Can Hamsters Have Almonds?
In the 1990s, we avoided fats at all costs. We purchased nonfat yogurt, low fat milk, and even reduced fat cookies and crackers. Those of us who were serious about minimizing our fat intake even restricted the amount of nuts we allowed ourselves—peanuts, almonds, and walnuts were all fat bombs that we sprinkled sparingly into our snack mixes. Fast forward to the second decade of the 21st century, however, and fat is popular again. At the same time that Paleo and ketogenic diet fads have taken hold, recent studies have found that healthy fats may have protective effects on overall health. Almonds are one of the most popular fat sources.
Now that we have welcomed nuts back into our diets, many of us have almonds on hand at all times. These crunchy, delicious nuts make an excellent late afternoon snack for us, but what about the smallest members of our household? Hamster food often looks similar to trail mix, but we are hesitant to assume that anything is safe for them to eat. Better safe than sorry, as they say.
So, can you give your hamster almonds?
The answer is yes, hamsters can eat almonds in small quantities. There are, however, some risks associated with almond consumption. Like many foods, almonds contain trace amounts of toxic substances that can poison small animals if they are fed regularly or in large amounts. Never feed any of your pets (or your family members!) raw, unprocessed bitter almonds—a handful of these nuts will pack enough poison to kill a human, so even half of one unprocessed bitter almond will be more than enough to kill a hamster. Because nuts are high in fat and calories, it is best to use sweet almonds as an occasional treat (rather than a dietary staple) for your hamster.
Almonds are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, protein, and healthy fats that have been shown to support optimal health in humans. There has not been much research on the subject of almonds in the hamster diet, but, based on studies performed on other animals, we can guess that there may be some small benefits to using this food as a treat—especially if you are feeding almonds in lieu of less healthy junk foods!
Though many pet parents are concerned about managing their furry friends’ cholesterol, almonds actually contain zero cholesterol. They are also very low in saturated fats, which is the type of fat that has been linked to heart disease and other problems. Almonds contain mostly monounsaturated fats, which have been linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular problems. They are one of a handful of foods that appear to have the ability to lower cholesterol over time.
Healthy fats are important for more than managing cholesterol. Small quantities of healthy fats are important for brain, skin, nervous, reproductive, and immune health.
On the other hand, your hamster only needs a small amount of fat to stay healthy. If they are eating a balanced diet made up of foods formulated specifically for hamsters, they will get all of the fat that they need in a day. If your hamster is suffering from a nutritional deficiency, you should examine what you have been feeding them. Giving them too many treats, table scraps, or even fresh vegetables can result in nutritional imbalances.
Things to Consider
The average adult hamster only needs to get around 5% of their calories from fat! While the unsaturated fats in almonds are unlikely to give your furry friend a heart attack, too much fat can be harmful over time. Large hamsters should only eat, at most, one sweet almond per day. Fat is the most calorically dense macronutrient, so fat calories tend to add up more quickly than other types of calories. If you make a habit of slipping almonds into your pet’s food, you may find that they quickly gain weight and become overweight or obese.
Pudgy hamsters may be cute, but they are not healthy or happy. Becoming too fat can cause a variety of health problems, including joint pain, arthritis, cardiovascular problems, breathing problems, reproductive issues, some cancers, and even a premature death. Even if your hamster avoids any of these devastating diseases, they will most likely suffer from decreased mobility and a reduced ability to enjoy exercise, which can cause them to become depressed. If your hamster is already overweight or obese, lay off the almonds and make sure you give them plenty of opportunities to exercise.
In general, sweet almonds are considered safe treats for hamsters to eat in small amounts. Though eating too many of them can cause weight gain, consuming them as treats is usually recognized as safe and maybe even healthy. The most important thing is to make sure you are feeding your hamster sweet almonds—bitter almonds contain enough cyanide to kill them.