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National Research Council (US) Subcommittee on Laboratory Animal Nutrition. Nutrient Requirements of Laboratory Animals: Fourth Revised Edition, 1995. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1995.

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Nutrient Requirements of Laboratory Animals: Fourth Revised Edition, 1995.

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5Nutrient Requirements of the Hamster

Taxonomically hamsters are classified as a subfamily, Cricetinae, with 7 genera and 18 species in the family Muridae (Musser and Carleton, 1993). They are distributed throughout the Palearctic zone of Eurasia (Anderson and Jones, 1984). Original habitats of laboratory hamsters included clay deserts, shrub-covered plains, forested steppes, and/or cultivated fields.

Golden hamsters, Mesocricetus auratus, collected from a burrow 8 feet deep in a wheat field near Aleppo, Syria, were established as a colony of laboratory animals at the Microbiological Institute of Jerusalem in 1930. These animals were used to complete research on kala-azar delayed by the failure of Chinese hamsters to breed in captivity (Adler and Theodor, 1931). Adler took breeding pairs to Paris and London to establish colonies at research institutions there (Bruce and Hindle, 1934; Adler, 1948; Murphy, 1985). Breeding stock were distributed to investigators in India, Egypt, and the United States (Doull and Megrall, 1939; Poiley, 1950). Golden hamsters is the hamster species most frequently used in research (Hoffman et al., 1968; Siegel, 1985; Van Hoosier and McPherson, 1987), but very little is known about their nutritional requirements.

In the past 20 years, 7 additional hamster species have been used as laboratory animals. Animals identified as strain MHH:EPH are maintained in Hannover, Germany (Reznik et al., 1978; Mohr and Ernst, 1987). Mouse-like Chinese striped hamsters, Cricetulus barabensis, are used in research in cytogenetics, diabetes, and toxicology (Calland et al., 1986; Diani and Gerritsen, 1987). The large guinea-pig-like European hamster, Cricetus cricetus, formerly considered a pest in agricultural areas, is now a model for research in carcinogenesis. Dwarf hamsters, Phodopus campbelli and P. sungorus, of southern and western Siberia, are used in research in cytogenetics, carcinogenesis, diabetes mellitus, obesity, photoperiod changes, and social behavior (Pogosianz and Sokova, 1967; Hoffmann, 1973; Daly, 1975; Gamperl et al., 1978; Hoffmann, 1978. Steinlechner et al., 1983; Wade and Bartness, 1984; Pond et al., 1987; Ruf et al., 1991). Turkish hamsters, Mesocricetus brandti, are used in hibernation, taxonomy, and cytogenetics research (Lyman and O'Brien, 1977; Lyman et al., 1981, 1983; Todd et al., 1972). Colonies of the Romanian hamster, Mesocricetus neutoni , were established in Bucharest and used for research in cytogenetics and taxonomy (Hamar and Schutowa, 1966; Murphy, 1977; Popescu and DiPaolo, 1980). The Armenian, or migratory hamster, Cricetulus migratorius , is used on a limited basis in cytogenetics and oncology research (Lavappa and Yerganian, 1970; Cantrell and Padovan, 1987) (see Table 5-1).

TABLE 5-1. Names, Characteristics, and History of Laboratory Hamsters.


Names, Characteristics, and History of Laboratory Hamsters.

Biological And Behavioral Characteristics

Unlike simple-stomached rats, mice, and guinea pigs, hamsters, like voles, have a stomach that consists of two distinct compartments: a keratinized, nonglandular forestomach (cardiac) separated from a glandular region (pyloric) by sphincter-like muscular marginal folds (Reznik et al., 1978) that control movement of ingesta from esophagus to duodenum. An embryological study has shown that the forestomach is gastric in origin and not an esophageal derivative (Vorontsov, 1979). The structure and function of the forestomach is similar to the rumen of herbivores (Takahashi and Tamate, 1976; Borer, 1985). Ingesta enter the forestomach from the esophagus and pass into the glandular stomach in 10 to 60 minutes (Ehle and Warner, 1978). Kunstyr (1974) noted that the concentration of microorganisms is higher in the forestomach than in the glandular region. Sakaguchi et al. (1981) demonstrated that the forestomach aids in the utilization of dietary urea.

The hamster cecum is a J-shaped structure with numerous lateral sacculations and has more volume than the stomach (Krueger and Rieschel, 1950; Magalhaes, 1968).

Hamsters, like guinea pigs and gerbils, eat regularly, at 2-hour intervals throughout the day (Anderson and Shettleworth, 1977; Borer et al., 1979). Wild hamsters gather and store grains and other food in underground burrows to ensure a constant source of food (Borer et al., 1979; Micheli and Malsbury, 1982; Carleton and Musser, 1984). Hamsters are adapted to running and digging and are active primarily during twilight and during the night.

