Choosing an Appropriate Hamster Food: with an Introduction to Homemade Diets
Hamsters are foragers, and depending on species, eat a variety of seeds, grains, insects, vegetables & grasses in the wild. A species appropriate diet should replicate this in captivity and common issues we see with hamsters who are fed inappropriate diets are picky eating habits (which can cause malnutrition) and obesity & diabetes.
What An Appropriate Hamster Food Does NOT Look Like:
Many (practically all) commonly available diets on the market are heavy in pelleted extrusion with added fruits, flaked cereals, and few actual whole ingredients. Usually any whole seed included is just millet or sunflower seed. Many also have added dyes, and flavourings, and even added sweeteners like added sugar & molasses. These are all signs of a low quality hamster mix that you want to avoid.
Wait, no pellets? But I thought hamsters NEED a lab block?
Hamsters do not need pellets in their diet. There is this ideology pushed within the hamster community that a hamster ‘needs’ a seed mix + lab block to ‘ensure nutrition’ (with some even stating that a lab block should make up the bulk of their diet, with a seed mix being supplemental)- this is entirely false. If you are feeding your hamster an appropriately balanced, natural diet for their species you do not need to worry about malnutrition/picky eating habits nor do you need to supplement with lab blocks. No, not even species appropriate (balanced!) homemade diets require pellets. Additionally, every single lab block I have found that is commonly recommended for hamsters is absolute trash, including scrap ingredients like ‘soybean hulls’, high amounts of corn and added sweeteners like molasses - they have no place in an appropriately balanced seed mix, and are particularly problematic with hybrid dwarfs, Campbells, and Chinese hamsters who are often incredibly sensitive to diets containing added sugars that can lead to obesity & with it, increased risk of diabetes (we'll touch more on this later on in this post). There is this obsession with lab blocks because they're ‘lab standard’. This is so ridiculous that it is almost funny. Lab blocks are designed for lab animals to limit fluctuations that may be diet related which could potentially jeopardise a study: they are not designed with quality in mind, but as a cheap way to give lab rodents everything they need to survive. Surviving does not equal thriving. Would you give the stamp of approval to the conditions lab animals are housed in and aim to house your pets the same way because hey, it’s approved by a lab? I’d hope not.
But isn't a pellet free diet dangerous?
There have been one or two notable incidences were owners have created pellet-free mixes and marketed them as complete diets, sold them to the general public, only for a significant amount of animals fed these diets to suffer every deficiency under the sun, with some even tragically dying. However, what we need to stress is that this was not caused by a simple lack of fortified pellet: it was caused by inappropriately balanced diet, with inappropriate ingredients.
It's like if you knew someone who only ever ate pizza and drank coke, and who never took any multivitamin supplement, who ended up developing a vitamin deficiency and then using this as an example to lecture people on how not taking supplements is dangerous - but they didn't get sick based on the simple fact of having never taken a supplement... they got sick by not eating an appropriately balanced diet. You wouldn't use our pizza & coke diet friend as an example to "prove" dangers of not taking a supplement - but you would use them to show the dangers of not eating a properly balanced diet. Similarly, you can't just toss together a couple seeds & grains and call it a day, and then act shocked should your pet get sick - you need to feed them an appropriately balanced mix, or they will simply fail to thrive. Animals who fail to thrive on pellet-free diets are animals fed inappropriately balanced diets: it has nothing to do with the absence of pellets, and these animals can't be used to "prove" the dangers of pellet free mixes at all.... but like our pizza & coke friend, they are perfect examples of the dangers of inappropriately balanced diets.
What A Species Appropriate Hamster Food DOES Look Like:
The ideal diet should replicate your hamsters natural diet as close as captivity is capable of achieving. Additionally, they should be free of pellets, added dyes, artificial flavourings, and added sweeteners and contain only quality ingredients that reflect on the natural diet of the species you are feeding it to.
