Americans love their popcorn, consuming an average of 43 quarts per capita. Interestingly, some find it more satisfying than potato chips. Therefore, it only makes sense you’d want to share some with your hamster. The fact is your pet will probably like it as much as you. If served plain, it’s also safe for hamsters, with some caveats. They involve food preferences, health value, and obesity risk.
Nutritional Value of Popcorn
Popcorn is a type of grain with the unique trait of popping when heated. It’s possible in part because of its thick hull or pericarp. Domestication began about 10,000 years ago in Mexico, coinciding with the beginning of agriculture. Archaeological evidence suggests early people may have figured out the mystery of popping it around 5,000 years ago. The rest, as they say, is history.
Let’s start with popcorn in its most basic form: unsalted and air-popped. A 1-cup serving contains roughly 30 calories, 6.2 grams of carbohydrates, and 1.2 grams of fiber. It also contains varying quantities of several essential vitamins and minerals, including niacin, folate, and potassium.
Cautions When Feeding Your Pet Popcorn
Research on the dietary needs of hamsters is limited. However, we know some information that is pertinent to our discussion about popcorn. Most pets are descendants of a litter brought from Syria to the United States in 1930. Their wild counterparts are omnivores that eat a variety of foods, from insects to vegetation to seeds.
Choking and Hamsters
All hamsters have a pair of lower and upper incisors. These teeth allow them to consume various foods. They also grow throughout the lives of the animals. A pet hamster normally wouldn’t have any issues eating popcorn. Remember that hamsters have large cheek pouches, which help them bring food back to their burrows for hoarding.
These rodents are accustomed to carrying large quantities of food in their pouches, and the risk of choking isn’t the same for these animals as it is for young children. The kernels, with their hard hulls, may be problematic. However, we’re also talking about an animal that consumes seeds. Some commercial diets even contain corn. The issue isn’t as much choking as it is the pet’s daily caloric intake.
Calories and Fat
The chances are you won’t see a calorie count on a bag of hamster food. However, you will find feeding instructions that may seem like small servings. Seeds, nuts, and pellets are highly concentrated food sources. Thus, they are often relatively high in fat and calories. Let’s put these figures in context with a hamster’s dietary needs.
Some research suggests that these animals should get 28-58 kcal/100 grams of body weight daily. Adults weigh between 100 to 125 grams. A 1-ounce serving of popcorn kernels contains 108 calories, 1.19 grams of fat, and 22.1 grams of carbohydrates. Hamsters can tolerate up to 12 grams of fat daily. Amounts within this range can prevent obesity, which can occur even in small animals. It can also ward off cardiovascular disease.
We must address the elephant in the room and acknowledge that perhaps not everyone is eating unsalted, air-popped popcorn. The butter, salt, and other flavorings can pose additional health risks for your pet. While a piece or two of popcorn once in a while won’t hurt your hamster, we can’t say the same thing about flavored corn. Therefore, we recommend the plain variety only as an occasional treat.
How Should I Give My Hamster Popcorn?
You should only offer your pet this snack as a plain popcorn puff, no more than once or twice a month. It is not nutritionally complete and balanced for the animal’s needs to warrant it as part of a healthy diet.
Will My Hamster Enjoy Popcorn?
Hamsters are like many small animals and those which are prey species. They are often cautious about anything new in their world, including treats. If your pet doesn’t seem interested, remove the uneaten food promptly.
Is Microwaved Popcorn OK?
Most products are flavored. We don’t recommend giving your pet any of these products, even the ones labeled light or salt-free. Other ingredients may be toxic to your hamster.
If you’re making a batch of air-popped popcorn, you can put aside a piece or two as a special treat for your pet without all the extras. They may enjoy this unique addition to their diet. However, we recommend monitoring your hamster’s health afterward for any signs of gastrointestinal distress. You should always introduce new foods slowly and keep a close eye on them for any negative reactions.