Hamsters are one of the most common pets in the United States because they are small, easy to care for and relatively inexpensive. They are also incredibly cute.
However, that doesn’t mean that proper care of them is as well known as for cats or dogs. For example, many people have no idea what hamsters eat.
If you just got a hamster and don’t know what to feed it for dinner, the following guide will introduce you to everything these little guys like to eat.
The Hamster Diet: An Overview
Contrary to popular belief, hamsters are not vegetarians. In fact, they are omnivores, which means they enjoy the occasional bite of meat. However, most of their diet should consist of grains, fruits and vegetables.
The key is balance, as you shouldn’t overdo any particular food item. Hamsters will eat anything that falls into their hands.
The good thing about hamsters is that they don’t overeat, so you can always offer them food (note: this doesn’t mean they can’t be overweight, they just don’t overeat). However, it seems that food disappears faster than they can eat it, and there is a good reason for that – they hoard it.
Let’s Talk About Hoarding
You may think hoarding is negative; after all, you give your hamster plenty of food, so why does it find it necessary to hide emergency rations all over its cage?
The fact is that this behavior is ingrained in their DNA and you can’t change it, no matter how much you argue with them. Hamsters get very stressed if they are not allowed to hoard, so you have to pretend you don’t know about their secret stash under the bed.
Instead of discouraging your hamster from hoarding, try making the food more palatable to them. Hide food around the cage and in cardboard boxes so they have something to look for. This will probably make him hoard even more, but it just reinforces his sense of security, kind of like putting away more money for retirement.
Scattering food is also a good idea if you have multiple hamsters, as it prevents them from protecting the food bowl.
What Hamsters Eat
Hamster pellets are small pieces of compressed hay, barley, oats and other grains that may have a few other ingredients mixed in.
They should make up the bulk of your hamster’s diet, as they are rich in fiber and other important nutrients. Don’t just feed pellets, however, as hamsters need a varied diet.
Try to buy pellets that look completely natural. Generally, if it looks gross and bland to you, your hamster will probably love it. Some pellets contain dyes and other additives that make them brightly colored, but remember that these chemicals are added to make the food look better for you, not your pet.
You can always fill your hamster’s bowl with pellets and only occasionally add other food.
In addition to hamster pellets, you can find pellet mixes in the pet food store. They seem to taste better than pellets, so you might be tempted to buy them instead.
The problem with grain mixes is that they are a combination of healthy food and sweet treats, and most hamsters forgo healthy food in favor of sugar. This deprives them of healthy nutrients and can also damage their teeth.
You can occasionally offer your hamster some cereal as a treat, but don’t feed it exclusively with it. Then again, there are other treats that are better for your pet and probably taste better to him.
Timothy hay is grass hay, which is extremely fibrous. This is important because hamster teeth never stop growing, so they need to gnash something that grinds their teeth (it’s also a good idea to put wooden blocks and other accessories in the cage for this purpose).
Timothy hay is rich in fiber and ensures that your hamster eats regularly. High-fiber food makes you feel full, so your hamster will eat less junk food if it has plenty of hay.
Hay is also great as bedding, so there should always be some in the cage. However, be sure to replace the hay daily, because if it gets soggy, mold can develop.
Hamsters love fresh vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables. Romaine lettuce is one of the best options, as it is full of vitamins and antioxidants. Avoid iceberg lettuce, however, as too much of it can cause diarrhea in hamsters.
You can also feed your hamster broccoli, spinach, artichokes, carrots, cabbage, asparagus and bok choy.
It is important to wash the vegetables thoroughly before giving them to your pet, as you want to remove all traces of pesticides or herbicides. While it is highly unlikely that vegetables contain enough chemicals to harm you, your hamster is much more sensitive.
Fruits are nutritious, but they also have a high sugar content, so use them sparingly. Use them as a treat rather than a staple food.
Hamsters love apples (without skin or seeds), strawberries, bananas and pears. Make sure they are not too juicy because, again, too much water can cause diarrhea. Citrus fruits should also be avoided, as their high acid content can lead to digestive problems.
As with vegetables, wash fruits thoroughly before serving. Also save any foods you haven’t eaten in 24 hours.
Yes, it’s important to include meat in a hamster’s diet, as it needs protein and it’s something it would also eat in the wild. Hamsters have even been known to hunt lizards and frogs in groups!
But that doesn’t mean you should bring home a bullfrog as prey. Most people feed their hamsters hard-boiled eggs and mealworms, but you can also use cooked beef, turkey or chicken. Crickets, grasshoppers and other small insects also work well.
Make sure you don’t feed your hamster any pests that could attack it, and don’t feed it anything that may have come into contact with pesticides. Also, don’t season the cooked meat you give him.
What Not to Feed Your Hamster
Knowing what foods not to give your pet is almost as important as knowing what foods it should eat.
Most toxic foods for hamsters are fairly obvious: chocolate, caffeine and alcohol are all not a good idea (even if your hamster is on spring break). Others may not be so obvious.
Don’t give him raw meat (except insects), and avoid raw beans and potatoes. Also absolutely excluded are acorns, peanuts, onions, tomatoes and garlic.
Another danger to watch out for is foods with sharp edges. Remember that hamsters often hold food in their jaws for hours, so don’t give them anything they can bang against.