Posted: February 13, 2010, 5 a.m. EST
Q: I recently re-homed a hamster from my cousin. I believe the hamster is overweight, because he looks much larger than what I've seen other hamsters look like. He didn't get much exercise before and was on a hamster diet that was mainly seed mix, and no fresh veggies or fruits. Do you have any suggestions on how to help him trim back down? Any extra exercise? Anything different with his diet?
A: Determining the appropriate weight of a hamster can be difficult, because hamsters naturally have so much extra skin. A healthy adult hamster should be considerably larger than the tiny youngsters often seen in most pet shops. If your hamster is the larger Syrian species, a general guideline is about an ounce of weight per inch of length. If your hamster is a dwarf, however, that guideline doesn’t apply. With either species, watch to see if it’s bright, active, easily engaged and basically busy by nature. While your hamster may be on the larger side, his liveliness suggests that his size probably isn’t due to illness. Assuming you are confident he’s a male, pregnancy isn’t an issue.
Hamsters usually do a good job managing their own weight and well-being if they’re given a diverse, healthy diet and an intriguing environment. To address the diet, start with a quality mix that has no added sweeteners (corn syrup, molasses, honey). Dwarf hamsters are particularly sensitive to corn and sugars, and can be prone to diabetes.
Add an increasing amount of fresh vegetables. Start with a teaspoonful, making sure your hamster finishes all the fresh food each night. Appealing fresh foods give your hamster a variety of high-nutrition, high-protein, low-fat options that can steer him away from bingeing on the higher-fat options. Eating whole foods (grains, seeds, nuts) in their natural state also provides exercise while limiting calories. Stay away products that are mostly sugar.
To support your hamster’s need for exercise and stimulation, a large, safe wheel with a solid running surface is a minimum requirement; it should be at least 8 inches in diameter, especially for a bigger hamster (the Wodent Wheels are one example). Time out of the cage is essential, too. Consider making a playpen from a child’s swimming pool that’s full of tubes, sand bowls and boxes to explore. Twenty minutes of daily playtime can energize even the sleepiest hamster.
To make your hamster’s cage more interesting, weave cardboard tubes into the bars, or stuff a toilet paper roll with a few treats and lots of thin, cheap toilet paper. Having other hamsters housed in the same room (NOT the same cage) can be very stimulating, as well. Keeping hamsters active is the key to managing their health. It usually doesn't take much but a bit of creativity.
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