Can Hamsters Have Milk?
When we think of wholesome foods, many of us think of the one beverage our parents forced us to consume with every meal throughout our childhoods: cow’s milk. Though it is not quite as popular a beverage as it was in the twentieth century, milk remains, to many people, the quintessence of health. This cold, refreshing drink is rather calorically dense (which can, in theory, be beneficial for active and growing children), full of calcium we have been told will give us strong bones, and comes with a side of protein said to make us fit and muscular. And, perhaps most importantly, milk goes splendidly with cookies.
Alas, most of us learned as children that ‘people food’ is not always great for our pets. We have spent the rest of our lives deliberating whether or not to share our snacks with our furry friends. It is somewhat easy for us to figure out which foods to give to our dogs, who are quite similar to us as a result of their evolving by our side, but our smaller and stranger pets can be harder to figure out. But surely our childhood beverage is safe for our smallest furry friends to enjoy, right? Can you give your hamster milk?
The answer is technically yes—cow’s milk does not appear to be toxic to hamsters, and most of them seem to tolerate small quantities of it fairly well. Giving your hamster the occasional sip of fresh milk will almost certainly not result in any serious or long-term health effects. That does not mean, however, that milk is healthy for hamsters. Cow’s milk is not a nutritionally adequate source of calories. In addition, hamsters, like most animals, have a difficult time processing large amounts of dairy products. If you absolutely must use milk as a rare treat, don’t worry too much, but you probably should not give your hamster milk on a regular basis to maintain health.
Some online sources suggest that milk may offer health benefits for hamsters. One of the most commonly discussed benefits is its supposed ability to preserve bone health—due to its high levels of calcium, many people believe that cow’s milk and other dairy products are the key to a healthy, fracture-free skeleton. Some pet parents believe that feeding hamsters small quantities of dairy products may give them the calcium boost they need to stay strong and healthy.
The focus here is often on dental health. Like rabbits, hamsters have teeth that never stop growing, and, because their teeth are made of calcium, milk may give their dental health a bit of a boost.
In recent years, however, these bone health claims have come into question. Some studies performed on humans have found that drinking milk had no effect on subjects’ risk of osteoporosis or broken bones. There has not been much (if any) research on the effects of cow’s milk on hamster health, so we can only really go from human studies.
Though some pet parents claim that cow’s milk is the key to keeping their furry friends’ bones healthy, in reality, your hamster should get most of their calcium from the specially formulated food they eat for every meal. Cow’s milk (and every other type of animal milk, for that matter) is not magical. If it has any bone health benefits, those benefits are thanks to their high levels of calcium, and there are much more natural, hamster-friendly calcium sources out there. Milk is not a suitable food to rely on for any of your hamster’s dietary needs.
Things to Consider
The main reason to avoid feeding your hamster dairy products is their lactose intolerance—like every other mammal, hamsters tend to lose their ability to digest lactose (milk sugar) once they reach adulthood. While most hamsters seem to tolerate small quantities of dairy products fairly well, feeding it to them regularly or in large portions may cause digestive problems that can throw your hamster’s body out of whack.
Milk can also be a problem because it is high in fat and calories. While most of us can get away with a glass of milk every now and then, our hamsters are tiny little things with tiny little caloric needs. For such small creatures, extra calories add up extremely quickly, and liquid calories are the easiest to lose track of. If you make a habit of giving your hamster milk with their dinner, they may become overweight or obese. If you must give your hamster milk, remember to keep portion sizes small, and avoid giving them any sort of flavored milks. Chocolate should be completely off limits.
In conclusion, thought milk is not poisonous to hamsters, it really should not be given to them regularly. There are relatively few nutritional benefits with a lot of potential risks. Your hamster should be able to get all of their calcium from their food. If you think they have problems with their bones or teeth, consult a veterinarian.