The golden hamster has a gestation period of 15 to 18 days. Members of the Mesocricetus species are solitary animals that live in separate burrows with one or two chambers and entrances and exits; males and females meet only for breeding (Murphy, 1985).

Reproduction And Development

Developmental and reproductive indices for three species are given in Tables 5-2 and 5-3, respectively. Young hamsters weigh 2 to 4 g at birth (see Table 5-4; Poiley, 1972). Average litter size is 11 (Slater, 1972), ranging from 2 to 16 (Anderson and Shina, 1972). Newborn hamsters are fetal in appearance—hairless, eyes and ears closed, and legs underdeveloped (Balk and Slater, 1987). Incisors are erupted at birth and young animals begin to eat solid food within 7 to 10 days (Balk and Slater, 1987). Hamsters weigh 40 g when weaned at 21 days (Poiley, 1972). Male hamsters are sexually mature at 42 days old, but females can breed as early as 28 to 30 days old (Selle, 1945; Balk and Slater, 1987). Litters with the greatest average number of pups are obtained from females 8 to 10 weeks old and males 10 to 12 weeks old (Robens, 1968; Balk and Slater, 1987).

TABLE 5-2. Developmental Indices for Golden, Chinese, and Siberian Hamsters.


Developmental Indices for Golden, Chinese, and Siberian Hamsters.

TABLE 5-4. Growth of Golden Hamster Outbred Cr:RGH (SYR).


Growth of Golden Hamster Outbred Cr:RGH (SYR).

Examples Of Purified And Natural-Ingredient Diets

Two examples of purified diets and one of a natural-ingredient diet are presented in Tables 5-5 A-C, 5-6 A-C, and 5-7 A-C. These diets supported growth that was equivalent to the highest rates reported in our review of the literature. The two purified diets supported growth rates of 1.6 to 2.0 g/day. The natural-ingredient diet was selected from three that supported a growth rate of 1.9 g/day; of the three, it was intermediate in complexity.

TABLE 5-5A. Rutten and de Groot Purified Diet for Hamsters.


Rutten and de Groot Purified Diet for Hamsters.

TABLE 5-5C. Rutten and de Groot Vitamin Mix.


Rutten and de Groot Vitamin Mix.

TABLE 5-6A. Hayes Purified Diet for Hamsters.


Hayes Purified Diet for Hamsters.

TABLE 5-6C. Hayes-Cathcart Vitamin Mix.


Hayes-Cathcart Vitamin Mix.

TABLE 5-7A. Natural-Ingredient Diet for Hamsters.


Natural-Ingredient Diet for Hamsters.

TABLE 5-8. Protein Requirements.


Protein Requirements.

Water And Energy

Male and female golden hamsters consume, on average, 8.5 mL water/100 g BW/day; males consumed 5 mL water/100 g BW/day, while females consumed 14 mL water/100 g BW/day (Fitts and St. Dennis, 1981). Thompson (1971) recorded Chinese hamsters intake of water to be 11.4 mL/100 g BW/day for males and 12.9 mL/100 g BW/day for females. Water intake for golden hamsters was found to be 4.5 mL/100 g BW/day in males and 13.6 mL/100 g BW/day for females.

Little definitive work has been done on the energy requirement of the hamster, and few research studies include data on energy utilization. When fed a cereal-based diet containing 14.95 percent neutral detergent fiber (NDF) and 5.6 kcal gross energy (GE)/g diet (23.4 kJ/g diet), hamsters digested 45.2 percent of NDF and 81.5 percent of GE. Hamsters fed a 75 percent alfalfa meal diet that contained 40.6 percent NDF and 4.05 kcal GE/g diet (16.9 kJ/ g diet) digested the NDF and GE to the extent of 33.4 percent and 50.2 percent, respectively (Ehle and Warner, 1978). Arrington et al. (1966) reported that hamsters fed purified diets containing 12 and 16 percent casein had a total GE intake of 27 to 29 kcal/day (113 to 121 kJ/day) and gained 40 to 100 g over a 42-day period. Smaller hamsters (45 g) consumed 58 kcal/100 g BW/day (243 kJ/100 g BW/day), while larger hamsters (90 g) consumed 28 kcal/100 g BW/day (117 kJ/100 g BW/day). For a summary of energy balance in golden hamsters, see Borer (1985).


