Hamsters are cute, small, relatively easy to care for, and if socialized and handled gently, they can be quite affectionate for a rodent, as well. That makes them a very popular "pocket pet." But like any pet, large or small, it's crucial to feed the right diet to keep your furry friend healthy and feeling good. You want to provide hamster food that nourishes your pet through all life stages.
In the wild, hamsters are omnivores, meaning that they eat both plant materials and the occasional insect for protein. They often tuck food into their cheek pouches, which makes it easy to carry food back to their burrow for safe consumption. Of course, it's undeniably adorable to see your pet hamster with its cheek pouches stuffed full, which is an instinctive behavior even in the safety of a cage.
Pet hamsters can eat a mix of pellets, seed mixes, fresh foods, and treats. The majority of your pet's diet should be made up of a good quality, store-bought food designed specifically for hamsters (not for rats, mice, or cats). But food choices at the pet store can be overwhelming, even after narrowing it down to hamster food. The decisions don't end when you get home and want to offer fresh foods and treats to your pet.
Here's what you should know about hamster food, including the commercial products and fresh foods to feed your pet hamster, as well as some foods to avoid.
Pelleted Hamster Foods
One of the easiest ways to feed your hamster is with pelleted foods. Pelleted hamster foods offer a completely balanced diet in every bite, and they are often recommended for this reason. Pelleted diets can come in many shapes but usually look like small biscuits, cookies, or cereal. Most hamsters enjoy chewing on them, and pellets prevent a hamster from being choosy and picking through the food to find favorites while rejecting less-liked foods, something that's often a problem with seed mixes. However, a diet that's entirely made up of pellets is a bit monotonous and some hamsters will eventually refuse them.
To prevent that from happening, and to provide your pet with a well-rounded diet, use pellets as the main base of your hamster food, but supplement with other, tastier foods as well. Always read the package for feeding directions, but generally, your hamster should be offered a few tablespoons of pellets each day.
Seeds for Hamsters
Hamsters love a mixture of seeds, but tend to pick through to find their favorites and may reject the rest. For this reason, it can be best to feed your hamster a diet that combines pellets and loose seeds, or choose a seed blend that includes some pellets. A good hamster seed mix has several ingredients, including grains, seeds, and dried vegetables or fruits. Most also have added vitamins and minerals.
When feeding a loose seed mix, make sure your hamster empties the food bowl before adding more, rather than allowing your hamster to eat only its favorite things, which can lead to a nutritional deficit. And be sure the seed mix is formulated for hamsters (many such products are for both hamsters and gerbils), not for other types of rodents or for birds.
Follow the package guidelines, but as a general rule, you can offer around 1/8-cup of seed mix each day.
Fresh Foods For Hamsters
Hamsters love fresh vegetables and fruits. As a rough guideline, your hamster's diet should be made up of around 75% pellets and seeds, 20% fresh foods, and only 5% treats.
Feed your pet small bits of fresh, clean produce each day. Wash the food before offering it, and remove any uneaten foods by the end of the day so it doesn't spoil.
Some of the best fresh foods include greens, such as kale, dandelion greens, romaine lettuce, Swiss chard, and raw spinach. Fresh fruit is a definite favorite, but don't go overboard with the sweet stuff, as your pet can become overweight. Liven up your pet's diet a few times each week with small offerings of apples, bananas, berries, grapes, and melons. Stay away from citrus, however.
Your hamster should have a small "salad" of fresh vegetables each day, as well. Some especially good offerings include bites of carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, peas, squash, and cooked potatoes (other vegetables should be raw)
Feeding Your Hamster Grains, Nuts, and Protein
While the bulk of your hamster's food should be pellets, seeds, and fresh produce, you should also offer small bites of other foods each week to provide a diet more similar to what your pet would eat in the wild, as well as stave off boredom.
Most hamsters enjoy snacking on whole grains in the form of bits of whole-grain toast, whole-grain cereals, cooked pasta, and cooked rice. Avoid sugary cereals or breads with added sugar.
Like most rodents, hamsters also like nuts, but these should be offered no more than once per week, and only one or two small nuts per feeding. Give your pet only unsalted nuts, including peanuts, cashews, and walnuts. No almonds, however, which are not good for hamsters.
Hamsters also usually love peanut butter, but it must be fed carefully (as with any other sticky food) since it can get stuck in their cheek pouches and cause severe problems. A very thin layer on a piece of wood is okay as an occasional treat, but peanut butter must be given with caution. Choose peanut butter without added salt and sugar.
Like other rodents, hamsters need protein in their diets, and they do enjoy non-plant-based proteins on occasion. You can give your hamster an occasional treat of a bite or two of scrambled or hard-boiled egg, dried mealworms or crickets, or plain, cooked chicken or turkey.
Foods You Should Not Feed Hamsters
- Apple seeds
- Raw beans
- Raw potatoes
- Citrus fruit
- Rhubarb leaves or raw rhubarb
- Any sugary or salty foods
- Any junk food
- Red meat
The Best Hamster Diet
The ideal diet for a hamster is a pelleted diet supplemented by a seed mix, and with occasional additions of fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, nuts, and protein. There is no need for commercial treats if you feed your pet the above foods, as the extras are more than enough "treat" for your hamster. Of course, your hamster should always have access to fresh, clean water.
How long can a hamster go without food?
You should feed your hamster daily and remove uneaten food from its cage every day, as well. Never starve your pet or leave it too long without access to food and water. A hamster can only live three or four days without food, but should never have to suffer that long.
How much does hamster food cost?
Because hamsters only eat very small quantities of food each day, it doesn't cost much to keep your pet rodent healthy, well fed, and happy. A bag of hamster pellets or seed only costs a few dollars and will feed your pet for a long time. And you should be able to provide fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, nuts, and protein from your own pantry or refrigerator.
How much food should I feed a hamster?
Hamsters don't eat a lot of food at any one time. Generally, your pet won't eat more than 1/8-cup of food in a day. However, always read the package when feeding your pet a commercial pellet or seed diet, and use the manufacturer guidelines for filling your hamster's food dish.
Additional foods, including fresh produce and grains, should only make up a small portion of your hamster's diet.