Mixing My Own Hamster Food

By popular demand I have decided to write about the mix that I feed my Roborovski hamsters. Disclaimer: there are no ‘secret’ ingredients! What you read below is what I feed, I’ve left nothing out. Have fun experimenting!

First some basic principles:- You need a base mix that’s at least 60% commercial food or you have to supplement with lots of added vitamins and minerals, especially copper, calcium and D3. This mix is based on the Shunamite diet that many rat owners and breeders use and is not intended to be a purely ‘straights’ mix.

To this mix you add seeds, fibre and protein depending on what you base mix is lacking and what sort of variety you want.

The base mix I use is a rabbit muesli that used to be made and sold by GJW Titmuss and is now available from Time For Paws. It’s available in 20kg or 4kg. The amount you buy doesn’t matter it’s the amount you use! If you can store 20kg and will use it within a few months then that will likely be the cheaper option for you.

I recommend storing all food in suitable containers and not just leaving them in the bag. Look for containers designed for dog food storage. This will protect you from weevils, moths and the food itself going stale. The food comes dried but it may be affected by your household humidity and can still ‘go off’ over time.

Now for the extras. The following information is taken from the Rat Rations website

Seeds vary but my mix usually consists of the following:
Buckwheat – For protein and fibre
Dari – Protein and oils, good for weight gain
Hemp – Contains essential fatty and amino acids
Millet – Good protein, carb and iron levels. Can be added as puffs for variety
Paddy Rice – A different way of feeding rice. For variety.
Pumpkin – Phosphorous, magnesium, tryptophan, vitamin K, iron, copper, zinc and unsaturated fatty acids. Also good for protein and fibre
Safflower – Iron and vitamin B6
Sunflower – Linoleic acid, tryptophan, vitamin E, B1 and B5, folate, copper, manganese, potassium, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, selenium, calcium and zinc.

Why add seeds? In addition to the benefits listed above, roborovski really do enjoy husking their seeds and is an essential enrichment activity for them. This is one big reason why I don’t feed pellets. If you can, get some puffed rice, puffed millet and even puffed spelt or puffed quinoa as this is a different texture for them.

Quinoa is a good source of many vitamins and amino acids but is, in my experience, easier to feed cooked (and cooled).

A word on linseed (flax). Linseed contains linoleic, linolenic and oleic acids, ┬ávitamins A, B, D and E, minerals, fatty and amino acids. But….it’s a very small seed that can easily get missed if you scatter feed. So I either buy linseed enriched dog biscuits available from Rat Rations or I mix flax oil into their weekly porridge. You can also give barley rings, which have flax oil in them.

Protein:
I add dried mealworms and dried silkworm pupae, again from Rat Rations. You can add dog kibble but if you want to give them something different to munch other than biscuits or kibble, the dried insects are good for this.

Fibre:
All my roborovski are offered, and eat, barley straw. I used to offer hay but unfortunately I am very allergic. I’ve also previously had hay mites in a commercial bag I bought so I’m very wary these days. Because I’ve seen them readily accepting this fibre, especially so when pregnant and on a young litter, I now add alfalfa pellets. These can be hard to find now so I’ve bought a very large bag of pellets for horse, made by Dengie. Just make sure there’s nothing added and it’s just 100% alfalfa. You can, of course feed this as dried grass or dried alfalfa.

‘Other’:-
Flowers – My lot all universally love dried flowers. Rose petals, marigold and hibiscus although this last one can stain! These are roughage but do also add vitamins to the diet.
Echinacea – For immune support
Tiger Nuts – High in protein, calcium, iron, thiamine, and phosphorus
Berries – I currently add cranberries but you could add rosehips instead. It just depends on what you fancy. Be careful of wet or sticky ‘dried’ fruit that may make your food go mouldy if it’s not eaten quickly
Nuts – you can add chopped, shelled or in shell nuts over winter if you feel you’d like to. Just watch your hamster’s weight!
Dried veg – I give dried green beans at the moment so that I know they are getting veg throughout the week. I don’t add anything that I give them as fresh food.

That’s the food, what about the quantities?

It’s all about proportion. Weight has nothing to do with it. Let me explain. Most of your order will be seeds (including puffs). Add in some protein and fibre as well as your ‘others’ selection. I order 3.2kg of seeds with safflower and hemp making up a kg each and then smaller amounts of the others, especially those that can be fatty such as pumpkin and sunflower seeds. I then add 500g of dried insects between mealies and silkworm pupae, and roughly 800g-1kg of ‘other’ foods including the flowers.

What I order exactly and in what quantity varies each time depending on the weights of my hamsters in general. If they start to drop off or as the weather gets colder I’ll add foods with higher fat content and more protein. In the warmer weather, after April, I’ll cut down on this and bulk out with more fibre and veg as I’ll usually need to cut down on excessive weight gain by then.