Syrians favour rich agricultural fields (not the desert!) and so have a higher tolerance for a variety of grains/cereals (like wheat, oats, rye, corn, etc ) and vegetables & even fruits and thus, a mix for a Syrian can contain all of these components and be an appropriate, high quality diet. On the contrary, the Phodopus species (which is the Winter White, Roborovski, and Campbell dwarf hamsters) and also the Chinese dwarf hamster are from much different habitats and should not have fruit in their main diet (it may be offered very, very sparingly – but should not be part of their day-to-day diet), and a base mix containing fruit would not be a species appropriate diet for these species. Furthermore, cereals in the diet of dwarf hamsters - specifically Campbells, and Roborovskiis - should be limited as they would not naturally consume a diet as rich in cereals like the Syrian hamster. Unlike the Syrian who favours rich agricultural habitat, Campbells favour much more arid/semi-arid habitat while the Roborovski is an exclusive desert dweller.
Wait, so I can’t Feed My Syrian Hamster the Same Diet as my Dwarf?
Right. You should not be feeding a Syrian hamster the same diet you would feed your dwarf hamster. Syrians prefer a diet with more variety of cereals with fewer tiny seeds (i.e. millet), dwarf hamsters need a diet with fewer cereals & more tiny seeds. You may feed, if you wish, your dwarf hamsters the same diet as each other but you should not feed your Syrian and dwarf hamsters the same food. They have different preferences with their natural dietary preferences being simply far too different, it does not work.
Dwarf hamsters have a preference for a wider + larger variety of smaller seeds compared to Syrians, and this is one of the reasons (different dietary preference) for why you should not feed a Syrian hamster a mix intended for dwarf hamsters, or vice versa. (Dwarf hamster mix featured is by Getzoo, just using a food scoop from Rodipet - but rodipet also stock species appropriate main diets, though they are not complete in the sense that you are required to supplement animal protein separately. Many other sites, including Getzoo, also offer this option of mixes without added animal protein to allow you to choose your hamsters preferred insects instead).
So What About the Guaranteed Analysis?
I personally do not obsess over Guaranteed Analysis (that is fat, fibre, and protein percentages) and instead I choose to focus on providing a balanced, species appropriate mix for if you focus on this, you cannot go wrong. People obsess far too much over ensuring exact protein, fat, and fibre percentages and completely ignore the quality of ingredients + natural diet of the species they keep. If your hamsters diet is appropriately balanced, do not fret over determining the exact GA (but if you want to learn how, keep reading!). Do you sit down at the end of every day and calculate out the exact percentage of protein, fat & fibre in your food, or do you focus on eating a healthy, balanced diet instead?
But How Do I Know My Hamsters Diet is Balanced?
A balanced diet includes a species appropriate seed mix that is, as we’ve discussed, a seed diet that replicated your hamsters natural diet as close as captivity is capable of achieving + regular fresh food (herbs/vegetables) a minimum of 1-2 times a week + protein (if not included in base mix already, such as insects and meat). If you provide your hamster with these three, key dietary components it would be virtually impossible for your hamster to be malnourished unless they were literally toothless. If you would like to purchase a commercially available diet, you can do so via Getzoo, Rodipet, Mixerama, and FutterParadies. These are the four sites that I am personally aware of that all stock balanced, appropriate diets for both Syrian and dwarf hamsters. If you cannot for whatever reason order from these sites (perhaps they don’t ship to your country), we’ll discuss how you can make your own homemade, balanced mix later on in this post.
Insects?! But I Don’t Like Insects, Can’t I Just Leave Them Out?
No. Hamsters are omnivores by nature, and would naturally consume insects in the wild. For some species, like the Roborovski for example, live (not dried!) insects make up a large proportion – up to 50%! – of their natural diet in the wild. It is unfair to deprive them of a natural component of their diet on the basis that you don’t like it. If your hamster refuses to eat insects, you may try offering meat (like chicken), either cooked or freeze-dried, instead. Hamsters do eat carrion in the wild, so offering them some cooked/dried meats is absolutely fine. However should not be used as an alternative to insects on the basis that you don’t want to feed them bugs. If you do not want to deal with insects, perhaps an animal who has a natural diet which includes insects is not the best choice of pet for you.
