Hamsters are subject to several diseases, such as colds, wet tail, diarrhea and constipation, parasites like mange, worms, fleas and lice, eye problems like protruding and sticky eyes, lumps and bumps, paralysis, abscesses, circling and some behavioral problems as well; that it is better to avoid than to treat because the treatments are rarely effective.
Why is it better to avoid hamsters diseases than to treat them?
There are several reasons why you should keep your hamster healthy if you don’t want to lose it prematurely:
- Hamsters hide their disease
To begin with, hamsters are prey, and they instinctively do everything they can to conceal the symptoms of their illnesses, because in the wild, predators typically attack sick individuals.
You won’t realize your hamster is sick until it’s too late, and it’s usually too late to save your hamster.
- Hamsters are easily stressed and difficult to treat
Hamsters have a small body, which is not easy to treat, they do not tolerate drugs, antibiotics and anti-inflammatories and especially their side effects.
The stress of going to the vet, the consultation, and the treatment will bring your hamster to its death and reduce its chances of recovery.
- It is rare to find a veterinarian who specializes in hamsters
Common hamster diseases – Symptoms, treatments, and prevention
So, what are the most common hamster diseases, and how can you keep your hamster from contracting them?
- Wet tail (Proliferative Ileitis)
As its name indicates, this hamster disease is caused by bacteria such as (Lawsonia intracellularis, Escherichia Coli, Campylobacter, Chlamydia and Cryptosporidium species). It happens in the intestines of the hamster.
You can recognize this disease when:
- Your hamster has its tail wet, I mean the hair of its anal region and matted with fecal matter (traces of diarrhea).
- You will also notice a lethargy and smell a bad odor when you approach your hamster.
- Your hamster will sleep more than usual but will eat less.
- Your hamster will have a hunched back and ears bent backwards.
- Your hamster may also show signs of aggression (bar biting & nipping).
Your hamster must see a veterinarian as soon as possible (less than two days), this disease is contagious, isolate the hamster and the objects it uses.
Avoid all fresh food and you must hydrate your hamster with a syringe and water or Pedialyte Electrolyte if he refuses to drink.
Even if treated, this disease is fatal and the hamster can die in less than 3 days.
Stress is what triggers this disease.
To know if your hamster is dehydrated, just pull on the skin behind its shoulders and if the skin quickly regains its shape after you have released it, know that your hamster is not dehydrated, and if the skin remains pulled and forms a small mound, give water with a syringe to your hamster because it is surely dehydrated
This hamster disease has symptoms similar to wet tail, except your hamster will not stop eating and will not have a bent back.
Your hamster will appear drugged or drunk, and his stool will be soft or almost liquid and light in color.
I saw a hamster with virus-caused diarrhea, and it was completely wet. You will also notice that his urine smells really bad when he has diarrhea.
The cause of diarrhea in hamsters can be salmonella or the flu virus. It could also be a diet too rich in fresh vegetables that contain too much water or laxative agents.
The uncleanliness of the cage and the hamster’s poor hygiene can also be causes of diarrhea in the hamster, not to mention stress.
You must consult a veterinarian who will prescribe antibiotics for your hamster, clean the cage, restore calm in the hamster’s room, and temporarily (for a few days) discontinue the food that contains water, such as vegetables.
Make sure your hamster’s water bowl is always full, and buy a syringe to give your hamster water if it refuses to hydrate. Also, keep your hamster’s cage at a stable temperature of 70-85°F, and avoid drafts, especially if the diarrhea is caused by the flu.
In this case, a thorough cleaning of the cage is also highly recommended.
Constipation is common in hamsters, you would recognize this disease when your hamster deposits stools already hard when they should normally be a little soft when they come out and only become dry a few moments later.
Other symptoms of hamster constipation include abdominal pain that causes the hamster’s back to arch and stools that are hard and smaller than usual. When your hamster has a parasite infection, he will take longer to defecate and you may even see tiny worms in his stool).
In the most severe case of constipation, you may even notice that your hamster’s anus is sticking out completely, forming a small tube.
The cause of constipation in hamsters:
- Folded intestines or an intestinal blockage due to ingesting some of his bedding can be the reason for constipation but it could also be an intestinal inflammation (severe), or parasites like roundworm or tapeworm.
