Can Hamsters Have Cheese?
When asked about their favorite food, a substantial portion of the American population will instantly reply, “Cheese.” For many of us, cheese has been a dietary staple since we were young children– cheese shows up atop pizzas, inside burgers and sandwiches, in pasta sauces and casseroles, drizzled over mounds of tortilla chips, and in at least three different forms on every potluck snack table (unless you are eating at a potluck hosted by vegans). Some people enjoy highly processed slices of cheddar cheese, while others opt for organic Swiss, feta, or blue cheese. Unless you make a conscious effort to avoid dairy products, cheese probably lurks somewhere in your refrigerator at all times.
Our doctors tell us to limit our cheese consumption if we have trouble with our weight or our cholesterol levels, but otherwise, most of us are perfectly comfortable with cheese as a savory treat. Those of us who share our homes with dogs can attest to having hidden medications inside of a chunk of cheese at least once—desperation has led many a worried pet parent to turn to dairy! But could our other furry friends enjoy the occasional cheesy snack, too? Can cheese be a part of a balanced diet for our littlest pets? Can you give your hamster cheese?
Technically, yes, hamsters can eat small quantities of cheese as a rare treat, but it usually is not recommended. Most types of cheese from all animals (including goats and cows) are nontoxic to hamsters, so you don’t need to scurry off to the vet if you’ve already let your pet have a bite, but they are not the healthiest of foods. Cheese is lacking in most of the vitamins and minerals that hamsters require to maintain optimal health, and it is high in fat, cholesterol, and calories that can cause health problems in the long term. If your hamster handles cheese well, feel free to use it to celebrate special occasions, but avoid giving it to them on a regular basis.
Many of us grew up believing that dairy products are necessary to maintain optimal health, but they are not as nutritious as many of us believe—especially cheese! Your hamster does not stand to gain any health benefits by eating cheese on a regular basis. Compared to fruits and vegetables, dairy is relatively low in many of the helpful vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants we look for in superfoods and supplements.
Though not totally devoid of nutrition (cheese does have calcium and some protein), your hamster could not healthfully eat enough cheese in order to benefit from these nutrients. Per calorie, foods such as berries and leafy greens are much better dietary supplements—they will provide a lot more micronutrients and antioxidants with a much smaller caloric punch. If your hamster adores cheese, and most of them do, they can safely eat it as a treat, but don’t fool yourself into believing that it is healthy!
There are a few immediate risks of giving your hamster cheese. Like most adult mammals, hamsters become lactose intolerant once they are weaned—because nonhuman mammals generally do not drink milk once they stop consuming mother’s milk, their bodies stop producing the enzymes necessary to breakdown milk sugars, and they lose the ability to digest milk effectively. Lactose tolerance tends to vary from critter to critter, but most hamsters have at least some difficulty digesting dairy. If your hamster can consume dairy products without too much trouble, a small piece of cheese now and then will not hurt them. If, however, your hamster has a more severe case of lactose intolerance, they may suffer from upset stomach, bloating, or diarrhea. If your hamster has tummy troubles after eating cheese, don’t give them any in the future. It isn’t worth the discomfort!
Things to Consider
Feeding your hamster too much cheese over a long period can contribute to health problems, including obesity. Obesity increases your pet’s risk of developing diseases like heart disease, type two diabetes, arthritis, and some types of cancer, which can shorten their lifespan significantly. Hamsters who are already too fat should avoid cheese altogether—instead, opt for low-calorie, high-fiber treats like fresh fruits and vegetables. If you suspect that your hamster has any chronic health problem, have them examined by a vet.
Avoid giving hamsters blue cheese, which is poisonous. If you’ve already given them blue cheese, take them to see a vet; hamsters are unable to vomit, so it is extremely difficult for them to safely purge poisonous foods from their system. White cheese (a rarer type of stilton cheese) is also toxic.
In the end, cheese is a safe treat for some hamsters to consume on occasion, but it can cause health problems. Though not toxic, cheese is high in fat and calories and often very difficult to digest. If you want to give cheese to your pet, give them a small quantity, and, if they suffer from upset stomach or weight gain, remove it from their diet!