When it comes to diet, hamsters are amongst the easiest small animals to feed, mainly because they are omnivores and can be fed a wide variety d&a foods.
Although there are many food types available care must be taken to ensure that it is nutritionally balanced and has plenty of variety to it.
The easiest thing you could possibly do is simply buy the best commercial hamster food (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned) that you can find and augment it with bits of fresh fruits and vegetables on occasion. You can even provide them with the occasional mealworm or cricket or two.
In this article I’ll be looking in a bit more detail about pre-mixed foods and fresh foods that you can give to your hamster. I will also be taking a look at treats, high protein foods and generally what a good hamster diet looks like. I’ll also be providing plenty of hints and tips and do’s and don’ts along the way.
What is a good hamster diet?
A good hamster diet is one that is high quality, provides lots of variety and has good nutrition. A hamster diet is high quality if the ingredients are unique, nutritious and safe.
The diet is considered varied if there are lots of whole ingredients in the food and it is considered nutritious if it contains the correct levels of protein, fats and fibre. It is recommended that hamster diets contain 17-19% protein, 4-7% fat and 6-15% fibre.
No single hamster mix will meet all of these requirements so you may have to mix a couple of different mixes together or supplement their diet with fresh fruit, veg and protein.
Let’s look at hamster food mixes in a little more detail.
There are two varieties of pre-mixed hamster foods. There are chow diets sometimes known as pelleted diets and seed diets. Let’s look at each of these in turn.
Chow diets or pelleted diets are basically when all the ingredients have been ground up, mixed together and compacted into small brown uniform squares. Although these do not sound very appealing they do provide a complete diet and also provide gnawing exercise for your hamster.
The advantage of diets is that the hamster can’t pick and choose what it would like to eat. Hamsters, just like us, tend to pick and choose the things that they want to eat rather than choosing foods that are good for them. The downside to these diets is that they don’t provide very much variety. Variety in any diet is very important and if I was fed a diet consisting solely of biscuits, I would soon get very bored!
See diets as the word suggests consists of mixed seeds and ground grains and allows a hamster to forage. Seeds are very good for hamsters as they are low in fat and sugar.
In addition to seeds, you might also find some of the following ingredients in a good quality hamster mix:
- Crushed oats
- Clipped oats
- Flaked maize
- Sunflower seeds
- Dried peas
- Grass pellets
- Hard dried biscuit
Each seed mix is slightly different and each manufacturer may add their own special ingredients such as dried banana, dried coconut, dried apple or even an essence to help flavor the mix.
All the ingredients in these types of mixers are hard so as well as being nutritious they’re also good for your hamster’s ever growing teeth.
Dwarf and Chinese hamsters like smaller types of seeds such as millet, foreign finch seed and budgie seed but Syrians will also enjoy them as an occasional treat.
Choosing a good quality seed mix
It’s very important that you choose a good quality hamster mix (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned) that is fresh, looks clean and dust free.
Some of the items in certain mixes aren’t that good for your hamster. For example a diet based on sunflower seeds would lead to obesity and a calcium deficiency which can lead to weaker bones.
Peanuts on the other hand are very high in protein but they can cause dietary upsets and coat changes.
Dried fruits or molasses tinged seed mixes can lead to cavities resulting in the loss of teeth and abscesses. Some diets (either pelleted or seed diets) have added sweetener so you should always read the label and make sure that you know exactly what it is you are feeding to your hamster.
When it comes to buying a hamster mix don’t simply go for the cheapest hamster mix that you can find. At best, because hamsters can be finicky about their food you may throw away more than they eat.
At worst, some hamster mixes may not have gone through rigorous quality and safety checks of some of the more expensive options. A few cents saved is simply not worth the life of your hamster.
Finally try to choose a high variety seed mix and never use mixes that have been formulated for other animals because at best they won’t get the nutrition that they need and at worst they may contain ingredients that are dangerous to your hamster.
What is the best hamster mix?
I recommend taking a high variety seed mix and combining it with a high protein block diet. So for example you could take 50% of Higgins Sunburst (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned) and 50% of Mazuri Rat & Mouse Pellets (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned) and mix them together. These two foods are considered to be the best on the market at the time of writing.