An optimal concentration of dietary lipid has not been established for the hamster, although they seem to thrive on diets containing 4 to 20 percent fat (w/w). Knapka and Judge (1974) fed weanling (21 days old) male and female golden hamsters natural-ingredient pelleted diets containing 3.1, 5.0, 7.3, or 9.2 percent crude fat for 35 days. The feed:gain ratio decreased with increasing concentrations of dietary lipid. A decrease in feed intake was not associated with increased concentration of energy in the diet. Mortality was 1.0 percent when the diet contained 3.1 and 5.0 percent lipid. Higher mortality, but greater weight gain, occurred with the higher fat diets. The authors concluded that the lipid requirement for maximal growth of hamsters is slightly higher than 5 percent, but maximal growth should not be the only criterion used to determine the optimal concentration of lipid supplementation. Hamsters were maintained for a year or longer on starch gel diets (e.g., Table 5-6A) that contained up to 20 percent fat, with no mortality attributed to the fat load. However, feeding hamsters this diet for maintenance at 10 to 12 g/day [about 25 kcal ME/100 g BW/day (105 kJ ME/100 g BW/day)] tends to lessen obesity and the hypertriglyceridemia associated with allowing the animals free access to food (Hayes et al., 1993; K. C. Hayes, Brandeis University, personal communication, 1994)

TABLE 5-3Reproductive Indices for Golden, Chinese, and Siberian Hamsters

Breeding ageWeek8–10, female;Balk and Slater, 1987
10–12, maleBalk and Slater, 1987
minimum, femaleDay28Selle, 1945
Estrous cycleDay4Balk and Slater, 1987
GestationDay15.5Balk and Slater, 1987
Litter size4–16Slater, 1972
Litters/lifetime4–6Balk and Slater, 1987
Reproductive lifeMonth10Balk and Slater, 1987
Breeding ageWeek8–12, female;Calland et al., 1986
Week32–48, maleCalland et al., 1986
minimum, femaleDay41Moore, 1965
Estrous cycleDay4Moore, 1965
GestationDay19–21Avery, 1968
Litter size1–11Calland et al., 1986
average6.1Calland et al., 1986
Litters/lifetime5Parkening, 1982
Reproductive lifeMonth16 ± 0.5Parkening, 1982
Breeding ageDay35–40 male 16 hours/light/dayCantrell and Padovan, 1987
Day150 male 8 hours/light/dayCantrell and Padovan, 1987
Estrous cycleDay4Iakovenko, 1974
GestationDay18Daly, 1975
Litter size1–9Pogosianz and Sokova, 1967
average4–6Pogosianz and Sokova, 1967
Litters/lifetime12Pogosianz and Sokova, 1967
Reproductive lifeMonth12Pogosianz and Sokova, 1967

Golden hamster (Mesocricetus auratus).


Chinese hamster (Cricetulus griseus and/or C. barabensis).


Siberian Dwarf, Djungarian, or Dzungrian hamster (Phodopus sungorus ) (Pogosianz and Sokova, 1967; Cantrell and Padovan, 1987); Campbell's, Djungarian, or Siberian hamster (Phodopus campbelli) (Pogosianz and Sokova, 1967; Iakovenko, 1974).

Signs of Lipid Deficiency A review by Holman (1968) reported that weanling hamsters fed a fat-free diet showed a slow rate of growth, had pale kidneys, and developed ulcers at the mucocutaneous junction of the anus.

Essential Fatty Acids

n-6 Fatty Acids

The requirement for n-6 fatty acids has not been determined for hamsters, but a deficiency has been demonstrated. Christensen and Dam (1952) found that feeding weanling hamsters a fat-free diet resulted in loss of hair, scaly skin, and development of a profuse secretion of cerumen (ear-wax)—a light-yellow, cholesterol-containing material. Signs of n-6 deficiency may be decreased by feeding hamsters a diet with 10 percent lard or a dietary supplement of 28 mg linoleic acid/day.

n-3 Fatty Acids

No studies are available on the distribution of n-3 fatty acids in hamster tissues or on the development of n-3 fatty acid deficiency. Three studies (Cunnane et al., 1985, 1986, 1987) were conducted in which ethanol was fed to hamsters with subsequent increases in n-9 fatty acids and decreases in the n-6 and n-3 fatty acids in liver triglycerides and phospholipids. Dietary treatments supplying a range of n-6:n-3 ratios were, predictably, found to influence tissue fatty acid composition in ethanol-fed and control hamsters.

TABLE 5-5BRutten and de Groot Mineral Mix

Amount, g/kg
Potassium citrateK3C6H5O·H2O394.05.29
Potassium sulfateK2SO4 51.80.81
Potassium sulfateK2SO4 0.33
Magnesium oxideMgO28.40.63
Manganese carbonateMnCO3·H2O3.50.051
Ferric citrateFeC6H5O7·5H2O24.00.173
Zinc carbonateZnO·2CO3·4H2O1.60.031
Cupric carbonate, basicCuCO3(OH)2·H2O0.30.004
Potassium iodateKIO3 0.080.002
Sodium seleniteNa2SeO3·5H2O0.010.0001
Chromic potassium sulfateCrK(SO4)·12H2O0.550.0025
Sodium fluorideNaF0.0630.001
Cobaltous chlorideCoCl2·6H2O0.1270.002
Sucrose powder385.57

Amount of element (boldface element in the formula) provided when 35 g of mix is added per kg diet.