- Lack of water intake or liver disease, so monitor the level of the water bowl or water bottle of your hamster.
To avoid constipation, your hamster must have permanent access to clean water, avoid unwashed plants and low cost beddings that may contain parasites, unsterilized and unsterilized common sands in bath blood.
The cleanliness of the cage is also important in avoiding this disease.
Older hamsters prefer to drink from a bowl, so provide easy access to water for your hamster.
- Mites: hair loss and dry skin are the two main symptoms of this infection.
- Fleas: your hamster will spend a lot of time scratching itself, it comes from the bedding or from another pet, maybe your cat or if you live in the country and your hamster received a visit from a mouse at night while you were sleeping!
You can use petroleum jelly that you apply periodically on the outside of your hamster’s ears.
This is usually due to a too dry micro-climate in your hamster’s cage, I’m not saying you should create too much humidity but extreme heat is not recommended for hamsters.
- Worms: roundworms, tapeworms to name only two affect your hamster after it has eaten contaminated pellets for example or any other food that could contain this kind of worms.
- Sarcoptic mange: the symptoms are dry and scaly skin, scratching, thinning hair followed by bald patches and head shaking.
The cause of parasites (parasitic spiders or tiny insects) is usually the use of the wrong bedding, contact with another infected pet or poor hygiene of the enclosure and its food.
- Eyes problems
Hamsters are also prone to diseases that can affect the eyes, here are the most common:
- Eye infection: infections occur when the hamster has something itchy in the eye, dust or something stuck in the eye, your hamster will have a swollen, watery eye and will scratch his eyes almost without stopping.
- Sticky eye: this disease is the fact that your hamster will have runny eyes when he sleeps, his tears dry and stick his eyelids together preventing the hamster to open his eyes. Just soak a soft cloth with clean water and clean your hamster’s eyes.
- Protruding eyes: in this case, your hamster’s eyes become asymmetrical, the reason is usually an accident or an infection, and a visit to the vet is advised in this case.
- Eyelid rub: the eyelids of your hamster will scratch the inside of the eyes, the hamster will have droppings of the eyes and it must see a Vet for treatment, it is like having sand or dust in the eyes.
These eye infections can easily be avoided by making sure to use only paper-based bedding, clean, sterilized sand for sand bath and not dusty.
- Lumps and bumps
These are lumps that appear quickly in hamsters and a visit to the vet for perhaps an intervention is advised in this case.
- Testicular lamps: this is usually a cancer of the testicles in males.
- Mammary gland lumps: these lumps occur in females, it is like breast cancer and only a vet can advise you in these two cases.
You will notice if your hamster is at risk of paralysis that it has more and more trouble using its front legs.
This is usually due to a lack of activity because the cage is too small, the wheel is too small which will create a problem with the spine; or there is no wheel in the cage,…
A hamster injured by a fall or a fight with a fellow hamster can also be paralyzed, a partial paralysis of the back legs for example, the lack of essential vitamins like Vitamin D, K and E.
To avoid paralysis, make sure your hamster’s cage is spacious and secure and make sure your hamster has a diet rich in vitamins, I’m not talking about giving your hammies extra vitamin drops!
Provide enrichment for your hamster and encourage exercise, and provide a playpen and more playtime for your little fella.
This is like the rabbit head tilt, the hamster will tilt its head to one side and just spin around in a circle.
This disease is caused by an infection of the inner ear of the hamster, due to a lung infection when the hamster’s cage is poorly maintained or the bedding or food is infested with bacteria.
A fall or blow to the head can cause head trauma and neurological problems that will lead to head tilt as well.
If the circling is caused by head trauma, it is difficult to treat and only your vet will advise you on this.
But if the cause of the head tilt is an infection, the vet will just prescribe some antibiotics that you will give orally to your hamster and the healing is possible.
Just do a thorough cleaning of the cage.
To avoid head tilt, you should keep your hamster’s cage clean and use a paper-based bedding and avoid dropping your hamster, especially on its head.
Abscesses are an accumulation of pus, white blood cells that fight an infection when your hamster is sick.
The pus will accumulate and form a hard or soft to the touch subcutaneous sac, you can find an abscess anywhere on the hamster’s body, usually near the infection.
