Baby hamsters are fed their mother’s milk until they are weaned, and many hamsters will drink milk if offered. In “Can Hamsters Drink Milk” we look at the risks of giving a pet hamster a bowl of milk and suggest alternative treats.
Many people’s food is not suitable for animals. Some are harmful, and others are simply unnecessary for your pet’s diet. People want to feed animals milk. For us, this is 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 guys are often considered good starter pets for children.
Although commercial hamster food consists mainly of nuts and seeds, in the wild hamsters eat both meat and vegetables.
Their wild diet consists of grains, seeds, greens and insects, and pet hamsters are often fed commercial rat and mouse.
Veterinarians recommend feeding a rat and mouse diet containing 15-20% protein, or a combination of rabbit pellets and rat and mouse food.
Since hamsters are not completely vegetarian, it makes sense in theory that they can 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 to feeding a hamster milk that hamster owners need to be aware of.
Risks of feeding milk to hamsters
Although cow’s, goat’s and even soy milk are not necessarily harmful, feeding them to your hamster can be risky. There are two main problems with milk in a hamster’s cage.
- Milk contaminates the cage
- Milk can cause diarrhea
Hamsters need a clean and dry environment to stay healthy. The milk is wet. This means that if milk is spilled or dripped into the hamster’s cage, it can lead to wet bedding and mold, which can make the hamster sick.
Milk is also a perfect breeding ground for bacteria and it spoils quickly, so leaving milk for hamsters is not a good idea.
Although baby hamsters, like other mammals, drink milk, the enzymes they produce to help them digest the milk are lost once they grow up. Also, the milk in your fridge is probably cow’s milk. It is good for calves, but many other animals get stomach problems if they are fed cow’s milk.
Feeding milk to hamsters can lead to diarrhea, which leads to rapid dehydration in small animals and can be fatal to hamsters.
Signs of Hamster Disease
If you’ve been feeding your hamster milk and you’re concerned that it might be sick, there are a few things to look out for.
Sick hamsters can have several symptoms:
- Weight loss
- Coarse fur
- Inverted position
- Difficulty breathing
- Decreased activity level
- Soiled hind limbs
Healthy hamsters are active and curious, and their fur 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 part of a hamster’s natural diet after weaning, but what about baby hamsters?
There are three main reasons why you should not feed your baby hamster milk.
- Hamster milk is very different from cow’s milk or goat’s milk. If you have orphaned or abandoned baby hamsters, talk to your vet about the best formula to feed baby hamsters.
- Handling baby hamsters can stress the mother hamster, who may end up cannibalizing her own children in self-defense.
- A change in diet can make your baby hamsters very sick.
Can hamsters eat cheese?
Whenever milk comes up in a conversation about rodents, cheese is sure to follow.
Some websites say that feeding small amounts of cheese as an occasional treat is safe for hamsters.
Although the best source of hamster health information is your veterinarian, very small pieces of cheese are generally safe for hamsters.
This can be confusing. Cheese is made from milk, so why would one product be okay and the other not?
Technically, neither is completely 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 only the food itself, although fatty products such as cheese can lead to obesity, but mold.
Hamsters like to hoard food. This means that a hamster who smuggles a piece of cheese into a corner can leave it there to spoil, which can make him sick later.
Play it safe and offer seeds and safe nuts as an extra source of protein instead of dairy.
Can Hamsters Get Milk – Summary?
Most pet hamsters drink milk provided by humans, but the risk of getting a hamster sick from cow’s milk is too great. Adult hamsters do not need milk at all in their diet, and baby hamsters should only receive mother’s milk until they are weaned
Instead of feeding your hamster a potentially risky food like milk, why not feed it a healthy treat that is more natural in their diet?
There are lots of healthy hamster treats like carrots, apples and broccoli. Or specially designed hamster treats.
These snacks are a better choice for your hamster than milk.
Just remember that vets recommend only feeding healthy hamster treats such as hay, fruits, vegetables, and pet store treats at 10% of your hamster’s total diet to avoid hamster obesity.
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Further reading and resources
- Donnelly, TM BVSc, DVP, DACLAM, DABVP (ECM). “Hamsters.” Merck Veterinary Manual.
- Horton, S. DVM. “Hamster Care”. Chicago Exotics Animal Hospital.
- Quesenberry, KE DVM, MHP, DABVP et al. “Providing a home for a hamster.” Merck Veterinary Manual.
- “Feeding a Hamster.” Humane Society of United States.
- Hamster Care Exotic Pet Vet