Feeding your hamster is going to be relatively easy considering all the food options that are available to you. With that said though, not every type of hamster food is good for them. Some of your options include carefully formulated ingredients that will provide your hamster a well-balanced diet while others don’t provide any nutritional value and are loaded with nothing but sugars or fats.
The hamster food you should look for includes 12-24% protein and 3-6% fat. For Pregnant or baby hamsters, you should get hamster food that contains 18-40% protein and 7-9% fat. The reason pregnant mothers and babies need more protein is that they need all the protein to grow. It’s during the first month of a baby hamster’s life that does most of it’s growing; additional protein will help.
In addition to the protein and fats, they need a diet high in carbohydrates. Since they burn so much energy when they are active, hamster food with some needed carbs will give them the energy to do their nightly exercise on the hamster wheel or through their tubes and tunnels. Round out the diet with greens in the forms of lettuces, grasses, fruits, and vegetables.
What is in Hamster Food
- Check the expiration dates and get the freshest bag you can get
- Most feed won’t last more than three months before it goes bad
- A Syrian hamster will only eat one to two tablespoons of food per day
- Dwarf hamsters have higher metabolisms so they will consume the same amount
- Expired bags of hamster food might have moth eggs hatch inside
- Store the feed in a cool dry location to ensure freshness
- Put it in an air-tight container in the fridge for extra freshness
With all the options available and all the guidelines you need to follow, you’re probably wondering what exact type of hamster food to get. The problem is, there is no one right answer. We can give you a recommendation on what we think makes a well-balanced hamster diet but by no means is this always going to be right for your situation. In addition to pregnant and baby hamsters, you might need to alter your diet formula for any obese, old, or diabetic hamsters. Obese hamsters should be limited in their fat intake, old hamsters can be fed what the babies eat and diabetic hamsters should have low sugar diets.
In regards to prepackaged hamster chow, these should make up more than 50% of the overall diet. There are two main types to choose from; seed mixes and lab blocks of pellets. Variety is the spice of life so it’s okay to use both in your hamster’s diet.
A bag of mixed seeds is a great choice if you want a large variety of options for your hamster to eat. Depending on the brand, theses mixes include not only seeds but also and other types of grasses/grains (oats, wheat) dried fruits and vegetables. If your hamsters ate a bit of all these ingredients, it would probably have a relatively balanced diet. However, just as you see in humans, hamsters will pick and choose what they want to eat. Often they will go for the more fatty foods like sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds while not eating the other parts of the mix. Thus, they don’t get a well-balanced diet.
You can pick out the fatty seeds like sunflower and pumpkin seeds and only give them out every so often. You might consider removing some of the corn or alfalfa since some hamster owners say they can cause cancer or liver damage but there is little research to back this up from what we can find. Additionally, dehydrated fruits can get stuck in their mouths or cause a cheek impaction. Finally, avoid mixes that have a lot of molasses in them since they are full of sugar.
Lab Blocks and Pellets
Lab blocks were originally created as feed in laboratories for research animals. You can now buy these at pet stores but the best ones still come from manufactures that still sell to laboratories. A lab block usually contains a mixture of seed and grains and vitamins and minerals. These are a preferred type of hamster food if you want to make sure your little guys or girls are getting all the vitamins and minerals they need to stay healthy. If you could only get one type of dry food, these would be them.
You might think they would taste bad but your hamsters will most likely love them, especially the Syrian breeds. In addition to getting a well-balanced diet, these pellets and blocks will help wear down your hamster’s teeth and keep them from becoming overgrown. Lastly, Block and pellets are easier to save while cleaning your hamster cage then the smaller seed mixes.
Hamsters in nature rarely drink water but instead get their water from the things they eat (This does NOT mean you don’t need a water bottle though). Fresh greens, fruits, and vegetables not only provide your hamsters with the water they need, but they also provide extra vitamins and minerals they need. With that said, you need to be careful how much greens you add into the hamster food; too many greens and they can get a case of diarrhea. A rough guide calls for only feeding it about one square inch (2.54cm) of greens per day. There are greens, fruits, and vegetables that are great for hamsters and there are also ones that should be avoided. The following are some of the greens that are acceptable and some of the greens to avoid (If you collect these from outdoors, make sure there are no pesticides or toxic chemicals that could be on them. Always thoroughly wash them before placing them in your hamster’s cage.)