Your Rat Rations order has arrived. Cut open all the bags and mix it all up in one box. So you have now one tub of ‘extras’ and one of ‘base mix’.

Get a scoop. The scoop can be any size as long as you use the same one all the way through. In a third tub, add 6 scoops of base mix and four scoops of extras.

Keep going until you have used up all of your extras. You may have base mix leftover and you can save this for next time. Take a note of how much you used so you know when you need to order more muesli.

And that’s it. Simples. If there are ingredients that your roborovski definitely don’t like and always leave then just try something else. Browse through the whole site and try not to spend all your money!

Some people have had problems with weevils and moth eggs in their rat rations orders. Personally the only problems I ever had was with pre packed commercial bird seed and I’ve not had any issues with rat rations food myself. Nothing is guaranteed though so you can, if you wish, put the unopened food bags in the freezer for 24 hours and then defrost it before mixing it up. This should kill any eggs or larva of any food pests that may be in there.

If you have any questions please ask them below or email me. I’m not a nutritionist I’m sharing my knowledge and experience. If you experience any doubts about the diet you are feeding or if your hamster develops any health concerns please speak to your vet.

Lastly, I do not recommend feeding any foods that alter body chemistry (medicinal herbs) such as fenugreek which lowers blood sugar, valerian which causes drowsiness or dandelion which is a diuretic, as this could harm your pet. Don’t forget your robo is tiny so even small amounts of medicinal herbs can be harmful.

Which Bedding?

Choosing a bedding or substrate for the main floor of your cage can be a daunting task for both the newcomer and the seasoned hamster owner. It could be that you are purchasing your first hamster or that you are having to switch bedding.

I’ve recently had to move away from shavings due to developing an asthmatic sensitivity to this type of natural bedding. So I’ve had some very recent experience of a familiar exercise. What on earth do I try this time?

Please read on to see some of the examples of bedding or litter you can buy and my experience of them. Note that anything you buy for your hamster should always be dust extracted and unscented/treated. Scented bedding just makes your hamster mark more in order to make their cage smell like them and has been shown to stress the kidneys in other species of rodents. Plus, if you don’t like the smell of a hamster then it’s likely not the right pet for you.

Woodshavings

The most controversial bedding on the market are woodshavings. I’ll group them all here together as they are all very similar. You can buy quite large flaked bedding such as Littlemax or Bedmax and some smaller grade flakes like Snowflake Supreme or similar. You may even find you can buy unbranded woodshavings from your local farm shop.

I avoided this bedding for a very long time as I had rodents with sensitive lungs such as mice who really are very picky about their bedding options. Hamsters, however, do very well on these and you should choose a flake size suitable for your species. Roborovski, for example, prefer the smaller flakes. As long as your shavings are unscented, dust extracted and kiln dried then they are perfectly safe. After keeping 100 odd roborovski on Snowflake supreme I noticed no impact on health or lifespan and they are were, if anything, healthier looking with bigger litter sizes.
Quality of brands seems to be comparable as long as you heed the above advice.

Pros – Naturally scent free, very absorbent, good for burrowing, both warm in winter and cool in summer
Cons – Allergies can happen in both humans and animals. If you notice itching or sneezing that isn’t to do with another health condition or parasites then change the bedding to see if this is the cause.

Snowflake Supreme

Paper Bedding – Fitch

I’ll split these up as they are two very different kinds of bedding. Fitch used to be very good when it was first spotted by hamster keepers. It was reasonably priced, soft and of very good quality.
However, these days it is very expensive and the quality is not as good. Fitch was the only contender for decent paper bedding on the market a couple of years ago.
Paper bedding is a very good alternative to shavings if you have small animals. If you want a small size of bedding pieces and are willing to pay for it then Fitch could still be an option for you. I note that Carefresh (not reviewed here as I’ve never used it myself) is a similar price and I’ve been told it is softer.

Pros – Of Fitch, it is mostly hypoallergenic and relatively dust free (packs may vary). The pieces are small enough for dwarf species. Absorbent
Cons – The price does not reflect the quality. Does not have the natural odour control of shavings for bigger species

Fitch

Paper Bedding – Shredded Teabag Bedding

I have to note that I’m not getting a commission for any of this blog! Shredded teabag bedding is hands down the best alternative to shavings I’ve ever used. Some people say they do not like the long strands and I believe some companies do offer different kinds of cuts. I will review The Teabag Bedding Company as this is the only kind I have used so far.
Roborovski particularly enjoy tunneling through the long strands and I’ve found that not all the food immediately falls through to the bottom. For breeding, they seem to like using the strands for the nest, which my hamsters did not prefer to do with the Fitch.
It can be a bit tricky to extricate your hamster if it’s not cooperating but it’s not too difficult. Again, it’s not as good as shavings but it is the best alternative I’ve found so far.

