Most people will opt for hamsters for pets because they are quite hardy. They generally feed well, groom themselves, and play. Moreover, they have shiny, full coats and bright eyes when in optimal health.
Even so, owing to their small size, things can get very serious within a short period, and a seemingly minor disease can even lead to death.
The common causes of illness in hamsters include a poor diet, an unhealthy environment, and incorrect care.
The typical signs of disease in your pet include a runny nose, lethargy, weight loss, hunched posture, dull eyes, diarrhea, and inactivity. Even if you are an expert in picking issues in your hamster, you might not realize it is sick until it is too late.
Most Common Hamster Diseases and Ailments
These animals can hide a disease for so long. Your best approach is being observant of your animal’s normal behavior so that you can pick any deviations early.
Stress in hamsters can be attributed to several factors. The aspects that will cause the same in your pet depend on its environment, care level, and personality.
Sudden movements, strange stimuli, and loud noises generally cause stress in a hamster. Your pet interprets these as life-threatening dangers that put them on their guard.
Scooping up your pet unexpectedly can also cause stress since it interprets this as what a predator would do in the wild.
In most cases, rodents without an enriched environment get stressed. This is because of their lack of mental and physical stimulation.
This explains the need to get exercise wheels for your hamster and other toys to keep it busy. Lastly, stress can also be attributed to other diseases that cause pain and general discomfort in a hamster.
The common symptoms of stress in hamsters include:
- Hair loss
- Compulsive behavior
- Hamster noises like snorts, grunts, shrieks, and squeals
- Persistent attempts to escape
- Muscle tremors and rigidity
- Constipation or diarrhea
The following are some ways of calming a stressed hamster:
- Enrich the hamster’s cage to keep your pet entertained and active.
- Have adequate preventive medicine to keep the hamster’s immune system strong by visiting a vet every six months.
- Get a vet to rule out and treat any pathologies when you notice the signs of stress in a hamster and treat them appropriately.
- Keep the hamster’s cage in a quiet place with low traffic.
Hamsters are very active and love running and playing. This, unfortunately, puts them at considerable risk of injuries.
Moreover, when you put several hamsters in one cage, they might fight and injure each other since they are territorial. The common signs of injuries in a hamster include:
- Sudden aggression
- Labored breathing
- Cries of pain and squeaks
- Sleeping for more time than usual
Below are some ways of managing hamster injuries:
- Assess the severity of the injury: Hamsters that drop several feet onto hard surfaces can suffer extensive internal injuries and broken bones. In this case, a vet might recommend euthanasia. Small scrapes, fractures, and cuts, on the other hand, can be managed easily with bandages, splints pain medication, and minimal movement.
- Take the hamster to a vet: do not wait before getting a vet’s attention even if you believe the injury in your hamster is not severe. The wait might worsen its severity.
- Minimize handling: do not handle an injured hamster unless absolutely necessary. This is because it is in pain and might be aggressive. When taking the pet to a vet, handle it using thick gloves.
Hamsters are quite sensitive to changes in their environments. The most common allergens for these animals include beddings, some foods, furniture polish, smoke, and perfumes.
When picking a hamster’s beddings, for instance, avoid pine and cedar since these contain potent oils that trigger respiratory symptoms. The common signs of hamster allergies include:
- Skin irritation
- Red feet
- Hair loss
- Watery eyes
The treatment of an allergy in your hamster starts with the recognition of the allergen and its avoidance.
If the symptoms are not relieved in a few days, you can remove another thing that might be causing the allergy. If the symptoms persist, a vet can prescribe an antihistamine for your pet.
– Skin Problems
Mite infestation is the leading cause of skin diseases in hamsters. Though these parasites are naturally found in the animal’s skin folds, they can cause infections in stressed, old, or malnourished pets.
Mite infestation in hamsters is evident as baldness, excessive scratching, and crusted skin.
Skin problems can also follow fungal infestation if the hamsters are kept in enclosed places with high humidity levels. In this case, the disease is characterized by hair loss in circular patterns, much like ringworms in humans.
Bacterial skin infections in your hamster can arise from infected cuts. Skin cancer can affect hamsters, but it is very rare. The dark greasy spots that most pet owners mistake in their pets for cancer are just normal glands.
Topical antibiotics are often used to clear up skin infections in hamsters. For a mite problem that gets out of hand, the vet will usually prescribe a course of Ivermectin or an insecticidal dip.
