Hamster Illnesses

In general, hamsters are robust and aren't affected by many natural diseases. But, they are very susceptible to the infectious diseases of other animals, including humans. Many of the problems and ailments now seen are due to captivity.

When people think of illnesses in hamsters they often think of wet tail, but there are many other illnesses that hamsters can get.

Abscesses occur when a bite, scratch or wound becomes infected and pus forms under the skin resulting in a lump. Often the bite or scratch may go unnoticed. Indeed by the time the lump is noticed the bite or scratch, which originally became infected, may have healed so it is often difficult to establish whether the lump is an abscess or a tumour. Hamsters usually recover from abscesses well and fairly quickly when treated.

Over grown or misaligned teeth requiring dentals every 2 weeks, (poor breeding or lack of chew blocks /malnourishment can cause this) be aware unlike rabbits a healthy hamsters teeth should be yellow this is normal.

Impacted cheek pouches (this is where for some reason the hamster doesn’t want or cant empty its cheek pouches and the food gets jammed and stuck it then gets rotten and causes infection this needs a vet/experienced person to empty them without causing injury (I have emptied on once it stinks and isn’t pleasant for the hamster)

Tumours, though less common in Syrians can arise these are often not a problem as the hamster dies of natural causes before the cancer spreads.

 

Protein deficiency caused by a poor diet and a lack of protein. Giving chicken or fish regularly or meal worms helps.

Wet tail is the most feared hamster disease, severe diarrhoea and bacterial infection if caught early it can be treated with antibiotics, pro-biotic and plenty of fluids but many hamsters can die from this.

Broken bones due to people not realising hamsters can easily fall from high levelled cages, veterinary treatment is required

Pyometrais caused by an infection in the womb. Often occurs in only older females if caught early can be treated with Baytril but often re occurs.

Hibernation can be a threat in colder weather. A hamster going into hibernation is dangerous.  They should be gently warmed to wake them up.  This can be prevented by heating the room the hamster is in or moving the hamster to a warmer place in the house.

Allergies The symptoms of an allergy can vary but may include sneezing, wheezing, skin irritation, runny eyes, fur loss. Allergy to cage cleaner, or wood shavings can result in irritated stomach and feet. The main thing I would point out is that cedar wood shavings will cause allergies and respiratory problems

Aspergillis Fungus the fungus grows in patches where the hamster has urinated its white and sometimes black where the hamster has wee’d cage disinfectant or antifungal sprays will help stop this, again Baytril would be the treatment.

Prolapse can be rectal or uterine, it tends to happen more in older hamsters and is when the hamsters internal organs are pushed out of the body if they aren’t damaged sometimes the intestine/uterus can be pushed back inside and a stitch put in place to hold it in but it is tricky and if the internal organs are damaged the hamster may have to be put to sleep.

Eye Problems conjunctivitis can cause problems bathe the eyes with boiled cooled water and get fucilthalmic eye drops from vet

Scent gland infection, only applicable really to dwarfs, if kept on wood chips rather than Carefresh or soft bedding they can get bits sticking into their scent glands which are where a belly button position is this can then become infected and ooze puss, an infected scent gland is painful and the hamster will need antibiotics and pain relief.  (Syrians have scent glands these are the two moles either side of their body by their hips but don’t seem to get infected)

Gum infections this can cause the teeth to become loose and wobbly meaning the hamster cannot eat as normal, sometimes the teeth will need removing by the vet other times antibiotics are enough

Cushing’s disease, Causes fur loss in hamsters and debilitation of movement it can cause the skin to be weak so cracks and sores appear on the hamster. It is caused by a tumour in the pituitary gland in the brain if can cause weight loss and dark patches on the skin too.

Mites, probably the most common hamster illness and can come from bedding or other pets, mites should be treated with spot on ivermetican. You will likely notice it by fur loss and flaky skin.

Pneumonia, sneezing and a runny nose can be the beginnings of this they may be lethargic also, this is usually stemming from the hamster catching a cold off its human owner. So please take care to avoid handling a hamster if you have flu or cold symptoms.

 

Diabetes, not so usual mostly dwarf hamsters but all hamsters can get it, symptoms are excessive drinking and weeing, and trembling: sugar free diets are recommended that means only feeding seed mix, alfalfa, fresh vegetables such as carrots, turnips, potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower daily and some boiled egg.

 

Infection of genitals, male robos have this most commonly and it will be seen as them rubbing themselves on the floor and itching when you handle them you may see red sore patch or puss they need veterinary treatment.

Bladder stones or kidney infections  these can be presented by the sight of blood from a hamster further tests would confirm if this is the case also drinking more can be a symptom too

Ringworm fungal infection which is treated by vets you will see circular patches of fur missing and notice the hamster scratching sometimes it appears similar to mite symptoms a skin scraping would probe which is causing the problem.

Cystitis: vaginal bleeding can be a sign and feeding small amounts of cranberry juice can help ease this.

Lung /respiratory problems generally due to bedding try changing bedding and seek veterinary treatment for infections.

I know not all of these are common but a hamster is much harder to treat and operating on one is very rare.  I also feel that some of these are preventable with a little though and observation of your hamster.

Only you know what is normal for your hamster.  Should you hamsters behaviour or features change, please seek medical attention for your hamster. 

Remember the antibiotic penicillin is toxic to hamsters and WILL kill them, please ensure any vet treatment does not include penicillin derived antibiotics.

 

A special Thank you to Kate Ferris for creating these descriptions of illnesses

 
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