Can Hamsters Have Fish?
Back in the 1950s, a hamburger patty with sides of cottage cheese and cherry jell-o was considered the healthy, diet-conscious option. For years, beef was an acceptable staple of American cuisine—it was loaded with the protein we believed we needed to build strong, healthy bodies, fuel physical activity, and keep us full and satisfied through the work day. Today, things have changed. Many of us watch our fat and cholesterol intake (because it turns out all that added cholesterol gives us heart attacks—who knew?), we focus much more on plant protein sources, and the World Health Organization has declared red meat a carcinogen.
All of these, in conjunction with the fact that beef is often one of the more expensive meats, have served to push us towards other protein options, and fish is one of the most popular. Fish is often touted as low-calorie, diet-friendly, and heart-healthy. It’s also versatile and easier on our digestion. We know that it’s much healthier for us in some ways, but can the same be said for our pets? After all, the foods in our kitchen often double as treats for our furry friends, be they cats and dogs or small animals. So, can you give your hamster fish?
The answer is yes, hamsters can eat small quantities of fully cooked fish as treats. Hamsters definitely should not consume fish as the basis of their meals, but it can serve as a nutritious treat option for healthy adult hamsters who can handle the extra calories. Most of the fish you keep in your kitchen is nontoxic, so you aren’t poisoning them if you give them a little bit of tuna or salmon from time to time, but it can cause problems if it is eaten in large quantities or if your hamster’s health is already compromised in any way.
Benefits of Feeding your Hamster Fish?
Just make sure that all of the fish you give to your hamster is fresh, thoroughly cooked, and unseasoned. Giving your pet fish that is undercooked or covered in batter and spices can cause serious health problems. For hamsters, the plainer the food, the better!
We probably do not picture our favorite little puffballs with legs as dangerous predators, but hamsters are, in fact, omnivores—this means that they can eat a wide range of both plant and animal foods. In the wild, the animal foods your hamster would eat would probably be mostly insects (no matter how big and scary their teeth look, your pet probably couldn’t bring down an antelope or a buffalo!), but domesticated hamsters can tolerate small quantities of the lean meats we eat for dinner.
So, are there any benefits to feeding fish to your hamster? Though fish is lacking many of the superpowers of common plant superfoods, it does offer some nutrition, and it can be a healthy choice—especially compared to junk food and red and processed meats. If you use fish as a hamster treat instead of foods like crackers, cheese, and beef, your pet will definitely be better off in the long run.
Most fish are rich in protein and omega-3 fatty acids that can help support long-term health. Protein is probably fish’s biggest asset; the lean protein present in most fish will provide all of the essential amino acids your hamster has to eat in order to build and maintain a healthy body. Though our hamsters’ bodies burn sugar for energy, protein is the stuff that their bodies are made of—the protein that they eat provides the amino acids that they use as raw materials to build new muscle, skin, hair, and nails. Even if your hamster is done growing, they still have to consume enough protein, because these amino acids are also used to repair and maintain existing muscle.
Protein deficiency is relatively rare in hamsters who eat properly-formulated seed mix for most of their meals, but certain types of hamsters can be susceptible to protein deficiencies. Inadequate protein intake can lead to a myriad of health problems, including poor wound healing, compromised immunity (resulting in increased infections), chronic fatigue, aggressive behavior, weakness, and brittle or thinning hair. Severe protein deficiency in the long term can even kill your hamster.
If you suspect that your hamster is deficient in protein—and especially if they are showing symptoms—make sure you have them examined by a veterinarian before you start supplementing their diet with fish. While some nutrient deficiencies are caused by inadequate diet, many of them are caused by absorption issues or underlying medical conditions. A quick veterinary examination will rule out any underlying illness, which will ensure that your fishy supplement can actually help alleviate their symptoms.
Things to Keep in Mind
Even though fish is rich in protein and far healthier than red and processed meats, it still isn’t an ideal food for hamsters, and it should be used as a treat or a rare supplement. As previously mentioned, hamsters would not eat fish in the wild, so their bodies have evolved to get their protein from other sources. Ideal protein sources for hamsters include foods such as legumes, beans, wheat, oats, peas, and a range of other whole grains. Hamsters are not obligate carnivores, so they do not need fish or any other meat in order to thrive. Low-fat, zero-cholesterol plant foods are generally more suitable for hamsters. Giving your hamster too much saturated fat and cholesterol can cause them to develop heart disease, which leads to heart attack and stroke.
Finally, make sure any fish you give to your hamster is thoroughly cooked. Raw fish is often contaminated with bacteria and parasites that can make your furry friend grievously ill. The only way to kill these pathogens is to cook it! Due to the risk of contamination, raw fish should never be given to hamsters or any other pets.
In conclusion, plain cooked fish is a safe treat for healthy adult hamsters who can benefit from the added protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Even though fish provides a healthy protein boost, it also contains fat and cholesterol, which can cause heart disease when they are consumed in excess. So, while fish is a safe treat, it definitely should not serve as your pet’s daily dinner.