Can Hamsters Have Coconut?
Apples, bananas, oranges, and berries are probably the most commonly consumed fruits, but the most interesting ones are far richer and more festive. One of the richest, most satisfying fruits is the coconut, which positively screams ‘summer’. These peculiar fruits have a hard, hairy exterior that seems inedible, but, once we crack them open, we discover that they are packed with creamy, delicious nutrition. Though most of us consume coconut in beverages (including smoothies, alcoholic drinks, pure coconut water, and of course, coconut milk), we also eat it in candy bars, baked goods, cooked into many sweet and savory dishes, or even eaten raw. With the current coconut oil craze, this fruit has only grown more popular.
Despite its popularity, those of us who keep an eye on nutrition are aware that coconut is not interchangeable with diet-friendly fruits like grapefruit and melon—coconuts are an entirely different category of food, and most of us limit our coconut intake in order to maintain health and fitness. Because coconuts are so strange (both to look at and from a nutritional perspective), it can be confusing to try to figure out how safe they are for our pets. So, can you give your hamster coconut?
The answer is yes, hamsters can eat small quantities of raw coconut flesh on occasion. Coconut flesh is completely nontoxic, so there is no need to panic if you’ve been sneaking chunks of this sweet meat through the bars of your pet’s cage for a couple days, but it should not be fed to hamsters regularly or in large quantities. Because coconuts are so high in calories and fat, they need to be used as treats or dietary supplements. Healthy adult hamsters can usually enjoy a small portion of coconut once or twice a week. If you think your furry friend can benefit from eating this food more regularly, consult a veterinarian first.
Though coconuts are technically treat foods, they are actually quite nutritious. Coconut meat is rich in fiber, which is important for overall health. Feeding your hamster fiber-rich foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables, will support a healthy digestive system. Fiber, which holds onto water much like a sponge, regulates digestion by adding both fluid and bulk to stools, making them fuller and softer. Giving your hamster fresh fruit several times a week is a great way to prevent constipation and other digestive problems.
Fiber has other health benefits, too. Though we have not done a whole lot of research on the effects of dietary fiber on long term health for hamsters, there is tons of research on humans and other animals. Those studies have found increased that fiber intake correlates with a lower risk of stroke, high blood pressure, obesity, and some cancers. Coconuts also contain some healthy fats, which may provide additional heart health benefits.
Coconut meat provides some important minerals, too. This food contains small amounts of zinc, potassium, magnesium, and iron, which are all necessary for hamster health. Potassium has the added benefit of protecting heart health—increased potassium intake is one of the things associated with a lower risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems. Coconut meat certainly cannot prevent or cure any disease (and you should always consult a vet before introducing a unique new food into your pet’s diet!), but a balanced diet that includes potassium may go a long way in preventing your hamster from getting sick in the long term.
Some pet parents report that coconut has helped their furry friends’ skin and coat health. The healthy fats found in coconuts may aid in the maintenance of smooth skin and healthy, shiny fur coats, as well as brain and nervous system health. More research is necessary before anyone can say for sure whether or not coconut meat is a good skin supplement for hamsters (or for cats and dogs), but some pet parents swear by it.
As previously mentioned, coconuts are rich in fat—and most of it is saturated fat. It is true that this tropical fruit does not have any cholesterol. It is true, too, that many of coconuts’ health benefits are attributed to their high fat content (think about how many people eat coconut oil like it’s the elixir of life!). Nevertheless, all that fat can cause serious problems for hamsters in large quantities.
Saturated fat is one of the only nutrients (aside from cholesterol) that is directly associated with an increased risk of heart disease. One study found that hamsters who ate diets that were high in saturated fat had higher cholesterol, which puts them at a higher risk of atherosclerosis. Hamsters who eat overall healthy diets are at a very low risk of heart disease, but loading up on foods that are high in saturated fat (including ‘healthy’ coconut meat!) can easily cause cholesterol levels to sky rocket.
Things to Consider
All that saturated fat can also increase your hamster’s chances of becoming overweight or obese. Hamsters are only a fraction of our size, which means that they only need to eat a fraction of the calories that we do in a day. Compared to other fruits, coconuts are packed with calories, so it can be very easy for a hamster who is eating coconut meat to take in more calories than they are able to burn. If you give your pet coconut meat or coconut oil on a regular basis, they can quickly become overweight or obese. Obesity puts your hamster at risk of developing countless other diseases (insulin resistance, diabetes, and arthritis, to name a few), which can shorten their already-short lifespan. If your hamster is already too pudgy, keep them away from any coconut.
So, even though coconut oil is everywhere right now, it probably is not a good idea to give any coconut products to your hamster on a daily basis. While this nutrient-dense fruit makes a good treat for healthy hamsters, it definitely should not feature heavily in their diet. Some pet parents swear by coconut for healthy pets with glossy fur coats, but, in reality, this food is much too fatty for your hamster to eat on a daily basis.