What Do Hamsters Eat?

hamster eating

If you are a new hamster owner or are considering getting one, you may wonder what hamsters eat?

An ideal hamster diet consists mostly of store-bought hamster food, small amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables, Timothy hay, and occasional treats. Common treats for hamsters include unsalted nuts, sunflower seeds, dried crickets, or mealworms. Store-bought hamster food comes in the form of pelleted hamster food or a loose seed mix which differ in terms of their advantages and disadvantages.

hamster eating

Ideal Hamster Diet

Hamsters are omnivores, which means that they eat a mix of plants and meat, such as insects. Therefore, the best diet for your hamster is similar to what they would eat in the wild.

An ideal hamster diet consists mostly of commercial hamster food that you can buy in pet shops. You can also feed your hamster additional treats as long as they are given in moderation. Hamsters can be fed small amounts of fresh fruit, vegetables, and herbs. Unsalted nuts, Timothy hay, sunflower seeds, mealworms, and crickets are other popular treats for your hamster. When introducing new food to your hamster, first try tiny portions of safe foods in case they develop diarrhea. When you are sure that your hamster tolerates that new food, you can offer a pea or bean-sized amount.

Your hamster will also require constant access to fresh, clean, and chlorine-free water. You can provide your hamster with water in a water bottle, with a metal spout, or a water dish. You should change the water daily.

Pre-packaged Hamster Food

Most of your hamster’s diet should be made up of good quality store-bought hamster food. Do not use pet food designed for other animals such as rats, rabbits, or mice. Store-bought hamster food comes in the form of pelleted hamster food or a loose seed mix. These commercial hamster foods are specially formulated to contain most of the key vitamins and minerals your hamster needs to stay healthy. Pelleted hamster food is generally recommended, over a seed mix, as it provides a balanced diet in every bite. You can supplement pelleted hamster food with various other foods as long as it makes up the majority of your hamster’s diet.

Using a commercial pelleted hamster food as most of your hamster’s diet is the easiest and safest approach. Pelleted and block hamster food also helps to wear down your hamster’s teeth, preventing them from becoming overgrown. The downside of hamster seed mixes is that many hamsters will pick out what they like from the mix, missing out on some of the nutritional value.

If you choose to feed your hamster a seed mix, get one that contains various grains, seeds, and dried vegetables. Ideally, some seed mixes contain pelleted food as part of the mix. Ensure your hamster empties their food bowl before adding more, so they eat all of the food, not just their favorite parts. Also, avoid mixes with lots of molasses or dried fruit as they are full of sugar.

Follow the daily recommendations on how much to feed your hamster. Giving them more food may lead them to hoard their food. It can also cause them to become overweight and develop health problems such as diabetes.

Healthy fruits and vegetables for your hamster

There are several fruits and vegetables that you can safely feed to your hamster. However, you should wash all fruit and vegetables well before giving them to your hamster. Additionally, any fruits and vegetables not eaten within 24 hours should be discarded.

Before giving your hamster new fruits or vegetables, it is best to discuss how much can be given to them per day with your veterinarian. This is important for fruits and vegetables that are high in sugar (e.g., carrots). Overfeeding your hamster with fruits and vegetables high in sugar can lead to weight gain and diabetes. Dwarf hamsters a somewhat prone to diabetes, so you should limit or avoid sugar in their diet.

Healthy vegetables that can be fed to your hamster (in moderation) include:

  • Carrot
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage (can cause gas)
  • Cauliflower
  • Chicory
  • Spinach
  • Cucumber
  • Kale
  • Squash
  • Celery
  • Dandelions
  • Clover

Suitable fruits include:

  • Apple (without seeds or skin)
  • Pear
  • Melon
  • Mango
  • Strawberries
  • Bananas
  • Grapes – not too much (never a whole grape) as it can cause diarrhoea

You can also feed your hamster herbs such as:

  • Basil
  • Sage
  • Parsley
  • Coriander

Hamster Treats

Hamsters enjoy various food, and you can feed your hamster additional treats as long as they are given in moderation. A common guideline is that treats should be limited to no more than 10% of your hamster’s diet. It is best to stick to healthy treats such as nuts, fresh vegetables, fruit (in moderation), insects, grains, and seeds. However, it would be best to keep your hamster’s diet fairly consistent, as a sudden change in diet can cause digestive issues. If you would like to change their diet, do so gradually.

