.
What does a hamster eat?
Hamsters will eat anything given half a chance (including jumpers as we recently found out) and we should be mindful of giving them foods which can lead to dietary deficiencies, weight gain and other health problems.
It is common practice for Oscar, upon seeing a topped-up bowl of food, to scamper faster than the speed of light across his cage in order to cram his cheek pouches with nuts and seeds like it’s his last ever meal. However, I was starting to notice that whilst the sunflower seeds and nuts were a hit, the soya pellets and grains were simply being pushed aside. Keen to ensure that he continued to get a balanced diet, I began to look for ways in which I could supplement his normal muesli with other nutritious food sources.
Hamsters are hoarders, so it is important that we don’t overfeed them or give them too many treats as they are likely to binge on them and this can result in weight problems and even diabetes. However, foods that are low in natural sugars such as cauliflower, cucumber and kale, given in fingernail-sized portions, can do wonders for your hamster’s skin, teeth and digestive system.
I would recommend introducing new foods gradually to see how your hamster takes to them. Oscar has grown particularly fond of well-washed fruits such as mango and blackberries (normally left over from the kids’ snacks) and is partial to a small handful of oats. We have even tried various protein sources such as hard-boiled eggs and small pieces of lean chicken.
Just like kids, hamsters like to be kept entertained at mealtimes, and in the wild hamsters would spend a great deal of time foraging for their food. Therefore, making Oscar work for his meal is a great way to keep him active and stop him from getting bored. Just like a traditional scavenger hunt, we love hiding his food around his cage, within his tubes and under boxes.
Other top tips include giving them hard treats once a week to gnaw on as this will help keep your hamster’s teeth in good health. Also, make sure that you clean out their food bowl thoroughly before refilling as you do not want their fresh food contaminated with old food that may be rotting or feces.
What foods are safe for my hamster to eat?
There are a whole host of fruits, vegetables and herbs that are suitable for your hamster and which they will find truly scrumptious when washed beforehand and given in small amounts. These include:
- Vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chicory, kale, spinach, sweet peppers, cucumber, courgettes and carrots. Be mindful, however, that some vegetables are high in sugars so should not be given on a daily basis. Organically grown vegetables are also advised as they will not have been treated with harmful pesticides.
- Fruits including apples, pear, peach, melon, mango, blackberries and banana are all great tasty treats but steer clear of citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons or grapefruits. Make sure they are consumed quickly and not left to rot in your hamster’s cage.
- Herbs may be plentiful in your backyard but be careful of these pungent sprigs as they should only be given occasionally. Herbs such as mint, fennel, dill, sage and basil are perfectly fine for your hamster to eat. We have found that by topping up Oscar’s bowl with dried cornflowers and chamomile is the perfect high fibre treat for him.
What foods shouldn’t my hamster eat?
Whilst your hamster may be happy to munch or anything, certain foods can be dangerous, and you should steer clear of offering them. These include:
- Almonds are incredibly high in fat and are not good for your hamster’s digestive system. Likewise, peanuts are also high in fat and the salted variety can even cause dehydration.
- Apple seeds, skins and whole stalks can all pose potential choking hazards to your hamster. Therefore, make sure you de-seed all fruits and vegetables and cut them into small pieces for a safer snack.
- Chocolate is generally considered bad for all animals, as it contains theobromine which is toxic when consumed in large amounts. Even a small block will seem huge to a sweet-toothed hamster.
- Garlic not only gives you bad breath but for hamsters it can cause indigestion and blood disorders and likewise feeding your hamster onion, could result in damage to their red blood cells.
- Certain beans, such as kidney beans, if given uncooked can be fatal.
- Unwashed foods can contain traces of pesticides, so it is always better to be safe than sorry and wash them well before feeding them to your hamster.
How often should I feed my hamster?
Hamsters are not like humans and do not require three meals a day. In the wild hamsters forage and store food in their cheek pouches and close to their nest, as a survival instinct for when food is scarce. Therefore, your hamster will have the same compulsion, and you may notice it emptying its bowl the minute you fill it up. But, hamsters only tend to eat little and often throughout the day so, resist the temptation to keep topping it up and only fill the bowl once a day.
How much should I feed my hamster?
Some hamsters are more active than others, and therefore you should observe your hamster to get a good understanding of their feeding habits. Ideally, a normal sized Syrian hamster will eat around 1-2 tablespoons of food a day. In the winter they may require slightly more food as they are much more lethargic and need extra calories in order to keep warm.
Recommended reading: How to keep your hamster warm in winter
What’s the best time of day to feed my hamster?
There is still much debate over the best time of day to feed a hamster. Personally, I would say pick a time, either morning or night, that suits you best and stick to it so that your hamster becomes used to the same routine.
What do dwarf hamsters eat besides hamster food?
Surprisingly a dwarf hamster can consume the same amount of food as a Syrian hamster, despite the size difference as their metabolism is a lot faster! Dwarf hamsters can eat the same diet as a Syrian hamster, however, their size puts them more at risk of diabetes. Therefore, fruit and refined products shouldn’t be given to dwarf hamsters.