SOURCE: Rutten and de Groot (1992).


In hamsters fed diets containing 65 percent lactose or fructose, a mortality rate of 22 percent was observed, but only a 6 percent mortality rate was observed for hamsters fed 71 percent glucose, and 3 percent mortality with 62 percent sucrose (Gustafson et al., 1955). Salley and Bryson (1957) reduced mortality by decreasing the sugar to 54 percent and substituting either cornstarch or cellulose.

TABLE 5-6BHayes Mineral Mix

Amount, g/kg
Calcium carbonateCaCO3 290.48495.35
Calcium phosphateCaHPO4·2H2O72.59700.78
Calcium phosphateCaHPO4·2H2O0.60
Potassium phosphateK2HPO4 314.20496.49
Potassium phosphateK2HPO4 2.57
Magnesium sulfateMgSO4·7H2O98.7320.45
Magnesium sulfateMgSO4·7H2O0.59
Sodium chlorideNaCl162.36642.94
Sodium chlorideNaCl 4.53
Magnesium oxideMgO32.03950.87
Ferric citrateFeC6H6O7·5H2O27.00000.205
Potassium iodideKI0.07740.0008
Potassium iodideKI 0.0027
Manganese sulfateMnSO4H2O1.22110.0183
Manganese sulfateMnSO4H2O0.0106
Zinc chlorideZnCl2 0.91490.0202
Cupric sulfateCuSO4·5H2O0.29010.0034
Chromic acetateCr(C2H3O2)3 0.04430.00046
Sodium seleniteNa2SeO3 0.00430.00009
Sodium fluorideNaF 0.02320.00046

Amount of element (boldface in formula) provided when 46 g mix is added per kg diet.

SOURCE: Hayes et al. (1989), modified to correct published errors per K. C. Hayes, Brandeis University, personal communication, 1993. For correct version, see Hayes et al. (1993).

TABLE 5-7BTrace Mineral Mix

Amount, g/kg
Manganese dioxideMnO2 300.00.095
Ferrous sulfateFeSO4•7H2O570.00.060
Zinc OxideZnO97.00.039
Cupric sulfateCuSO4 24.00.0048
Potassium iodateKIO3 4.70.0014
Cobaltous chlorideCoCl2•6H2O4.30.0005

Amount of element (boldface in formula) provided when 0.5 g mix is added per kg diet.

SOURCE: Formulation by E. A. Ulman based on Birt and Conrad (1981).

With purified, fiber-free diets containing 64 percent carbohydrate, cornstarch was superior to glucose or sucrose in supporting survival (Ershoff, 1956). Rice starch supported higher growth rates than lactose (Dam and Christensen, 1961). Rogers et al. (1974) obtained satisfactory growth in a long-term study when animals were fed a gel diet containing 40 percent cornstarch and 21.9 percent sucrose. Hayes et al. (1989) observed that ''wet tail" could be prevented by inclusion of rice flour, fiber, or lactose in gel diets. The implication is that diarrhea and "wet tail," commonly encountered in hamsters fed purified diets, results from an insufficient amount of complex carbohydrates (fiber, starch) reaching the large bowel flora.

Protein And Amino Acids

Compared to a ruminant, fermentative digestion in the hamster is not sufficient to alter the pattern of dietary amino acids enough to improve growth of hamsters fed proteins such as wheat gluten (Banta et al., 1975). It seems that hamsters can make limited use of urea as a source of dietary nitrogen (Matsumoto, 1955; Sakaguchi et al., 1981). However, fermentative digestion seems to suppress the anticipated response to supplementation of amino acids expected to improve growth (Arrington et al., 1966; Banta et al., 1975) and to decrease the toxicity of high dietary concentrations of L-phenylalanine (Horowitz and Waisman, 1966).


No studies to determine requirements for single amino acids or mixtures of amino acids were found. Studies that focused on protein requirements used variations in natural-ingredient diets or, in a few cases, used a single protein product at a series of dietary concentrations (Table 5-8). Protein requirements for growth reported here were obtained from studies that used both male and female 3- to 4-week-old hamsters weighing approximately 40 g. Growth rate varied from 1 to 2 g/day in experiments lasting 3 to 5 weeks in most cases. Arrington et al. (1979) found that diets containing 13.7 percent crude protein from mixtures of corn, soybean, and casein would support gains of 1.8 to 2 g/day in both male and female golden Syrian hamsters. Banta et al. (1975) reported growth rates of 1.8 to 1.9 g/day during a 6-week period using a natural-ingredient diet containing 20 percent crude protein. Birt and Conrad (1981) compared two commercial natural-ingredient diets with three formulated diets of increasing complexity and found that diets that contained 18 to 22 percent crude protein would support gains of 1.8 to 1.9 g/day in both male and female hamsters over a period of 6 weeks. However, Feldman et al. (1982) obtained maximum gains of only 1.2 g/day even when the natural-ingredient diets contained up to 24 percent crude protein. A natural-ingredient diet containing 18 percent crude protein should support growth rates approaching 2 g/day in weanling hamsters. Addition of semipurified proteins to natural-ingredient diets may reduce the amount of crude protein required to support the expected rates of growth.