Aren’t Live Insects Dangerous Though? Mealworms Can Bite Your Hamster!
There is this ridiculous myth in the hamster community that any live insects fed to hamsters must be killed/have their heads crushed before offering to your pet: this is frankly ridiculous. If you offer your hamster an appropriately sized prey item, you do not have to worry about your hamster being attacked or injured by a bug. Note: appropriately sized prey item. Large morioworms (also known as superworms) are not appropriately sized prey items, and dwarf hamsters in particular may struggle with them. Appropriate prey items that may be offered live include mealworms, small/medium dubia roaches, small/baby morioworms, crickets, small/medium locusts, waxworms, silkworms, and black soldier fly larvae. Many hamsters who don’t like dried insects often show preference/liking for live. Additionally, while dried insects are absolutely fine to offer your hamster as they are not a species who rely on them for their entire nutrition, live insects are superior in the sense that they can be gut-loaded (fed healthy veg) prior to feeding, which increases their nutritional content thus is more nutritionally beneficial to your hamster and if possible, I would highly recommend you include them in your pets diet.
There are No Appropriate, Pellet-Free Mixes Available In My Country, What Do I Do Now?
It is entirely possible to create your own homemade base mix from scratch if you wish. However, this cannot be done by just combining items you find in your kitchen cabinets. It is also not often cheap to create your own homemade mix but if you want to learn, sit down & grab a cuppa and I’ll walk you through the basics.
Creating a Homemade Base Mix:
First things first, you need to know the species of hamster you are creating this diet for. Are they a Syrian, or a Dwarf? Like we discussed earlier, Syrian hamsters have a much higher percentage of cereals in their diet compared to dwarf hamsters, so knowing the species of hamster you are creating this diet for is incredibly important as when we are creating a base mix, ingredients are grouped into two categories: Farinaceous – which from now onwards I will be referring to as ‘starch’ for short, and Oily/fatty. These ingredients are then added at a specific ratio to provide an appropriate base mix for the species. However, what ingredients make up those ratios will vary depending upon which species they are being created for. For example, the bulk of your starch ingredients for a Syrian would include Wheat, Oats, Rye, Barley, and Buckwheat with fewer smaller cereals like millet. On the contrary, the bulk of your starch ingredients for a dwarf hamster would be Millet, Canary Seed, Grass Seed, and often Barley and/or Sorghum. The vast majority of dwarf hamster owners will only include barley, and sometimes also buckwheat as a cereal, and completely omit oats and wheat - however, there are varying opinions on this. My opinion is that you should limit cereals specifically as it relates to the Campbells dwarf and Roborovski, and I will discuss more on this further on in this post as we discuss diabetes in dwarf hamsters. Purebred Winter Whites & Chinese dwarf hamsters can be found in wheat fields in the wild and so if you wish, you may want to include some more variety of whole grains/cereals in the diet of these species - but it is typically advised that you are much more strict on the usage of flaked cereals and use exclusively, or at least mostly, unprocessed cereals. (more on this later!)
As far as ratios are concerned, recommendations vary based on the individual hamster (and this is one benefit a homemade diet can bring, as it allows you to tailor the diet towards your animals specific needs). Ratio recommendations can be anywhere from 60:40 (starch:oil) to 80:20 (starch:oil). Mixes within the 60:40 ratio range will be higher in fat than those in the 80:20 range, as they contain more oil seeds. As such, if your hamster struggles with weight/is overweight (many Campbells are very prone to obesity, for example), you may want to consider making your mix closer to the 80:20 recommendation (you can also do something in the middle, like 70:30, 75:25, etc). There are few hamsters who would do best on 60:40 diets (due to higher fat content!), usually sticking to ratios between 70:30 & 80:20 works best for all species.
Starch Ingredients, Oil Ingredients, What?! How Do I Know Which is Which?
