Hamsters are very popular as pets today. These so-called pocket pets are small rodents with friendly and social personalities when housed, fed, and cared for properly.
However, as The Humane Society of the United States points out, caring for a pet hamster often proves more complicated than new pet owners realize.
This is especially true when it comes to figuring out how often to feed your new pet hamster. Hamsters have some strange food behaviors which make perfect sense in the wild but not in captivity.
In this article, learn how wild hamsters eat and what this means in terms of how often you should feed your pet hamster.
How Often Should You Feed a Hamster
There are different schools of thought about how often to feed a pet hamster. In general, hamster experts recommend feeding once per day and not leaving the food down all the time.
In this article, we explore the reason for this advice and how it will benefit your hamster in terms of both health and longevity.
Learn About Hamster Feeding
This YouTube video shares information from a hamster owner who has a specific method for feeding her hamsters.
This method helps prevent a hamster from becoming picky in which foods they will eat. It can also guard against your hamster becoming overweight.
Wild Hamster Feeding Behavior
As Live Science points out, there are at least 24 known species of hamsters.
Of these, only a handful of species are kept as pets.
As Glenway Animal Hospital points out, the Syrian hamster is the most popular pet species, followed by the Robo hamster, Siberian, Chinese, and Russian hamster species.
Yet hamsters exhibit quite similar feeding behaviors in a wild setting regardless of species because of the place hamsters occupy in the food chain.
As a small foraging prey species, hamsters have evolved specialized feeding and food storage behaviors to help them forage safely without being eaten.
While your pet hamster doesn’t have to worry about becoming dinner for a hungry predator, these wild foraging and feeding behaviors will persist even in a captive setting.
Knowing how your hamster has evolved to find and store food will help you avoid over-feeding your hamster without realizing it!
The first important feeding behavior to be aware of is that hamsters typically do a lot more of their feeding and foraging at night.
Many of the hamster’s natural predators see much better during the daylight hours. So hamsters have evolved to forage under the cover of darkness to evade predation.
This is often worrisome to new hamster owners because they see their pet sleeping away the day and not eating their food. But resting daytime behaviors are common and normal for a species that is active at night.
Hamsters are food hoarders. If you have ever watched a squirrel in your backyard searching out acorns and then hiding them away, you have a perfect mental picture of what a wild hamster will do to get by in lean times.
As MedVet for Pets points out, hamsters have ample cheek pouches that they can use to hide away everything from fruits and nuts to their own babies!
Many a first-time hamster owner has been hoodwinked by their own wily pet, who quickly squirreled away their own daily food portion for “later” somewhere deep in their bedding, only to find yet another ample portion in their empty food bowl!
You want to watch your hamster closely to see if they are eating their daily meal or hiding it away in some secret storage place.
This hidden food can spoil and attract pests and bacteria, which can then lead to infection and illness.
This is a perfect example of a behavior that works well in the wild but can quickly backfire in captivity.
Be Willing to Experiment to Find the Perfect Feeding Schedule
As this popular Hamster Hideout owner forum demonstrates, different hamster owners can have very different philosophies when it comes to how and how often to feed their pets.
If you recall the video you watched here earlier, that owner chose to feed once every two to three days. This was to encourage the hamster to eat all the food and not just the tastiest bits they prefer.
It is also a better method than picking up uneaten food after a certain time period, which could lead to low blood sugar in these tiny mammals.
Why You Need Two Different Feeding Schedules
So far, we have focused only on a feeding schedule for your hamster’s main food or staple diet.
The main source of your hamster’s nutrition should come from a complete and balanced hamster food. Of course, the food is only complete and balanced if your hamster eats all of it and not just the best or tastiest parts!
This is why experienced hamster owners typically recommend feeding a small amount, such as one to two tablespoons depending on the size and species of hamster you are caring for, and leaving it down until the bowl is empty, which is usually two to three days.
But it is also important to offer your hamster fresh fruits and vegetables. These provide important vitamins and trace minerals and also a more enriching life experience.
You don’t want to feed all of it – the staple diet, fruits, and vegetables – every single day. This is a recipe for a hamster that gets too fat or has gastric distress and/or diarrhea.
Rather, you want to alternate feeding the staple food with feeding a fruit or vegetable treat.
For example, you could offer one to two tablespoons of the main food every two days. Then you could alternate with a small vegetable or fruit snack treat in between when you feed the main diet.
Why Hamster Species Matters When Deciding How Often to Feed Your Pet
The Syrian or golden hamster is the largest and strongest species of hamster that is popular in the pet trade. Syrian hamsters must be housed alone or they will fight.
If you are feeding a Syrian hamster, you might find that your pet easily polishes off their staple diet and any fresh treats you provide within a day or two.
But let’s say you are keeping a tiny Roborovski (Robo) hamster. These hamsters will take longer to eat their portion of food and any treats you offer.
So with a Robo hamster, you might opt to leave the staple diet down for three days before changing it and then provide a small fresh treat every other day or so.
The key here will be observing your pet closely to see how quickly they eat (and not hide) their staple diet and any fresh food you offer.
The same holds true if you have more than one hamster housed together. You may need to adjust both portion sizes and frequency for an additional hamster in the same habitat.
Hamster Feeding Frequency
At first, it can be helpful to keep a daily log of your hamster’s feeding behaviors.
Keeping a log will help you remember when you last fed your pet, what fresh fruits or veggies your hamster seems to like the most, and where you are in the fresh treat rotation.
Your feeding log will also alert you to sudden changes in your hamster’s appetite or feeding habits, which could be an early warning sign of illness.