This week I’ve been making up more hamster food. I find swirling my hands through a big box of mix and seeds calming and it left my mind to wander down the twisty turny avenues of hamster food discussions. Hamster food can cause heated debate, second only to the subject of hamster cages in its ability to provoke argument. These are my thoughts.
This post got a bit long! I’ve split it into two posts, and added sections to this post; feel free to scroll down the the part that interests you most.
- Picking Things Out of Mixes
- Big Bits for Dwarf Hamsters
- Pellet vs. Museli Food
- Making Mixes
- Bowl vs. Scatter Feeding
Picking Things Out of Mixes
The first thing I wanted to talk about was the concept of Picking Things Out Of Mixes. My bottom line is – I don’t see any role for this and advise against doing it. There was a fad a while ago where online advice was to pick out corn and peas for diabetes-prone species. Please don’t! It unbalances the mix, and I don’t think it makes any difference to whether a hamster will get diabetes. I did try it with diabetic hamsters in the early days of me having diabetics and not only did the hamsters’ diabetes not change, but the hamsters lost significant condition which was regained by putting them back on the full mix.
Likewise I would caution against removing so-called filler pellets. The alfalfa pellets are a source of fibre in the mix and, while hamsters may not gobble every single one up, it is important they stay in. I find feeding every 2-3 days helpful in reducing selective feeding. I know what I would eat first if I was presented with some chocolate cake and a plate of broccoli. If the cake got topped up when I was finished I might never get round to eating the broccoli, but that wouldn’t be good for me! My hamsters love their seeds and sweetcorn and will eat these first. They do eat the pellets and I end up throwing much fewer of these out on a non-daily feeding regime.
Big Bits for Dwarf Hamsters
I have more dwarf hamsters than Syrian hamsters, and have bred Chinese, Campbell, Winter White and Roborovski litters over the years. Healthy hamsters with normal teeth do not find big bits in food a challenge, even as very young pups! In fact the nibbling is helpful to keep their teeth in good condition and provides enrichment. I do not feel that larger pieces in a hamster museli need to be broken down by the human. My hamsters enjoy treats that are larger than they are, such as Antos hedgehog chews or large dog biscuits. This is a 10 day old Chinese hamster tucking into a meaty treat larger than her own head (photo taken without disturbing mum or pups).
Pellet vs. Museli Food
Personally I feed my hamsters a muesli food as I feel they benefit from the variety of pieces and the enrichment of shelling seeds within the mix. There are pelleted foods available, such as Science Selective, where all the components are blended into uniform biscuits. Rabbit owners have been encouraged to move from museli to pelleted foods but this is not the same for hamsters. When it first came out I tried a bag to see what it was like. My hamsters weren’t as keen as they were on the museli, and if I added the biscuits to the museli they left them.
I did like the thought that everything was balanced within the biscuit. I can see a role for pelleted foods in hamsters if you have a big selective feeder, or a hamster who prefers them. Having a range of foods on the market is helpful to allow for different hamster preferences.
I’ve tried various mixes over the years and each has pros and cons. What works for one person and their hamsters may not work for others; everyone has their own priorities and things they feel are important, as well as different approaches to things like potential risks or desire for specific nutritional percentages of protein etc. I’ve become a bit more relaxed over specified numbers with time and prefer to go by the condition of my hamsters, but I appreciate this approach isn’t for everyone. I don’t publish ‘my mix’ as it suits my hamsters but hasn’t had any nutritional analysis or robust research to apply it to everyone’s hamsters; I recall issues with homemade recipes being disseminated as ‘the next best thing’ some years ago so don’t want to fall down that rabbit hole!
I use a commercial mix as a base (approximately half to two-thirds of the mix) with extra elements added in. I use the commercial mix as it has the added vitamins and therefore I don’t need to supplement with vitamins as I did when I used a non-fortified straight-seed-only mix. For the last few years I’ve used Mayfield hamster food as my base. It suits my hamsters better than some of the others I tried as a base (Harry Hamster, Best Pets), it’s available in 15kg sacks, and is good value for money; a 700g bag of food doesn’t last long here! The other bonus is that I can source it from an independent pet shop when I visit my family on the Isle of Wight, and I like to support local businesses where I can.
I like Harry Hamster as a mix that doesn’t need additions so do still recommend this to people who buy a hamster, but found it too rich with my additions, not to mention increasingly expensive for the 12.5kg sacks and less easy to source in the larger bags. For someone with a single pet hamster it is much easier to have a 100% commercial mix diet where you know all the nutrition has been worked out for you.
I add extra straight seeds, such as hemp seed, linseed, pinhead oatmeal, budgie tonic seed and sometimes pigeon conditioner. I also add mealworms and good-quality dog kibble. The amounts and which seeds I add vary according to the season and the condition of my hamsters. I don’t like adding suet so I don’t do this, although I know others do. I’ve used the same base and extras for the past 4-5 years and have fed several generations of hamsters on it throughout their lives.
When sourcing straight seeds, check the storage instructions carefully. Some suppliers advise refrigeration of seeds – as I found out after an outbreak of Indian Meal Moths. I have recently returned to Haiths as my source of straight seeds as their range has expanded and they now stock everything I need (previously I had to get the linseed from Holland and Barrets if I ordered the other seeds from Haiths which was inconvenient), and they also have a robust quality assurance process.
Five years ago I had to make a mix from scratch for one hamster who developed an intolerance to gluten after a bowel infection. Calculating the nutritional elements within the components was time-consuming and I’m not sure how accurate it was for micro-nutrients. She survived on the mix for over a year and it stopped her from the profuse diarrhoea recurring, but I wouldn’t say she thrived. She required lifelong vitamin supplementation.
I have made a mix for diabetic hamsters which has no commercial mix in it. In all honesty I’m not sure it had a great benefit over a normal diet so I have stopped using it, though the diabetics looked beautifully shiny with all the seeds! Wonderfully I have no diabetics here at the moment.
Bowl vs. Scatter Feeding
I choose to scatter feed the muesli for my hamsters. The pros to scatter feeding are that it allows foraging behaviour and can provide enrichment, as well as not requiring a bowl (I found my Chinese hamsters buried their bowls and I accidentally threw out several when emptying cages for cleaning!) The downside is that it’s harder to see what has been eaten, and you can find quite an amount of food at the bottom of the substrate.
Feeding in a bowl does make it easier to see what has been taken. I wouldn’t say eaten as hamsters often stash items in their store rather than eat them directly from the bowl. When I did use bowls, I had one cheeky Chinese hamster who lived at the bottom of a stack of bin cages. I filled her bowl first then put the cages back in the stack, feeding each hamster in turn. When I finished, I looked at the cheeky girl’s bowl again and it was empty with her sitting by it with a ‘poor me, you forgot to feed me’ face. Perhaps I had forgotten her? I took all the cages off and filled her bowl, before putting all the cages back only to see her sitting next to her empty bowl looking sad again!
Although I don’t use bowls, I do what I call ‘enrichment feeding’ for high energy hamsters or those needing rest from wheel use. In this, I hide food in containers for the hamster to snuffle out, e.g. crackers made from cardboard tubes and plain paper or in small boxes.
Well, those are my thoughts on hamster food and mixes for today. I’ve had some suggestions of other things to cover from comments on Facebook so next week’s blog will look at extras and treats.