TABLE 5-7C. Vitamin Mix.


Vitamin Mix.

In studies using semipurified sources of protein, Arrington et al. (1966) found that diets containing 18 percent casein resulted in growth of 1.4 g/day over 6 weeks. Additional experiments with diets containing 16 percent casein or soy protein isolate supported gains of 1.4 to 1.5 g/day in experiments lasting 5 weeks (Arrington et al., 1966). In another study using casein at 9, 18, or 25 percent of the diet, Horowitz and Waisman (1966) found that maximum gain (1.4 g/day) was obtained with 18 percent casein.

Variation in the age and size of hamsters used in the experiments reviewed make it difficult to determine whether lower rates of growth obtained when purified proteins were used is the result of the hamster or the diet. Addition of free amino acids to the diet to improve the dietary amino acid pattern and, hence, growth have not been successful. A form of encapsulated amino acid may be beneficial.


Two studies focused on diet and reproduction in hamsters (Birt et al., 1982; Birt and Conrad, 1981). In one study (Birt and Conrad, 1981), the effects of five natural-ingredient diets containing from 18 to 24 percent crude protein (see, for example, Table 5-7A) were compared over three breeding cycles; reproductive performance of hamsters fed corn-soybean or corn-soybean-alfalfa meal diets containing 18 percent crude protein was equal to or exceeded that of hamsters fed either of two commercial natural-ingredient diets containing 22 to 24 percent crude protein. In the other study (Birt et al., 1982), which used lactalbumin at 20 and 40 percent of the diet as the sole source of protein, reproductive efficiency (pups weaned per mating) was 20 to 40 percent that of identical females fed the commercial diet.

Although no recommendation is made for the amount of purified protein required to support reproduction, a natural-ingredient diet containing 18 percent crude protein is thought to meet the amino acid needs for reproduction in hamsters.


Given their widespread use as experimental animals, there is a remarkable paucity of information about the mineral requirements of hamsters.


Calcium and Phosphorus

Normal bone formation occurred in hamsters fed diets containing 6.0 g Ca/kg and 3.5 g P/kg. In the absence of vitamin D, rickets was produced in hamsters fed 4.7 g Ca/kg and 2.0 g P/kg diet (Jones, 1945). Old female hamsters fed diets containing 4.0 g P/kg and 3.0, 5.0, or 7.0 g Ca/kg were in positive calcium balance only at the two higher calcium intakes. Young animals (52 days old) retained calcium when fed 3.0, 5.0, and 7.0 g Ca/kg diet (Kane and McCay, 1947). Stralfors (1961) obtained a 54 percent decrease in the incidence of dental caries in hamsters when the calcium content of the diet was increased from 4.0 to 6.0 g Ca/kg.

Sodium and Chloride

Rowland and Fregly (1988) reported that hamsters, unlike rats, were reluctant to ingest NaCl either spontaneously or after treatment with several natriogenic stimuli that were effective in rats. Furthermore, they noted that variations in intake of NaCl solutions made hamsters extremely refractory to either decreases or increases in functional mineralocorticoid activity.

Trace Minerals

No studies were located that specifically addressed the dietary requirements of the hamster for iodine, molybdenum, and selenium or for iron.

Iodine, Molybdenum, and Selenium

Iodine, molybdenum, and selenium are trace elements essential for normal growth in laboratory animals. Birt et al. (1986) determined that male and female golden hamsters fed a diet containing 30 percent torula yeast as the protein source and 0.1 mg Se (as sodium selenite)/kg diet supported adequate growth, and 5 mg Se/kg is excessive. The iodine requirement may be met by 0.15 mg I/kg diet, and the molybdenum requirement by 0.10 mg Mo/kg diet. The selenium requirement may be met by 0.15 mg Se/kg diet for maintenance, 0.20 for growth and aging, and 0.40 for pregnancy and lactation.

Signs of Iodine Deficiency Hamsters fed iodine-deficient diets (10 to 25 µg/kg) for several months developed enlarged thyroids when compared to controls fed adequate iodine (7.6 mg/kg) (Follis, 1959, 1962).


Signs of Iron Deficiency Chandler et al. (1988) reported that mild iron deficiency can be induced in adult males by feeding them a diet containing 10 mg Fe/kg for several weeks. Carpenter (1982) reported that feeding females a low-iron diet (3 mg Fe/kg) during pregnancy resulted in low maternal weight gain and a high frequency of prenatal mortality compared to controls.


