Choosing Healthy Treat Options
Many commercially available hamster treats are laden with artificial colourings, flavourings, sugars, and fats. While some are fine with the idea of feeding their hamsters foods like this on the basis of them "just" being treats, we have to take into consideration the physical size of the hamsters themselves. Yoghurt drops may look small to me and you, but they are a huge serving of pure fat & sugar to an animal as small as a hamster that would arguably be the equivalent to you sitting down and eating an entire cake in one sitting. It's not healthy, and it's not doing our pets any favours. They would go just as crazy over a healthier treat option and so we should make an active effort to treat our pets properly; and feeding them a months worth of sugar & fat in one sitting is not the way to do this. Treats don't have to be store-bought, but if you do want to include some store-bought treats in your hamsters diet, today I'll go over how to choose healthy options, and what ingredients you need to look out for.
adopted female Winter White hybrid dwarf hamster, 'Oshie', with a whimzees dog chew - a favourite treat amongst all of my hamsters.
Always Read the Label:
When choosing treats, it's important to always read the label prior to purchasing. Not all treats are created equal, and many commercially available treat options contain very low quality ingredients that are just overall best avoided. A common treat used amongst the hamster community are dog biscuits - I'm sure many have likely either heard of or you know of, someone who uses Pedigree Milky Bones for their hamster. But, if you actually read (and understand) the ingredients list, you'd see just how poor quality these treats are:
If we take a look at the above ingredients, those highlighted are "various sugars", and "meat and animal derivatives". Added sugars are unnecessary, and unhealthy to include in your pets diet - and are particularly problematic to include as even as 'just' treats in the diets of dwarf hamsters, as they are refined sugars and broken down much more quickly which can cause immediate spikes in their blood glucose levels (you can read more about why sugar is problematic for dwarf species over here). Furthermore, these treats also include "meal and animal derivatives". This is an unspecified ingredient, and could be literally anything, of any quality - so long as it is a warm blooded land animal. Feeding treats that include this as an ingredient leave you with absolutely no idea what your pet is eating, or the quality of the protein your pet is eating.
If we compare the pedigree dog treats to Tribal dog treats, you'll see a stark contrast in the quality of ingredients:
This is what a high quality dog treat looks like. You should be able to read the ingredients, and know exactly what your pet is eating. If we read the ingredient list for the Tribal treats pictured above, there are no added sugars, and 'chicken' is listed as the animal protein rather than "poultry". This is important: if animal protein is included, it must be specified. 'Chicken' or 'chicken meal' are high quality ingredients, but 'poultry' or 'poultry meal' are not as it is too much of a generic term. Is the poultry chicken? is it turkey? emu? pigeon? seagull? It could be anything, and allows the supplier to choose whatever protein they have access to/is cheap at the time, which not only leaves you with no idea as to what your pet is eating, but also allows for inconsistency with quality of the protein used.
No Fortified Treats:
Treats that are fortified for any animal but a hamster should not be fed. Fortified treats for dogs for example, are fortified with the dietary requirements of dogs in mind - which are vastly different to that of a hamster. If you are purchasing dog or cat treats, you must avoid any that list "vitamins and minerals" in the ingredients list as this implies that these treats have been fortified with nutrients for that species. These are inappropriate for hamsters, and should not be fed.
No fortified dog or cat treats should be included in your hamsters diet. If we take a look at the above dog treats, which are 'Greenies Dental Chews', you can see that these treats have been fortified for the nutritional requirements of dogs with the list of added vitamins in the ingredients label. Because of this, these treats would not be appropriate for a hamster.
On the contrary, if we take a look at the above treats (being Whimzees dog dental chews), you will notice a much more simplified ingredients list with no added vitamins or minerals. Because of this, these treats are appropriate for a hamster & are a beloved chew by many. All the colour varieties of Whimzee are safe: paprika oleoresin (or paprika extract) is used primarily as a colour enhancer in the red/orange coloured whimzee, and contains little to no capsaicin (which is what gives paprika a spice!) so it is 100% safe for hamsters to enjoy.
Dog and Cat Treats are Safe, Providing You Choose the Right ones:
As you can see from just the few above examples, while there are low quality dog/cat treats, there are also high quality ones that are safe for hamsters too. But, not all treats are created equal and so it's always important to read ingredients list. So, a quick run down of ingredients to look out for & avoid:
Artificial Preservatives (i.e. BHT, BHA, Ethoxyquin)
Artificial Dyes (i.e. Yellow #6, Red #40, Blue #2, Yellow #5)
Unspecified Animal Protein & Animal By-products (i.e. poultry meal, bone meal, meat & animal derivatives, any animal by-products regardless of if specified).
Added sugars (i.e. sugar, molasses, fructose, corn syrup)
Treats fortified with vitamins & minerals for any other species but hamsters.
Examples of high quality commercial treats include:
Treats, of course, Do not have to be Commercially Bought:
While there is nothing wrong with including commercially bought treat options in your hamsters diet so long as you choose high quality options of course, it's not necessary and your hamster will go just as crazy for a seed or nut instead. So, some notable mentions:
Millet sprays (proso, yellow, red, japanese, senegal, silver, etc)
Grass seed panicles
Chia pudding (which is simply chia seeds soaked in plain water)
Walnuts (crack the shell, or offer without shell - it is too hard for a hamster to break by themself!)
This is not an exclusive list, but a list composing of my own hamsters favourite treat options. You can buy many of these options at grocery stores (please ensure they are 100% natural/plain with no added salts or spice!) or through pet shops or online specialty sites like Mixerama.
*Unsuitable for diabetic prone species. Should not be offered to these species at all, or should only be offered very, very sparingly. Read more about why over here.
rescued female Winter White hybrid dwarf hamster, 'Akira', snacking on a live mealworm. Insects are a favourite treat amongst many hamsters, and are a great source of animal protein in their diet.
Whether you choose to incorporate commercial treats in your hamsters diet or not, treat your hamster right. They can't choose what they're eating, and they don't know any better when they're eagerly snatching that treat from your hands. So, it is our responsibly as pet owners to choose healthy treat options for them - which I hope this blog post has aided you in doing!