Table of Contents

Species Appropriate Feeding for Hamsters

There are different species of hamsters; the most commonly owned ones being the Syrian Hamster, the Campbell Dwarf Hamster, the Winter White Dwarf Hamster, the Chinese Dwarf Hamster, and the Roborovski Dwarf Hamster. Each hamster species originates from distinct regions, and their dietary preferences and tolerances vary significantly. A species-appropriate diet should mimic their natural food resources in the wild.

For instance, the Syrian hamster hails from the Middle East, where they are known to hoard several pounds of grains. The Roborovski hamster, on the other hand, originates from Mongolia and has been observed to predominantly consume insects in their diet.

Certain hamsters, like the Chinese hamster, might have a genetic predisposition to conditions like diabetes, requiring a distinct dietary approach compared to their less susceptible counterparts. Additionally, a pregnant hamster's nutritional requirements differ from those of a non-pregnant hamster.

When you factor in personal preference, stage of life, and genetic disposition; there is no one-size-fits-all diet for hamsters.

General Information

Hamsters are omnivores and eat grains, vegetables, and insects. They are hoarders and will hoard food in underground burrows to ensure a constant source of food. They typically do not overeat and do not increase the size and frequency of their meals beyond their usual levels even when offered more food. It has also been observed that while hamsters hoard more food when they experience a period of food deprivation, their food consumption still remains the same.

They eat regularly, typically at 2-hour intervals throughout the day, and should have access to clean water at all times. Hamsters, like other rodents, prefer foods that are familiar tasting to them. A study done by Turpin in 1991 showed that a hamster’s early experience with food will affect food choices made later in life.

Hamsters rarely eat as they collect their food; instead preferring to hoard food in their pouches and emptying them in their nests. They also prefer to eat food from their hoard.

Visit our article on hamster needs to learn more.

Syrian Hamsters

Found in the Middle East, Syrian hamsters have been observed to store several pounds of grain. In the wild, they are found to eat wheat, barley, chickpeas, lentils, melons, tomatoes, cucumbers, hibiscus, other grains, seeds, and vegetables. They also eat insects in the wild, particularly ants, flies, cockroaches, and wasps.

Wild Syrians get an adequate diet from foods varying in caloric intake They eat approximately 5-12g of feed a day regardless of gender. Furthermore, they exhibit a greater tolerance for grains, cereals, vegetables, and fruits in their diet.

Syrian hamsters are notably prone to developing high cholesterol levels when exposed to dietary cholesterol, leading to a condition of elevated blood cholesterol known as hypercholesterolemia.

Chinese Dwarf Hamsters

Chinese Hamsters are primarily found in Central to East Asia. They can be found in Mongolia, South Korea, Western Siberia, Tuva, the Trans-Baikal region, Primorsky Krai, and Northeast China. They have a preference for arid, semi-arid grasslands, grasslands, and semi desserts. In the wild, Chinese Hamsters have been found to consume grains, legumes, leaves, grasses, shoots, nuts, and insects. Their hoards could contain up to 500g of grain.

Spontaneous diabetes mellitus was first recognized in this species in 1957 during the course of inbreeding. The disease is similar in a number of aspects to insulin-dependent diabetes in humans. Due to their genetic disposition, these hamsters can become diabetic even without being obese.

Campbell Dwarf Hamsters

The Campbell Dwarf Hamsters and Winter White Hamsters were once assumed to be subspecies of hamsters. Now we know them as separate species. The Campbell Dwarf hamster is native to the steppes of Kazakhstan, Manchuria, and Northern China.

Their diet varies amongst different parts depending on where the hamster was found. 51 species of plants have been identified in the diet of the Transhaikalia population, the most important including needle grassallium (the genus of flowering plants including chives, onions, and leeks), and the ever-blooming Iris. In the Tuva population, 2 of the most important plants are the cinquefoils and Aneurolepedium. They were also observed to eat insects such as beetles.

In a 1979 study conducted by Herberg, it was observed that Campbell Dwarf hamsters excrete glucose in their urine and have a lower tolerance for carbohydrates. They are also known to be a species that is vulnerable to diabetes.

Campbell Dwarf hamsters without an official pedigree are assumed to be hybrids.

Winter White Dwarf Hamsters

Winter Whites are a distant relative of the Syrian Hamster and have been traced to Siberia, China, and Mongolia. They have been collected from dry steppes, wheat, and alfalfa fields. Their diet in the wild consisted mainly of wild plants that were mostly grasses, but insects (particularly grasshoppers) were also eaten. They have also been known to feed on undigested grains in horse droppings in the winter.

A shorter day length increases the consumption of complex carbs and protein and decreases the consumption of fat in these hamsters. Studies have found that Winter Whites who were induced with diabetes may require insulin replacement therapy for survival.

Winter Whites that do not have an official pedigree are assumed to be hybrids.

Hybrid Hamsters

Hybrid hamsters are the result of Winter White Hamsters breeding with Campbell Dwarf Hamsters. While this normally would not happen in the wild, captivity has made it possible for these two species to interbreed.

Most dwarf hamsters (especially the ones without pedigrees or have questionable lineages) are probably hybrid hamsters. Hybrid hamsters may be predisposed to certain illnesses such as diabetes or glaucoma. They may also have a reduced life span and may be prone to developing health problems such as neurological issues, head tilts, spinning, or backflipping.

Roborovski Dwarf Hamsters

Roborovski Dwarf Hamsters inhabit the steppes and semi-deserts of central Asia in areas with loose sand and limited vegetation. The summer diet of the Roborovskii consists almost entirely of the seeds of the desert like madwort, milkvetch, and sedges. When it is available to them in the wild, Roborovskis will also eat millet seeds. They will occasionally also have plant leaves and stems, but it is usually absent from a typical wild Roborovski diet. In the wild, plant seeds make up 70-90% of their diet.

They are also omnivores. Some Roborovski hamsters were observed to have had a diet composed almost entirely of insects. Remains of locusts, earwigs, beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, and snails have been observed in their burrows. Insects make up about 10-30% of their diet. They also get some of their water intake from the insects that they consume.

Because they live in arid environments, Roborovskis have evolved specific physical and functional adaptations in their kidneys to thrive in regions with limited water. When compared to other hamster species such as the Campbell Dwarf Hamster, Roborovskis have a higher kidney-to-biomass ratio. This means that their kidneys are relatively larger in size when compared to their overall body mass. Roborovskis are also better at retaining water compared to the Campbell Dwarf hamsters.

What if I don’t have access to a species-specific diet?

While a species-specific diet formulated for your hamster’s age and nutritional needs is the most ideal, for most people it is challenging to find. If your hamster has no unique deficiencies or conditions to take note of, we recommend finding the highest quality diet you can. In laboratory conditions, different species of hamsters (such as the Chinese hamster) can be sustained on food created for hamsters.

In terms of taste, numerous hamster owners have noticed that their dwarf hamsters exhibit distinct food preferences compared to their Syrian hamsters. Syrian Hamsters for example may prefer a diet more rich in different types of cereals and have less of a palate for small seeds such as millet seeds.

Mainstream commercial food blends are available, with separate options for Syrians and Dwarfs. Although the overall nutritional content is typically similar, the ingredient lists often vary, with Syrian food mixes containing larger seeds and grains in contrast to Dwarf mixes which usually have smaller seeds like grass seeds.

Remember that a seed mix alone is not a complete diet, and fresh food and a good protein source are also important. We recommend choosing a seed mix that is free from questionable ingredients, and have very few whole ingredients. Avoid seed mixes where the only whole ingredients are sunflower seeds and millet seeds.


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