Which hamsters are prone to diabetes?
Like humans, hamsters can get diabetes. Some species of hamsters including Russian dwarf hamsters (Campbell’s, winter whites or their hybrids) and Chinese hamsters develop diabetes more easily than others. Although purebred winter white hamsters supposedly do not develop diabetes as easily1, most of the hamsters labeled ‘winter white’ in pet shops are hybrids and not purebred. As such, I consider them ‘diabetes-prone’ too.
Conventional hamster wisdom (I just made up that term) says no to fruit but…
Many hamster web sites and forums advise against giving fruit to diabetes-prone hamsters. The assumption is that fruit are naturally high in sugar and giving them to your diabetic/diabetes-prone hamster will worsen its condition. Up until recently, I have avoided giving fruit to my winter white dwarf hamsters because of this. However, other than being higher in sugar than say vegetables, fruits are healthy and packed full of vitamins and minerals.
Not all fruits are high sugar
Fruits are also not all equally high in sugar, some of them don’t really have that much sugar in them. And who decides how much sugar is too high anyway? None of the information I came across mentioned a specific amount.
Blackberries vs Bananas vs Turnips
Take blackberries for example — every 100 grams of blackberries contains just 4.9grams of sugar. Compare this to bananas which contain 12 grams of sugars. And turnips, one of the ‘safe’ foods listed on Hamster Hideout2 for even diabetes-prone hamsters, have 3.8grams of sugar.
Why is it that turnips are okay at 3.8grams of sugar but blackberries are not? Does the 1.1g of sugar make a difference or are blackberries incorrectly assumed to be high sugar simply because they are a fruit?
I’ve been guilty of making this assumption myself on my dwarf hamster food list (to be updated with a fruit section soon). If you look at the comments, I’ve advised against giving carrots…but 100 grams of carrots contain just 4.7 grams of sugar so that’s even lower than blackberries.
Okay, some fruits (and carrot) have less sugar, now what?
The amount of sugar in a fruit doesn’t really tell us much about whether we can give them to a diabetic hamster. All we know is that some fruits have less sugar than others and not much more sugar than turnips. Instead of looking at the amount of sugar and trying to figure out whether it’s good or bad, why not look directly at what research says about diabetes and fruits:
Fruits are good for diabetic people (so maybe they’re okay for diabetic hamsters?)
While this is for humans, the American Diabetes Association says that fruits are okay for diabetic people. Also, human studies show that eating whole fruits, especially blueberries, grapes, and apples, helps lower the risk of diabetes. You can find the news article here, and the actual research here.
So…does this mean I should give my diabetes-prone hamster fruit?
While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that whole fruits lower diabetes risk in hamsters, I am of the opinion that feeding the occasional fresh fruit isn’t so bad even if your hamster is diabetic.
This article was inspired by Taxonomist’s thread on questioning conventional diet recommendations
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References and further reading: