Can hamsters eat bananas?

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This is the first of many nutrition related posts to come. As new hamsters owners we were always wondering which foods our new pet hamster could eat when he was a new family member. So as I was walking through the produce aisle not long after our hamster made its way to our home, I wondered, can hamsters eat bananas?

We’ve done all the research and are comfortable answering the question for you all now. So let’s dig in.

Can hamsters eat bananas?

Simply put, yes, hamsters can eat bananas. Syrian (golden) hamsters, dwarf and Chinese (gray) hamsters can all eat bananas.

We wouldn’t leave you hanging there though. First we should understand bananas a little bit to address this question. Then consider if bananas are healthy for hamsters when we want them to live long healthy lives. Also, how much banana should you feed your hamster and are there any dangers feeding it too much banana. Let’s dig in.

Banana Facts

Let’s start with some information about bananas. Bananas contain a number of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B6, vitamin C, manganese, biotin, and potassium.

Can hamsters eat bananas?

They also contain a lot of fiber (we will come back to this).

In terms of the macronutrients, one medium banana has 27 carbohydrates, 0.4 grams fat, and 1.3 grams protein. This ratio works out to 93% carbs, 3% fats, 4% protein. And as most people know, they are sweet, mushy and taste delicious. Okay, so now we know about bananas. Let’s talk about a healthy hamster diet.

Are bananas healthy for hamsters?

The easiest way to be sure you are feeding your hamster a balanced diet is to buy the best commercial hamster food. Then supplementing with bits and pieces of fresh fruits, fresh veggies, and the occasional cricket, nuts, and even eggs rounds it out nicely. Some good fresh food options for your hamster in addition to bananas include:

  • Acorns
  • Apples
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Green beans
  • Insects
  • Kale
  • Peas
  • Spinach
  • Squash
  • Strawberries
  • Sweet potato
  • Timothy hay
  • Turnip
  • Zucchini

Overall, a diet that is 79-85% carbs, 12-15% protein, and 3-6% fat is ideal.

The extra bits of fresh fruits and veggies are the hamster’s “treats.” And that’s exactly how you should think of bananas – treats. Luckily, bananas are a delicious and nutritious add on to the diet.

Finally, be sure to wash the fruits and vegetables thoroughly to remove traces of harmful pesticides

How much banana should my hamster eat?

Remember, hamsters are hoarders. Anything they don’t eat they will store behind or under their beds. Anything more than a tablespoon or two of banana runs the risk of turning moldy in their cage – an unhealthy mess to clean up. Be sure to remove any uneaten food within 24 hours.

Also consider that hamsters are happy to eat more sweet treats than a balanced diet calls for (assuming they like bananas). You will have to limit the treats offered so they consume a well balanced diet.

Bananas can have a place in a well-rounded hamster diet but it should be limited both in volume and likely in frequency. There are many fresh vegetables and even fruits with lower sugar content. So if your furry friend loves bananas, let them indulge but on occasion. (Not unlike my relationship to ice cream.)

Hamsters, bananas and fiber – oh my!

Fiber plays an important role in hamster health. The commercial pellets you are feeding your hamster as a part of their regular diet should be a good source of fiber for your furry friend. It typically consists of timothy hay, oats, and barley – all good sources of fiber.

Additional high fiber fruits and vegetables add to this of course and too much fiber can lead to, well, diarrhea. So the best thing you can do is be sure you’re not overfeeding your hamster – bananas or otherwise. The 1-2 tablespoon guideline is good to stick with but if you notice your little guy or gal having some tummy troubles, either back off on the volume or move on to another treat. There are so many delicious and nutritious options available to hamsters!

Now that we have the bulky stuff out of the way (pun intended), let’s review a few of the other vitamins and minerals mentioned above. Just because they’re contained in bananas and are generally good for humans, are they necessarily good for your pet hamster?

Hamsters and Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is important for brain, nervous system and immune health. In a study, Syrian hamsters were given a diet without any vitamin B6, which led to a host of health issues. They stopped growing, slowed their eating and drinking, musculature weakness and fur changes set in. Once they started receiving daily vitamin B6, they started to grow, eat and drink and started back to normal activity.

Although very harsh conditions in that experiment (conducted in 1949), you can see just how crucial vitamin B6 is to hamsters.

So vitamin B6 is not only healthy but vital for hamster health – plus 1 for bananas!

Hamsters and Vitamin C

Vitamin C is needed to form blood vessels, cartilage, muscle and collagen in bones. Interestingly, most animals make their own vitamin C in their intestinal bacterial flora but primates, including humans, and guinea pigs are unable to do so. Those animals require vitamin C from external sources – food.

So it is unclear that hamsters require any sort of vitamin C supplementation. According to early studies, they in fact, do not.

That is not to say the consumption of vitamin C is harmful, however. Many of the fresh fruits and vegetables hamsters frequently enjoy do contain vitamin C, even if it is incidental.

So the verdict on bananas specifically for their vitamin C benefits is a little murky but not harmful.

Hamsters and Potassium

Potassium is a mineral an electrolyte. Electrolytes conduct electrical impulses throughout the body and assist in many vital body functions, such as regulating blood pressure, digestion, heart rhythm and more.

Although there hasn’t been a lot of research done on the dietary requirements of potassium for hamsters, we do know the mineral isn’t made within the body. The commercial pellets you’re already feeding your hamster should be a sufficient source of potassium but as we know, bananas are a good source of the mineral that does round out the diet.

So although we don’t have a definitive answer on potassium supplementation through bananas, I think it’s fair to file it under the “won’t hurt and helps to round out the diet” category. (That would be a very long category name.)