It’s important that you don’t just combine random mixes together as this can interfere with the overall nutritional value. You don’t want something that is too high or too low in fibre, protein or fat.
If you decide to combine mixes, be sure to check that it contains the correct amount of nutrients. You can find out how much nutrients it contains using this calculator.
The calculator will calculate the percentage protein, fat and fibre contained within food mixes that have been combined. This will allow you to see how much of each food to use to obtain the correct nutritional levels.
Changing your hamster’s mix
Ideally you should use the same mix that your hamster was fed on in the pet shop or by the breeder at least for the first week or two and without any extras.
When you first bring a hamster home, your pet has been through many changes such as a new cage, loss of siblings and a complete change of environment.
Food is one thing that you can and should keep the same until your hamster has settled in.
Then and only then should you consider changing your hamsters diet otherwise you risk giving your hamster tummy troubles.
If you know the hamster mix that was used but you still want to change your hamster diet then do so gradually. Remember although many hamster mixes look the same they are all different.
As a rule of thumb you should introduce new foods to your hamster gradually. You could do this by adding a little bit of the new food into their old food and gradually change the ratio until your hamster is eating the new food completely.
Although this may take a few weeks, it is worth it because sudden changes can give your hamster an upset stomach.
Homemade diets – How do you make homemade hamster mix?
Making your own hamster mix is very possible that the biggest issue that you will find is making sure that your mix is nutritionally sound.
Unless you work out the numbers for protein, fat, fibre, mineral and vitamin content, you could be feeding food to your hamster that does not provide what they need.
You may also end up with a bucket of food that your hamster won’t get to eat which could then become buggy.
The easiest and safest option is to read and compare labels and buy commercial hamster mixes and supplement with fresh fruit and vegetables.
However if you are still keen on learning how to make your hamster check out the video below.
Hamster mixes should be stored in an airtight container (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned) to avoid contamination and also prevent it from becoming damp. Damp hamster mixes can grow mould on it it and if it is ingested it could affect the health.
If the hamster mix that you’re purchasing is sold loose, ensure that it is covered in an airtight container and make sure it isn’t stored where droppings, feathers or other contaminants could fall into it inadvertently.
Most manufacturers these days however sell them pre-packed which avoids these issues.
In the natural habitat, hamsters eat a variety of foods and fresh foods in particular are enjoyed. So try to emulate this for your hamster as it will appreciate some of the additional foods.
Almost any sort of fruit and veg can be given to your hamster as long as it is fresh and frost free. It should also be washed thoroughly and be allowed to drain before putting it into the cage.
Fruits and vegetables
Although fruit and vegetables aren’t a necessity, your hamster will enjoy them from time to time. You will find that your hamster will enjoy most of the veg that you eat yourself, but like us, they all have their own individual tastes.
Here are some vegetables you can try with your hamster:
- Sweet potato
- Romaine lettuce
- Green leaf lettuce
- Purple lettuce
- Curly lettuce
- Cooked parsnip (unglazed)
- Peas (garden not mushy)
- Bell pepper
Here are some fruits you can try with your hamster too:
- Grapes (half and no seeds)
- Tomato (not the vine)
- Peaches without the stone
- No citrus (lemon, grapefruit, clementines)
When it comes to fresh foods, they should be given in very small quantities for example a thin slice of apple or a slice of carrot or a maximum of 2 to 3 bean sprouts.
Too much fresh food can result in your hamster getting diarrhea and if it tries to store excess food, it can rot very quickly making it unsafe to eat. It is therefore very important that any leftover fresh fruit or veg is removed from your hamster cage the next day.
Hamsters are extremely small animals, especially when compared to humans and won’t be able to shrug off the effects of eating under or over ripe fruit and veg like we can.
So always make sure that it’s good quality, perfectly ripe, well washed and given in small amounts. Going organic will also ensure that it is free from pesticides.
Hamsters love wild greens but make sure that they haven’t been contaminated by vehicle fumes, pesticides or been fouled on by other animals. Thoroughly wash and dry any wild greens that you pick and be choosey as to where you collect them from.