The environment of your hamster should be cleaned thoroughly, and the beddings changed to avoid re-infection.
– Respiratory Problems
Viruses and bacteria can cause respiratory infections in hamsters. These are transmitted when the pet is exposed to humans and other pets with respiratory infections.
The typical microorganisms that cause respiratory diseases in hamsters include influenza, streptococcus, Pasteurella, and murine parainfluenza.
Other than microorganisms housing your hamster in cold, wet places predisposes the animal to respiratory infections.
The common signs of respiratory issues in hamsters include:
- Mucus discharge from eyes and nose
- Inactivity and lethargy
- Wheezing and troubled breathing
- Irregular or rough chest sounds
Management of respiratory issues in hamsters includes:
- Administration of antibiotics and a decongestant
- Optimal hydration
- Maintaining constantly warm temperatures in the animal’s living environment
- Minimizing exercise, so the animal gets enough rest
- Using bedding made of non-irritant materials
– Cancerous Tumors
Tumors are a group of cells that serve a specific purpose but can be potentially dangerous in hamsters. There is no exact cause for the growth of tumors in hamsters. Even so, the programming of new cells in the animal can, at times, go awry.
In this case, old cells do not die to pave the way for the formation of new cells. This leads to cell overgrowth. Malignant tumors are life-threatening and spread fast, while benign ones are not dangerous and do not spread.
Most benign tumors in hamsters affect the adrenal glands. On the other hand, malignant ones often develop in the lymph glands, womb, intestines, and brain. The common signs of tumors in hamsters are:
- A noticeable hard lump though it can also be fleshy
- Bloody droppings
- Unexplained weight loss or gain
- Patchy fur loss
- Abnormal grooming
- Low appetite
For diagnosis, the vet will examine the cells in question under a microscope and then take a biopsy. An x-ray might be conducted beforehand to check the location of the tumor.
Blood chemistry studies might also be done to check any changes attributed to tumors.
The first option for the treatment of a tumor is its removal under anesthesia. However, the vet will consider if your hamster can survive the blood loss associated with the surgery and whether or not the animal can survive without the procedure before deciding to remove a tumor.
The other treatment option is chemotherapy, depending on the nature of the tumor. For aggressive, inoperable tumors, the vet might recommend putting down your hamster.
The most prevalent internal parasites that affect hamsters are tapeworms and pinworms. These are introduced into a hamster’s habitat in contaminated water, fleas, insects, and new hamsters.
The worms can also be transmitted from the hamsters to humans and vice-versa.
The symptoms of internal parasitic infestation in your hamster include mild diarrhea or constipation, weight loss, and impaction in severe cases.
Niclosamide, as a once-weekly dose for two weeks, can be prescribed for the treatment of tapeworm infestation.
For pinworms, vets often prescribe piperazine administered once daily for a week. In some instances, the vet can include metronidazole to the treatment regimen.
Mites are the leading external parasites that might affect your hamster. These cause a range of skin issues since they infect the hair follicles and induce itching and hair loss.
In most cases, mites will affect the skin around a hamster’s genitalia, ears, face, and feet.
To diagnose mite infestation, the vet will take a scraping of the affected part and examine it under a microscope. Medicated sprays are used to treat mite infestation.
Fleas survive through the ingestion of your hamster’s blood. When they bite it, the animal itches, and this might trigger an allergic reaction.
You can check if your pet has fleas by brushing its coat to see if black or rust-colored flecks fall out. Treatment for flea infestation in hamsters includes the use of medicated shampoos or topical creams.
Ticks also attach to the fur of hamsters around the necks, skin folds, and ears. Their bite might cause irritation, spread disease, and trigger anemia.
The ticks are picked off the hamster’s fur using tweezers. There are several preventative medications used when visiting a tick-endemic zone with your hamster.
– Digestive Problems
Stress, dietary issues, and bacterial infections are the leading causes of digestive problems in hamsters. These cause wet tail and diarrhea. Wet tail is scientifically called regional enteritis or proliferative ileitis and is caused by bacteria that inflame the intestines.
The condition is highly contagious and often affects hamsters that have just finished weaning. The longhaired teddy bear hamster variety is particularly prone to the disease.
The typical signs of wet tail include diarrhea, an unkempt coat, inactivity, and poor appetite. This is a potentially serious condition that can cause sudden death in your hamster because of dehydration. The condition is managed through rehydration and oral antibiotics.