Don’t fret – there’s actually a very helpful tool that makes this entire process a whole lot easier, and takes a workload off your shoulders too. Mixerama.de is an online pet shop based in Germany (they also ship to many European countries, if you’re interested!) and have a very useful tool on their website called the ‘Mixer’ that allows owners to create their own mix. What is particularly useful about this option is that they divide each ingredients into categories – including starch (the translation is ‘flour’), oil & grain/cereal (also starch!) ingredients. If you don’t speak or understand German, don’t worry. If you use google chrome, you can easily translate the entire website into your preferred language.
Okay, So How Much of Each Starch & Oil Ingredient Should I Include?
Generally speaking, you want around 5 starch ingredients (minimum) in your hamsters mix to be added. So if we want to make a diet of a 60:40 ratio, this means that if you were to make up a 500g batch of base mix then 300g of that mix would be made up of starch ingredients (500g x 60% = 300g). Each starch ingredient you add should therefore make up around *10%-20% of that 300g. For oil seeds you want around 10-15 different ingredients at a minimum, where each of these can be added at 2%-10% of 200g per ingredient (more fatty seeds, like linseed also known as flax, should be kept at around 2-5%).
*General guideline (i.e. 5-25% is fine). This is a guideline per ingredient. i.e. 10% yellow millet, 10% red millet, 10% proso millet = 30% overall millet is perfectly acceptable, and recommended percentage of millet to aim for with starch ingredients in the diets of dwarf hamsters.
But There Are So Many Options, How Do I Know What’s Most Appropriate for Each Species?
Great question! The easy answer is that we look at their natural habitat & diet, and choose ingredients that would most closely replicate this. Typically speaking, this is something we only heavily focus on when it comes to starch ingredients, specifically as it relates to cereals. There are a number of starch ingredients that would typically be referred to as ’cereals’ in the world of creating homemade diets. Ingredients within this grouping are: oats, wheat, barley, rye, rice buckwheat, corn, & spelt. If you are making a mix for a Syrian hamster, you want a nice variety of that cereal grouping in their diet – they inhabit rich agricultural fields after all.
If you are making a mix for a dwarf hamster however, you don’t want a huge amount of that ‘cereal’ grouping in their diet and one of the most important aspect when creating a mix for dwarf hamsters is that you focus on limited cereals. Instead, while you would focus on limited cereals (typically including only barley and buckwheat, and any other cereals included should be whole) you would focus more heavily on providing more variety (+ overall larger quantity than you would include in a Syrians diet) of various millets and grass seeds, etc. This, in my opinion, is perhaps one of the most confusing aspects of creating a homemade diet as technically, millet, sorghum, etc are ’cereal grains’ too – but ignore technical terms, and just focus on referring to that specific grouping as cereals for now. Once again, I’ll refer you to the ‘mixer’ tool on Mixerama.de if you’re confused: the grain category lists all the ingredients in the cereal category.
So What About Legumes, Dried Veg & Animal Protein?
Right – and that’s why I use the term base mix when discussing how to create a homemade diet. If you want to add these directly to your base mix to make it a more or less complete mix, recommendations for total percentage of animal protein in the overall diet vary from 4-8% (4-6% works best for most hamsters, though very young & nursing hamster will require higher amounts of protein!). If you also wish to add dried herbs & flowers directly to your mix, these are also frequently recommended to be added at around 5-6% of your seed mix. Many keepers prefer to hand feed protein sources (and also nuts) and keep them separated from the base diet. If this is your preference, is is fine to keep them separate. If you do, hand-feed protein sources 2-5 times a week (and keep nuts as a treat!). If you wish to include dried veg in your hamsters base mix, guidelines are typically *10%-15%. Though many advise you do not include dried veg in the diet of dwarf hamsters, as dehydrated veg makes the sugars more concentrated: this is entirely up to you, and is really only applicable to certain veggies more than others. (i.e. there is no sugar concerns with dried cucumbers, but there is with dried carrots). If you are including legumes, these are typically categorised under the starch ingredients and so will fall under your total percentage of starch ingredients.
