Harlan Teklad Formulas
The CHA most highly recommends Harlan Teklad brand foods. For young Syrians under 1 year of age, we suggest the 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 $10 for a gallon-sized bag--that's a 6 month supply. Alternatively, you can order 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 show.
Mazuri Rat and Mouse Blocks
If Harlan Teklad is out of the realm of possibility for you, a decent alternative is Mazuri Rat and Mouse blocks.
Your hamster will have the benefit of complete nutrition, but the ingredients are not as rigorously controlled or tested. There also is a lack of ability to customize the protein percentage as your hamster ages, and excess protein can lead to kidney damage over time. You will need to be watchful as your hamster gets older to ensure they are maintaining health and condition. However, Mazuri is world's apart from any other pet store food, so may be a good option for you.
Higgin's Sunburst, Hamster and Gerbil
Higgin's Sunburst is a high quality, high variety seed mix. While not appropriate for use as a staple diet, it's extremely useful for providing dietary variety and cutting overall protein as your hamster ages. We recommend feeding about a handful, once or twice per week.
To provide cognitive and instinctual stimulation, you can try scatter feeding! Throw a handful of seed mix over your hamster's bedding, and they will enjoy "hunting" for their favourite pieces.
We practice free feeding at the CHA. You hamster should always have access to their staple diet (blocks). When the bowl is empty, fill it up.
For seed mixes, offer a handful, once or twice per week. We recommend scattering it over the bedding.
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.
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.
Other Commercial Foods
Most food available at pet stores is considered inappropriate for lifelong diets. This list is far from exhaustive, but some examples of poor quality diets include:
Snak Shacks (sold as Wild Harvest at Walmart). 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.
There are quite a few foods which get bad reputations in the hamster community because of our preconceived notions. Below are some of the most “controversial” foods that are in fact safe. Where applicable, peer-reviewed scientific sources are provided. Thanks to the Ontario Hamster Club for comprising this list with our collaborative readings.
Garlic has previously been thought as quite a dangerous food for hamsters. However, studies are showing that it actually has nutritional benefits! We still advise owners to not feed their hamsters raw garlic, or garlic on its own, however it is perfectly safe when cooked into other foods (ie. savoury baby food purees).
“The findings in this study further demonstrate that unlike most of the standard antileishmanial drugs, which require protracted parenteral therapy and are toxic, an agent derived from garlic can be administered either orally or intraperitoneally with similar effectiveness against Leishmania parasites.”” http://www.mrcindia.org/journal/issues/473160.pdf
“Administration of a combined dose of tomato and garlic significantly decreased the incidence of HBP carcinomas and mean tumor burden and the frequency of bone marrow micronuclei. . .The present study, an extension of our previous work, demonstrates the efficacy of the combina- tion in modulating xenobiotic-metabolizing enzymes and the increased frequency of bone marrow micronuclei. To- gether, these findings substantiate the antigenotoxic and anticarcinogenic effects of tomato and garlic reported by us and other workers.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15925298
“Administration of tomato and garlic, both alone and in combination, significantly decreased HBP tumor incidence and tumor burden. This was associated with modulation of lipid peroxidation and increase in GSH-dependent antioxidant enzyme activities and GSH/GSSG ratio in the buccal pouch, liver, and erythrocytes. From these results, we suggest that the enhancement of GSH and GSH-dependent enzymes by a tomato and garlic combination may be attributed to modification of the thiol status.” https://www.sciencedirect.com/…/pii/S0271531703002409
“The addition of garlic or onion facilitated lowering plasma lipid and enhanced the antioxidant function; suggesting that garlic had more effectiveness on lowering plasma lipids and inhibiting the accumulation of liver lipids, and suppress- ing antioxidative enzyme activities than onion.” https://www.atherosclerosis-journal.com/article/S0021-9150(97)84698-9/pdf
Again, leeks are another commonly thought “dangerous” food. Studies show that they may have beneficial health impacts.
Persian leek is one of the most widely used herbal foods among Iranians. In this study, effects of oral administration of Persian leek on plasma and liver lipids were examined in hamster.Male Syrian hamsters were randomly divided into three groups: control (standard diet), high fat control (high-fat/high-cholesterol diet), Persian leek (high-fat/high-cholesterol diet + 1% per weight of diet from dried powdered Persian leek) for 14 weeks. High fat diet increased plasma and liver lipids as compared to standard diet. Adding Persian leek to the high-fat/high-cholesterol diet resulted in no significant changes in the concentration of the plasma lipids or liver cholesterol. However, liver triglycerides (TG), plasma Alanine aminotransferase and gene expression of tumor necrosis factor- α were decreased in hamsters fed high-fat diet containing Persian leek as compared to high-fat diet only. Persian leek might be considered as a herbal food that can reduce liver TG accumulation induced by high fat diets. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27516982
Similar to garlic, onions have also shown that they’re safe, when cooked into other foods. We recommend owners only feed cooked onion, and when included in other food (like purees), as opposed to on its own.