Diarrhea can follow a diet change, such as when consuming foods that are very high in water content, including excess vegetables and fruits.
Antibiotics like erythromycin, lincomycin, and penicillin can also cause diarrhea in hamsters. Stopping the intake of the offending foods and drugs and rehydrating your hamster can help manage diarrhea.
One of the common infections in a hamster is an abscess. This generally follows fairly small breaks in the animal’s skin. Pus will then accumulate under the skin.
The pus might drain on its own, but, at times, it becomes a lump. Abscesses can also form in a hamster’s cheek pouch if the animal feeds on abrasive foods that scratch its mouth’s lining.
If your pet looks like it always has food in its cheek pouch, check if this might be an abscess. Vets drain abscesses before flushing them and administering antibiotics.
Pyometra is also a common life-threatening womb infection in hamsters. It typically affects older pets. There are two pyometra types, including open and closed.
In open pyometra, there is pus or bloody discharge from the hamster’s vulval area. You should know that hamsters will not menstruate, and thus any bloody discharge can be a pointer to open pyometra.
In closed pyometra, the discharge continues accumulating in the womb and causes abdominal distention. The leading symptom of pyometra is constantly empty fluid bowls in your hamster’s cage since it causes the hamsters to consume more water than usual.
The last treatment resort for pyometra is the surgical removal of the affected uterus.
– Teeth Problems
Hamster teeth are yellowish-orange, quite long, and somewhat see-through. Since the hamster is a rodent that spends most of its life chewing gnawing and biting things, its front teeth will keep growing.
They should thus be periodically filed to maintain their health and the mouth’s functionality.
Overgrown teeth are the most common dental issue in hamsters. These should be filed down but can point to the consumption of foods that are not hard enough.
This is because hard foods will naturally file the teeth. You thus should increase the hamster’s consumption of hard and chewable foods. ‘
Your hamster’s gums might be cut when chewing on sharp objects. This opens the teeth to bacterial infections. Tooth decay in hamsters can also follow the overconsumption of sugary foods.
The typical signs of dental issues in hamsters include bad breath, chattering teeth, loss of appetite, cage biting, and drooling. If you notice any of these, get a vet to check the hamster’s dentition and intervene.
– Eye Problems
One of the common eye issues in hamsters is the eyelid rub. In it, you will notice a change of the eyelids’ shapes and their rubbing against the animal’s eyes.
When left untreated, the eyelid rub causes a painful condition known as entropion. Ointments like neobacimyx and eye drops can be prescribed for the disease though sometimes surgery is needed.
The sticky eye is common in older hamsters but will, at times, affect young ones. It follows eye secretions when your pet is sleeping that become sticky and hard thus, “gluing” the hamster’s eyes shut.
You can loosen the hard material around your hamster’s eyes using a moist cloth. If this does not open the animal’s eyes after 2-3 attempts, call a vet.
Some hamsters are born with an anophthalmic gene that is also called the eyeless white gene. With this gene, the hamster is born with no eyes.
At times, however, hamsters can become blind following an injury or illness. The hamster can nonetheless lead a normal life provided you keep certain things that the animal uses in the same location.
Can You Get Sick From A Hamster?
Yes. Even when they look healthy, hamsters can carry germs into your family home that put your family at risk. For instance, they can carry an intestinal bacteria called salmonella that causes a serious disease in immune-compromised people.
However, you can minimize the risk of germs and disease transmission by following the steps below for your hamster’s care:
- Wash your hands after feeding, touching, or washing your pet.
- Do not hold hamsters close to your face or kiss and nuzzle them.
- Clean and disinfect your hamster’s supplies and habitat.
- Keep up with routine vet visits to catch diseases early.
Can Your Cat or Dog Get Sick From Your Hamster?
Yes. Just like hamsters carry germs that can infect humans, the same can also cause different diseases in your other pets.
Sticking to vet visits for all your pets will help you maintain a healthy home.
Most people would choose to own any other pet apart from a hamster believing the latter is hard to care for.
Fortunately, with the above guidelines on any diseases you might encounter to guide you, your hamster and household will remain healthy.
Besides keeping an eye out for signs of illness when you own the pet, be careful to check the same when buying your pet.
This ensures you bring home a healthy hamster and makes its care easy.