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)
Feed pellets not muesli. Pellets 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 Burgess Hamster, Gergil and Mouse food (do not buy food described as a “mix” or showing muesli type) fits the bill. If you are changing from mix to pellets, do this slowly to help your hamster adjust. The danger with a muesli food is that, although it looks good to humans, your hamster will eat the bits it likes and leave what it doesn’t like. So it isn’t getting a balanced diet. Scatter the pellets round the cage instead of putting in a dish so your hamster has to forage. About a tablespoonful is enough for a Syrian hamster. Take out uneaten pellets.
Hamster pellets 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 a cooked large 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.