You should ensure your hamster has access to good quality food and fresh, clean water at all times. The exact nutritional requirements of the hamster are not known, but in the wild they are ‘omnivores’ meaning that they eat both vegetarian food (plants, fruit, vegetables and seeds) and animal protein (usually insects). Unfortunately, most hamster mixes are entirely vegetable matter, without any animal protein; many of these mixes are also very low in some vitamins and substances called ‘essential fatty acids’ that are especially important for a healthy skin and coat.
What should I feed my hamster?
Pet hamsters are best fed a commercial diet containing at least 16% crude protein. These foods are usually available as dry blocks or pellets. Make sure you choose a really good one and supplement it by adding lots of healthy bits and pieces. If something’s good and healthy for you, it will be just as healthy for your hamster.
You can feed lots of different fruits and vegetables, use whatever you have available at home each day – make sure these are thoroughly washed to avoid exposing your hamster to pesticide residues and possible bacterial contamination. You can also feed small pieces of stale bread or toast, and sugar-free cereal. Why not try some left over pasta, rice or potato, bits of meat, cheese or chopped boiled egg? You can also feed your hamster live insects, but this is not always possible. Hamsters also like sweet things, so you could see if your hamster likes a spoonful of fruit yoghurt. Some things he will like, but others he won’t, it will be a case of trial and error.
How do I choose the best commercial food?
The best hamster mixes are those that contain animal protein. These are sold in sealed packs, with a sell by date on them, this ensures the food is fresh and you can also check the vitamin content on the packet. When buying this type of hamster food, be sure to buy small quantities, this will ensure the food is always fresh. Once you have opened a new packet, store it in an airtight, insect-proof container. Even on the best hamster mix, your pet will benefit from some fresh food too.
Hamsters can never be given ‘too much’ fruit or vegetables, however, be aware that if your hamster stores his food, any fresh food will go mouldy, so make sure you clean his home out daily to avoid this from happening.
It has been purported that meat and even onions can makes hamsters savage – this is of course untrue. However, no hamster likes having his favourite food being taken away, just like a dog with a juicy bone!
Where can I get live insects from?
If you want to give your hamster live insects, you will need to find a pet shop that specialises in reptile feeds. Lots of small lizards have to be fed on live insects, and things like mealworms and crickets are bred for this purpose. If you get insects from a shop, you can be sure they’ve had no contact with insecticides or other harmful chemicals. Crickets are better than mealworms for two reasons:
Mealworms just sit there, but the hamster gets exercise chasing the more active crickets.
Mealworms are very, very low in calcium, which is essential for good bone strength – if hamsters eat too many mealworms, it can upset their calcium balance.
Feeding live insects is probably only possible if you keep your hamster in a big aquarium tank. If you don’t feed live insects, try cheese, meat, egg or yoghurt.
What else should I know?
Pet shops and stores sell prepared hamster diets available in boxes or bags. These diets contain large quantities of seeds and items rich in oils.
Consequently, if improperly stored, they become rancid and lose their nutritive value. Furthermore, these oil-rich items promote obesity.
These types of foods can be offered as a supplement to the commercial diets mentioned above. All food should be provided in heavy ceramic dishes that resist tipping. The sides of the dishes should be high enough to keep bedding and faecal material out of the food, or the dishes should be elevated slightly above the bedding. Water is most easily made available and kept free from contamination by providing it in one or more water bottles equipped with ‘sipper’ tubes.
Make certain the ends of the tubes are positioned low enough to allow all residents within the enclosure, especially juvenile hamsters over 1 week old, easy access to them. Also make certain that very young hamsters are strong enough to obtain water from these sipper tubes.