Hamsters are a family favourite, with their exploratory behaviour and curious nature it is no surprise they are common pets in the UK. They are a type of rodent and belong to the Cricetidae family. You may be surprised to know there are 24 species of hamster in the world. In the UK, the most commonly kept species as pets are the Syrian hamster, Roborovski hamster and the Russian Dwarf hamster.
A unique feature of all rodents including hamsters is that their teeth continually grow, which means they require enough substrate in their habitat and diet to gnaw on to ensure they can adequately wear their teeth down. In addition, hamsters are nocturnal meaning they sleep during the day and explore during the night, which should be factored in when deciding when and what we feed them.
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How often should hamsters be fed?
Hamsters will eat the majority of their food overnight and sleep during the day as they are nocturnal. Ideally replenish food and give fresh food once a day in the evening; so not to disturb them during the day.
It is important to remember hamsters have cheek pouches which they will use to store their food to eat later, or bury it in their enclosure for later consumption. So thoroughly searching their environment to remove uneaten food the next day is important; especially with fresh food to avoid it spoiling which can cause serious health issues for your pet.
What foods should we feed them?
Hamsters are omnivores, which means they eat a variety of plants and insects in the wild. The ideal diet for a pet hamster will consist of commercial nuggets/pellets specially formulated for hamsters; a small amount of safe to eat greens, fruit and vegetables; and the occasional treat such as meal worms or boiled egg.
The basis of a pet hamsters diet should consist of a high quality nutritionally balanced nugget food specifically formulated for pet hamsters. These hamster specific complete nugget foods are available at most local pet stores. The amount to be fed is usually written on the back of the packet. It is important you do not feed more than the recommended amount as this can lead to obesity and health issues. So ensure the food is weighed out each day. Ensure any uneaten food is removed and the bowl cleaned thoroughly before the next feed is given.
Diets formulated for other small mammals such as guinea pigs, rats and rabbits, are not appropriate for your pet hamster. This is because they do not contain the correct nutrients needed to keep them healthy. Muesli type feeds are not appropriate as they often have a high sugar content. Your hamster will selectively pick out the nicer bits and leave the healthy stuff resulting in a poor diet and a much higher risk of health issues.
Fruit, Vegetables, mealworms and boiled eggs
A small amount of fresh fruit and vegetables should be provided in addition to the nugget feed. This is approximately one teaspoon of fresh vegetables a day and one teaspoon of fresh fruit 3 times a week. It is important only fruit and vegetables which are safe to eat are fed to hamsters, some items can be toxic. For a full list of things hamsters can and can’t eat please refer to the PDSA website.
Mealworms and boiled eggs can be fed in very small volumes as an occasional treat for your hamster. When feeding boiled eggs, ensure all the shell is removed from the piece you are feeding and the egg is cool before feeding.
Feeding to stimulate natural behaviour and provide enrichment
Hamsters love to explore and forage. They naturally search for food and spend a lot of their time and energy doing this. To provide enrichment for your pet hamster and encourage natural behaviours, nuggets should be scattered throughout the enclosure to encourage foraging behaviour. And cardboard boxes and tubes can be used to hide fruit and vegetables, this will encourage exploring and problem solving for reward. Not only does this provide enrichment, it also encourages exercise and exploring and using all parts of their enclosure.
It is important to remove the uneaten food daily to maintain your hamster’s health.
It is also important to provide enrichment to encourage natural gnawing and chewing behaviour which not only keeps hamsters entertained but also helps wear their teeth which naturally grow continuously. If they cannot wear their teeth this can lead to significant health issues. Examples of ways to encourage per hamsters to gnaw include providing timothy hay, wooden blocks and toys which are safe for pet hamsters, or cardboard and hay sticks etc. If you are unsure if an item is safe to give your hamster, speak to your local veterinarian before giving it to them, as some items can be toxic and harmful to their health.
Water is an essential part of all animals’ diets and is often overlooked. It is vitally important your hamster always has access to fresh clean drinking water which is accessible. Plastic drinking bottles with a metal spout are a good option and available from most local pet stores. They need to be cleaned regularly with a hamster safe disinfectant to ensure harmful bacteria does not build up.
It is important to make sure an appropriate sized bottle is chosen with a spout with minimal mechanical resistance. The larger bottles made for rabbits and bigger rodents often have a large spout and are too big for hamsters. They will struggle to drink from these due to not being able to put enough pressure on the spout to release water. Ideally choose a smaller bottle with smaller spout and low resistance. And monitor your hamster closely to check they are able to use it properly.
The water bottle should be checked twice daily to ensure it is working properly and is not blocked. And it should be topped up morning and evening as required.
- Hamsters are inquisitive animals that love to explore
- Hamsters are omnivores and their teeth grow continuously
- They are nocturnal so will eat the majority of their food overnight
- They store food in their cheek pouches and hide it in the environment
- Uneaten food should be removed daily to prevent spoiling
- Always check anything your are feeding is safe to feed to hamsters before giving it
If you would like to read more on this subject or would like further information the PDSA and RSPCA have produced useful guides on this topic: