Melissa cares for a variety of exotic animals and has completed a certificate in veterinary assisting and a bachelor's degree in biology.
How to Feed Your Pet Hamster
What is the best diet for hamsters? There are so many recommendations from different people; who do I listen to?
Food is essential and fundamental to our pet's well-being, and while hamsters are extremely popular "pocket pets", there is still some confusion about what to feed these small rodents. This article will help you navigate through the noise.
Internet Advice Vs. Experts
- Some of the information contained in this article might differ from conventional advice offered by various popular sources, including hamster forums (such as "Hamster Hideout"), Youtube hamster "influencers" (Such as Victoria Raechel), and pet store handbooks.
- While there are many different opinions on pet food in general, our best bet is to obtain information from credible sources and "experts." This consists of exotic pet veterinarians, high-quality scientific research, and board-certified or Ph.D. animal nutritionists (references provided below).
- Providing the right diet for your hamster is not complicated, but you want to be sure that it is well-balanced and evidence-based. Diet should never be a stressful factor for such a ubiquitous pet species.
A Brief Overview
Just like humans and all other animals, hamsters have requirements for a specific nutritional profile for growth, maintenance, and reproduction. Please be advised that most of the research carried out on hamster dietary needs is based on the adult Syrian hamster or "golden hamster" (Mesocricetus auratus), however, currently the recommended hamster diet (note, the base diet, not additional supplementary foods) is considered suitable for all species.
Hamster Nutritional Requirements
Hamsters require fat in their diet, but too much has been associated with higher mortality. A lack of complex carbohydrates has been implicated in an increase in diarrhea in hamsters, also known as "wet tail."
Non-lactating adult hamsters eat approximately 7 to 15 grams of food and drink 10 ml of water per 100 grams of body weight a day. Avoid overfeeding by weighing the food you give to your pets with a gram scale.
Acceptable Nutritional Values for Hamsters
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Hamster Diet in the Wild
Wild-living hamsters consume a varied diet of grains, seeds, nuts, roots, shoots, insects (including flies, wasps, cockroaches, and ants), and fruits.
Choosing Your Hamster's Main Diet
Choose a Complete Pellet
Some sources incorrectly recommend "museli" type commercial foods or those with many seeds for hamsters, however, this enables hamsters to pick out certain foods (sunflower seeds are a high-fat favorite) and neglect eating others. The solution is simple; hamsters should have a base diet of a nutritionally complete pellet.
There's No Need to Mix Diets
Some hamster owners feel they are improving their hamster's health by mixing together several different diets, but each diet is formulated to provide complete nutrition, and it's possible that instead of being healthier, mixing diets can throw off this balance. The only exception is if you get a recommendation from a vet or animal nutritionist.
Store Your Diet Correctly
- Maximize your hamster diet's shelf life by keeping it at room temperature or lower.
- Larger portions can be stored in the refrigerator or frozen.
- Ensure the food is kept in low humidity.
- Take note of the expiration date.
The Best Hamster Diet?
If you are determined to find the "best" diet to feed your hamster, it would be ideal to consult a veterinary nutritionist. As for selecting a commercial food, there is a list of criteria that should help to determine the most high-quality brand.
Read More From Pethelpful
There is something called WSAVA guidelines that are usually used to help consumers find the best foods for dogs and cats, but it can be applied to other species. Some important criteria include whether or not the company employs a full-time board-certified or Ph.D. animal nutritionist, conducts and publishes peer-reviewed research (especially feeding trials), and is able to provide in-depth information about the ingredients utilized.
Acceptable Hamster Diets
- Science Selective Complete Hamster Food: this is another brand from a reputable UK-based company.
- Oxbow Garden Select Fortified Food for Hamsters and Gerbils. This is another good choice from Oxbow.
Other Complete Pelleted Diets
- Sunseed Vita Prima Critter Cubes Rat, Mouse, Gerbil & Hamster Food
- PremiYum Hamster and Gerbil Food
Great Choice for Picky Hamsters
Henry's Healthy Hamster Food is a complete diet that is unique from the rest because it is not a uniform "pellet." Instead, it resembles a cluster of seeds, although it is made from grains and other ingredients. This kind of diet may be a good option for hamsters that do not prefer pellets and find crunchy cluster-type chunks more palatable. Unfortunately, it is currently unknown if this food has been formulated with the assistance of a board-certified veterinary nutritionist or Ph.D. in animal nutrition, but it is being included here for hamsters that refuse to eat pellets.
Ask a Veterinarian
Which diet should you choose? For most hamsters, respected brands such as Oxbow and Science Selective should be good choices. However, hamsters that are younger, older, or have various health conditions might do best with specific nutritional values.
This is just one more reason to take your hamster to the vet. In addition to ensuring your pet is healthy and establishing a medical history, your vet can help guide you in selecting the correct diet for your specific animal. Vets may also recommend a certain brand based on how closely the company follows WSAVA guidelines.
Treats and Supplements for Hamsters
When feeding a complete and balanced diet, treats and additives are technically not necessary, however, just like humans, it is important for hamsters to have some variety in their diet, not just for potential added nutritional benefits, but for psychological health.
