As responsible hamster owners, we want nothing but the best for our companions, and a vital aspect of their care is providing them with a well-balanced diet. If you’re wondering what hamsters eat and how to meet their nutritional needs, this in-depth guide is for you.
By delving into the realm of hamster nutrition, we can explore the various factors that contribute to their well-being. Understanding what hamsters eat and how their dietary needs differ from other small pets is essential for making sure your pet is happy, healthy, and well-fed.
Hamster Research is Limited
An important note to include here is that the research into what exactly hamsters need to thrive isn’t extensive. We still don’t have a wealth of information about hamster nutritional requirements to draw upon, and the available commercial diet options are still limited.
We’ve done extensive research and reviewed the available information to put together this simple outline of what a hamster needs in its diet to hopefully help you decide on the best way to feed your pet.
We will continue to update this guide as new information emerges, and we encourage you to read the sources we’ve included at the bottom of this page for yourself if you would like additional information.
Species-Appropriate Hamster Nutrition
There are five different species of hamster, and they have different nutritional requirements based on where the species is from and what it would eat naturally in the wild.
For example, a Roborovski hamster, whose species is native to the Gobi Desert, has different food tolerances than a Syrian hamster, which originates from the fields of Syria.
It’s important to feed your hamster a diet that’s appropriate for its species to make sure they can properly digest their food and receive the correct balance of nutrients.
Unfortunately, there are very few species-specific seed mixes or pellets available for hamsters, but having this information can still help you provide certain foods in the right amounts.
Here are some nutritional details for each hamster species.
Dwarf hamster nutrition
Almost all Campbell’s and winter white hamsters in the pet trade today are actually hybrids of the two species. This can make it hard to decide which species you should cater the hamster’s diet to, but generally, hybrids and both of these dwarf species have similar dietary requirements.
Roborovski hamsters also live in scarce environments naturally, so their dietary requirements are similar.
Dwarf hamsters are adapted to survive in nutritionally scarce environments, which means they can’t properly process high-fat or high-sugar diets. Large amounts of sugar or fat can lead to disease, including diabetes, in dwarf hamsters for this reason.
Syrian hamster nutrition
Syrian hamsters are known to favor agricultural fields and fertile grounds that are rich in grasses, grains, and cereals. This means that over the generations, Syrian hamsters have adapted to eating a diet that’s higher in carbohydrates than dwarf hamsters.
Syrian hamsters can better tolerate larger amounts of cereal grains (rice, corn, and wheat) than dwarf hamsters because of these genetic adaptations. This also means that Syrians can consume slightly more fruit and vegetable carbohydrates than dwarf hamsters. However, sugars should still be given in moderation.
Chinese hamster nutrition
Researchers haven’t delved much into the diet of Chinese hamsters, but from what we know, this species lives in desert areas as well as grasslands and farmlands. This means that their dietary tolerances are probably somewhere between that of Syrian hamsters and dwarf hamsters.
Hamster Macronutrient Requirements
While different species of hamsters may be more or less adapted to different food sources as discussed above, hamsters mostly need the same or a similar macronutrient profile.
The primary macronutrients they need are:
- Crude protein: 17-23%
- Crude fat: 3-5%
- Crude fiber 6-8%
It’s important to note that the specific nutritional requirements of hamsters can vary depending on factors such as age, activity level, and overall health. Providing a balanced diet will help ensure your hamster receives the necessary macronutrients for optimal health.
We also recommend consulting with a veterinarian who specializes in small animals for personalized dietary advice for your hamster.
What to Feed Your Hamster
When it comes to hamster nutrition, most experts, enthusiasts, and experienced owners agree on three fundamental elements that should be included in a hamster’s diet: pellets or lab blocks, a seed mix, and fresh vegetables and fruits. However, there are differing opinions regarding the necessity of certain items.
Lab blocks (pellets)
While some may argue against providing lab blocks, claiming they contain low-quality ingredients and unnecessary additives, the majority of veterinary experts advocate for their inclusion.
