Baby hamsters are nourished by their mother’s milk, until they are weaned, and many hamsters will drink milk if it is offered to them. In ‘Can Hamsters Drink Milk’ we look at the risks of giving your pet hamster a bowl of milk and suggest some alternative treats.
- Can hamsters drink milk or is it harmful?
- Risks of feeding milk to your hamster
- Signs of illness in hamsters
- Do baby hamsters need milk
- Can hamsters eat cheese
- Can hamsters have milk – summary
Many people foods are not suitable for animals. Some are harmful, and others are simply unnecessary for your pet’s diet. Humans like to feed animals milk. For us, this is an act of nurturing. But it can sometimes be a problem for our pets.
Can hamsters drink milk?
Hamsters are popular with both children and adults. These pocket-sized pals are often considered good starter pets for children.
While commercial hamster food is consists mainly of nuts and seed, in the wild, hamsters eat both meat and vegetables too.
Their wild diets consist of grains, seeds, greens, and insects, and pet hamsters are often fed commercial rat and mice feed.
Veterinarians recommend feeding a rat and mouse diet that contains 15-20% protein, or a combination of rabbit pellets and rat and mouse food.
Since hamsters are not strictly vegetarian, it makes sense, in theory, that they might enjoy milk and cheese. The problem is, it’s not very good for them.
Milk is not toxic to hamsters, but, there are serious risks associated with feeding hamsters milk that hamster owners need to be aware of.
Risks of feeding milk to hamsters
While cow, goat, and even soy milk are not necessarily harmful, feeding them to your hamster can be risky. There are two main problems with milk in your hamster’s cage.
- Milk contaminates the cage
- Milk may cause diarrhea
Hamsters need a clean dry environment to stay healthy. Milk is wet. This means that if milk spills or drips in your hamster’s cage, it can lead to wet bedding and mold, which can make your hamster sick.
Milk is also a perfect breeding environment for germs and it spoils quickly, so leaving milk out for hamsters to drink is not a good idea.
Although baby hamsters, like other baby mammals, drink milk, the enzymes that they produce to help them digest milk disappear once they are grown up. In addition, the milk in your fridge is likely to be cow’s milk. Which is great for calves, but many other animals get tummy troubles if fed on cow’s milk.
Feeding milk to hamsters can lead to diarrhea and which in small animals leads quickly to dehydration, and can be fatal for hamsters.
Signs of illness in hamsters
If you have fed your hamster milk and are worried that it might be sick, there are a few things to look out for.
Sick hamsters can show several symptoms:
- Weight loss
- Rough fur
- Hunched posture
- Difficulty breathing
- Decreased activity levels
- Soiled hindquarters
Healthy hamsters are active and curious, and their coats and eyes are bright and smooth. If you notice any changes in your hamster’s appearance or behavior, call your veterinarian.
Can baby hamsters drink milk?
Milk is not a part of a natural diet after weaning for your hamster, but what about baby hamsters?
There are three main reasons why you should not feed baby hamsters milk.
- Hamster milk is very different from cow’s milk or goat’s milk. If you have orphaned or abandoned hamster babies, talk to your veterinarian about the best milk formula to feed your baby hamsters.
- Handling baby hamsters can stress out the mother hamster, who may end up cannibalizing her own babies out of self-defense.
- A change in diet can make your baby hamsters very sick.
Can hamsters eat cheese?
Anytime milk comes up in a discussion about rodents, cheese is sure to follow.
Some websites say that feeding small quantities of cheese as an occasional treat is safe for hamsters.
While your best source for hamster health information is your veterinarian, very small bites of cheese are usually safe for hamsters.
This can be confusing. Cheese is made from milk, so why would one item be okay and not the other?
Technically, neither are totally safe to feed to hamsters. Cheese is not as wet as milk, but the risk of feeding cheese or any other dairy product is not just the food itself, although high fat products like cheese can lead to obesity, but mold.
Hamsters like to hoard food. This means that a hamster that smuggles a piece of cheese away to a corner may leave it there to spoil, which could make them sick later.
Play it safe and offer seeds and safe nuts as a source of extra protein instead of dairy products.
Can hamsters have milk – a summary?
Most pet hamsters will drink milk provided by humans, but the risk of making your hamster ill with cow’s milk, are too great. Adult hamsters don’t need milk at all in their diets and baby hamsters should only have their mother’s milk until they are weaned
Instead of feeding a potentially risky food item like milk to your hamster, why not feed them a healthy treat that is more natural for their diets?
There are lots of healthy hamster treats out there, like carrots, apples, and broccoli. Or specially designed hamster treats.
These snacks are a better choice for your hamster than milk.
Just remember that veterinarians recommend only feeding healthy hamster treats, like hay, fruits, vegetables and treats sold in pet stores, as 10 percent of your hamster’s total diet to avoid hamster obesity.
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Further Reading and Resources
- Donnelly, T. M. BVSc, DVP, DACLAM, DABVP(ECM). “Hamsters.” The Merck Veterinary Manual.
- Horton, S. DVM. “Hamster Care.” Chicago Exotics Animal Hospital.
- Quesenberry, K. E. DVM, MHP, DABVP et al. “Providing a Home for a Hamster.” Merck Veterinary Manual.
- “Hamster Feeding.” Humane Society of the United States.
- Hamster Care by Exotic Pet Vet