To ensure clarification: You would use the end weight of your base mix, that is the mix you created for starch:oil seeds, to determine how much of x to add - see example!
*10-15% of dried veg would be applicable to the diets of Syrian hamsters only. If you are wanting to include dried veg in your dwarf hamsters diet, we typically stay around 5-10%. Again, many keepers do not include it at all on the basis that not only can the dehydrating process make the sugars more concentrated in many dried veggies (this is our biggest concern with root vegetables in particular), but also because dwarf hamsters don't naturally consume a diet as high in veg as Syrians and feeding them just fresh veg is absolutely sufficient as is.
I have constructed a base mix in a 70:30 ratio, with a total weight of 500g. I want to add 5% of protein to this mix, and 5% of dried herbs & flowers, so I do the following calculation to figure out how many grams of protein & forage I need to add:
500g x 5% = 25g of protein to be added to this mix.
500g x 5% = 25g of herbs & flowers to be added to this mix.
If you wanted to then calculate the overall breakdown of your diet, it would look like this:
As we created this food in a 70:30 ratio, with an original starting weight of 500g:
500g x 70% = 350g (starch ingredients)
500g x 30% = 150g (oil ingredients)
500g (70:30 base mix) + 25g (protein) + 25g (forage) = 550g complete mix.
Starch ingredients comprise: (350g/550g) x 100% = 64%
Oil ingredients comprise: (150g/550g) x 100% = 27%
Protein ingredients comprise: (25g/550g) x 100% = 4.5%
Herbs & Flowers comprise: (25g/550g) x 100% = 4.5%
This is not a necessary step, but is helpful if you want to compare your food mix with others available on the market (Rodent Kitchen, for example, offer breakdowns of all of their foods).
If you want to further break down your food, you can calculate the guaranteed analysis.
Calculating the Guaranteed Analysis of a Homemade Diet:
While I do not believe calculating Guaranteed Analysis is entirely necessary, it can be helpful for beginners to homemade diets to know they are going in the right direction. If you wish to calculate the GA of your homemade mix, these are the steps required:
1) Decide what amount of x ingredient you will include in your mix. I.e. if you are making a 500g mix, and using 10g of shelled hemp seed, 10g/500g x 100% = 0.02 of your mix is shelled hemp seed.
2) Find the nutritional analysis per 100g of ingredient. This just makes calculations easier, and straightforward. For example, the nutritional analysis for shelled hemp seed per 100g is 36.7g of protein, 45g of fat, and 3.3g of fibre. Providing you are reading the nutritional information per 100g, the grams listed for protein, fat & fibre are equal to percentage. i.e. 36.7g protein/100g = 36.7% protein per 100g of shelled hemp seed. Please ensure that if you are using shelled seeds, you read the nutritional info for shelled seed. The nutrient info for shelled & de-shelled will differ due to the weight difference of shelled seeds.
Make sure you are reading the appropriate values. The values highlighted in the above example show the protein, fat & fibre percentage per 100g of shelled hemp seed. All other values are irrelevant for this process.
3) Now that we know that 0.02 of our mix is shelled hemp seed, and we have the nutritional information per/100g of shelled hemp seed, our next step is to find out exactly what percentage of protein, fat & fibre 10g of hemp seed contributes to our mix. To do this, we do a simple calculation: Shelled hemp seed has 36.7% protein/100g. So, if 0.02 of our mix is shelled hemp seed, we would simply multiply. 36.7 x 0.02 = 0.73. Therefore, 10g of shelled hemp seeds contributes 0.73% protein to our mix. There is no shortcut for this: if you want to calculate GA, each ingredient has to calculated individually.
4) Once you have calculated all of your ingredients, it's as easy as just adding them all up for your overall guaranteed analysis of your mix.
The nutritional information is not available for all seeds, but by calculating the majority, it will give you an idea of where your Guaranteed Analysis stands. Recommended percentages for a species appropriate diet for any average hamster are 15-18% protein, 6-12% fat, and 10-15% fibre. These are based on several high quality, species appropriate mixes that can be found on rodipet, getzoo, futterparadies, etc. Very young hamsters, and those raising litters, will need higher amounts of protein in their diet (18-22%).
