Can Hamsters Have Corn?
Though modern Americans tend to eat way too much junk and fast food, dietary staples throughout most of history were healthier whole foods that most of us have on hand at all times. Throughout much of the world, common staple foods included grains, potatoes, and beans. In the Americas, however, an important staple food was corn. Though many of us no longer use this food as a base for many of our meals, corn remains one of the most beloved vegetables of our childhood—corn technically qualifies as a vegetable, but it had none of the qualities that we hated about vegetables as children! Corn is the vegetable that is not green, stringy, leafy, or bitter. Corn is the sweet, satisfying vegetable that fuels childhood games of tag and adulthood five-mile runs alike.
Corn is also so bland and so widely consumed that we don’t hesitate to feed it to our friends and family. But what about our family members who walk on four legs? Corn kernels seem like the perfect size to give to a hungry hamster, but you have heard some pet parents preaching against giving corn to pets. Is there really any danger associated with this food? Can you give your hamster corn?
The answer is yes, hamsters can eat corn in moderation. Though the skinny, gluten-avoidant (yet not actually gluten intolerant) pet parent who frequents your local health food store often uses the word ‘corn’ with the utmost disdain, the reality is that corn is not at all toxic to hamsters, and it is a perfectly suitable food to use as a treat. There are no significant health risks associated with giving hamsters corn on small quantities on a regular basis. The important thing is to make sure they are getting enough of other foods—even though corn is safe, it is lacking in several nutrients that hamsters need. So, corn is a great treat, but your pet definitely should not live on an all-corn diet!
Though corn gets a bad rap, there is a good reason why so many American (the continents, not the country!) societies relied on it so heavily: it is an excellent source of energy. Corn, which is technically a grain, is one of the most calorically dense ‘vegetables’ we consume. It is rich in starchy carbohydrates that can provide lasting energy for growth, recovery, or physical activity.
That is probably where corn really shines: providing energy. If your hamster is growing or needs to put on some weight, corn is an excellent food to include in their diet. It is nontoxic and packed with energy, yet it is also lower in fat than many other energy-rich foods. Because too much fat can cause cardiovascular disease, stomach problems, and other health issues, it is always good to balance out foods like nuts and seeds with starchier foods like corn when you are trying to get your hamster to gain weight.
People who pack kale into everything they eat like to suggest that corn is not a real vegetable, but corn is not totally without its micronutrients. Corn provides modest amounts of Vitamin C, several B vitamins, and the minerals potassium and magnesium, which can offer a little boost for your furry friend.
Corn is also loaded with insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber is totally indigestible, which means that it is a zero-calorie ‘nutrient’ that offers no real nutrition (your hamster does not absorb it!). Even though it does not provide energy, fiber comes with a whole host of health benefits, including improved digestive health. Insoluble fiber is what keeps your hamster’s bowels running smoothly.
All that insoluble fiber also serves as food for the good bacteria that reside inside your hamster’s gut. Though the microbiome is not totally understood yet (we have just started researching it!), several studies suggest that a diverse colony of gut bacteria can protect overall health.
It may surprise you to hear, but corn also contains antioxidants. Yes, those antioxidants—they are not only found in leafy greens after all! The antioxidants in corn can help reduce free radical activity in your hamster’s body, protecting their cells from damage that can lead to disease down the road. This is great, because free radical activity has been implicated in a wide range of conditions, from osteoarthritis all the way to cancer.
Even though corn is perfectly safe (and it can even be healthy) for hamsters in moderation, it is important not to use it to make up a large part of their daily caloric intake. Compared to other hamster staples, corn is pretty low in many vitamins, minerals, and amino acids; hamsters who eat high-corn diets will probably end up with nutritional deficiencies that can cause problems in the long term. Healthy adult hamsters need diets that include grains, seeds, and fruits and vegetables of all kinds.
Things to Consider
Giving your furry friend too much corn can also contribute to obesity. The same qualities that makes corn such a great food for hamsters who are a little on the thin side—its starch content and its energy density—make it dangerous for hamsters who are prone to overeating. Because corn packs a lot of energy into a tiny little package, it is very easy for hamsters to shovel in way too many calories at a time.
A single corn binge is not likely to hurt them, but eating too much corn on a regular basis will cause them to pack on body fat fast. Because obesity can cause so many health problems, it is important that we as pet parents restrict our hamsters’ intake of starchy, calorie-dense foods like corn. Most hamsters can eat a few kernels of corn every day, but it should not replace other, more micronutrient-rich fruits and vegetables.
In conclusion, corn is a perfectly safe, healthy food for hamsters to enjoy in moderation. This popular grain is full of insoluble fiber, which helps with digestion, as well as complex carbohydrates that provide energy to fuel their little bodies through any activity. Just make sure not to overdo it—eating too much corn can cause nutritional deficiencies or weight gain.