These pelleted foods, when formulated with the right nutritional balance, offer a comprehensive range of nutrients, ensuring that hamsters receive a well-rounded diet with every bite they take.
Our favorite lab blocks/pellets for hamsters are:
In addition to a lab block or pelleted food, hamsters need a seed mix, which should consist of seeds, grains, nuts, and dried grasses, vegetables, flowers, and fruits.
A seed mix is essential because it provides natural foods similar to what a hamster would consume in the wild. It also gives hamsters the opportunity to forage, fill their cheeks with food, and take it back to their burrow.
This is a natural and vital behavior for hamsters to engage in, which is why we recommend scatter-feeding rather than bowl-feeding.
These are our favorite seed mixes for hamsters:
Fresh fruits and vegetables
In addition to their pellet and seed mix, hamsters benefit from a small amount of fresh fruits and vegetables.
In the wild, hamsters don’t come across many water-rich fruits or vegetables, so these should be considered a treat more than a staple. Fresh foods can be hard on a hamster’s digestive system in large amounts.
Try to provide about a fingernail-sized portion of fresh vegetable or fruit about two to three times per week.
Dwarf hamsters and Syrian hamsters also have different tolerances when it comes to fresh foods. For example, fruit should be provided very rarely, if ever, to dwarf hamsters, as these are high in sugar that hamsters can’t process well.
A complete list of fresh fruits and vegetables that are suitable for either dwarf hamsters or Syrian hamsters can be found here.
A common misconception about hamsters is that they’re herbivores. However, hamsters are naturally “opportunistic omnivores,” which means they eat a mix of animal protein and plant food sources based on what’s available.
In the wild, hamsters feed on various insects as well as carrion and even baby birds or eggs. This means that a hamster’s regular food mix can include animal protein sources, and you can also use healthy animal proteins as treats.
Here are some healthy animal protein ideas to try with your hamster. Note that some of these are very high in fat and should be given rarely, especially to dwarf hamsters.
- Cooked egg whites
- Cooked egg yolks (very high in fat)
- Wax moth larvae (high in fat)
- Dried crickets
- Dried grasshoppers
- Dried mealworms (very high in fat)
- Cooked or dried meat
- Chicken baby food
- Low-fat cheeses, not processed
- Low-fat, plain yogurt
- Tuna in water, drained
Some other treats to try with your hamster include:
- Spirulina or seaweed
- Flax seed
- Roasted soybeans
How Much Do Hamsters Eat?
You might think that the amount of food a hamster needs is directly proportional to its size: the larger the hamster, the more food it needs. And in general, this is true.
But it’s also important to know that smaller hamsters eat more food per gram of body weight than larger hamsters, suggesting that dwarf hamsters and young Syrian hamsters burn more calories during the day.
Smaller hamsters (45 grams or less) consume about 58 kcal per 100 grams of body weight per day, while larger hamsters (up to 90 grams) consume about 28 kcal per 100 grams of body weight per day.
That usually translates to:
- 1 teaspoon of food per day for dwarf hamsters
- 1 tablespoon of food per day for Syrian hamsters
This measurement includes the full mix of seed mix, pellets, fresh fruits and vegetables, and animal proteins.
What Hamsters Eat: Special Considerations
Here are some additional factors to consider when choosing a diet for your hamster. These are especially important if you’re going to try to create your own hamster food mix or buy a DIY food mix from someone else.
Limit sugar and fat for hamsters
One of the main takeaways when it comes to hamster nutrition is that they’re very susceptible to health issues caused by excess sugar and fat. This is especially true for dwarf hamsters, who aren’t adapted to a high-sugar or high-fat diet.
Avoid feeding hamsters dried fruits, sweetened treats (like yogurt drops), and foods that contain added sweeteners. Provide fresh fruit only in strict moderation for Syrian hamsters. About a fingernail-sized portion once or twice per week is plenty. Dwarf hamsters should very rarely, if ever, consume fruit.