Hamster and Manganese

Manganese is a mineral that is essential in metabolic processes, bone development and wound healing. Too much of it though is toxic. Your high quality commercial feed will likely contain sufficient manganese (found in alfalfa and timothy hay) for your pet hamster so supplementation shouldn’t be necessary.

In the 1-2 tablespoon volume of banana that you’ll be feeding your hamster, you don’t need to worry about too much of the mineral. Similar to potassium, the manganese in the supplemental banana may not be needed but it won’t hurt.

Hamsters and Biotin

Biotin is another water soluble B vitamin (B7) along with vitamin B6 that hamsters require. It is vital for key metabolic processes and adrenal health. However, according to studies, under normal conditions, hamsters do not require dietary biotin.

Hamsters utilize a process called coprophagy. If you’ve eaten recently or are a little squeamish, perhaps move on to the next section. Of course, if you’ve owned a hamster you’ve probably noticed this behavior anyways, so it might not phase you. Coprophagy refers to the process of eating feces.

Hamsters eat their own droppings for good reason – to absorb additional nutrients from the food it already digested once and um, moved along. Since their colon doesn’t do a great job of absorbing all nutrients, they consume their own dropping and have a second chance at absorbing the rest of the nutrients. Not appetizing (or efficient, really) but no one can accuse them of letting food go to waste!

Getting back to biotin. Hamsters have relatively low biotin requirements, which appears to be met through the process of coprophagy. So, like the vitamin C, the biotin provided from bananas is likely not necessary but won’t hurt either.

Introducing new foods

First, be care about introducing too many new foods at a time. Hamsters do have sensitive digestive tracts and too many new foods can upset their stomachs.

Generally, when introducing new foods to hamsters, you’re looking first to see if the hamster has any interest in the food and if they show any sign of tummy troubles (diarrhea). Start with a very small quantity of the new food. For a banana, perhaps a half tablespoon.

This hamster had a go but decided, yeah, no thank you.

Unlike this cute little guy (love the background music):

In both cases, the hamster owner did a nice job of providing an appropriate amount of banana – not overdoing it but giving them a chance to get the rich benefits.

It won’t be long before you know which supplemental foods your hamster prefers and handles well without any gastric distress.

General hamster feeding tips

We’ve already mentioned that a high quality commercial hamster feed is the foundation of a good hamster diet. Don’t forget a few other tips:

  • Be sure your hamster always has access to fresh water – preferably in a bottle with a metal spout.
  • Make feeding fun! Scatter some pellets around the cage to let them search for it – similar to the scavenger hunt they participate in in the wild. Also, prevents boredom.
  • Hamsters love to gnaw and chew on things both for entertainment and it keeps their teeth from becoming overgrown. Throw in a few shredding/chewing things like cardboard, coconut shells, pumice stones, or an unbleached loofah for a great time!
  • Remove any old food from their cage. After 24 hours, fresh food starts to rot and get moldy – not healthy or sanitary (doesn’t smell great either).

As always, if you notice that your pet hamster just isn’t acting his or her normal self – seems lethargic or tired, isn’t eating and drinking as much as they normally do, or any signs of diarrhea – take your hamster to see the vet for a checkup. Better safe than sorry!

Wrapping it up

We now know hamsters can eat bananas, and they do provide nutrients to round out their diets for a long, healthy life. However, as in most things, too much of a good thing is harmful. A tablespoon or two is plenty and be sure to treat your hamster to many other good fresh fruits and veggies to supplement their commercial food to ensure a well-rounded diet for your furry friend.

Sources

Bartlett, Patricia. The Hamster Handbook. Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s, 2015

Clausen, D. F., and W. G. Clark. 1943. Vitamin C requirement of the Syrian hamster. Nature 152:300–301.

Ershoff, B. H. 1956. Beneficial effects of alfalfa, aureomycin and cornstarch on the growth and survival of hamsters fed highly purified rations. J. Nutr. 59:579–585.

Garg, Ravendra & Singh, Nirpendra & Dube, Anuradha. (2005). Intake of nutrient supplements affects multiplication of Leishmania donovani in hamsters. Parasitology. 129. 685-91. 10.1017/S0031182004006055.

Granados, H. 1951. Nutritional studies on growth and reproduction of the golden hamster (Mesocricetus auratus auratus). Chapter V. Qualitative requirements of the chemically identified vitamins for growth. Acta Physiol. Scand. 24(Suppl. 87):55–60.

Gregory Shwartzman, Lotte Strauss; Vitamin B6 Deficiency in the Syrian Hamster: Ten Figures, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 38, Issue 2, 1 June 1949, Pages 131–153, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/38.2.131

Hastings, C. E. Jr. and Llewellyn, G. C. 1987. reduced aflatoxicosis in livers of hamsters fed a manganese sulfate supplement. Nutr. Cancer (1987) 10(1-2): 67-77 . Ref ID: 34586

Martinez-Flores, Hector & Chang, Yoon & Martínez-Bustos, F & Sgarbieri, Valdomiro. (2004). Effect of high fiber products on blood lipids and lipoproteins in hamsters. Nutrition Research – NUTR RES. 24. 85-93. 10.1016/j.nutres.2003.08.016.

National Research Council (US) Subcommittee on Laboratory Animal Nutrition. Nutrient Requirements of Laboratory Animals: Fourth Revised Edition, 1995. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1995. 5, Nutrient Requirements of the Hamster. Available here 

University of California, Davis – Hamster Care Sheet.

Wołczuk K & Kobak J. (2014). Post-natal growth of the gastrointestinal tract of the Siberian hamster: morphometric analysis. Anat Histol Embryol , 43, 453-67