When it comes to food, hamsters like to forage and hoard – and they are extremely well equipped to carry their provisions from one place to another thanks to their ingenious cheek pouches. What’s more, these small omnivores also have very specific nutritional requirements.
Native to the arid landscapes of Syria and Turkey, hamsters evolved their cheek pouches so they could take full advantage of food wherever it happens to turn up. When you’re a very small animal it’s not always practical to eat what you’ve found right there and then – particularly if you’re at risk of becoming a hot lunch yourself. So, it makes perfect sense to stuff what you’ve foraged into your cheeks to take back to your burrow to eat it in safety. This is a natural behaviour that our pet hamsters continue to do. And, as hamster cheek pouches don’t contain saliva glands, everything is kept fresh and dry during transit.
Serve up the ideal hamster diet
In their natural habitat, wild hamsters eat grasses, seeds and grain. And, although they are often thought of as herbivores, they are actually omnivores and need protein in their diet to keep them healthy. The Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA) has some helpful pointers:
- Hamsters have delicate cheek pouches so don’t give foods that contain whole oats as these can puncture them. Also avoid sticky foods, as these can cling to their pouches.
- Hamsters have teeth which grow continually. If fed unsuitable foods, these fail to wear the teeth sufficiently and this can lead to painful dental conditions. Plenty of hay and safe twigs to chew are a good idea.
- Your pets may like an occasional treat of hamster-safe fresh food, such as a small piece of fruit or vegetable, but too much green food can cause diarrhoea.
Vets and nutritionists tend to recommend feeding your hamster a pelleted diet rather than a muesli-style diet. If you’ve been feeding your hamster muesli, you may have noticed that they eat the same bits first, every day. You may also have noticed that the same bits generally get left behind day after day, too.
This causes a problem – although the food is technically balanced throughout the bag, your hamster can pick out the bits they want and leave the rest resulting in an unbalanced diet. And like children with a bowl of sweets and vegetables, they’re unfortunately likely to pick out the high-calorie and less nutritious things. Hamsters fed on muesli-type foods are prone to bad teeth, obesity, and diarrhea.
The answer to this is to buy pelleted feed for hamsters. It has all the same ingredients as many of the muesli diets, but it has been blended and formed into pellets. Your hamster can no longer accidentally unbalance his diet by picking out the bits he likes the taste of, as each pellet is identical to the next. If your hamster is currently on muesli, you should blend them over to their new diet slowly over a fortnight to avoid gut upset.
Start with some nutritious nuggets
Nutrition-packed nuggets specially designed for hamsters are the best choice. Burgess Excel Hamster, Gerbil and Mouse Nuggets contains only the best quality ingredients to provide your pets with a balanced food that replicates their natural diet to help them stay happy and healthy and prevent selective feeding.
The best feeding time for a hamster is in the evening when they start to wake up. As a nocturnal animal, this is breakfast time!
Never make your own or buy home-made hamster food mixes!
Commercial hamster food is tested at laboratory to confirm the nutritional analysis of packaged ingredients to ensure it is balanced or complete diet. Many pet owners think it’s a good idea to mix different brands of commercial hamster food or even source their own ingredients for their own homemade hamster food. Sunflower seeds for example can differ greatly in nutritional content from different suppliers.
Making your own hamster mix is not recommended as it is unlikely that you will provide the complete and balanced diet with all the vitamins and nutrients that your hamster needs in the correct proportions. Most importantly, manufacturers of commercial food add nutritonal additives to the food to ensure it contains all essential vitamins and nutrients to ensure a maintenance diet for hamsters.
Home made hamster mixes normally contain a variety of seeds and grains which are high in fat and starch, but contain very little essential vitamins. Seeds and grains are GMO and known to be the cause of tumours in small rodents. There are no nutritional additives added to home made hamster food mixes, so they are definately not considered a balanced or complete diet.
Since animals eat to meet their energy requirements, our hamsters in captivity eat much less than those in the wild, which means they have less opportunity to get the nutrients they need. The objective of a commercial hamster food is to provide all the essential vitamins and minerals in every bite of food they consume. By offering a formulated pellet diet, it will increase their chance of leading a long and healthy life.
You’re probably thinking that a pelleted diet is boring compared to a muesli one. After all, those squashed peas and corn are so much more interesting and colourful than the pellets. So what can you give your hamster as a treat or snack?
We all enjoy a bit of snack-time, and our pets do too.
However, it’s important to only give our much-loved hamsters, treats that are good for them. Burgess in-house vet, Dr Suzanne Moyes, says: “Feeding occasional treats provides emotional and social enrichment, keeping our small animal busy and happy. Incorporating healthy and nutritious treats into their diet is good for our small pets’ emotional health, preventing boredom, encouraging natural foraging behaviour and are ideal for hand-feeding, to help you build your special bond with your small furries.”
