Hamsters and gerbils are one of the first small pets we own in our lives. Many of us had one or more when we were kids, and some of us get them for kids of our own. In general, hamsters and gerbils are healthy animals, and as long as they are fed properly, they can live up to five years. Determining a proper diet for your little pet can be difficult. Hamster and gerbils have different nutritional requirements than dogs and cats. Their nutritional requirements also differ from that of rabbits and guinea pigs. There are many different diets made specifically for hamsters and gerbils, but what makes a good food?

Consider what kind of small pet you own when deciding on which food to purchase. There are many different types of food on the market for hamsters and gerbils. One of the first things to look for in any diet is the protein level. For it to be nutritionally sound, the protein level should be around 16% in any food you feed. The two basic types of diets are seed diets and pellets, or fortified block diets. There are a few problems with seed based diets. Seed based diets allow the pet free access to what they chose to eat. This can result in the tasty but less nutritious seeds being eaten first. Many pet owners will refill the food dish later, resulting in the new tasty seeds again being eaten first. One of the most popular seeds in hamster and gerbil diets is sunflower seeds. These seeds are high in fat and low in nutrition. Most hamsters and gerbils will readily eat these seeds. Many hamster and gerbil owners assume that this is the only seed the little critters like and may end up just feeding their pet sunflower seeds. This can cause a number of problems. One of the results of malnutrition from eating only sunflower seeds is hair loss. Also, the seeds are thought to rob the animal of calcium, which can result in teeth that are more prone to breaking. Many seed diets are also oily and can cause obesity in hamsters and gerbils if feed consistently. Pellet, or fortified block, diets are more nutritionally complete. The pellets and blocks allow the hamster or gerbil to eat any piece they want and still get all the nutrition the food offers. Fresh vegetables are always welcome in a hamster’s or gerbil’s diet. There are many kinds that are good for hamster and gerbils. Kale, spinach and cauliflower are a few good choices. As with any supplements, they should be given in moderation. Fruits are also readily accepted. Apples and bananas (though, not for dwarf hamsters) are two good options. Any food that is offered to a hamster or gerbil should be placed in a dish of some kind, preferably one that cannot be easily tipped over. This will help to ensure the food does not come in contact with any soiled bedding. The animal should be given enough food for one day, preferably in the morning. The next morning, any leftover food should be thrown away.

Treats are a great part of a hamster and gerbil’s diet. Given sparingly, many treats may provide extra nutrition, which may not be offered in their food. Alfalfa and timothy hay may be given as often as wanted to help provide extra fiber. Hay may also be given to new hamsters or gerbils to help prevent diarrhea. Another option for your new pet is yeast. Yeast (not baker’s yeast, but the kinds for dogs and cats) is rich in vitamin B and can help reduce stress, which is one cause of diarrhea in hamsters. Hard boiled eggs are a treat you can make at home that will be enjoyed. Given once a week, this treat will help provide extra protein to your furry friend. Parakeet and canary seed can be given as a treat, too. One teaspoon weekly is enough. Other treats can be mineral chews and wood chews, which are good for the hamster and gerbil’s teeth.

As mentioned above, hamsters and gerbils are generally very healthy pets. However, there are a couple of problems that can arise with your hamster or gerbil. Wet tail is one of the most common and most serious of hamster and gerbil diseases. Young animals (3-6 weeks) and new animals are more susceptible due to stress. Some symptoms are hunched appearance, loss of appetite, wetness around the tail area, diarrhea, and lethargy. If you suspect wet tail, seek veterinary care. Quick action is crucial because it can result in death. Respiratory infections are another common problem with hamsters and gerbils. Symptoms can include sneezing, loss of appetite, discharge and decreased activity. If a respiratory infection is suspected, seek veterinary attention, as it can result in pneumonia and possibly death.

Hamster and gerbils make wonderful small pets for people of any age. They are easy to care for and relatively healthy animals. Making sure they have the proper nutrition is very important to ensure their long and healthy life.

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