Fat-Soluble Vitamins

Vitamin A

The vitamin A requirement of golden hamsters seems to be only slightly greater than that of the rat. Hamsters fed a purified diet containing 2 mg retinyl palmitate/kg diet (3.8 µmol/kg) grew as well as animals fed a commercial natural-ingredient diet (Rogers et al., 1974). The hamsters had normal serum vitamin A concentrations and a very modest accumulation of vitamin A in the livers. Based on these studies the minimum amount of retinol that will maintain a slightly positive vitamin A balance is approximately 1.1 mg/kg diet (3.8 µmol/kg diet).

Signs of Vitamin A Deficiency Omission of vitamin A from a 24 percent-casein diet resulted in deficiency signs in 6 to 7 weeks. Vitamin A-deficient animals developed abnormally and had coarse and sparse hair, xerophthalmia, and keratinized stratified tracheal lining (Salley and Bryson, 1957). Stomach ulcers formed in adult male hamsters fed a vitamin A-deficient diet for 7 months (Harada et al., 1982).

Signs of Vitamin A Toxicity Hamsters fed a diet containing 400,000 IU vitamin A/kg (419 µmol/kg) developed liver pathology and died within 42 to 91 days. Animals fed 100,000 IU/kg diet (105 µmol/kg) and lower concentrations (4,000 and 600 IU/kg) showed no toxic effects (Beems et al., 1987).

Vitamin D

Overt signs of rickets did not appear within a 5-week period when hamsters were fed vitamin D-deficient diets that contained calcium and phosphorus in a ratio of 2:1 and calcium was included at 6 g/kg diet. Rickets may be induced in hamsters in the absence of vitamin D and when dietary calcium is 4 g/kg and phosphorus is 0.2 g/kg (Jones, 1945). No published reports on vitamin D deficiency or toxicity were found.

Vitamin E

In spite of several studies on vitamin E deficiency in hamsters and their use as an animal to bioassay compounds for vitamin E activity, data are not available to provide a good estimate of the vitamin E requirement of hamsters. Bieri and Evarts (1974) found that a diet containing 2.1 µmol/kg RRR-α-tocopheryl acetate/kg was adequate to prevent testicular degeneration in the rat. However, plasma creatine phosphokinase (CPK) concentrations were slightly higher at this concentration of intake. With higher dietary concentrations (6.3 µmol/kg), plasma CPK concentrations were normal (Bieri, 1972). Unfortunately the more sensitive criterion of vitamin E adequacy, such as the in vitro red blood cell hemolysis assay, has not been investigated in hamsters. In the rat 6.3 µmol RRR-α-tocopherol/kg diet may be adequate to prevent overt signs of vitamin E deficiency, but this concentration is quite likely not adequate for optimal performance. Therefore, 42 µmol RRR -α-tocopherol/kg diet (27 IU/kg), which is required by the rat, is probably a more realistic value.

A few breeding colonies have reported a higher-than-expected incidence of spontaneous hemorrhagic necrosis, a fatal disease that affects the central nervous system of fetal hamsters. Keeler and Young (1979) found that a single intraperitoneal injection of 100 µmol of vitamin E on day 7 of gestation protects fetuses from this disease. The problem may arise from improper storage of diets, which leads to destruction of vitamin E.

Signs of Vitamin E Deficiency The absence of vitamin E in their diet causes hamsters to develop testicular degeneration. Feeding a hamster 21 µmol RRR-α-tocopheryl acetate/day restores normal weight and testicular histology. In contrast, rats are unable to reverse vitamin E-induced testicular degeneration (Mason and Mauer, 1975). Vitamin E-deficient hamsters show decreased growth and muscular dystrophy, which can be alleviated by administering high concentrations of vitamin E (West and Mason, 1958). Weanling hamsters fed a vitamin E-deficient diet developed muscular degeneration and died within 2 weeks. Improvement occurred within 30 hours after a single dose of 1 mg α-tocopherol (Houchin, 1942).

Vitamin K

No studies to ascertain the hamster's requirement for vitamin K could be found; however, Rogers et al. (1974) reported that a diet containing 4 mg menadione/kg (23 µmol/kg diet) was adequate for growth—the hamsters presumably received a considerable amount of vitamin K activity from coprophagy. No bleeding problems were reported. The Tolworth HS (Welsh) Warfarin-resistant strain of rats requires 1.77 µmol phylloquinone/kg BW/day (Greaves and Ayers, 1973). The vitamin K requirement of the hamster may be similar. Based on the requirement of the Tolworth HS (Welsh) Warfarin-resistant rat, 25 µmol phylloquinone/kg diet (11 mg/kg) should be a safe and adequate intake for hamsters.