Red or pink in color, the abscesses may leak and wet the hamster’s fur a bit, you will see a small patch of dried hair stuck together. The abscesses can be internal as well, those are the most difficult to discover and treat.
The cause of abscesses in hamsters:
- These abscesses are usually caused by bacterial or parasitic infections, cuts and wounds that become infected, dental cavities or any other respiratory or internal infection.
- Abscesses caused by tooth decay must be taken seriously, because the hamster’s tooth must be treated at the same time as the abscess, in which the veterinarian will make a small incision, painless, do not worry, and make the pus come out.
It will also be necessary to disinfect the wound and antibiotics will also be administered to fight the infection that caused the abscess.
Some parents disinfecting these abscesses at home after piercing the pus pocket, soak some clean cotton with salt water, a little alcohol or naturally with a thyme infusion and disinfect the place.
To avoid abscesses, it is necessary to avoid infections, to check often the state of the teeth of your hamster and is it has a wound or a cut… and to take care that it eats healthy and to the cleanliness of the cage also.
- Respiratory problems
If your hamster suddenly becomes inactive and lethargic, loses his usual appetite, has trouble breathing, curled up on himself, shaking, you see his rib cage barely move when he breathes.
If he has a runny nose (mucus) and eyes, wheezing, coughing, if he sneezes, if he has a coat that becomes dull and loses its luster; know that he may have a lung infection, and pneumonia in the worst case.
Not only viruses and bacteria can be behind your hamster’s respiratory problems, as the common cold, the flu.
- Streptococcus: sore throats and the Pasteurella bacteria; but also, a bedding of poor quality as those based on wood shavings such as pine and cedar, poor hygiene of the cage or hamster, drafts, scented beddings, spoiled food, a dusty sand in the blood bath…
It is not uncommon that your hamster who has trouble breathing gets up right after you give him a little infusion of thyme, this is what I personally take when I have trouble breathing.
But sometimes, if the symptoms are multiple, it’s best to start by taking your hamster to the vet, and antibiotics may be the best way to help your hamster get rid of the infection.
Be sure to keep your hamster well hydrated and clean the cage if it is a viral or bacterial infection.
To prevent respiratory problems in hamsters, start by choosing the right place to put the cage, no draught, no dust, no direct sunlight, no humidity.
Choose a room that has a stable temperature day and night, then choose a paper-based bedding and ensure that the cage remains clean.
A good diet and regular cleaning of the cage and you just have to avoid approaching your hamster when you have the flu or another contagious virus.
- Urinary problems
I’m going to talk mostly about Urinary Tract Infection (UTI), a hamster that has this infection will pee more frequently than usual, it will be in pain and may even have some blood in the urine.
This infection must be discovered in time and treated by a veterinarian by administering Enrofloxacin (Baytril), otherwise there is a risk that this infection that enters the urethra and infects the bladder, will spread and infect the kidneys, the symptoms would be frequent urination, lethargy and rapid weight loss.
It could also be that your hamster develops a bladder stone, which will cause a partial blockage of its urinary system and your hamster will urinate less than before and it will be painful. In this case, he may even stop seeing to avoid urinating, which will complicate the problem, so take him to the vet if you suspect this.
- Overgrown teeth or nails
Nails that become too long and are not trimmed can bend and get into the hamster’s feet and cause sores and infections. These untrimmed nails can also cause Bumblefoot.
The hamster’s teeth can also get too grown, I’m talking about the incisors, this happens when the hamster doesn’t have things to chew on to file down its teeth daily.
If you notice that there is blood in your hamster’s mouth or that it has trouble feeding or has stopped eating altogether, you should know that it may have a broken tooth or an abscess in its mouth.
You must trim the nails of your hamster as soon as you notice that they grow a little too much, also buy a playpen to get your hamster out of his cage and it allows to wear his nails naturally the fact that he moves on the ground especially if it is tile … or just dirt)
As far as teeth are concerned, just give your hamster something to chew on, branches and toys to chew on, otherwise his teeth need to be trimmed by a vet before it gets worse.
- Obesity in hamsters
Obesity in hamsters is a real scourge, we can advise you to add food to your hamster only after 24 or 48 hours depending on the quantity you give him.
They hide their food in their nest and eat all the time, avoid giving too many seeds that contain fat, too many mealworms, too many sweets and especially sweet and exotic fruits.
