By Geoff Williams
If you’re a new hamster owner or considering whether or not to purchase a pet hamster, you might be wondering what hamsters can eat. In reality, however, the question to ask is: what should hamsters eat? While they can eat a variety of things, some foods are far better for hamsters than others. Here are some dos and don’ts when it comes to feeding your fuzzy friend.
Feeding Your Hamster: General Guidelines
The easiest and safest approach to feeding your hamster is to go with a complete meal that you can find at a pet or store.
“I recommend one of the complete [hamster] meals that comes in square blocks. They’re a pelleted feed,” said Robyn McGeorge, registered veterinary technician and owner of Robyn’s Nest in Germantown, Ohio. These pellets are preferable to a hamster-formulated seed mixture because many hamsters will pick out what they like from these mixtures, missing some of the nutritional value in the seeds they don’t eat, McGeorge said.
Cindy Cribbs, owners Haven for Hamsters Rescue and Sanctuary, feeds their hamsters about a tablespoon of food once a day. Giving your hamster any more food than that may lead them to hoard their food. “People may think they are eating all their food when in fact, they just hid it from you,” she said.
Can Hamsters Eat Carrots?
Carrots are safe for hamsters to eat, however, they should be given in moderation, said Dr. Carol Osborne, owner of Chagrin Falls Veterinary Center & Pet Clinic in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Because carrots have sugar in them, they may not be the ideal snack for dwarf hamsters, which are prone to diabetes.
The problem, however, generally isn't with carrots themselves, Osborne said. The problem is that many people overfeed their hamsters, which can lead them to become overweight and susceptible to diabetes.
“Hamsters like to hoard food, and when they hoard food, they become fat, and then your hamster can get diabetes,” Osborne said. “Life is about moderation, as is food.”
Can Hamsters Eat Grapes?
Like carrots, grapes are a healthy and generally safe option for herbivores like hamsters. Unlike cats, dogs and ferrets, there is not a known correlation between grape consumption and kidney damage. Before serving your hamster any grapes, it's best that you discuss with your veterinarian the appropriate quantity of grape pieces can be offered in one setting or per day.
“The number of grape pieces that are appropriate on your hamster depends on his size. Smaller hamsters should consume fewer grape pieces while larger hamsters can eat more,” said Olivia Petritz, DVM, DACZM, and avian and exotics specialist at Advanced Critical Care and Emergency Specialty Services (ACCESS). Regardless of their size, hamsters should not be fed whole grapes, as their high sugar content can cause digestive tract upset like diarrhea or other stool changes.
Similarly to grapes, raisins have an unknown toxic effect that has been documented to damage the kidneys of cats, dogs and ferrets. Raisins aren’t known to cause toxicity to hamsters, but it’s best to discuss if giving raisins to your hamster is appropriate with your veterinarian.
Can Hamsters Eat Tomatoes?
Tomatoes are members of the nightshade family and un-ripened tomatoes, along with the plant’s stems and leaves, contain tomatine, a solanum alkaloid that can cause neurologic and digestive tract issues. Dr. Karen Schachterle, an avian and exotics specialist at ACCESS, said she does not recommend clients offer tomatoes to hamsters due to the concern for potential toxicity. “There are many safe fruits and vegetables that owners can offer as alternatives to tomatoes,” she said.
What Other Fruits and Vegetables Can Hamsters Eat?
The following foods are safe for your hamster to eat:
- Bok choy
- Sweet potatoes (should be removed of their skins before feeding, as molds can flourish in the skins and cause digestive tract upset and other ailments)
There are additional foods you could feed a hamster, like a bit of a hard-boiled egg for protein, Osborne said. An egg snack should be the size of two raisins.
Hamsters can be hand-fed, however, they can also bite. “With dwarfs, be careful not to put your hands by their bowls since they can be territorial,” Cribbs said. “I always use a dipper spoon so that I can safely reach their bowl wherever they have put it.”
If you want to give your hamster a treat by hand, try petting them with one hand while giving them a treat with the other, according to Osborne. “Feeding your hamster by hand is good way to socialize your pet and to bond,” she said.
Additionally, whatever you choose to feed your hamster in addition to their pellets or seed mixture should amount to no more than the size of two raisins, Osborne said.
What Shouldn’t You Feed Your Hamster?
While it may seem like you can give a hamster just about anything, there are some foods to steer clear of, including:
- Apple seeds and skins
- Grape seeds
- Fruit pits
- Chocolate (or any other sugary sweet)
Although nuts like peanuts and almonds aren't directly toxic to hamsters, they are dense in caloric and fat content and can be provided in a volume that quickly exceeds daily caloric requirements and contributes to obesity. It's best to stick to vegetables and fruits that have a high water and fiber content instead of seeds and nuts for snacks. Yeast (like in bread) and alcohol (beer, spirits, wine) should also not be fed to hamsters due to potential for toxicity.