Signs of Vitamin K Deficiency Adult male hamsters fed a vitamin K-deficient diet and housed in coprophagy-preventive cages showed a drop in prothrombin concentrations to 11 percent of control concentrations within 11 days. Treatment with chloro-K (2-chloro-3-phytyl-1,4-naphthoquinone), a vitamin K antagonist, at 1 to 5 mg chloro-K/kg BW decreased plasma prothrombin to 17 to 20 percent of control values. Hamsters are Warfarin resistant and require a large amount to reduce prothrombin production (Shah and Suttie, 1975).

Water-Soluble Vitamins


Satisfactory growth of hamsters has been obtained with diets containing 0.82 µmol biotin/kg (Cohen et al., 1971) and 2.5 µmol biotin/kg (Rogers et al., 1974). A dietary concentration of 0.2 mg/kg (0.82 µmol/kg) seems to be a safe and adequate amount of biotin for hamsters. Under normal conditions golden hamsters do not require dietary biotin (Granados, 1968). Apparently, the biotin obtained through coprophagy is sufficient to meet the requirement.

Signs of Biotin Deficiency A biotin deficiency is induced by feeding hamsters a diet containing both raw egg white and sulfaguanidine. Biotin-deficient animals developed dull rough coats, encrusted eyes, depigmented hair, and jerky movements. Daily injections of 16 nmol biotin (3.9 µg), equivalent to 0.66 mg/kg diet (2.7 µmol/kg), reversed deficiency signs within 4 to 6 weeks (Rauch and Nuting, 1958). Ten adult female hamsters fed a purified diet containing 5.0 mg biotin/kg diet produced 118 normal live fetuses; but 11 animals fed a biotin-deficient diet had 20 live fetuses (Watanabe and Endo, 1989).


Hamsters fed a peanut meal diet deficient in choline developed poor appetite, reduced growth, and fatty livers (Handler and Bernheim, 1949). Investigators who fed hamsters diets containing more than 200 g casein/kg did not observe a requirement for choline (Hamilton and Hogan, 1944). Purified diets on which hamsters have achieved satisfactory growth have contained 14 µmol choline chloride/kg diet (Rogers et al., 1974) or 7.1 µmol choline bitartrate/kg diet (Cohen et al., 1971). Under most circumstances 1.8 g choline bitartrate/kg diet should provide a safe and adequate intake of choline.


Golden hamsters fed 2 mg folic acid/kg diet (Cohen et al., 1971) do not develop folate deficiency. Folate deficiency does develop when golden hamsters are fed a purified diet containing 60 percent sucrose or 1 percent sulfonamide with either cornstarch or sucrose as the carbohydrate. Hamsters resemble guinea pigs rather than rats in that a folate deficiency can be produced without the use of sulfonamide.

Signs of Folate Deficiency In hamsters given a folate-deficient diet, liver folates are decreased to 10 percent of control and blood PCV and hemoglobin values are decreased 20 percent. In the deficient animal, increases are seen in urinary excretion of formiminoglutamic acid and aminoimidazolecarboxamide (Cohen et al., 1971).


Granados (1968) has stated that hamsters do not require Myo-inositol for normal growth. Hamilton and Hogan (1944) also demonstrated that myo-inositol is not required for growth but is necessary for reproduction.


Young hamsters fed diets containing 20 percent casein do not require dietary niacin for growth (Hamilton and Hogan, 1944; Granados, 1951). Niacin is necessary, however, for normal reproduction and adequate litter size (Hamilton and Hogan, 1944).

Signs of Niacin Deficiency Hamsters fed a niacin-free, purified diet developed rough and denuded hair, suffered loss of weight and death. Hair quality and weight gain improved with daily administration of 100 µg niacin (Routh and Houchin, 1942). Niacin supplementation does not improve growth of hamsters fed 20 percent casein (Hamilton and Hogan, 1944; Granados, 1951). However, niacin probably will be required in diets with low concentrations of protein or diets in which tryptophan is first limiting. Animals fed purified diets containing 81 µmol niacin/kg achieved satisfactory growth rates over 11 weeks (Cohen et al., 1971).

Pantothenic Acid

Routh and Houchin (1942), Hamilton and Hogan (1944), Granados (1951), and Cohen et al. (1963) identified pantothenic acid as a nutrient required for normal growth. Nevertheless, the requirement for this vitamin has not been quantified in the hamster. Concentrations of dietary Ca-pantothenate from 21 µmol/kg (Hamilton and Hogan, 1944) to 84 µmol/kg diet (Rogers et al., 1974) have been used in purified diets. None of the investigators indicated whether the type used was Ca-d-pantothenate or Ca-dl-pantothenate. Thus, 21 µmol Ca-d-pantothenate/kg diet (10 mg/kg diet) seems to be a safe and adequate concentration of pantothenic acid activity.