“Onion has been shown to favorably modify the lipoprotein profile. However, research on its underlying mechanism is lacking. The present study investigated the interaction of dietary onion powder with the protein expression of key receptors and enzymes involved in cholesterol metabolism. Thirty-six male hamsters were randomly divided into three groups and fed a high-cholesterol control diet or the two experimental diets supplemented with 1% onion powder (OP-1) or 5% onion powder (OP-5), for a period of 8 weeks. It was found that onion dose-dependently decreased plasma total cholesterol (TC) level. The change in plasma lipoprotein profile was accompanied by a greater excretion of both fecal neutral and acidic sterols. Western blot analysis revealed that onion up-regulated sterol regulatory element binding protein 2 (SREBP-2), liver X receptor alpha (LXRα) and cholesterol-7α-hydroxylase (CYP7A1) with no effect on 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-CoA reductase (HMGR) and LDL receptor (LDL-R). It was concluded that the hypocholesterolemic activity of onion powder was mediated by enhancement of fecal sterol excretion and up-regulation of LXRα and CYP7A1.” http://pubs.rsc.org/en/Content/ArticleLanding/2010/FO/c0fo00036a#!divAbstract
“The addition of garlic or onion facilitated lowering plasma lipid and enhanced the antioxidant function; suggesting that garlic had more effectiveness on lowering plasma lipids and inhibiting the accumulation of liver lipids, and suppressing antioxidative enzyme activities than onion.” https://www.atherosclerosis-journal.com/article/S0021-9150(97)84698-9/pdf
Some of the hamster community has confused human grade almonds with bitter almonds, which are not sold for human consumption and contain cyanide. If you can eat it, so can your hamster.
Based on research into the rat fancy, provided it does not include the pit or skin, avocado is safe. It is also recommended that you use flesh that is NOT touching the pit. It is very high in fat, something the owner should consider.
“This study investigated the impact of diets contain- ing various levels of avocado (5, 10 and 15%) on gut health in rats fed for six weeks. Avocado-fed rats had significantly higher food intakes while their body weights remained similar to the control diet-fed rats. No significant changes in intestinal bacterial populations (ileum, cecum and colon) were found in rats fed avocado diets compared to the control diet. Ileum and colon tissues of rats fed avocado diets showed significantly higher expression of genes (β-defensin 1, mucin 3 or mucin 4) and a greater number of mucin-producing goblet cells in the colon. The percentage of avocado in the diet had varying effects in altering the biomarkers, whereby diet containing 15% avocado was the more effective diet. This study delivers new knowledge on the role of avocado on gut health in rats.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/28550342/
Chocolate is a very contested topic in small pet communities. Ultimately, chocolate is perfectly safe, however many owners still feel an initial knee-jerk reaction. Since the active ingredient in chocolate (theobromine) is toxic to dogs, many people push hamsters under this umbrella. It couldn’t be further from the truth - in fact, chocolate could mean the difference between life and death for a hamster or rat!
“Hamsters and mice were much more resistant to theobromine than were rats. A decrease in growth and in thymic weights occurred only at the highest dose levels of theobromine and testicular and thymic changes were completely absent in hamsters. “ http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0041008X79902850
“…more resistant than rats, while hamsters were almost completely resistant to the effects of high doses of theobromine (Tarka et al., 1979).” http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0041008X80903609
“Theobromine shows moderate acute toxicity and the dog is more susceptible than rodents.” http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/doc/725.pdf The use of theobromine (the active chemical in chocolate) as a bronchodilator:
“Suprisingly, accumulating evience suggests that dark chocolate can carry antitussive effects. Although mechanisms remain unknown, it is thought that theobromine, a methylxanthine intrinsic to dark chocolate, might potentially suppress cough.” http://dx.doi.org/10.3816/SCT.2007.n.006
Further Reading: http://dmd.aspetjournals.org/content/12/2/154.short
Owners have cautioned against the use of citrus fruits and tomatoes for years, citing they are “too acidic”. However, there is no scientific evidence that supports this. Instead, science points to citrus fruits being beneficial. We advise owners use their better judgement, and stick to “sweeter” citrus fruits, such as tangerines and mandarins.