I just want to draw your attention to hamsters that lose weight quickly, it’s a bad sign too, in this case you have to look for other symptoms that could associate this rapid weight loss to one of the diseases I talked about.
- Hamster injuries, falls, fights and accidents
I want to talk about hamster falls, hamsters that fall from the hands of children and may not even survive these falls.
This is the common cold, you will notice a swollen and/or runny nose, lethargy and ears folded back on your hamster’s body, sneezing and eventually, a dull coat and weight loss.
You may have given him the flu virus, and if not you, make sure to clean the cage, the bedding may be wet, think about changing it, clean the elements of the cage, make sure the temperature of the room remains stable.
Give also a little more fruit to your hamster to strengthen its immunity and avoid stressing it. Your hamster must have a dry cage.
To avoid the flu, you should not handle your hamster if you are sick yourself, also avoid cold and drafts, never wet your hamster and quickly change the places of his bedding when he wets them.
It’s an infection that appears in the hamster’s paws because of a bad bedding, a wire mesh cage floor, a mesh wheel, but also the bad hygiene and the lack of cleaning of the cage.
Poorly trimmed nails and obesity are also two factors that can cause Bumblefoot (Ulcerative Pododermatitis).
Symptoms are swollen hamster legs, he can’t move easily and starts to limp.
A visit to the veterinarian is necessary in this case to treat this infection, but it is necessary to avoid the triggers afterwards.
- Diabetes in hamsters
This is especially true for dwarf hamsters, you will suspect that your hamster has diabetes if it seems to be tired all night and lacks activity.
He will not go on his wheel as he used to or he will get off it too quickly.
You will notice an increase in his water intake and you will see him pee more often as well, a change in his appetite, usually a reluctance to eat.
The last symptom of diabetes in hamsters is rapid weight loss or the opposite, your hamster will quickly become obese.
The causes of diabetes can be excessive consumption of fruit and sugary foods, along with a lack of exercise and a small cage.
Continuous stress can also trigger diabetes.
It could also be a hereditary disease and usually affects hybrid hamsters.
To avoid diabetes in hamsters you should choose a purebred hamster and not a crossbreed, make sure it has a balanced diet, clean water that is always available and plenty of exercise and outings in its playpen.
How to avoid hamster diseases?
I’ll give you some tips on how to keep your hamster healthy and how to avoid triggering these diseases yourself:
- Choose a healthy hamster
The first condition to avoid the risk of your hamster becoming ill frequently is to select a healthy hamster, which entails:
- A purebred hamster and not a hybrid
- A dynamic and curious hamster
- A hamster that has clear eyes, without cataracts and very bright and open, no tears or crust
- A healthy nose and ears, dry, without discharge
- A clean and dry bottom and no signs of diarrhea in the cage
- A large enclosure is important to your hamster
The second thing you should do if you want your hamster to be healthy and avoid health problems and injuries is to provide everything he or she will need, especially a large enclosure.
A hamster requires at least 1000 square inches of continuous floor space.
The enclosure must also have appropriate bedding, preferably paper-based, a suitable wheel, and plenty of toys and entertainment to keep your hamster from becoming bored and succumbing to stress, bar biting, and wet tail…
The cage should also include a sandbox or sand bath, which will help your hamster stay clean and maintain healthy fur and skin free of parasites.
- A well-balanced diet
To keep your hamster healthy, provide him with a well-balanced diet that is both varied and varied.
In general, your hamster’s food should consist of:
- A mix of as many varieties of seeds and cereals as possible for hamsters of course
- Fresh vegetables and herbs
- Protein foods
- Treats and fruit in moderation
- A mix of dried herbs
- Chewable branches
- Plenty of fresh water that’s easily accessible
Also, avoid mold growth by storing your hamster’s food in its bedding, changing its water daily, and only giving it more food when its daily ration is completely consumed.
- Avoid putting your hamster under stress
Stress is the hamster’s number one enemy and the cause of the most serious diseases, such as wet tail.
As a result, you must do everything possible to keep your hamster calm:
- Install his cage in a quiet place, not a passage or a corridor, avoid the draft, direct exposure to sunlight, heat, cold or humidity and especially dust.
- Install the cage in a quiet place, away from the window and outside noise, avoid exposing your hamster to noise.