Signs of Pantothenic Acid Deficiency In the absence of pantothenic acid, hamsters lost weight, developed a red encrustation around the mouth, and died in 20 days. Daily injections of 15 µg Ca-pantothenate supported maintenance, but larger doses were needed for growth (Routh and Houchin, 1942).

Vitamin B6

Male weanling hamsters fed a pyridoxine-deficient diet for 2 to 3 weeks decreased their food and water intake and stopped growing. No quantitative requirement for vitamin B6 can be set at this time.

Signs of Vitamin B6 Deficiency In addition to weight loss, the hair of vitamin B6-deficient hamsters was unkempt, and crusted lesions were occasionally observed on lips and mouth. Increased xanthurenic acid was found in urine. Atrophy of lymphoid tissue, particularly in the thymus, is an outstanding pathological change (Schwartzman and Strauss, 1949). In the absence of vitamin B6, hamsters lose weight and develop an acrodynia-like condition around the mouth in less than 2 weeks. A daily dose of 3 µg pyridoxine cured the dermatitis and produced moderate growth (Rouch and Houchin, 1942).


Riboflavin is required for normal growth and development of hamsters, but no quantitative requirement has been established (Hamilton and Hogan, 1944; Granados, 1968). Deficiency signs did not occur in animals fed 20 mg/kg diet (Smith and Reynolds, 1961). Riboflavin depletion (measured by erythrocyte glutathione reductase) was produced in hamsters fed two concentrations of riboflavin—0.5 and 1.5 mg/kcal—in a liquid diet. Decreased growth was observed at the lower dose (Kim and Roe, 1985). Thus, a diet containing 15 mg/kg should be sufficient to support normal growth in hamsters.

Signs of Riboflavin Deficiency In the absence of dietary riboflavin, hamsters reduced their food and water intake, became inactive, showed stunted growth, and developed dull coats (Smith and Reynolds, 1961).


Thiamin is necessary for normal growth, but the specific requirement has not been established. Satisfactory growth has been obtained with purified diets containing 20 mg thiamin/kg diet (Arrington et al., 1966).

Signs of Thiamin Deficiency Hamsters fed 4 mg thiamin/kg diet developed a chronic deficiency (Salley et al., 1962). Hamsters fed a thiamin-deficient diet developed polyneuritis in 12 days. Oral administration of 3 µg thiamin/day reversed these signs in 2 days (Routh and Houchin, 1942).

Vitamin B12

Early reports concluded that vitamin B12 is not required for normal growth of golden hamsters (Scheid et al., 1950; Granados, 1951). Hamsters fed a diet high in soybean protein and cornstarch showed a mild vitamin B12 deficiency identified by the presence of distinctive metabolites (methylmalonic acid and formiminoglutamic acid) in urine (Cohen et al., 1967). Metabolic changes in deficient animals were corrected by feeding them a diet containing 10 µg vitamin B12/kg diet. The inclusion of inorganic cobalt (5 mg/kg diet) in the diet reversed deficiency changes and increased tissue storage of vitamin B12 (Tseng et al., 1976).

Potentially Beneficial Dietary Constituents


Fiber-free diets containing high concentrations of purified sugars result in high mortality (Salley and Bryson, 1957). The substitution of cornstarch for glucose and sucrose or addition of 12 to 20 percent alfalfa to diets increased survival (Ershoff, 1956). Basal diets containing starch or lactose may not require fiber additions because these ingredients support favorable microflora in the colon (Snog-Kjaer et al., 1963; Hayes et al., 1989). Microoorganisms present in the cecum and colon seem to be capable of degrading fiber sources (Banta et al., 1975; Vorontsov, 1979). Hamsters, like other rodents, practice coprophagy (von Frisch, 1990).

Ascorbic Acid

Early work suggested that golden hamsters do not require a dietary source of ascorbic acid (Clausen and Clark, 1943). Male hamsters fed a purified diet supplemented with 4.0 mg ascorbic acid/g diet gained 1.07 g/day with a food intake of 3.5 g/day. Growth curves overlapped; curves for supplemented animals were slightly above those of controls, which were fed diets containing no ascorbic acid. None of the animals weighed more than 96 g after 120 days. Poiley (1972) reported average male weight as 122 g at 112 days (Table 5-4).

Forty female hamsters fed a diet scorbutic for guinea pigs were given daily supplements of ascorbic acid in water by pipette according to the weight/dose chart of Dann and Cowgill (1935). Controls received this diet and an equal amount of water. At 70 days average weights were 105.6 g with a 0.3 mg dose, 99.4 g with a 0.65 mg dose, and 91.0 g with 0.9 mg dose per 100-g animal per day. Controls fed water and a diet scorbutic for guinea pigs averaged 88.5 g. Animals fed water and a diet supplemented with lettuce averaged 92.3 g (Hovde, 1950). Poiley (1972) reported, on average, females weighed 103 g at 70 days.


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© 1995 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Bookshelf ID: NBK231928


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