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October 14, 2009

Hamster Feeding

Don't assume an empty bowl needs refilling

The Humane Society of the United States

Feed your hammie well, but don't assume an empty food bowl needs refilling.

Hamsters are high-energy animals with rapid metabolisms, but that doesn’t mean you should provide a bottomless food bowl. Hamsters can get fat.

How much?

Commercial food: About one tablespoon of pellets or seed mix once a day, supplemented by treats as described below, will be enough. Even though they’re much smaller, dwarf hamsters are very active and have comparable calorie needs to Syrian hamsters.

Treats: A small amount of greens plus a floret of cauliflower, a slice of apple, or several raisins (or an equivalent amount of other appropriate treats) once a day is plenty to supplement your hamster’s commercial chow. Give treats in small quantities to reduce waste and decrease the amount of time you spend looking for spoiled produce in your hamster's cage.

Hard treats: Hard treats like small dog biscuits, branches from fruit-bearing trees, or commercial snacks that help wear down your hamster’s teeth can be offered once a week.

Note that hamsters instinctively hoard food in "secret" stashes in their cage, so don’t feel compelled to refill an empty bowl.

When is feeding time?

There are two schools of thought on the optimal time to feed these little guys:

  • Evening feedings coincide with their nocturnal activity.

or…

  • Morning feedings accommodate their tendency to wake sporadically for short periods throughout the day and snack on available food.

Whichever approach you take, remember that hamsters have high metabolisms and need regular access to food and water, so don't skip meals.

How to serve their food

Selecting a food dish for your hamster isn’t complicated, but there are a few factors to keep in mind.

  • Look for a small bowl. Larger bowls take up valuable cage space and may encourage you to feed too much.
  • Opt for a ceramic food dish rather than a plastic one. Ceramic dishes are sturdy, chew-resistant, and difficult to overturn. They’re also durable and shouldn't need to be replaced unless they become cracked or chipped. Plastic bowls are easily scratched, and those scratches can be havens for bacteria.
  • Place the food bowl in an area of the cage that’s far away from your hamster's bathroom area.  Hamsters choose one corner in which to urinate and defecate and consistently use that corner.
  • In many cases, hamsters will fill their cheek pouches with food and move it to a cache location to be eaten later.  Just be consistent with when and where you place the food.
  • Wash the bowl with soapy water and rinse and dry thoroughly during the weekly cage cleaning.

Some owners prefer to forego a food bowl in favor of scattering food in the cage. However, this approach can create messy bedding and make it more difficult to monitor your hamster's food intake.

Reviewed by Linda J. Siperstein DVM, staff veterinarian at the VCA Wakefield Animal Hospital in Wakefield, Mass.

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