In Terms of Feeding Guidelines:
As we discussed, we wouldn't usually include dried veg in the main diets of dwarf hamsters (or if one chose to, they wouldn't include as much as they would in the diet of a Syrian). But, we still feed dwarf hamsters fresh vegetables and they are viewed as a necessity in a hamsters diet. With all hamster species, I recommend you incorporate fresh vegetables at a minimum twice a week. It is also advisable you chop watery vegetables up into smaller cubes (i.e. cucumber, bell peppers, tomatoes, etc). This is so that if they are brought back to the hoard, they dry out quicker & prevent mould growth/ruining your hamsters hoard. A list of suitable fresh foods can be found over here.
Fresh food portion that I offer to my own hamsters which at the time I am writing this post, are Winter White hybrid dwarf hamsters. What fresh food they are offered varies on the day, but this portion includes 1/2 of a cherry tomato, one slice of cucumber, and some mixed lettuce. Any leftovers are removed after 24 hours. It is a myth that dwarf hamsters cannot have tomatos or certain colour varieties of bell pepper due to "high sugar content".Tomato is safe for all hamsters (only unripe tomato & tomato leaves/stems are toxic!) & dwarf hamsters can safely eat any colour variety of bell pepper.
In terms of dry food/seed mix, for a Syrian hamster feeding recommendations are 1 tablespoon every day, or 2 tablespoons every other day. For a dwarf hamster, feeding recommendations are 1 teaspoon every day, or 1 tablespoon every other day. Your hamster should be offered their seed mix alongside their vegetables. Their seed mix should be scatter fed if possible; hamsters are foragers by nature, and it is incredibly important to allow them to exhibit this behaviour in captivity.
Why Are There Restrictions with Cereals/Grains & Fruits in the Diets of Dwarf Hamsters?
Campbells dwarf hamsters are quoted as having "genetically determined abnormalities in the metabolism of carbohydrates and lipids". What this implies is that they can be prone to diabetes as inability to properly metabolise carbohydrates can lead to high blood sugar levels, which can lead to hyperglycaemia, and an animal who is in a constant state of hyperglycaemia is classified as diabetic. This is the predominant reason for why you will see discouragement on diets that include added sugars, fruits, or high amounts of cereals/grains for Campbell dwarf hamsters & hybridised dwarf hamsters in particular.
Above snippet taken from 'Phodopus campbelli' by Patricia D. Ross
There is concern that if you have an animal who has an abnormality in the metabolism of carbohydrates, their blood sugar may already be high - but not high enough to be considered hyperglycaemic - and that if you continuously feed them a diet with added sugars and/or fruits, you may push them into the realm of hyperglycaemia/diabetes. It's not simply that "sugar causes diabetes", because this is a false idea/myth we often see spread through the community, and the root for why sugar is limited in the diets of dwarf hamsters is much deeper than this: it is because the animal may have an underlying genetic abnormality, where feeding them diets with added sugar/fruit may be just the push they need to send them into hyperglycemia. The occasional piece of fruit or root vegetables (i.e. carrots) will not cause your hamster to become diabetic; but we do not advise you feed them regularly, and if you offer them at all, feed these foods very sparingly (i.e. once a month).
As for advice on 'limited' cereals: Campbells (this also applies to robos, as the two species have considerable overlap in terms of natural habitat) favour a desert, to semi-desert habitat. They do not naturally consume a diet high in cereals, so it's not that we 'limit' them per say, rather we avoid unnecessary carbs. Diets high in excess carbohydrates can cause weight gain: an overweight/obese animal has an increased risk for the development of diabetes (even robos, though not prone to diabetes, can still develop diabetes especially if obese - remember: 'not prone' does not mean 'immune'!). This is typically why even purebred Campbells of known genetic background are fed diets that reflect their natural habitat, with avoidance of 'unnecessary carbs', i.e. corn, that they would not naturally consume (this same diet advice in relation to avoidance of unnecessary carbs also applies to the Roborovski dwarf, as it is not their natural diet and can cause issues with weight gain). However, I must stress that while being overweight increases the risk of diabetes, hamsters do not have to be overweight to be diabetic (and are frequently used as animal models for non-obese diabetes!).Diets without excessive carbs also offer better control over blood sugar levels, and are particularly beneficial for animals from unknown backgrounds who may have a genetic abnormality in the metabolism of carbohydrates as mentioned previously.