Popular treats for hamsters include:

  • Timothy Hay
  • Mealworms
  • Crickets
  • Nuts (unsalted, no almonds or peanuts)
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Hard-boiled egg (treat should be no bigger than the size of 2 raisins)
  • Cheese

Timothy hay is a special variety of hay full of fiber and ideal for small pets. Timothy hay is also good for keeping your hamster’s teeth in good condition. You can purchase it from pet stores.

Foods you should not feed your hamster

Many foods should not be fed to your hamster because they can cause medical conditions, are toxic, or quickly exceed hamsters’ daily caloric requirements, leading to weight gain and/or medical conditions.

Therefore, you should avoid feeding your hamster:

  • Apple seeds and skins
  • Grape seeds
  • Fruit pits
  • Citrus fruits, such as oranges, grapefruit, or lemons
  • Almonds
  • Peanuts (very high in fat)
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Eggplant
  • Rhubarb or rhubarb leaves
  • Raw beans
  • Raw potato
  • Avocados
  • Seasoned or spicy food
  • House plants (can be poisonous)
  • Chocolate (or any other sugary sweet)

Avoid feeding your pet hamster sugar and high-fat treats. No junk food! Also, do not feed them caffeine or alcohol since these can cause severe medical conditions.

The safest and healthiest option for your hamster is to stick to vegetables and fruits with high water and fiber content instead of seeds and nuts for snacks. 

How to make feeding fun for your hamster

Hamsters spend a lot of time in the wild searching for their food. Therefore, making them search for their food can keep them occupied and prevent boredom. Some options to try include:

  • Scattering some of their food pellets around their cage
  • Hiding treats, hamster food pellets, or fresh fruit and vegetables inside paper bags or tubes

Keep in mind that any fruits and vegetables not eaten within 24 hours should be discarded.

Summary

The ideal diet for your hamster is a pelleted hamster food supplemented with various other safe foods. If your hamster doesn’t eat pelleted hamster food, you can sprinkle some seed mixture on the pellets or use a seed mix that already contains pellets in it. If you have additional questions regarding feeding your hamster, consult a veterinarian specializing in small animals. Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list of what your hamster can and can’t eat.

The ideal diet for your hamster:

  • The majority of your hamster’s diet should be commercial hamster pellets (not a seed or muesli style mix)
  • Small amounts of fresh fruit, vegetables, or herbs
  • Occasional treats such as unsalted nuts, Timothy hay, sunflower seeds, or mealworms
  • Your hamster will also need constant access to fresh, clean, and chlorine-free water. You should provide it in a water bottle, with a metal spout, or a water dish that is changed daily.

Additionally, you should monitor how much your hamster eats and drinks. If food consumption falls, their feces become soft or moist, or their hindquarters become soiled, talk to your vet immediately.

Water bottle or Water dish: Which is Best for your Hamster?

Hamster drinking water

You should provide your pet hamster with fresh water every day. Hamsters are vulnerable to dehydration and will not survive for more than a day or two without water. Two ways to provide water for your hamster are with a water bottle that attaches to the side of their cage or a shallow water dish. While both are great options, each option has its pros and cons.

Hamster Water Bottle

Most hamster owners provide their pets with an inverted water bottle that only releases water when they drink from it. It should be attached to the side of the cage at a height that a hamster can drink from, at a natural angle, on two or four legs. However, if not positioned correctly, it can cause an awkward angle for hamsters to drink from.

If you have multiple hamsters in one cage, a water bottle is preferred so that you don’t have to constantly refill their water every time the water bowl gets tipped over.

Pros:

  • Holds more water
  • Cleanliness – more sterile when properly maintained
  • Avoids spillage
  • Hamsters cannot tip it over
  • Better choice if you have multiple hamsters in the same cage
  • It cannot be polluted by bedding, leftover food, etc.

