Hamsters quite adorably stuff their cheeks with food for later enjoyment, and it's also a cute sight to see a hamster sitting upright munching on a sliver of carrot. To keep your hamster happy and healthy, it's essential to feed your little fluffball a nutritious diet and avoid giving him any foods that could make him sick -- or even perhaps kill him. (Chocolate is the fatal culprit here! So teach children not to share their chocolate bars with the pet hamster.)
"Hamsters do not need much variety in their diet. However, they do need enough variety to give them the full complement of nutrients. This is available through a mixture of rodent pellets, grains and fresh vegetables, all of which should be fed daily," say the small-animal experts at Petco.
To ensure your hamster's best nutrition and to keep his coat shiny and full, his eyes bright and clear, and his teeth in good condition, load up on a combination of pet foods and treats formulated especially for hamsters. In the small-animal aisle of your pet store or on reputable pet supply sites, you'll find hamster food nuggets rich in a combination of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. Mike Burr, director of process research at the Purina Animal Nutrition Center, says, "In the animal nutrition world, we're looking at the same base components as we do in human food engineering."
While top-quality pet food nuggets will provide healthy nutrition for your hamster, it's also wise to add to your hamster's food dish a variety of edibles. Some examples are dried papaya bits, specialized yogurt drops and yogurt-covered blueberries, nuts and seeds.
Hamsters love interaction with owners, so it's fine to hand-feed your hamster the occasional small strip of shredded cabbage, a small portion of a matchstick carrot, a sliver of fresh apple or a tiny piece of spinach for folate and fiber. The Purina animal nutrition experts warn, though, that these "human food" treats should be limited to a very small amount, given once every two or three days, because overfeeding a hamster can result in obesity and nutritional imbalances. Children, again, need to be taught not to slip veggies into their hamster's cage, even if the hamster appears to be begging for a snack. He might just be begging for attention and interaction. If food comes through the bars of his cage, he'll eat it.
The Petco small-animal experts offer these guidelines for what a hamster should enjoy through his diet:
--Grains. "This is the primary food for hamsters. You should provide a handful daily. Grains offer protein and carbohydrates and can come from prepared hamster mixtures. Do not overfeed fatty nuts (peanuts and sunflower seeds), as they promote obesity. These should be only a small part of the mixture."
--Vegetables. Just a small amount as a treat, not to exceed 10 percent of your hamster's daily intake. Stick with fresh, organically grown vegetables and greens, including romaine lettuce, carrots, green bell pepper, broccoli spears, spinach, artichokes and any other dark green veggies. Make it a rule to wash all vegetables and greens thoroughly to remove any traces of harmful pesticides.
--Pellets. Commercial brands of pellet food are specially formulated to provide the proper balanced nutrition. Choose food pellets that have been veterinarian-tested and approved. Your small-animal veterinarian can suggest brands and formulas best for your particular type of hamster, including dwarf, Djungarian and others.
--Fruits. Hamsters love to munch on apples, pears and bananas, but they should be given only in very small amounts as a supplement to the hamster's regular diet.
--Additional treats. To keep your hamster's teeth filed down and healthy, crunchy treats are ideal. Avoid treats with artificial colors and ingredients.
And again, avoid chocolate, as well as any item containing caffeine or alcohol.
Make sure your hamster has fresh food in his bowl, and any fresh fruits or vegetables not eaten within 24 hours should be removed from the food bowl or cage. Remember that hamsters often bury food beneath the cage litter and in their shelters, so check thoroughly to remove fresh food treats before they rot and sicken your hamster.
And to further protect your hamster, keep its cage in a central family location where snacking can be controlled and supervised, rather than in a young child's bedroom.