Hamsters are odd little creatures. They have two stomachs (cows have four) and they partly digest and ferment their food in the first one then absorb it in the second (Hoover, et al., 1969). They are great chewers, chewing forwards and backwards, up and down,and also side to side (Gorniak 1977) . They also sometimes eat their own poo – so that it goes through a second time and they can get more nourishment out of it (Gibson and Brady 2013). Finally, they will hoard food, taking it out of their food bowl and putting in their nest or in a special hoarding place. They are most likely to do this after a period of not having so much to eat (Lea & Tarpy, 1986)
Many people feed their hamsters with a muesli type mix, but this really isn’t ideal. If a hamster doesn’t like some of the items in it, it will leave them and not have a proper diet. If it leaves a lot, reduce the amount you feed so that it has to eat up everything in the mix. Otherwise it will just eat the bits it likes best and won’t get a balanced diet. But even if you are careful about making it eat everything up, this may be difficult to achieve if it hoards rather than eats some of the mix. If you must use a mix, use a good packaged one. Mixes sold loose may be dusty or have sharp oats that hurt the cheek pouches.
It is far better to feed pellets. These give a completely balanced diet and you don’t have to worry about being sure the hamster is getting the right nutrition. In the UK Supreme Harry Hamster food, (not to be confused with Harry Hamster Muesli Food) fits the bill. If you are changing from mix to pellets, do this slowly to help your hamster adjust.
Whether you feed a mix or a pellet diet, it should be supplemented by a small amount of fresh food – carrot, apple, root vegetable, brussel sprout, cabbage, sweet corn, watercress, peppers (Khunen 2002, Adby & Neill 2004). A variety of food makes their life more fun. Be careful to feed small quantities so that the cage doesn’t have decaying food in it. Take out uneaten fresh food daily.
Treats sold in pet shops are usually too full of sugar, so do not feed them. Treats, which should be fed very sparingly, can include a dog biscuit, a sunflower seed (very fattening so go easy on these), a dandelion leaf (washed and not too many), a raisin, a dried meal worm of the kind sold for birds, a peanut (not salted), tiny fragments of meat on cooked bone to nibble (Adby & Neill 2004). Beware small chicken bones that might splinter. Do not feed sweet human food like biscuits and cake.
There should always be some hay for a hamster to nibble. Hamsters need things to chew as their teeth grow continuously. For a happy hamster, read the pages on Cage Biting and on Boredom.
Adby, S., & Neill, D. O, (2004), Hamsters in Sickness and in Health, Milverton, UK, Capall Bann Publishing.
Gibson, S. V. & Brady, A. G., (2000), “Syrian Hamsters: Care and Management,’ Laboratory Animal Medicine and Science, Series 11. Available at ehs.uc.edu/lams/data/pdfs/9029.pdf. Accessed July 7 2013.
Gorniak, G. C., (1977 ),’Feeding in Golden Hamsters, Mesocricetus auratus,’ Journal of Morphology, 154, 427-458
Hoover, W.H., Mannings, C. L. & Sheerest, H E., (1969), ‘Observations on Digestion in the Golden Hamster,’ Journal of Animal Science, 28, 349-352.
Kuhnen, G., (2002) in eds. Reinhardt, V., & Reinhardt, A., Comfortable Quarters for Laboratory Animals, Animal Welfare Institute, 1-5. Available at http://www.awionline.org/pubs/cq02/cqindex.html Accessed 14 July 2013.
Lea, S. E. G. & Tarpety, R.m M., (1986) ‘Hamsters’ demand for food to eat and hoard as a function of deprivation and cost,’ Animal Behaviour, 34, 1759-1768.
These notes are my copyright. I am also usually happy to have the exact words reproduced on websites, in return for a link, my name, and if permission is asked beforehand. I like to check the websites where it might be used. Email me via this website for permission which will usually be given. Organisations wishing to use them in print should contact me via this website. Copyright © 2007 Celia Haddon. All Rights Reserved.
All normal safety precautions should be taken when dealing with animals. The advice in this section should be taken only at the owner’s own risk. All sick animals should be seen by a vet.
General advice of the kind found in this website is no substitute for an individual consultation with a vet or qualified behaviourist working on a vet’s referral.