A small amount of certain natural sweeteners, like cane molasses, in a pellet food is unlikely to be harmful to hamsters. For example, there is typically about 0.5 to 1.5 grams of sugar per half cup of rat and mouse pellets (Oxbow). This is the same amount of sugar that’s naturally contained in a teaspoon of carrot or apple.
Additionally, try to limit fatty seeds like sunflower seeds, as well as fatty insects like mealworms. These are OK in moderation but shouldn’t be provided every day.
Hamsters need to hoard
Many sources suggest feeding your hamster only when it has completely gone through the food that it has available in order to prevent selective feeding.
However, hamsters will always selectively feed and keep a cache of food in their burrow, which is why pellets and lab blocks can be essential.
The need to hoard food is hardwired in a hamster’s brain, so feeding a hamster only when it has gone through all of its food will induce stress and cause the hamster to eat less than it really needs.
Hamsters can tolerate dairy
Unlike many other mammals, hamsters are not dairy-intolerant. This is because a hamster actually has two separate stomach compartments: a forestomach and a glandular stomach.
The forestomach helps break down certain foods, including dairy, before food moves to the glandular stomach for nutrient absorption.
However, you still shouldn’t give a hamster much dairy because most dairy products are high in fat and often in sugar and salt.
In addition to the macronutrients we mentioned above, hamsters need to get the proper amounts of certain micronutrients, including vitamins A, D, E, K, thiamine, riboflavin, pyridoxine, and pantothenic acid.
They get most of these nutrients from the foods that they eat, although a hamster food might also contain supplemented vitamins.
This is one of the reasons we recommend feeding your hamster a lab block or pellet as part of its diet, since this can help provide the right levels of these nutrients. Commercial seed mixes such as Sunburst are also fortified with important nutrients to ensure the proper levels.
Oily seeds and mealy seeds
Some terms to be aware of in choosing a hamster diet are “oily seeds” and “mealy seeds” (or floury seeds). These are two different designations that help determine the nutritional value of different kinds of seeds.
For example, millet is a mealy seed, and sunflower seeds are oily seeds. They are both seeds, but they provide different nutritional benefits.
Typically, the seeds in a hamster’s diet should be 75% mealy seeds and 25% oily seeds. This is a general rule of thumb, and the requirements of a hamster can vary based on its species, activity level, and other factors. For example, Syrian hamsters can tolerate slightly higher levels of oil seeds than dwarf hamsters.
All hamsters need fresh, filtered water available at all times. We recommend providing a shallow water dish, which allows hamsters to drink more naturally and quickly than a bottle.
You can also provide a water bottle as a backup to the dish just in case your hamster knocks over the dish or drinks all of the water in it.
Even though your hamster won’t likely drink all of its water each day (if they do, this may be a sign of diabetes), it’s still important to refresh the water and make sure the dish or water bottle is clean.
Salt licks and vitamin drops
Salt licks and small pet vitamin/mineral supplements aren’t necessary for healthy hamsters.
We strongly advise against providing either of these items because they can cause hamsters to receive too much salt, minerals, or other nutrients in their diet, which can stress their kidneys.
Avoid food dyes
Unfortunately, pet supply brands sometimes try to make their small pet food and other products more attractive to humans by adding bright, artificial dyes. These provide no benefits to hamsters, and they can actually be harmful to your pet.
Feeding Your Hamster a Balanced Diet
There’s a lot of debate in the hamster world about what a balanced diet looks like for a hamster. It’s important to keep in mind that this is largely because there hasn’t been enough research into what the best diet for a hamster is.
Over time, we hope that more information will become available that can provide more concrete guidance.
For now, we hope that this guide has provided some help in deciding what to feed your hamster. When in doubt, it’s always a good idea to consult with an exotic pet veterinarian who can examine your pet and recommend a diet.
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