The first rule of hamster treats is that they should make up no more than 5% of their daily diet. Since they only need 8-12 grams of the pelleted diet a day, to avoid obesity you’ll need to restrict their treats to half a gram or less, often likened to ‘two raisins-worth’. This is a very small amount- you might find it easier to give them a gram every other day instead.
Whatever you feed, remember to start with a tiny amount to allow their guts to get used to it and avoid causing diarrhea. It’s a good idea to give a different food each day to help your hamster get a range of nutrients.
You need to be thorough with your cage cleaning when you’re feeding fresh foods like this. Hamsters will often hoard food, and many fresh foods can molder quickly, so they will be more likely to make your hamster ill.
Add some gnaw material
Hamsters also need some tasty, high-quality Timothy hay to munch on, along with some untreated softwood such as hawthorn, hazelnut, pear, poplar or apple wood to chew. This will help keep their teeth healthy and stop them getting overgrown and keep them happily occupied.
Before you offer any softwood branches to your hamster to chew, give them a good clean and bake them on a low heat for an hour. You could also try some Excel Gnaw Sticks, made from willow, apple and hazel wood.
Chewing, gnawing and shredding stuff is a natural hamster behaviour, so provide a variety of things for them to get their teeth into such as:
- Coconut shells
- Hay cubes
- Pumice stone
Top up with healthy treats that hamsters can eat
As a treat, you can also provide a tiny portion of hamster-safe, fresh veg a couple of times a week. Animal charity PDSA advises that the following fruits, vegetables and herbs are suitable for hamsters. Make sure you give them a good wash first.
Veg: Carrot, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chicory, spinach, sweet peppers, cucumber, cress, courgette
Fresh herbs: Basil, sage, parsley, coriander
Fruits: Apple, pear, peach, melon. NEVER feed citrus fruits, rhubarb or grapes to your hamster
DID YOU KNOW?
Hamsters like to sit up and hold pieces of food in their tiny paws to gnaw.
Check there’s always plenty of fresh water
Don’t forget to provide fresh water daily in a bottle specially designed for these tiny rodents, placed with the spout at the appropriate height for the type of hamster you have. The RSPCA advises:
- Check the water bottle daily for leaks and/or blockages
- Change the water regularly and clean the bottle and nozzle properly to avoid contamination
- Hamsters aren’t able to apply strong suction and may have difficulty getting a drink from traditional ball-valve tubes, so choose a bottle with a valveless sipper tube
Make finding food a fun activity
Rather than just putting food in a gnaw-proof ceramic bowl, scattering it around is a great idea as it encourages natural foraging behaviours and your hamster will love rummaging around to find tasty titbits. This is also a good solution if you have more than one hamster (as it’s only the Syrian or Golden hamster that likes to lead a solitary life) and one is very protective of the food bowl and won’t let his or her roomies have their fair share.
Add extra fun by hiding hay, hamster pellets or fresh greens inside paper bags or cardboard tubes. Not only is searching out food an enjoyable task, your hamster will also love shredding the packaging you hide it in, which all serves to enrich their life.
Keeping your hamster on track
While hamsters’ pouch-stuffing behaviour is endearing – who can resist those chubby little cheeks – it does mean that it’s very easy to overfeed them. The food you put out for them may quickly disappear – but beware – the chances are they haven’t eaten it but have simply hidden it away. As hamsters’ cheek pouches actually extend all the way down to their hips, they can store an amazing amount of food in them, so don’t be fooled by an empty dish.
It’s essential that you only feed your hamster with the amount of food they need each day – around a tablespoon of specially-formulated hamster nuggets each evening, depending on the species of hamster you have. Any more than that and you put your hamster at risk of getting tubby, which can lead to health problems.
Why choose Burgess Excel Hamster Nuggets?
Did you know that 92% of UK vets recommend Burgess Excel range? What’s more, at Burgess, all their pet food is produced in line with FEDIAF (the European pet food industry federation) nutritional guidelines. These guidelines, which are based on many pieces of published research, helps Burgess to calculate the nutrient content and dietary components required to ensure all their foods meet the detailed nutritional requirements for the pets they are designed for.
Hamsters can eat a variety of fruit and vegetables, but their main diet should be pelleted ‘kibble’ for optimum nutrition such as Burgess Excel Hamster Nuggets. Just make sure you’re giving no more than half a gram of extra fruit, seeds, insects, or vegetables to avoid overfeeding.
EXTRA TOP TIPS
- If your hamsters haven’t eaten Burgess Excel Hamster Nuggets before, add it gradually into existing food over a 10-day period until the new food completely replaces the old diet.
- Follow the feeding guide on the back of the pack for full dietary advice. Individual needs differ so it’s just as necessary to base their diet on their environment and activity level.
- If you are at all unsure about the best way of feeding your hamsters or have any concerns about specific nutritional requirements, ask your local veterinary practice for advice.