“To investigate the molecular mechanism based chemopreventive efficacy of hesperetin on 7,12-dimethylbenz(a)anthracene (DMBA) induced hamster buccal pouch (HBP) squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). The oral tumour was provoked by painted with 0.5% DMBA on left buccal pouch thrice a week for 10 consecutive weeks developed well-differentiated SCC and tumour formation was 100% in DMBA alone. We evaluated the chemopreventive potential of hesperetin by assessing the lipid peroxidation (LPO) by-products, status of enzymatic, non-enzymatic antioxidants, detoxifying agents etc. Moreover, modulating expression of apoptotic and cell proliferation markers were observed in HBP SCC experimental hamsters. Oral administration of hesperetin (20 mg/kg b.w.) to DMBA painted hamsters significantly reversed the stages of oral SCC. Our findings indicate that hesperetin possesses a chemopreventive effect in DMBA-induced oral SCC by exerting anti-carcinogenic property.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28457144
“The results of this study suggest that lemon peels and the waste stream of the lemon peels are as effective in lowering plasma and liver cholesterol in hamsters as the pectin extracted from the peels and that also compounds other than pectin are probably responsible for the cholesterol lowering effect of the citrus peels.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11990004
“The data show that 4 flavonoids (hesperetin, neohesperidin, tangeretin, and nobiletin) were inactive. The results with naringin and naringenin show that both of these flavonoids significantly lowered tumor number [5.00 (control group), 2.53 (naringin group), and 3.25 (naringenin group)]. Naringin also significantly reduced tumor burden [269 mmm3(control group) and 77.1 mmm3(naringin group)]. The data suggest that naringin and naringenin, 2 flavonoids found in high concentrations in grapefruit, may be able to inhibit the development of cancer.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18444138
Tomatoes are often thought to be unsafe because they are “too acidic”. Fresh, their pH is 4.3-4.9. For reference, apples fall in the 3.2-4.0 range… so apples are more acidic based of pH. Tomatoes are perfectly fine as a treat.
Unlike many other animals, hamsters are not lactose intolerant. This means they can consume dairy and dairy products without any issue.
Hamsters also demonstrated the highest levels of lactose consumption. […] The hamster’s pregastric pouch is similar in both structure and function to the rumen of herbivores. It is likely that the ruminant type microorganisms residing in the pregastric pouch, like those of the rumen of herbivores, rapidly attack and digest water soluble carbohydrates such as lactose, thereby minimizing the amount of ingested lactose that reaches the small intestine intact and sparing hamsters the negative consequences of lactose ingestion that are typically experienced by monogastric animals such as rats. Voluntary Lactose Ingestion in Gerbils, Rats, Mice, and Golden Hamsters, David DiBattista, Physiology and Behaviour, Vol. 52, pp 59-63, 1992.
Which then led him to further studies, which proved said hypothesis below.
It is surprising that adult golden hamsters, which resemble other animals in intestinal lactase nevertheless prefer lactose solutions to water over a wide range of concentrations and voluntarily ingest substanstial amounts of lactose […] the hamster’s unusually high level of voluntary lactose consumption depends upon its possession of a pregastric pouch that is similar in both structure and function to the rumen of herbivores […] In the golden hamster, ingested food first enters the pregastric pouch, where it remains for up to an hour or more, with volatile fatty acids being produced and absorbed into the bloodstream. Food then passes into the gastric pouch, which is similar to the glandular stomach of monogastric mammals such as rats, mice and gerbils. […] The microorganisms of the pre-gastric pouch allow hamsters to utilize nonprotein nitrogen sources, such as urea, and may play an important role in the digestion of plant material. Futhermore, those microorganisms, like those residing in the rumen of herbivores, would reasonably be expected to attack and digest water-soluble carbohydrates such as lactose, and thereby to minimize the amount of ingested lactose that reaches the gastric pouch and the small and large intestines. […]
This experiment demonstrates that surgical removal of the hamster’s pregastric pouch causes a 40% reduction in voluntary lactose consumption. Surgical Removal of the Pregastric Pouch Reduces Voluntary Lactose Consumption in Golden Hamsters, David DiBattista and Michele Robillard in Physiology and Behaviour, Vol. 53, pp 425-429, 1993
Similar to chocolate, since many dogs cannot tolerate grapes many hamster owners and keepers have deemed grapes and raisins unsafe. There is evidence to support grapes having health benefits.
“These findings suggested that consumption of wild grape WSCC might diminish the exposure of intestinal mucosa to toxic ammonia and other detrimental compounds and, hence exert, favorable effects on improving gastrointestinal milieu.” http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf300942p
“This is the first time that chronic consumption of grape phenolics is shown to reduce obesity development and related metabolic pathways including adipokine secretion and oxidative stress.
Chardonnay grape seed procyanidin extract supplementation prevents high-fat diet-induced obesity in hamsters by improving adipokine imbalance and oxidative stress markers (PDF Download Available).” Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/23499367_Chardonnay_grape_seed_procyanidin_extract_supplementation_prevents_high-fat_diet-induced_obesity_in_hamsters_by_improving_adipokine_imbalance_and_oxidative_stress_markers.
The concern with peanut butter is simply it being sticky and gettting stuck in pouches. The best type of peanut butter to use is all-natural, with peanuts as the only ingredient. A small amount is perfectly fine, and a great way to encourage a picky hamster to take their medicine!
Cucumber and watermelon both get a bad reputation as more watery fruits. They are perfect foods for providing hydration especially on long journeys. As well, a hamster will simply moderate their water intake to make up for it. When worried, just remind yourself that we allow our animals free access to water… which is arguably much waterier than cucumber or watermelon!