In terms of dietary restrictions as it relates to the Chinese dwarf: Chinese dwarf hamsters are also a diabetic prone species. While they are not from such barren habitats as the Campbells and so, if you wish, you may want to incorporate some whole grains like oats in their diet if you are making a diet specifically tailored to this species, you should still ensure that any additional grain included in their diet is whole & not refined and/or flaked. 'Flaked' & refined cereals/grains (and refined grains), are broken down faster than whole grains and can cause immediate spikes in their blood glucose levels. There is concern that as they are a diabetic prone species, that if you feed them a diet that is consistently high in flaked and refined grains, that likewise with the Campbell you may increase their risk of becoming hyperglycaemic/diabetic.
Similarly, this is why we extend our warning for restricted diets with regard to the Hybridised dwarf hamster. A 'hybrid' is a hamster that is a cross between a Winter White & a Campbell, and is a particularly common term attached to any Winter White of unknown genetic background (very few true pure Winter White lines exist). Likewise with the Chinese dwarf, the Winter White is not from such barren habitats as the Campbells - however, there is concern with hybrids that because they are crossed with the Campbells that they may be sensitive to diets high in carbohydrates. Furthermore, hybrid hamsters are from unethical backgrounds: the intentional breeding of hybrid hamsters is very much so frowned upon, and so little regard may be put into the genetic health of these hamsters as they are not bred by ethical breeders. Even some purebred Winter White lines have developed diabetes: one study in particular notes a 10% occurrence (which is quite a significant amount) of hyperglycaemia in certain lines. If you have a hybrid hamster, it is best to treat them as a Campbells, even if they look like a Winter White: that is, avoid the use of 'unnecessary carbohydrates'. If you have a purebred Winter White, like the Chinese dwarf hamster, you can include more grain in their diet (they can be found in wheat fields in the wild) if you wish but ideally it should be whole grain, and not refined or flaked.
Fruit should not be included in the diet of Winter Whites or Chinese dwarf hamsters. Likewise with the Campbells & Winter White, they would not consume a main diet containing fruit, and there is the concern that if you feed them a main diet with added fruit, that you may increase their risk of diabetes. This topic is one that is often hotly debated, given that the sugar in fruit is naturally occuring and not refined and in human diabetes, you wouldn't exclude fruit from the diet - you would perhaps just be more cautious to stay within serving sizes. However, we have to keep in mind that with dwarf hamsters we are discussing a species who do not naturally consume a diet containing fruit, and also the physical size of the hamsters themselves. What may look like a small piece of fruit to your or me, is a huge serving to a tiny animal like a hamster. This becomes an even bigger problem when we are discussing dried fruit, where the sugars become more concentrated, and so the safe portion control becomes much smaller. It is for these reasons that I personally discourage diets containing fruit for any of the dwarf species. While the occasional piece of fruit is fine and will not cause your hamster to become diabetic, it - and especially dried fruit - should not be included in the main diet. Added sugars are also entirely unnecessary (and this also extends to the diets of Syrian hamsters) and are simply best avoided; refined sugars (i.e. those added in yoghurt drops, or included in low quality dog treats) should never be included in the diet of any hamster species.
Of course, dietary limitations/'restrictions' do not eliminate the risk of diabetes, nor is the onset of diabetes necessarily a reflection of bad diet. But, as hamsters are typically used as animal models for type 2 diabetes (which is differentiated by type 1 in the sense that it is not always 100% reliant on insulin shots for treatment as the pancreas still produces insulin & so blood sugar levels can often be maintained with dietary modifications) we take these precautions in the hope that it will at least aid in the prevention, delay, or severity of disease.