Dandelion (both leaf and flower), groundsel, clover and watercress are enjoyed by hamsters. Raspberry shoots are also enjoyed by hamsters in the early spring and a small strawberry leaf can be beneficial if your hamster has loose droppings.
Buttercup, bluebells, bindweed, ragwort, elder, hemlock, speedwell and privet must be avoided as they are poisonous to hamsters. You should also avoid leafy greens like romaine or spinach as they can cause diarrhea.
Not many hamsters owners think about giving herbs to their hamsters but they have lots of minerals and good properties to them and don’t contain fats or sugars, so there’s really no limit on how much you can give. Feel free to sprinkle some in your hamsters cage two to three times per week.
Hamsters are omnivores which means they can eat foods like chicken and beef, although typically hamsters won’t come across this in the wild but they will come across carrion (deceased animals).
In addition to chicken or beef you can also feed your hamster brown crickets which are available in most pet shops. Start putting crickets into your cage and your hamster may even chase after them which is good for their exercise.
Your hamster will also enjoy mealworms (better fresh than dried) and locusts.
Hamsters are grass eaters in the wild and either eat it in the field or pack it into their cheeks to take home for the winter. Grass also helps to keep their teeth worn down. If you choose to give your hamster grass, either buy it or pull fresh grass which you know is free of pesticides or herbicides.
Most pet shops sell treats for hamsters and you’ll be amazed at the choices that are on offer, however you should use them cautiously. They’re very enticing and brightly colored but they are essentially candy and not particularly good for hamsters.
Treats range from simple hamster chocolate drops to seed coated sticks which can be hung from the cage bars. You can also purchase chocolate drops that have a higher melting point than human chocolate to stop it melting in their cheek pouches.
You can also buy single food treats such as dried fruit or veg like dried mango, papaya, banana, apple or small ears of dried corn.
Your hamster will love these however they should be considered a treat and not a normal part of their diet.
Of course you don’t have to buy special treats. You can give your hamster a piece of dried banana, peanuts in shells, sultanas, raisins and even pieces of plain biscuit. Cooked potatoes can also be popular with your hamster.
Once or twice a week you could offer any of the following:
- Eggs – which are either hard boiled or scrambled (no salt)
- Dog biscuits (high in protein and good for their teeth)
- Mixed bird seeds (parakeet or canary mix)
- Dry cereal (cheerios are lowest in sugar)
- Whole wheat bread
- Cooked pasta or spaghetti (wholemeal).
Make sure that any hamster treats you intend to give to your hamster are also suitable for human human consumption as well as this will go some way in ensuring that it is safe for your hamster.
If you want to be extra safe then you can always get raisins, dried bananas and nuts from health food shops as this will ensure that your hamster can eat their treats in safety.
It’s worth noting that because hamsters put food in their pouches, it’s important that you avoid sticky and sharp foods. Sticky foods can adhere to the pouch lining and sharp foods can cut or puncture the lining allowing infection to set in.
Finally, don’t overwhelm your hamster with choices that together don’t form a nutritionally sound diet.
Mineral blocks and drops
Mineral drops are drops that you can put into your hamster’s water and mineral blocks provide something for your hamster to chew on. Although the mineral blocks are good for wearing down your hamster’s teeth, these types of supplements aren’t necessary because your hamster will get all the nutrients and minerals that they need from their diet.
High protein foods
All hamsters need protein to stay healthy so feel free to provide extra protein in the form of cooked chicken, a bit of scrambled or hard boiled egg (in tiny portions) or mealworms which I normally fed alive.
Again these foods should be treated as supplements as most manufacturers these days put enough protein into their food mixes.
Mashes and milky foods
There are times when hamsters will appreciate mashed or milky food, especially if a hamster has pulled or loose teeth (sometimes caused by snatching at the bars).