Acceptable Greens to Eat
- plums (sparingly)
- Figs (sparingly)
- Cut Grapes (sparingly)
- Soy Sprouts
- sweet potato
- Rose Hips
- Timothy Hay
- Herbal Hay
- Stinging Nettles
- Apple (twigs with no pesticides)
- Pear (twigs with no pesticides)
- Hazelnut (twigs with no pesticides)
- Beech (twigs with no pesticides)
Greens to Avoid Feeding
- Cabbage (causes gas)
- Broccoli (Can be toxic if too much is consumed)
- cauliflower (Can be toxic if too much is consumed)
- Beets (Can be toxic if too much is consumed)
- Onions (causes gas)
- Leeks (causes gas)
- Spinach (hard to digest)
- Sorrel (hard to digest)
- Rhubarb (hard to digest)
- Raw Potatoes (hard to digest)
- Corn (may or may not cause cancer)
- Alfalfa (may or may not cause cancer)
- Citrus Fruit (too acidic)
- Peaches (too acidic)
- Apricots (too acidic)
- Nectarines (too acidic)
- Pineapple (too acidic)
- Raspberries (too acidic)
- Twigs from Evergreen Trees (indigestible oils and resins)
- Horse Chestnuts (hydrocyanic acids)
- Oak (hydrocyanic acids)
- Ivy(hydrocyanic acids)
- Acorns (hydrocyanic acids)
- House Plants (can be poisonous)
Carbohydrates in your food mix is a must. Carbohydrates are what an active hamster needs to keep going. If your lab blocks or seed mixes don’t have them or not enough, you can provide additional carbs of the following in small amounts. If you provide too many carbohydrates though, your pets will start to become overweight since all carbs won’t get used up and instead get stored as fat.
Acceptable Sources of Carbohydrates:
- Cooked Pasta
- Cooked Rice
- Cooked Potatoes
- Whole Wheat Bread
- Nutritional Yeast Tablets
In their natural habitat hamsters are mainly herbivores but on occasion, if the opportunity arises, they will snatch up small insects or grubs. This means you will need to provide your pet with some food that contains protein. Many of the prepackaged mixes will have some protein so you won’t have to provide that much more. All you need is a small fingers worth every so often. Try to keep its protein intake down around 12-15% unless otherwise for reasons stated in this article (pregnant and baby hamsters). The following is a list of acceptable forms of protein that can be fed to them (It’s best to get any of the live insects/bugs on this list from the pet store so no diseases get spread).
Good Sources of Proteins:
- Live Mealworms
- Insect Larvae
- Hard Boiled or Scramble Eggs
- Small Bits of Cooked Chicken (unseasoned)
- Small Bits of Cooked Beef (unseasoned)
- Small Bits of Cooked Fish (unseasoned)
Hamsters need access to a fresh source of water 24/7. The best way to do this is by providing them with a water bottle or two throughout their habitat. You need more than one if you have several hamsters or an expansive cage system.
In the wild you could observe a hamster licking different rocks or minerals that contain salt. They need salt to help retain water and stay healthy. You can provide your hamster with a salt lick or a mineral salts. These come in various forms and are sometimes added to their accessories as a form of play.
If you provide your little guy with a well-balanced diet you probably won’t need to get supplements to add extra vitamins and minerals into their food or water. However, if you want to play it safe and make sure they are getting all the nutrition they need, you can get vitamin and mineral supplements; it more than likely won’t do them any harm as long as you follow the directions.
Occasionally a pet owner wants to spoil their hamsters by giving them some treats. For the most part, if you feed it a well-balanced diet it won’t need to be fed any treats. However, every so often it’s okay to give your hamster something that is not the best for it in terms of nutritional value. If anything, if it does not provide any nutritional value, a tasty treat might improve their happiness which is a roundabout way can improve the little guy or girl’s well being. There are a lot of options on the market these days and some are less unhealthy than others. Most of them come in flashy packaging and contain a lot of sugar. Here is a list of some of the treats that are available:
Avoid any treat that contains a high amount of sugar. This means no cakes, cookies, or chocolates. If you only spoil your hamster every so often and don’t fall for their tricks that they just have to have a treat, then you are being a good pet hamster owner and providing them with the proper care they need.
- Nutrient Requirements of Laboratory Animals: Fourth Revised Edition, 1995.
- California Hamster Association
Reviewed By: Tim Winter
Tim Winter has a strong affection for pets and wildlife. His years of experience caring for various types of pets has led him to share his knowledge with others on the best practices in pet care. Tim holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communications.