But if Winter Whites & Chinese hamsters consume higher amounts of grain, how can we feed them the same diet as Campbells & Robos?
Winter Whites & Chinese hamsters do absolutely fine on diets tailored more towards Campbells and Roborovski hamsters: they have practically the same dietary preferences, albeit with a natural diet consisting of a little more cereals. But, there is no issue with feeding them a diet intended for a Campbell. Campbells & Roborovski hamsters should not be fed a diet intended for purebred Winter Whites or Chinese hamsters due to higher amounts of cereals for reasons discussed previously. In short: if you have different species of dwarf hamster, and want to feed them all the same diet, you must ensure the diet is specifically tailored towards the needs of your Campbell and/or Roborovski.
So I Made It To The End Of The Post: I Can Make My Own Hamster Food Now, Right?
Nope! As I mentioned at the start of our chat on homemade diets, this is a walk through to help you understand the basics of what goes into making your own hamster food. You will still need to do your own ample research to construct a diet that works best for your pet. For further reading/additional research, I recommend reading through some food threads on DasHamster Forum, you can also check out DieBrain.de and get yourself familiar with the variety of Starch & Oil seeds through sites like Mixerama. If you find yourself with some spare time, maybe read through a couple of studies that you can find through Google Scholar on what your hamsters natural habitat & diet would be like in the wild. Use SciHub to access articles for free of cost, and Google Chrome to translate sites that aren’t already in a language you can understand.
Creating your own mix requires a lot of research, and if you’re serious enough to try it, that is the work you need to put in. My DM box is not google for your homemade diet research: I have composed everything I feel you need to know on the basics of creating a homemade diet within this post, and I will not do your research for you. I wasn’t born knowing what I know either – I sat down and researched myself. Be free, you got this.
Read through all that, yet don’t feel comfortable making your own food and don’t have access to a commercially available diet that I mentioned?
Don’t fret, you can only do your best with what you have available! While these slides have discussed what makes the most species appropriate diet, we do not live in a perfect world where this is necessarily possible/achievable for every single owner to provide. However, I will not be helpful for any additional suggestions on other mixes you could try, as I am simply just not comfortable recommending pellet mixes myself as I never make suggestions that I would not use with my own pets: the only suggestions I can give is that if you do have a dwarf hamster, try and find one that is free of added sugar/fruit. Please also do NOT pick out ingredients of existing mixes. i.e. if you have a diabetic prone species, and only have access to commercially available foods that contain high amounts of flaked cereals: this mix is balanced as is, and picking out & removing ingredients can create an imbalanced diet that can seriously hurt your pet. While I recommend diets for these species with minimal flaked ingredients, I do NOT recommend you remove these ingredients from existing mixes. It is potentially dangerous, do not do it. Choose the best you can get. Alternatively, to help ease your transition into pellet free diets or just as an overall alternative option you could consider, a suggestion would be to create your own balanced homemade diet & feed it alongside lab blocks. While as I mentioned, I recommend completely pellet free diets due to low quality ingredients of pellets and an appropriately balanced seed mix does not require supplementation with pellets, a pellet free seed mix + lab block is at least much better than feeding a seed mix heavy in pelleted extrusion + lab blocks & if it helps encourage more people to reduce the pellet content in their hamsters diet, then it's at least a step in the right direction. Overall, for further info of different mixes available I would highly recommend you check out theHamingay's Database on various diets available on the market.
Recommended Additional Reading:
Sites for Purchasing Commercially Available Species-Appropriate Diets:
Many of these sites ship throughout Europe. If you use google chrome, you can automatically translate these websites into your preferred language as your browse. They are in German (with the exception of Rodipet, who have an English version of their site) but again, will ship to many European countries.
If you are aware of another site that sells species appropriate hamster food, regardless of which country they ship to, please let me know through @fivelittlehams on instagram!
This post was last updated on: 23/7/2020.