Can Hamsters Have Apples?
Many of us grew up hearing that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but no one ever told us whether or not America’s favorite fruit also works as a strong defense against veterinarians. Though most of us sat through at least one health or nutrition class while we were in school, our education in pet nutrition is sadly lacking. We grew up sneaking scraps of unidentified meat and chewy broccoli to our dogs beneath the table. In hindsight, we understand that table scraps probably were not ideal for the family dog, but we still have only a very loose grasp on canine nutrition.
If you have a less common pet, like a hamster, things get even trickier. Dogs have iron stomachs which forgive some of our dietary indiscretions, but hamsters, who did not evolve beside humans, have totally different dietary needs and tolerances. They are also far smaller than our dogs, so what seems like a tiny mistake can have devastating consequences. The dose makes the poison, and when you weigh five ounces or less, the dose can be very tiny. So, are apples suitable treats for our little ones? Can you give your hamster apples?
Pet parents rejoice—the answer is yes, hamsters can eat small portions of apples. Both the skin and flesh of the apples you find in the grocery store are totally safe for hamster consumption. Assuming the apples are fresh and clean, there is no real risk of toxicity associated with feeding them. Because they are low in calories and high in fiber, they make excellent, healthy treats for most hamsters. Just keep in mind your hamster’s size when you feed them any type of fruit. Giving them too many apples can cause diarrhea, nutritional imbalances, or weight gain.
As treats go, apples and other fresh fruits are some of the best options available. Similar to humans and dogs, hamsters are omnivores who do well on diets that consist of both animal and plant foods. Apple flesh is fairly low in calories compared to many other foods, which can be helpful for hamsters who have a sweet tooth but are also at risk of becoming overweight. If your veterinarian has recommended that you put your furry friend on a diet, apples may be a suitable treat that they can enjoy while still losing weight.
Apples are great because they provide sweetness without packing in the calories of, say, a cookie, but they have one other diet-friendly secret weapon: dietary fiber. Fiber is the name for all of the indigestible parts of plants. Though our hamsters are unable to extract energy from fiber, it has many other benefits. For weight loss, the obvious one is this: because they are unable to process dietary fiber, it is effectively a zero-calorie food. Fiber takes up space inside the stomach without actually providing any energy!
This is why high fiber foods, including apples, are so great for anyone who needs to restrict their caloric intake. Your hungry hamster can fill up their tummy with high-fiber fruits and vegetables—they can eat the same volume of food while taking in a fraction of the calories.
Dietary fiber has been linked to countless other health benefits in humans, including a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. One study performed on hamsters found that consuming dietary fiber significantly lowered their bad cholesterol. This can be incredibly helpful for hamsters who have heart disease and high cholesterol, as well as those who are at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular problems.
Apples also contain vitamins and antioxidants, but your hamster should be meeting most of their nutrient needs by eating specially formulated hamster chow.
Things to Consider
Even though apples are high in fiber and antioxidants (and low in calories and fat), there is such a thing as too many apples. To stay healthy, your hamster should only enjoy a few small chunks of apple once or twice a week. Apples and other fruits should be used as treats rather than staple foods. If you feed your hamster too many apple pieces in one sitting, they will probably end up with an upset stomach, which can lead to diarrhea and dehydration. If your hamster gets sick, remove all fruit from their bowl and make sure that they have plenty of water available. If their symptoms persist, see a veterinarian.
The biggest thing to worry about with apples is this: apple seeds are extremely poisonous. This is one type of seed that should never be fed to hamsters. Though the flesh and skin are considered harmless, apple seeds contain cyanide—enough cyanide to kill a tiny hamster. Make sure to remove all seeds from the apple pieces you feed to your hamster.
Overall, apples are an excellent, healthy treat for hamsters. They are high in fiber, low in calories, and full of vitamins and antioxidants that can provide a nutritional boost. Just remember that apples are meant to be treats—overfeeding can cause stomach problems and weight gain.