What Do Hamsters Eat? (Best Staples & Treats For Syrian, Dwarf & Baby Hamsters)

LAST MODIFIED: Monday, February 18, 2019
What do Hamsters Eat? A picture of a hamster eating.

If you’re thinking of adding a hamster to your family, you will want to acquaint yourself with their dietary needs.

So, what do hamsters eat?

Hamsters are not only popular pets; they are also the subject of scientific study in laboratories throughout the world. This sad fact brings with it one positive aspect: thanks to all the research performed on them, a lot is known about the hamster’s specific dietary needs.

However, nutrition requirements are not all that needs to be considered when putting together your hamster’s feeding plan – you will also want to encourage your pet to engage in its naturally occurring behavioral patterns linked to feeding.

 

The Staples Of The Hamster Diet

Wild hamsters feed mainly on seeds, grains, nuts, some vegetables and fruit, and the occasional insect or small lizard – all of which is gathered or hunted at night.[1] Their large cheek pouches are perhaps the most characteristic feature, and these pouches allow hamsters to bring large quantities of food back to their burrows, where they store it for later use.

In pet stores, you can find pellet food for hamsters that has been carefully balanced to ensure that most of their nutritional requirements are met. However, many hamsters prefer a mix of dried seeds and grains, which correspond to their food choices in the wild.

Ensure that you choose a mixture that was specifically designed for hamsters, and feed about 1 tablespoon per day for an adult Syrian[2]. Some hamsters have the tendency to favor the fattier, more calorically dense seeds, and discard the rest – if this is the case for your hamster, try reducing the amount of feed or switching to a pellet diet.

To encourage your hamster’s natural foraging behaviors, you can distribute food all over the cage for him or her to find – one downside of this, however, is that it becomes more difficult to monitor your hamster’s food intake.

 

The Fresh Stuff: What Do Hamsters Eat?

On top of the “dry” food, your hamster will delight in a daily selection of fresh vegetables and herbs. Good choices are: broccoli, kale, cucumber, carrots, clover, alfalfa, spinach, basil, and cauliflower. Lettuce can be offered occasionally in small amounts. Generally, vegetables should only make up about 10% of your hamster’s diet, as they can cause diarrhea in larger amounts.

Fruit can be offered every 2-3 days in very small amounts[3]. Berries are a great choice, because their sugar content is relatively low and they are packed with antioxidants.

Other healthy options are: bananas, grapes, apples, pear, and melon. Always remove seeds and skin as they can be a choking hazard or even toxic to your hamster.

As hoarded fruit and vegetable can quickly start to rot and become a breeding ground for unwelcome bacteria, we recommend that you clean out your hamster’s food stashes daily (this might take some practice, until you are familiar with all of his or her secret hiding places!).

 

Hamster-Friendly Treats

The addition of an insect protein source once a week can greatly benefit your hamster’s health. Mealworms are a good choice and usually well-liked.

If you’d rather avoid handling insects, you could substitute this for hard-boiled egg in small quantities.

This special treat can be a good incentive for your hamster to let him or hers be weighed and thoroughly checked once weekly.

Most of the commercially sold treats for hamsters – such as the popular yogurt drops – are very high in sugar and calories and should be avoided.

You can save them as a treat for very special occasions, such as the yearly check-up at the vet’s.

 

What Do Baby Hamsters Eat?

Baby hamsters – once weaned from their mother – have very similar dietary needs to adult hamsters.

The main difference is that growing hamsters require more protein. We recommend mealworms, eggs or a small amount of plain yogurt (without sugar!) twice a week.

Breeding females have similar needs as youngsters (as they are growing up to 24 little pups) and should also be supplemented with protein twice weekly[4].

 

What Do Dwarf Hamsters Eat?

Dwarf hamsters are not simply a small version of Syrians – their metabolism and physiology can differ from Syrian hamsters in many aspects.

Like many small creatures, they have higher caloric requirements per gram of bodyweight.

What does this mean?

Even if your dwarf hamster is half the size of a Syrian, it will require only marginally smaller portions.

Careful with the sugar content, though, as dwarf hamsters are more likely to develop diabetes. Try to avoid sugary treats and only feed fruit every couple of days.

In pet stores, you can find mixtures that were put together especially for dwarf hamsters, consisting of smaller seeds and grains (e.g. millet seeds that are often ignored by Syrians).

 

Conclusion

So, what do hamsters eat? Hamsters thrive on a varied diet of seeds, grains, vegetables and the occasional piece of fruit.

Mealworms or eggs make a great additional protein source.

Don’t forget to offer fresh water daily and keep the cage clean and dry (remove uneaten veggies or fruit the day after feeding). With the correct diet you can increase the likelihood of a longer life expectancy for your hamster.

If you notice changes in your hamster’s food intake or weight fluctuations, please consult your trusted veterinarian.

 

[1] Hamilton, J.W., Hogan, A.G. 1944. The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 27, Pp 213-224. Nutritional Requirements of the Syrian Hamster.
[2] Nutrient Requirements of Laboratory Animals: Fourth Revised Edition, 1995. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US)
[3] ASPCA recommendations
[4] Hamilton, J.W., Hogan, A.G. 1944. The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 27, Pp 213-224. Nutritional Requirements of the Syrian Hamster.