Today, we’re going to look at the question “Can hamsters eat mushrooms?” So join us!
Owning a pet hamster is rewarding in many ways, but not when it comes to the internet.
Hamsters and other small, exotic pets do not have the same wealth of veterinary and scientific information written about them as pets like cats, dogs, and horses.
Most of the information out there comes from laboratory hamsters, mice, and rats.
While potentially useful, these resources are often hard to navigate for non-scientists, or require a paid journal subscription to access.
For hamster owners who just want to find out the answer to things like, “Can hamsters eat mushrooms?” this can feel like a lot of work.
We parsed through the available information to see if we could get those answers for you.
Lots of mushrooms, not a lot of research
The first thing we discovered was that most of the mushroom research performed on animals revolves around toxic mushrooms.
There are approximately 10,000 known species of mushrooms in North America alone, and that only accounts for a fraction of the mushroom species in the world.
Many of these mushrooms are poisonous.
Feeding hamsters—or any other pet, for that matter—a mushroom you found in the yard, compost pile, or in the woods, is a bad idea.
Even if you are a seasoned mushroom hunter, mistakes happen.
Play it safe and prevent your pets from accessing wild mushrooms and be prepared to take a trip to the vet if your hamster does find a way to eat wild fungi.
Unfortunately for hamster owners, that is almost the extent of the research concerning hamsters and mushrooms.
Common edible mushrooms
Most hamster owners have no intention of feeding their hamsters strange fungi.
Instead, they usually just want to know if they can share a nibble of their shitake, portobello, button, or chanterelle mushroom with their furry friend.
There is a very low risk of encountering a toxic mushroom in the supermarket.
However, what is toxic for us and what is toxic to our pets does not always align.
There is very little research that suggests any of these common mushrooms are toxic for hamsters, but just because they are non-toxic does not mean they are totally safe.
Potential risks of feeding mushrooms to hamsters
The American Council on Science and Health explored the natural occurrence of carcinogens and anti-carcinogens in foods.
They found that the three most commonly eaten mushrooms, which are the false morel, the common cultivated mushroom, and the shitake mushroom, all contained significant amounts of carcinogens.
These carcinogens are compounds in the hydrazine family, and testing on hamsters and mice revealed carcinogenic effects even in normal doses.
Luckily, many of these compounds are reduced by cooking, but this research is one reason not to feed hamsters raw mushrooms.
Feeding cooked mushrooms, on the other hand, also has risks.
Mushrooms that are cooked with other ingredients, like oils, spices, or garlic and onions may introduce harmful or fattening ingredients into your hamster’s diet.
If you decide to feed mushrooms to your hamster, steamed, unseasoned mushrooms are much safer than mushrooms cooked in a butter and garlic sauce.
Despite the potentially carcinogenic effects of common mushrooms, mushroom extracts have shown some promise in treating cancer.
Certain polysaccharides found in mushrooms, known as beta-glucans, may boost immune function and have anti-tumor properties.
Medicinal mushroom supplements are used by some holistic veterinarians and human doctors in conjunction with chemotherapy to treat certain types of cancer.
Keep in mind that feeding a mushroom is not the same thing as feeding a mushroom supplement, which has gone through extraction and processing.
Medicinal mushroom supplements for pets are generally considered safe, according to veterinarians, but supplements are not highly regulated.
This means that the supplement may not have the exact concentration of the active ingredients necessary to be effective, and may also contain other, potentially harmful ingredients.
If you want to add a mushroom supplement to your hamster’s diet, consult with your veterinarian first to see if it is needed and to get the name of a reputable supplement company.
Benefits of feeding mushrooms to hamsters
Potential cancer causing and treating components aside, are there any benefits to feeding mushrooms to hamsters?
We were unable to find any data that explicitly stated if there were any benefits of feeding hamsters mushrooms.
Most sources recommend feeding hamsters a pelleted hamster diet, with the occasional, safe fruit and vegetable mixed in for a treat.
In the wild, hamsters eat both meat and vegetables, and we could not locate any research indicating whether or not wild hamsters eat wild mushrooms.
Without any documented benefits of mushrooms for hamsters, the better question is perhaps not can hamsters eat mushrooms, but should they?
Can hamsters eat mushrooms? – A summary
The lack of scientific documentation of mushroom safety for hamsters, combined with the lack of proven benefits and potential risks, makes mushrooms a poor choice of snack for your hamster.
Many hamster pet forums are full of people willing to argue both for and against feeding your hamster mushrooms, but with so many safer food choices, why risk it?
Instead of feeding your hamster mushrooms, consider offering a safer, veterinarian recommended alternative, like a very small slice of apple, carrot, or greens.
If you have been feeding mushrooms to your hamsters and have noticed any changes in behavior or appearance, contact your veterinarian. You can also talk to your vet about safe treats for hamsters and how to offer your hamster a complete and balanced diet.
Further Reading and Resources
- Borzelleca, J. et al (1996). Does nature know best? Natural carcinogens and anticarcinogens in America’s food. American Council on Science and Health..
- Quesenberry, K. and Boschert, K. R. Providing a home for a hamster. Merck Veterinary Manual.
- Marsden, S. et al. Medicinal Mushrooms. VCA Hospitals.