Here are some other situations where milky and mashed food can be beneficial to hamsters:
- Young hamsters: If raised with a milky supplement together with their diet, they will benefit from the extra calcium which will help them grow strong teeth and bones
- Pregnant/nursing mothers
- Hamsters that are unwell/recovering from stroke/operation: Hamsters in these situations may be tempted to eat by offering a mash, porridge or other milky foods. This also provides a good way to administer medicine
- Elderly hamsters: Milky foods and mashes can contribute to a hamster’s longevity by providing them with easily digestible gluten (porridge oats) and milk to keep their teeth strong
Suitable foods for mashing
Foods such as boiled rice, spaghetti, boiled or mashed potato and other veg can be given to a hamster in the form of a mash. Potatoes or rice can be mashed or mixed with a little liquid (using warm water, gravy or meat juices) and will be enjoyed by your hamster.
Foods such as runny porridge, a small piece of cereal biscuit soaked in milk or a small amount of instant porridge made with milk are all suitable for your hamster.
Here are some things to bear in mind:
- Avoid cereals that are sweetened, honey-coated or sharp
- Don’t give milik in its pure form because if it spills it will soak into the shavings and sour very quickly making whole cage smell unpleasant
- A small teaspoon of mash or milky food is ample for Syiran hamster.
- If your hamster is not used to these supplements, feed tiny amounts to begin with and gradually build up to a teaspoon
- Don’t give your hamster these foods everyday, every 2-3 days is enough otherwise your hamster will eat these supplements rather than their pre-mixed food and won’t get the nutrition they need.
How much should you feed your hamster?
A Syrian hamster needs about a tablespoon (10gms) of food per day plus a few supplements such as a slice of carrot, apple, or once inch stick of celery.
You should offer at least the same amount of food to Chinese, Campbells, Winter White’s and Roborovski hamsters because small hamsters have higher metabolisms.
All hamsters are hoarders so you should check the hoard every week to make sure that there isn’t too much or too little food in there.
If the hoard is too large, hamsters will be encouraged to eat only their favorite foods and if you see that the hoard is increasing, you should reduce the amount of food that you are providing.
If you find out that there isn’t a hoard, then you are likely giving your hamster too little food; in which case you should gradually increase the amount of food until you have a modest sized hoard.
Here are some tips in case you find out that your furry friend is a picky eater!
- If your hamster picks at its food and chooses what it prefers rather than what it needs, try withholding their treats and supplements
- Don’t refill your hamsters food dish until everything has been eaten
- Before cleaning, don’t give any more pre-mixed food and let them delve more deeply into their store and eat some of their less favorite items
- Make sure that your hamster has access to food and is not ignoring foods because they are past their best
What to do with their food stash after cleaning?
You should dispose of any uneaten food after cleaning your hamster’s cage because their food store may be near their wet corner and could be contaminated with urine.
When you dispose of a stash of food, take a mental note of where you found the stash because one of the first things that your hamster will do on returning to its cage is look to see if the stashes are still there.
Make sure that you replenish any stashes you find around the cage with fresh food otherwise this can be very unsettling and stressful for your hamster. It’s a bit liked going on vacation only to return and find out that someone has been in and taken all your food!
What are hamsters not allowed to eat?
Although this is not an exhaustive list, you should avoid giving your hamster any of the following foods:
- Fruit loops
- Spring onion
- Bitter almonds
- Junk food
- Leafy parts of a tomato (toxic to hamsters)
- All citrus fruits (too acidic for a hamsters stomach)
You should also avoid foods that have too much water in them such as iceberg lettuce and cucumber as this can lead to diarrhea causing your hamster to dehydrate very quickly which will require veterinary attention asap.
When feeding your hamster, apply common sense and remember, hamsters don’t come across many of the foods that we humans eat in the wild, so they are simply aren’t able to process them.
Also, remember the old adage when in doubt, leave it out.
Check out this article which goes into more detail about what foods hamsters can’t eat.
Do hamsters need a food bowl? – Encouraging your hamster to forage
It is not essential that hamsters have a food bowl, in fact it is better to scatter feed your hamster so that they have to forage for their food like they would in the wild.
The more your hamster has to work for their food, the more rewarding it will be for them when they eat it. Hamsters are hoarders, so you will find that they will take the food out of their food bowl and stash it away in their nesting area or in certain corners of their cage.
So that’s my guide on hamster diets. A hamster diet can be complicated but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re just starting out, simply choose a good quality hamster mix and offer a tiny bit of fruit and veg on occasion. Remember to keep the quantities tiny and be gradual when trying out new foods.