A Daily Telegraph reader recently contacted me with an interesting query:
I am getting wildly conflicting opinions on this from various vets, rodent food manufacturers and experienced rodent keepers that I have asked previously. I read your column in the newspaper and thought that you may be able to clarify this.
I am the owner of a lovely Chinese hamster who I adopted from a rescue centre as he had been attacked by the other hamsters in his litter; he has a badly scarred face and nearly died when his wounds became infected and so I just want to do my very best for him and to keep him healthy as he is an adorable little hamster.
The problem I have is that some people are telling me that you should not feed Chinese hamsters anything remotely sweet – even such as peas and corn – as they can be exceptionally prone to diabetes and so the owners should even go to the lengths of taking out any sweet bits from their food. However, others say that you should not do this “picking out” as the hamster will not have the full benefits of the nutrients in the food.
With Wilf, my little Chinese hamster, I just try and find a happy medium really; I give him everything in the food but try not to give him too many sweet treats – he does like a little piece of apple, carrot or strawberry – but I’m never sure whether it would be okay for him to have the hamster yogurt drops or any other sweeter treats because of what is said about the diabetes risk.
I also spoke to another Chinese hamster expert who said that the whole diabetes thing was a fallacy and not to worry about it so I don’t know what to think!
My answer to this reader is as follows:
A high proportion of Chinese Hamsters are born with a genetic predisposition to develop diabetes; the species has been studied extensively in the laboratory as a model for human diabetes. If your hamster has this genetic make up, then you can delay or prevent the onset of diabetes by careful attention to his diet.
The aim is to feed a high protein, low sugar, low fat diet, so sweet fruit and hamster treats should not be given. Signs of diabetes in hamsters include weight loss, cataracts and an increased thirst, so if these develop, you should discuss treatment possibilities with your vet.
For a full list of suitable foods, see here http://hamsterhideout.com/forum/topic/74051-safe-and-unsafe-foods-for-hamsters/
For a detailed account of diabetes in Chinese Hamsters, see here http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/31/Supplement_1/14.full.pdf
I should add that not all Chinese Hamsters have the genetic predisposition to diabetes, but even if they do not, it will not do any harm to restrict their diet in this way.
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Please note that I am unable to answer veterinary questions in comments. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health it is always better to contact your vet.