Just like you, hamsters don't enjoy eating the same thing every day, however, as previously discussed, they need to eat a complete pelleted diet that has been formulated to provide the correct nutrition. Hamsters can be given treats, just be sure that it consists of no more than 10% of the diet, or approximately 1/2 teaspoon per day.
- Did you already purchase a seed-based or "muesli"-type diet for your hamster? No need to discard it. These foods provide excellent variety and can be used as treats for your hamster.
- Feeding your hamster a diet of mostly seeds can be detrimental to their health because they are high in fat and often unbalanced.
- Use these coveted seeds for enrichment purposes and training (see below).
Should You Use Store-Bought Treats?
Types of Treats
You may have noticed that pet stores are stocked with many hamster treats! Some come in cookie forms, others are seed-based, and there are even unique treats like yogurt drops and edible logs. Most or all of these treats should be safe for your hamster, provided they are offered in the correct amounts.
Best Treats for Hamsters
What is the best type of treat for hamsters? Anything your hamster really enjoys! Because treats should not compose more than 10% of the diet, most treats should not present any risks to hamsters, however, fresh vegetables have the added advantage of providing fresh vitamins and moisture, plus, hamsters usually love these healthy additions.
Offer Appropriately-Sized Treats
One observation I've made is that some hamster treats are way too large for them. Whimzees are a popular dog chew that people in hamster circles like to give their pets, however, these hard-to-break chews are edible and even the smallest size would allow a hamster to consume too much of this treat. Treats like whimzees can only be offered under supervision. Other treats can be more easily broken into small pieces.
Fresh Foods for Hamsters
Fruits, vegetables, and other fresh ingredients are often palatable to hamsters, contain unprocessed nutrients, and serve as an additional source of water. Keep in mind that some vegetables, such as celery and lettuce, can cause diarrhea, but as long as you feed small amounts there shouldn't be any issues. Citrus isn't recommended to give to hamsters.
Incomplete List of Fresh Foods
Greens (dandelion, chard ect.)
Nuts (peanuts are legumes)
Plantain and banana
Problems With Freeze-Dried Produce
It is not recommended to feed hamsters freeze-dried fruits and vegetables because they contain higher quantities of sugar. However, if you've found that your hamster has a strong preference for these types of foods, they can be used very sparingly to encourage them to forage (hiding small pieces in difficult-to-access locations such as inside chew toys) or to reward hamsters during handling and transport. Otherwise, our tiny pets often enjoy healthier options just as much as those with more sugar, so why take the risk.
Some hamster owners prefer to give their pets products such as freeze-dried chicken, mealworms, crickets, etc. These treats are desired because they add some extra protein to the diet (although this shouldn't be necessary if the pellet you've chosen has at least 17% protein). Most hamsters thoroughly enjoy these foods.
Some other acceptable treats include dog treats, however, these must be broken down into very small pieces. Crunchy treats have the added benefit of helping to wear down your hamster's teeth.
You can provide hamsters substrates such as timothy, meadow, and oat hay. Most hamsters might not eat this, but it can also be used as a burrowing medium or enrichment foraging mat. If the hamster does consume any of it, they can add some nice fiber to their diet.
Dwarf hamster species are prone to diabetes, which is why they've been utilized as a model in studies on the disease. The Chinese hamster was intentionally selectively bred for diabetes proneness in the 1960s. It is a good idea to limit sugary, high fat, and high calorie treats in dwarf hamsters.
Do Not Design a "Custom" Diet
You might have a desire to feed your pet only "natural" foods, such as fresh vegetables, unprocessed plant material, and animal foods. This is perfectly understandable because hamsters eat these things in the wild, right?
Is it possible for a hamster to get all the nutrition it needs from a "natural" diet? Absolutely. However, here's why you shouldn't do it.
Unlike hamster diets that have been formulated by experts, laypeople have been known to design diets that have inadequate nutrient levels.
You simply cannot add certain ingredients you think are healthy and expect this composition to be properly balanced. One pertinent exception is if you work with a board-certified nutritionist to create a diet plan for your pet. It is fine to supplement a balanced hamster diet with fresh foods, however.
- Champagne, A. 2006. "Mesocricetus auratus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed May 01, 2022 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Mesocricetus_auratus/
- Field, Karl J., and Amber L. Sibold. The laboratory hamster and gerbil. CRC Press, 1998.
- Gerritsen, George C. "The Chinese hamster as a model for the study of diabetes mellitus." Diabetes 31.Supplement_1 (1982): 14-23.
- Johnson-Delaney, Cathy A., and Linda R. Harrison. Exotic companion medicine handbook for veterinarians. Wingers Pub., 1996.
- National Research Council. "Nutrient Requirements of Laboratory Animals Fourth Revised Edition." Nutrional Academy Press, Washington DC, USA Nakamura Y., Hasegawa Y., Tonogai Y., Kanamoto M., Tsuboi N., Murakami K., Ito Y.(1991) Studies on the biological effects of rare earth elements. III. Fate of chlorides of Dysprosium, Europium, Ytterbium and Yttrium in the rat after intravenous administration. Eisei Kagaku 37 (1995): 479-506.
- Pet Md. "What Can Hamsters Eat?"
- Winnicker, Christina, et al. "Behavioral biology of hamsters." Behavioral Biology of Laboratory Animals. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2021. 165-171.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2022 Melissa A Smith