Cheese has been associated with rodents for ages, and cartoons have a lot to do with this. Do rodents really love cheese? Some do, and hamsters are rodents that tend to enjoy a variety of snacks and treats, and these often include cheese. But is cheese healthy for hamsters? Cheese may be safe in small amounts, but there are better snack options for hamsters.
Is Cheese Good for Hamsters?
Cheese can be safe for hamsters in small quantities, but it is not an essential part of their diet.
Hamsters are omnivores that can enjoy a variety of foods. In the wild, hamsters tend to eat seeds, grain, grasses, and occasionally insects. Fortunately, complete and balanced commercial diets are available to ensure pet hamsters get everything they need. Hamster food usually comes in pellets or mixes and typically contains grains, seeds, vitamins, and minerals.
In general, hamsters should eat at least 50% commercial hamster food and up to 50% raw vegetables in order to remain healthy. Many fresh raw vegetables are good for hamsters, including kale, spinach, dandelion greens, and broccoli. They can eat small quantities of fruit like apples and bananas. Other healthy treats include pasta, rice, and seeds. Small quantities of unsalted nuts can be given and well. Hamsters do not need high amounts of fat, sugar, or salt in their diets, so foods with these should be avoided. They do not require any dairy products in their diets, so there is technically no need to ever offer cheese to a hamster.
Many hamsters love the taste of cheese, but its high fat and sodium content is not especially healthy for hamsters. If your hamster enjoys cheese and seems to tolerate it well, you can offer it occasionally in small amounts. Hamsters should get no more than a pea-sized amount of cheese just once or twice a week. Choose a cheese that is low in fat and salt, like low-fat cottage cheese or mozzarella. Avoid fatty or salty cheeses like aged cheddar, parmesan, and processed cheese products. Never offer your hamster "moldy" types of cheese such as Stilton or blue cheese as these may be harmful.
If your hamster loves cheese, it can be a great option for training and giving oral medications. Just remember to feed it sparingly.
Side Effects of Feeding Hamsters Cheese
Cheese is not toxic to hamsters. However, too much cheese can lead to health problems.
Some hamsters tolerate cheese and other dairy products well, but others experience lactose intolerance. Hamsters may develop vomiting and/or diarrhea after eating cheese or other dairy products. If you are not sure if your hamster can tolerate cheese, start with tiny amounts of cheese and watch how your hamster handles it. If no diarrhea or vomiting occurs, gradually work up to a pea-sized amount of cheese at a time.
Hamsters may become overweight if they are given too much cheese, especially if the cheese is high in fat. Too much salt (from cheese or other salty snacks) can lead to dehydration and kidney problems in hamsters.
Don't give your hamster too much cheese; he may try to put it in his cheek pouches and bring it back for storage in his habitat. It won't be long before that cheese goes bad. Hamster lovers often enjoy seeing those cute chubby cheeks all filled up, but some foods (like gooey cheese) can become stuck in the cheek pouches.
What to Do If Your Hamster Has Too Much Cheese
Mistakes happen, and you may find that your hamster has had more than his fair share of cheese. Overeating cheese once or twice is not likely to harm a hamster, but it's always important to watch for signs of illness such as lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. Be sure to contact an exotic veterinarian for advice if you are concerned about your hamster's health.
Hamsters tend to store their food for later, so that extra cheese may be in their cheeks or somewhere in their habitats. Check your hamster's habitat and bedding for hidden stashes of cheese and get rid of them. If you are in doubt about feeding cheese to your hamster, it's probably best to avoid it entirely and choose a healthier type of treat.