- Avoid stressing your hamster by exposing it to artificial light, only turn on the light at night if there is a valid reason. You have just to respect its biological succession of day and night.
- Never put two hamsters in the same cage even if it is very large if you want to avoid fights and injuries. You are only allowed to do this when they are brothers and less than 4 weeks old (they are not yet adults).
- Avoid exposing your hamster to strong odors, if you put on perfume, do not get too close to your hamster, he has a sensitive nose and fragile lungs. Also avoid air fresheners and insecticides.
- Your hamster has nothing to do with your other pet, your cat for example should never approach your hamster.
- The hamster loves solitude, females tolerate males only for a few moments during coupling, and males love to live alone and seek a female only when she secretes sex hormones to attract males.
- The cleanliness of the hamster and its cage guarantee a long life
A clean hamster in a clean enclosure is an excellent way to keep your hamster disease-free.
To begin, use paper-based bedding that is absorbent and retains odors. When your hamster urinates in a specific location or hides fresh food in its nest, bacteria will not spread as quickly.
After that, you only need to do spot cleaning every day and a thorough cleaning and change of at least 13 of the bedding once a month, or every 20 days during the summer.
Also, make sure your hamster grooms himself daily and takes sand baths; if not, you should assist him in doing so and staying clean, especially if he is old, injured from a fall, or recovering.
To avoid algae, bacteria, and germs in your hamster’s water, change it every day or as soon as you notice it has changed color.
I also recommend that you use a water bowl rather than a bottle unless you are gone for more than a day.
A hamster that stays well hydrated is a healthy hamster, especially when the weather is hot.
- Create a routine for your hamster
You must establish a routine with your hamster, such as not disturbing it during the day when it sleeps unless absolutely necessary, feeding it at the same time each day, and playing with it at the same time each day.
Hamsters despise surprises, and establishing a daily routine with him will only improve his behavior.
- In order to stay in shape, your hamster needs exercise and stimulation
Hamsters are inquisitive, playful, and excellent night walker. Enclosing your hamster, even in a 2,000 square inch enclosure, will drastically reduce its life expectancy.
Hamsters require a lot of exercise to stay fit, so a large wheel is required (12 inches for Syrians and at least 6.5 inches for Dwarf hamsters).
Toys, puzzles with seeds, climbing toys (not for an elderly hamster), tunnels, passages, branches, bridges, floors and ladders, rope, hideouts…
In its playpen, your hamster should have plenty of enrichment, toys, and outlets to interact with you and enjoy more space.
- Health examination
You must learn to recognize the symptoms of hamster diseases in order to intervene and save your hamster before the disease becomes too severe and incurable.
You must be familiar with your hamster’s habits and behavior in order to detect any changes, and you should especially get into the habit of weighing your hamster with a small kitchen scale in order to detect any increase or decrease in its weight, which would undoubtedly be a sign of a health problem.
Don’t overstress your hamster by taking it to the vet at the first sign of a cold. This is especially important for elderly hamsters, as a trip to the vet could be fatal.
- Never impose yourself on your hamster
Allow it a few weeks to adapt in your home before attempting to tame it. Be patient, and avoid forcing your hamster to interact with you.
Hamsters have different personalities and personalities, and if your hamster bites you and does not like being handled, you must respect his decision and leave him alone; otherwise, you will cause him stress.
- Avoid sudden changes in your hamster’s environment
Your hamster craves stability, routine, and planning, and you should never impose abrupt changes, whether in his diet by introducing a new food too quickly, or in interaction schedules, temperature, and light.
As I previously stated, avoid hamster diseases rather than attempting to cure them.
A large cage, good food, quiet, and activity are all that your hamster will require to stay healthy, not to mention the most important ingredient of all: love.
Your hamster’s unconditional love, your daily interactions with him, and all the cuddles and kind words you whisper in his tiny and adorable ears.
I hope I’ve finally nailed the common hamster diseases, their symptoms, treatments, and, most importantly, how to avoid them.
I invite you to return to this article whenever you have a doubt that your hamster has a problem so that you can check the symptoms and act quickly to save your hamster.
If you want more helpful advice on looking after your hamster, including tips on food, toys, accessories and accommodation, add a comment below to let us know!
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