Hamster Vitamins
By David Imber
Question: Should I be buying vitamins to put in my hamsterís water bottle?

Answer: Hamster vitamins have been a particular thorn for me for a long time. I'm not a medical expert, so I canít comment on your particular case.  But there are a few factors that suggest to me that vitamin supplements should be avoided.

First, providing a rich, balanced, well thought-out diet for hamsters is easy and costs pennies a day at most. Authorities in the whole foods movement say what ordinary common sense dictates -- vitamins and minerals are more beneficial and better absorbed when their vehicle into the bloodstream is food, not supplements.  Supplements can certainly be helpful when diet is poor or lacking in certain things - I take supplements myself because I don't eat right all the time, and I take a medication that is said to deplete certain daily essentials. Furthermore, even critics of supplements say that taking them if you don't need them can't hurt anything except your pocketbook if they're taken in moderation, and are of a guaranteed high quality. But that brings me to my second point.

A lot of the same companies that profit from foods, treats, and supplements are those that produce other sorts of products, such as wire wheels and "hamster fluff", that are patently dangerous. So how can we put our confidence in their judgement? Furthermore, the recent crisis involving dog and cat foods showed that even the most expensive foods, those with the most exalted reputation, are not sufficiently vetted for safety. So what can we possibly think the review is like of foods and supplements intended for rodents, which are dismissed by the general public anyway and have short life spans even under the best circumstances?

Even quality foods frequently suffer oxidation and nutrient depletion from poor warehousing. They often contain highly processed ingredients and things like raw kidney beans which are "iffy" for hamsters, and the manufacturers are blithely unaccountable in most instances.

I certainly don't claim to know the last word on this subject, but I'm more inclined to rely on my own study and best instincts, along with the advice of long-time hamster-carers like many on some of the stronger hamster lists, rather than entrust the well-being of my beloved pets to the people who distribute products like supplements. I don't say this out of any anti-corporate sentiment, but because I feel that the track record of the major producers of rodent products speaks poorly for them.

We buy these things not because we're gullible, but because we always desire to do more to care for the pets in our charge. I've bought questionable products myself, so there's no blame here. Only skepticism, which I think is a very healthy thing.
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