Hamsters are omnivores and eat a wide variety of foods including fruit, veg, meats, seeds, mealworms and more.
However, there are some foods that you should avoid giving to your hamster for one reason or another.
Here’s a (non-exhaustive) list of foods you should definitely stay away from:
|Food To Avoid.||Reason Why|
|Chilli peppers, spices and seasonings||Chilli peppers or anything spicy will cause discomfort hamsters stomach. Very harsh and difficult to digest.|
|Onion, garlic, leak, chives||Garlic can cause indigestion and blood disorders. Chemicals in onions, garlic and leek can damage red blood cells resulting in anemia, as well as gastroenteritis. Avoid these foods as an ingredient in treats, foods etc.|
|Kidney beans (raw and canned)||Very toxic.|
|Raw potatoes||All raw potatoes contain oxalic acid and arsenic that comes from the roots when they grow. These chemicals are toxic to hamsters.|
|Tomatoes||Tomato leaves are toxic to hamsters. Although a tiny piece of tomato is okay, I wouldn’t recommend it as it is very acidic and can cause an upset stomach and/or diarrhea.|
|Iceberg lettuce||Filled with natural water and can cause liver problems if eaten in excess. Can cause diarrhea. Has little nutritional value. Alternatives include dandelion, greens, romaine lettuce and kale.|
|Eggplant||Toxic to hamsters and can upset their stomach.|
|Canned or processed foods||Very high in salt and chemicals.|
|Almonds||Unroasted bitter almonds contain cyanide – too much can lead to death. Moderately high in fat.|
|Peanuts||Too high in fat. Salted peanuts can cause dehydration. One unsalted peanut per week is fine.|
|Citrus fruits||Very acidic. Upset their stomachs. Can cause diarrhea.|
|Jams and jellies||Very high in sugar. Very sticky and can get stuck in their cheek pouches. Full of chemicals.|
|Pork products and deli meats||Pork (bacon, ham) not healthy and toxic to your hamster.|
|Chocolate||Chocolate contains Theobromine, dark chocolate contains even more Theobromine and remains in the system for prolonged periods. Prolonged ingestion of Theobromine can cause testicular damage. Contains Caffeine which affects the central nervous system of the animal, increasing arousal and heart rate leading to stress and even death. Chocolate is also extremely toxic for unborn hamsters of pregnant pets because it can pass through the placenta and can even get in breast milk.|
|Candy||Full of chemicals and sugar. Empty calories. Can lead to diabetes if eaten in excess.|
|Avocado||Toxic to hamsters.|
|Pickles||High acidic content can cause upset stomach and tooth degradation.|
|Pineapple||Too acidic and contains too much sugar.|
|Seeds/pits from fruits||Apple seeds, pear seeds, pits of cherries and apricots and the oils and extracts in grape seeds contain cyanogenic acids that can be lethal if eaten.|
Although hamsters can eat plants such as dandelion, groundsel, clover and watercress, hamsters should avoid the following because they are poisonous to hamsters.
What can kill a hamster?
The main foods that can kill a hamster, especially if eaten to excess, include but not limited to onions, garlic, raw potatoes, citrus fruits, chocolate, avocado and seeds/pits from fruits. Bitter almonds are particularly deadly to hamsters because they contain a cyanide compound.
Sweet almonds on the other hand are okay, but even if you buy a packet of sweet almonds, there’s no guarantee that a bitter almond hasn’t sneaked in there.
The best advice I can give is to not give your hamster almonds at all, but if you really want to give some to your hamster, you need to sift out the ones that have an irregular shape. Bitter almonds can also be wider and shorter than non-bitter almonds, so look out for those too.
Peanuts can sometimes contain Aflatoxins which are a family of toxins that are produced by certain fungi that are found on agricultural crops. According to research, Aflatoxins can cause malformations in hamster foetuses and can have a toxic effect on the liver of the mother and its offspring.
Can salt kill hamsters?
If your hamster eats salt to excess, then yes, salt can kill hamsters. It could kill humans too if eaten in excess. If your hamster eats too much salt, then this will be harmful to their kidneys and it will also make them thirsty, which can lead to dehydration.
However, a small amount of salt is an important part of your hamster’s diet and is essential for your hamster’s body to function. Salt is naturally present in many foods and is contained in almost all food mixes and therefore, hamsters get all the salt they need from their diet.
Therefore, never be tempted to get a “Salt lick” or any other chew that contains salt. Even one lick or one nibble will introduce excess salt to your hamster’s diet that they simply do not need.
If your hamster has a salt deficiency, then there are healthier ways of giving them extra salt. If you just want to give your hamster something to chew on, then check out these chews and chew toys that I recommend.
Hamster food choices
When it comes to hamster foods, they generally fall into two different types: the first type are chow diets.
A chow diet is basically when all the ingredients are ground up and mixed together and are often compacted into uniform round squares. This is a complete diet and has everything that your hamster needs to function and to stay healthy.
This type of diet is preferable because the hamster can’t choose what they want to eat. Like all mammals, hamsters tend to only eat the foods that they like to eat.
The other type of diet is the one that you’re probably familiar with and that is a mixed seeds and ground grains diet.
Manufacturers often say that this is a better hamster mix because it makes hamsters snoop around their dish looking for food that they like to eat. This kind of mimics what they do in the wild, the only difference being is that in the wild, hamsters will often have long walks in between foraging for food.
The trouble with these mixes is that they sometimes contain some questionable ingredients. A diet based on sunflower seeds for instance will lead to obesity and a calcium deficiency, which would in turn weaken their bones.
Peanuts on the other hand can lead to dietary upsets and coat changes despite being very high in protein.
Some food mixes can contain dried fruit, or contain molasses which can lead to cavities which can result in the loss of teeth or root abscesses. Tell tale signs of this include face swelling, loss of appetite and salivation.
If you’re buying a hamster mix make sure that they don’t have any added sweeteners like cane molasses. You should also check whether they need to be refrigerated or not once opened. Finally, you should buy in quantities that can be eaten within 3 months.
One food that is often overlooked by hamster owners is hay (either Timothy or Alfalfa or a mix of the two).
Hamsters eat a lot of grass in the wild; either in fields or they stuff it into their cheek pouches and take it to their burrows ready for the winter.
Grass also has the advantage that it keeps their teeth worn down.
It’s also easy to add to a diet and you can buy packs of hey or you can pull fresh grass as long as it is free of pesticides or herbicides. Make sure that you check the label before buying.
Fresh foods Hamsters Can Eat
If you want to give your hamster fresh foods, then here are some ideas:
- Dandelions (unsprayed leaves and flowers)
- Green beans
- Sweet potato
Always make sure you wash fruits and vegetables first before giving them to your hamster because they may contain pesticides which can be harmful to your hamster. Ideally you should look to give your hamster organic fruit and veg especially if you want to to give them the skins.
We’ve covered quite a few foods here that you need to keep your hamster away from, otherwise they could become very ill.
Why not bookmark this post so that you can quickly and easily check whether a particular food is suitable to give to your hamster. That way you don’t have to remember them all.
Alternatively, you can simply feed your hamster a good quality, commercial hamster mix (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned) with plenty of fresh water, and your hamster will do just fine. That way, you will have peace of mind that you aren’t feeding your hamster something you shouldn’t.