What should I feed my hamster?
The girls here at the CHA only recommend Harlan Teklad brand foods. For young Syrians under 1 year of age, we suggest their 8640 formula. For all dwarves and older Syrians over 1 year of age, we suggest the 2018 formula.
What makes these formulas so great? First, Harlan Teklad is laboratory quality. This means that it is formulated for testing animals. Why is this a good thing? In laboratory tests, nutrition cannot be a variable, as it could affect the results of the experiment. So, these foods were formulated with the exact nutritional needs of the animal in mind, and it seeks to meet or exceed them. This keeps the animal in good condition and helps to maintain proper weight. It also uses ingredients that are more appropriate to the species.
Another reason we love Harlan Teklad blocks is because it eliminates the possibility of malnutrition that is often facilitated via seed mixes. If you had the option of eating a cupcake or a salad every day, you would be likely to pick the cupcake more often than not. Hamsters think the same way! They will pick out all the yummy stuff from their seed mix and leave the rest behind. Unfortunately, whatever is left is often the healthiest and most nutritious part of the diet. By giving blocks, they cannot pick their favourite parts out and are forced to receive a balanced diet. Lastly, because of the hard and crunchy nature of the blocks, it also helps keep the teeth trim.
So for all of these good qualities, you might expect a hefty price tag. Actually, Teklad is probably the most affordable option and is cheaper than any other food on the market. You can purchase it from us at any of our shows (just let us know you want some beforehand!) and we charge $15 for a 10 lb bag--that's a 6 month supply. Alternatively, you can order the 2018 formula from www.weecompanions.org (an awesome small animal rescue) for $2/pound plus shipping.
We are not paid, either monetarily or in product, by Harlan Teklad. We simply purchase it for use by our own animals, but can only get it in 33lb bags. We decided it was so great that we wanted to make it available for others who may not need it in that large of a quantity. All the money we receive goes toward putting on our shows!
What shouldn't I feed my hamster?
One food that we have to speak against in particular is one that is extremely popular--and that is Oxbow. It is currently used, recommend, and sold at Petsmart. It uses hay as the main ingredient, which is something hamsters simply get no nutrition from. If you examine the criteria, it only offers 14% protein! Teklad, by comparison, offers 18% in the 2018 formula and 22% in its 8640 formula. Because the food is hay based, most of the nutrients that are in Oxbow pass right through the body without being absorbed. This leads to malnutrition, and ultimately, to death by starvation. For this, and several other private reasons, we strongly, STRONGLY discourage feeding Oxbow.
It's really very difficult for us to recommend feeding any pet store food. Small animal formulas are simply not regulated well enough. While we suggest feeding blocks, the only ones available in stores is the Kaytee Forti-Diet, which we personally don't feel is all that great. There are small, colored pieces added and the ingredients are iffy in terms of their nutritional value. In the same breath, we cannot recommend any seed mixes as a staple diet for the reasons mentioned above. They also tend to be much, much lower in protein. Seed mixes can be given as a treat and to enrich the diet, however. Just be sure to purchase a simple mix without extra goodies such as dried fruits. (See our tip section for a fun suggestion!)
There are a few store treats to avoid too. These include edible logs and houses marketed as Snack Shacks. These are made of sawdust flavoured with hay, honey, and peanut butter. However, their core ingredient, sawdust, is neither edible nor digestible and many animals have died from these products. In addition, yogurt treats from the store should be fed in moderation due to sugar content.
Food choice is a personal decision for every hamster owner, so if you have any specific questions, please contact us.
How much should I feed?
We practice free feeding at the CHA. When the bowl is empty, fill it up. Hamsters build stashes of food to save for later and by doing this, you force them to eat some of their old food from there. If your hamster is overweight, we suggest looking for a different formula rather than limiting their food. Limiting food can be dangerous to the delicate balance of nutrition that hamsters require.
Water; bowl or bottle?
We use bottles exclusively at the CHA. We feel it is safer because if your hamster were to fall in and get wet, it would be incredibly dangerous for them. Hamsters can catch cold easily, and this can lead to many medical problems and possibly to death. Please use a bottle for your hamster.
Store Bought Treats
There are lots of yummy treats your hamster will love that you can find at your local grocery or department store! We don't recommend purchasing any treats from the pet store that are specifically made for hamsters--they tend to be high in sugar (especially bad for dwarves) and contain added colors. They also don't usually have nutritive value, and only exist to look cute.
Unlike us, your hamster thinks that spinach and cookies are equally exciting. For this reason, it is an awesome idea to feed fresh foods instead of pet store treats. Here are some ideas below!
Healthy Purchased Snacks
Healthy Fresh Foods
California Hamster Association
Foods to Avoid