After I wrote a previous blog on food, I was asked several questions about hamster treats. I’ve dusted off my poor neglected blog to share my responses.
The main part of a hamster’s diet should be a good quality hamster mix. Treats and extras should be just a small part of the diet. There are lots of commercial treats available such as hamster chocolate drops and honey sticks, but they often contain a lot of sugar so I prefer to avoid them. When I have been given some as a gift my Syrian hamsters have preferred their usual treats over the sugary ones!
There are lots of different treats that you can use to offer variety and according to your own hamster’s needs.
At any one time I have a range of dry treats in the hamster room, usually dog biscuits, dried herbs and some whole nuts as a minimum. Each baby hamster goes to their new homes with a little bag containing a selection of dry treats.
When choosing dog biscuits avoid any coated ones, like the gravy bones. My hamsters enjoy Markies or just plain dog biscuits. If you only have one or two hamsters then shops like Pets at Home and The Range sell biscuits by weight so you can get a few at a time. I’ve also used the Antos chews (like the toothbrush one in the photo) but my hamsters aren’t as keen.
Whole nuts are popular with my hamsters. Unsalted monkey nuts are available in supermarkets year round. Most supermarkets though only stock a good range of whole nuts at Christmas. Hazelnuts, walnuts and brazil nuts in their shells go down well, though you may need to part crack the shell to get them started. Remember to avoid any salted or flavoured nuts.
I like to scatter dried herbs or a shop-bought forage mix of dried herbs, flowers and grasses. I often do this when cleaning the cages. It’s worth checking there are no sharp bits of hay that could injure pouches. If you are buying dried herbs or flowers for your hamsters that aren’t marketed for small animals, please do check that they are safe for your hamster. Some herbs aren’t suitable for pregnant or nursing hamsters, or hamsters with particular health problems.
There are some good options for crunchy dry treats. Barley rings are sold for horses, but sometimes you can buy them in smaller quantities. They are useful for threading onto the metal ‘kebab’ treat feeders which Syrian hamsters enjoy. My hammies like dog kibble, although I appreciate that some people do not like to use this. I don’t offer it as treats to old hammies. I also use dry pasta especially for older hamsters who still fancy something to nibble but who are less able to manage a lot of protein.
My hamster mix contains a lot of seeds so I don’t tend to feed these as treats, but seeds are a good choice if your mix does not. Hemp seed, linseed (golden or brown), pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and millet are all suitable. Remember to feed them in moderation! If your hamster likes seeds, then consider giving millet sprays, dari cobs or wheat ears. These are great fun for dwarf hamsters to nibble out the seeds themselves.
My Syrian hamsters love dried sprats (which is just as well given that I bought a big bag for my dog who does not like them!) Some people may feel squeamish about feeding small dried fish, and that is OK. The dwarf hamsters, however, love dried mealworms
All of my hammies love some wet food once in a while. Nursing mums and young pups have protein-rich wet extras, like dog food or lactol porridge, very often. Elderly hamsters who are more frail and perhaps less able to chew have lower protein extras, like plain porridge, vegetable cous cous or cooked pasta. Wet foods are also useful for unwell hamsters or those recovering from surgery as they are nice and moist as well as tasty!
Remember to give wet foods in small amounts and check stores or nests for any leftovers to prevent the food spoiling, especially in this warm weather.
I don’t often have actual cooked meat available so I give my hamsters their meaty extras in the form of wet dog food. It is not essential to feed dog food as a treat, and there are some people who do not agree with feeding it to hamsters (though I have had no issues with it). I prefer to use good quality dog food, such as Lily’s Kitchen, and am careful to check the ingredients to ensure they fit with my requirements. I don’t feed it to elderly hamsters whose kidneys may struggle with the extra protein.
Porridge, cous cous and cooked pasta are good human foods that can be used for hamsters. Avoid any that have added spices, pepper, salt or artificial flavourings or sweeteners. I tend to adapt them according to who I am feeding them to. I add cooked vegetables to the cous cous and pasta for some variety and sometimes I add dog food (you could add cooked meat if you have it instead). It may sound unpleasant but my hamsters devour dog food cous cous! I’ve found no issue with using cow’s milk in the porridge, though some hamsters can struggle with lactose. I always have a jar of dry baby porridge mixed with Lactol puppy milk powder on hand in case of an unwell hamster or young hamsters in need of supplementary feeding.
Baby food can also be used for youngsters or unwell hamsters. Do take care to check the ingredients and avoid those with garlic or onion in. This is getting harder as the recipes have changed. I use a lot less baby food now than I used to, and tend to use dog food or a ‘mash’ (a mashed mix of vegetables, potato/rice/pasta/cous cous, meat or bone broth which varies depending on what is available).
Hamsters can also eat cooked eggs, for example scrambled or boiled. I often hardboil eggs and then add them to my mash instead of meat.
Once in a while you might want to give your hamster a very special treat, for example on their birthday or gotcha day. A very small piece of digestive biscuit or custard cream (not the filling) could be offered. Though I personally would avoid a sugary treat like this for a diabetes-prone species. I have offered a little corner of toast crust before (minus any butter, jam or other topping). Avoid sticky foodstuffs which can cause pouch problems.
My hamsters enjoy the homemade pyramid pan treats I make for dog training. These are healthier than a biscuit treat so I do use these more often (unless my dog finds out…) I’m still working on finding the ideal hamster training treat – and I’ll let you know when I do!
I know I said it at the start of this blog, but it’s worth repeating:
treats should be fed in moderation as a small part of a hamster’s diet