Pros – Well priced, cosy, soft, holds tunnels well. Hypoallergenic and dust free. Somewhat absorbent
Cons – Lacks the natural odour control, long shreds not for everyone

Teabag Bedding

Cardboard Bedding

Shredded and squared cardboard beddings are another alternative but more appropriate for your syrians than your dwarfs. Dwarfs can live on it happily but they just don’t get around or tunnel in it as well as with other, less bulky, bedding options. If you have a diabetic dwarf or a large species of rodent, you will find the cardboard tends to compact into a kind of papier mache at the corners. I found this with both Finacard and Eco Pet Bed (now just called cardboard squares) so I assume this would be a problem with other, similar, products.
Hypoallergenic compared to other beddings but interestingly not as dust free as you may think. Poorly stored cardboard bedding bales can also grow mould in the corrugations so do make sure your supplier hasn’t had the bales sitting around too long, and don’t store yours where it’s damp.
A note about hoovering…..if you want an easy to clean up bedding then don’t get cardboard. It’s large size means it’s a pain to hoover.

Pros – Mostly hypoallergenic, largely dust free, somewhat absorbent
Cons – Bulky, not suitable for very small or very old/frail hamsters

Finacard
Cardboard Squares

Natural/Plant Based Bedding

Chopped hemp, wheat and flax are becoming more popular for small animals. Aubiose and Flaxcore particularly. I have found this to be either too hard and sharp (Aubiose) or too fragile (Flaxcore) to be suitable for my pets. In addition, very early on, I became very allergic to Aubiose and couldn’t even open a bag without a lot of antihistamines. I’m very wary of using bedding that gives me very bad hayfever, given the hamsters are nose deep in it 24/7.
Very absorbent, I was also concerned that bits of bedding would end up stuck in eyeballs and up noses and sure enough it wasn’t long before a mouse had an unfortunate accident with Aubiose in it’s eye. This type of bedding should really stay for the horses in my opinion

Pros – Absordent, natural odour control
Cons – Can cause allergies, not dust free (despite claims), not comfortable

Aubiose

Other Bedding – Pellets

I have used wood and paper pellets for the long haired syrians in the past. Wood pellets just grind up into dust in my experience so this review will focus on paper pellets.
Somewhat absorbent, paper pellets are as uncomfortable underfoot as you might think. The biggest drawback, aside from making your cage weigh more when full is that the hamsters can’t burrow in it. Of course, your precious show syrian probably shouldn’t be burrowing into anything with that lovely long hair but I like a bedding that they can dig into and larger flake shavings pull out of a syrian coat just fine.
Pellets like Back To Nature don’t yet come in the nice big bales that we breeders like to buy in but the bags are an ideal size for a pet owner.

Pros – Somewhat absorbent, largely hypoallergenic, mostly dust free (bags can vary). Ideal for long haired syrian coats
Cons – Can be pricey, does not provide the opportunity for burrowing behaviour. Can be heavy

Other Bedding Not Mentioned Above

So I can’t possibly cover all your options. There is Megazorb, shredded egg box bedding, shredded newspaper bedding and more on the market. I have never used these and perhaps that’s a telling review in itself.

Carefresh and Kaytee Cozy is a different matter. The only reason I’ve never used these is the price and bag size. I’ve heard good things about them but I would refer to the sections on Fitch and Pellets for a comparison.

A Note on Hay and Straw

I haven’t included these above because I don’t believe they are a suitable substrate material on their own. Straw can be absorbent but hamsters do like to eat straw and hay so I offer this as a complimentary food as part of their balanced diet. I wouldn’t want them eating soiled food/bedding.

**I have not been paid to review any of the brands mentioned above. I include no links for this reason. All reviews are due to my own first hand experience

Multiple litters are here!

All three girls gave birth as expected. Over the next few weeks I’m hoping to do a sort of breeders diary to give people an idea of what’s actually involved in raising these guys. My aim is to bridge the gap between those who think that multiple litters are horrendously time consuming and those who think they are very easy.
The reality is in between the two. Assuming the timing is right you can raise multiple litters without too much extra hassle. There’s not a lot of difference between one, two or three at the same time. But when you put in a degree of effort for one litter then you do have to plan in advance how to achieve this times two or three extras.
The hardest part, for syrians, is anticipating how many temporary cages you need for the youngsters when they get old enough to split up. The point at which they fall out with their siblings is hard to predict, as is the size of any litter. But the nice thing about hamsters is that they usually aren’t too difficult to rehome, especially when they are quality animals that are tame, healthy and good looking. This is why it’s worth putting in the extra time.