Cons

  • Hamsters can chew through the mouthpiece if it’s made of plastic (check the water bottle regularly for damage)
  • Can break, leading to leaks
  • Prone to clogging
  • Harder to clean

A water bottle that is not cleaned properly can cause just as much bacteria as a water bowl. Because water bottles are more difficult to clean, bacteria can build up. Owners may also be less likely to change water bottles as they can hold more water. This is not good as the water will not be fresh, allowing bacteria to build up. Water bottles can also get clogged, which can result in your hamster getting dehydrated. Therefore, you need to check that the water bottle is properly clean and working every time you change the water, which should be daily. As long as a water bottle is properly cleaned and working, it is a good option to provide water for your hamster.

Hamster Water Bowl

Another option is to provide your hamster with a water bowl. It should be a bit heavy and shallow so that your hamster is less likely to tip it over or get wet by walking through it. It should be smaller than your hamster in size and placed on a solid surface.

Pros

  • Easier to clean than water bottles
  • It limits bacteria build-up if cleaned regularly
  • Less noisy than a water bottle
  • More natural angle to drink from

Cons

  • Hamsters can tip water bowls over, depriving them of water
  • Water can get contaminated with dirt, bedding, leftover food, urine, or fecal matter
  • Hamsters can chew through plastic water bowls/dishes. Get a ceramic one instead.

It would be best if you cleaned your hamster’s water bowl every time you refresh the water. An advantage of changing the water more often in a water bowl is that the water is fresh, which is good for your hamster.

Final Thoughts

Hamster drinking water

Whether you provide your hamster water in a water bottle or a shallow dish (or both), it should be checked and refreshed daily, even if water remains. Water bottles can malfunction and leak, while hamsters can tip over water dishes. Water can also become contaminated if it is not changed regularly. Therefore, it is essential to provide your hamster with a continuous water supply to maintain its health and prevent dehydration.

Whatever option you choose, the characteristics to look for in a hamster water bottle or water bowl are:

  • large water capacity
  • easy to clean
  • high-quality materials

If your hamster is not drinking, you will need to take it to a veterinarian.

Important things to consider before owning a hamster as a pet

hamster as a pet

Hamsters are a common pet for children. They are cute, clean, relatively easy to care for, and can form bonds with their owner. However, there are challenges involved with owning a hamster as a pet.

If you are thinking about adopting a hamster, or already have one as a pet, there are several important things to consider.

Hamster as a pet

Is your home safe for a hamster?

Hamsters may be considered prey by other animals. Therefore they may be in danger of getting harmed or killed by other animals in the home if precautions are not made.

Is there an appropriate veterinarian in your area?

Not all veterinarians provide check-ups and care for small animals such as hamsters. To ensure your pet remains healthy and receives the best treatment, ensure that a veterinarian in your area can provide treatment.

Know your hamster species

It is important to be knowledgeable about your hamster species to provide proper care. Different hamster breeds vary in their requirements and temperament. For example, the golden or Syrian hamster is solitary by nature and cannot be caged together. If they are, they will fight each other. Syrian hamsters should not be caged with other hamster species.

Some hamster species can share a cage if introduced carefully to each other, such as the dwarf or Siberian hamster. When keeping hamsters in the same cage, choose two animals of the same gender so they cannot breed.

Common hamster breeds kept as pets include the Syrian or golden hamster, Campbell’s dwarf hamster and the Roborovski hamster.

Hamsters are easily frightened and can bite as a defence mechanism

Hamsters have poor eyesight and rely on their smell, sound, and taste. As a result, they are easily frightened and will bite as a defence mechanism.

Hamsters are nocturnal

Hamsters spend much of the day asleep and become active around dawn, dusk, and night. They can be noisy running around in their wheel or cage, which is something to consider before placing a hamster cage in a bedroom.

Hamsters can be prone to hereditary diseases and viruses

You can minimize disease, viruses, and bacteria by properly caring for your hamster and appropriate hygiene behavior by the owner. Always wash your hands before and after handling your pet hamster.

Hamsters are great escape artists

Hamsters can fit through very small holes and crevices, and are excellent chewers. They can be difficult to find if they escape.

Hamsters have a short lifespan

Hamsters typically live 2-3 years.

Adult supervision required for young children

Hamsters are relatively low maintenance compared to other animals; however, adults will need to support young children with a pet hamster. Hamsters are easily frightened, sensitive to mishandling, and can bite. Hamsters can also be injured by rough handling.