Can Hamsters Have Cashews?
Nuts have always been a popular snack option for hikers, runners, and other physically active, health-conscious people looking to pack in a ton of nutrition in a few bites of food. Though peanuts, walnuts, and almonds are probably the most beloved nuts, cashews are just as popular—after all, when was the last time you found a good bag of tail mix that didn’t have any cashews? These creamy, vaguely buttery nuts are one of the healthy fat sources our doctors encourage us to eat more of, and they are delicious enough that we feel like we’re treating ourselves by obeying our doctors’ orders!
But are these nuts a safe option for our pets, too? It seems like cashews would be a suitable treat for hamsters—after all, the mix of dry foods we give them for their meals consists of foods that appear to be pretty similar to trail mix. Packaged hamster feed is loaded with all sorts of seeds and grains that we recognize from our own pre-hike snacks! So, can we pull a couple of pieces out of our favorite trail mix when we want to treat our hamsters to something new, nutritious, and different? Can you give your hamster cashews?
The answer is yes, hamsters can eat small amounts of cashews on occasion. The cashews sold in stores are generally considered safe—they are nontoxic—but it is worth noting that completely raw cashews are toxic to humans and to hamsters. However, unless you pick cashews on your own, you will probably never come across any raw ones! The cashews that are labeled ‘raw’ in supermarkets have been steamed, which gets rid of the toxic chemicals. While your hamster can get sick as a result of eating anything in excess, there is no reason to worry about giving them a cashew as a treat from time to time.
Cashews provide high amounts of several minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants, including Vitamin K, Vitamin E, B vitamins, iron, and magnesium. All of these nutrients are necessary for your hamster to maintain a healthy body. There has not been substantial research on the impact that cashews have on hamster health, but even so, studies performed on other animals have found that cashews may protect against high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which can contribute to heart disease. This is because nuts, like all plant foods, have zero cholesterol. They are also quite high in a substance called arginine, which is believed to improve artery health.
These nuts may even protect eye health! Thanks to their high concentrations of chemicals called zeaxanthin and lutein, cashews protect against light damage, keeping your hamster’s vision as sharp as possible as they age. Theoretically, eating cashews can help protect against cataracts— which may be important, because many hamsters develop cataracts in their old age. Cataracts can cause blindness.
Cashews are also high in a mineral called copper, which is important for many different physiological processes. Copper, as an antioxidant, does an excellent job of neutralizing dangerous free radicals. Free radicals, which are thought to contribute to chronic disease and the negative effects of aging, are highly charged particles produced by normal metabolic processes. Their reactivity makes them prone to damaging body cells. By adding more antioxidants to your hamster’s diet, you can get rid of some of the free radicals in their body, thereby protecting their cells against mutations that can lead to cancer, arthritis, and other diseases. Copper also supports bone, blood, and joint health.
In humans, nuts like cashews have also been linked to successful weight management. Despite their high calorie content, cashews can aid in weight loss and protect against obesity. For the critters who live in our house, this can be very helpful—it seems that pampered pets are quite prone to getting too pudgy! However, cashews are still caloric, fatty foods, and giving too many of them to your hamster is sure to cause weight gain that can lead to obesity.
Things to Consider
Hamsters are supposed to have chubby cheeks, but hamsters who are too fat often wind up sick. Obesity can increase your hamster’s chances of joint problems, heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic or life-threatening health problems. If you think your hamster might be overweight, reduce the amount of nuts and seeds in their diet, talk to a vet about weight management, and make sure your pet has access to an exercise wheel. Hamsters need a lot of physical activity to be healthy and happy. For fat hamsters, cashews on a regular basis are probably not a good idea.
For physically active hamsters who are at a healthy weight, cashews can be a safe, healthy treat option. They are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids that can fight disease, support eye health, and aid in overall health. Just make sure that cashews are used as a treat and not a staple, because they are quite high in calories!