Contrary to popular opinion, mostly expressed online, a good breeder can breed multiple litters and across different species, assuming that they put the time in. I am not expecting to do much but eat, sleep and breathe baby hamsters for the next 6-8 weeks. In terms of profit. There are easier ways to make this small amount of money. The money we make is really more of a token towards the cost of raising them and to discourage those looking for a freebie. I like the idea of being the same price, or cheaper that major pet store chains as you get so much more for your money.

The coming tidal wave?

I’ve had to go all out and pair up everything I have to avoid losing lines as females get older. I’m hoping that I’ve got enough litters on the way to take my various bloodlines into 2016.

My own fault, in a way. I’ve had a crisis of career over the previous couple of months, so haven’t been 100% focused. I mean, if I were to get a full time job outside of the house then how would I have time for my breeding.

In any case, I’m happy with my two part time jobs that fit in quite nicely but it means I’ve looked at my list and had a bit of a panic. It’s the wrong time of year for prolific amounts of babies.

But if I wait til spring then half my girls will be retired so here I go. My list of expected litter on the website is the longest it’s ever been! I’ve got spare baby boxes coming out of my ears and disappearing under an increasing stack of baby food/kitten food/kitten milk.

I’m ready! Hopefully they are too. And, if I’m lucky, I’ll have time to make some videos although I’m not promising anything.

Blue – The latest colour on the block

Hopefully due to grow up big and strong, the survivor from my latest litter is a blue. Out of two black parents carrying this new ‘dilute’ gene, this little girl is very special to me. Ideally I would have like a boy that could have more than a couple of litters, but I’m happy to take this.
Her mum and dad will be paired again at some point to see if I can get more blues out and possibly males too. I’m very excited as this colour is lovely.
Not standardised just yet, the gene is being experimented with by a couple of hamsteries. Namely Norwood Hamstery, Laura Lovatt and now Tuftyfluff Hamstery here in the UK that I know of. They are possibly more. The dilute gene seems to have different effects on different colours so this process may take a while.
In the meantime, I’m happy to work with it’s effect on blacks and it would be very interesting to see it’s effect in chocolates too. I’m currently working towards a few different goals although ultimately a good black is still my most important aim.

Just a little over 2 weeks old now, I hope you enjoy the photo spam you will be forced to see over the coming weeks.

Protula Litter 07-08-2015 Day 12 a Protula Litter 07-08-2015 Day 13 a Protula Litter 07-08-2015 Day 13 b

Handling Roborovski Hamsters

I often get asked if people should handle their new roborovski hamster and it made me wonder if there is somewhere on the internet that suggests you shouldn’t. Goodness me I shouldn’t have looked!!

So, to right this awfully bad misinformation let me educate you ­čÖé

I breed and show these delightful creatures and that means I handle them, a lot. They are just like any other species of hamster. They are handled from 2 weeks old, as soon as their eyes are starting to open, and then handled every day until they go to their new homes. The ones I keep for showing have to be handled regularly to get them used to life on the show bench, just like the syrians and the chinese.

Roborovskis are clowns….on rocket fuel. A slow robo is either old or sick. Even the tame ones that we have at the show or on display stands need to be handled over a box, just in case they decide to have a run. They are not pets for small children because they need to be handled by older children or adults so that they don’t get squeezed too hard.

The idea that there are robos out there that don’t get any handling at all because the internet says not to is very sad.

Roborovskis like to be handled, they like to sit on your hand and clean themselves…the ultimate sign of a calm hamster. The best way to handle them is to get a storage box, place some of their bedding in it and ‘juggle’ your robo hand over hand until they calm down. Most do after the intial 30 seconds of ‘lift off’ as soon as they realise you aren’t going to eat them this time.

Naturally, your roborovski will run from you when you first go into the cage but will soon calm down. Handle, handle, handle! That’s the key to having your robo then turn around and inspect your fingers for treats. They are not a cuddly species but that doesn’t mean you should allow them to become feral. All that happens is they live in constant low level stress from being too nervous. You aren’t doing them any favours.

Robos do not cope with stress very well and will squawk at you when they feel unable to handle life. Just keep letting them now that handling is normal, and fine and that you going into their cage is also not a problem. Do it on a routine and they will soon realise that there is nothing to be worried about.

My best advice is to choose a hamstery page, blog or website for information directly from people who breed the species rather than cutesy pages from people who maybe own one or two and then become self professed gurus on them.┬á Sure, you can have robos from large chain pet stores that don’t like to be handled because they haven’t had any at all, or no positive handling, til they got to you but that is not a species characteristic just a sign of an inattentive breeder or a grumpy individual.

This is where going to a registered show breeder helps. An unhandleable hamster is disqualified from the show, especially if they bite (which robos rarely do) and are usually not then bred from.

I’m hoping to put some care articles/videos up soon to illustrate aspects of caring for these, and other species of hamsters as well as mice.

Happy handling!

Denchlet 13-04-15 - Day 21 a