It’s in our nature to nurture, so when our pets get sick, it can be a stressful time. Unfortunately, we recently witnessed this firsthand when our own hamster Oscar became extremely ill very quickly. Because hamsters are so small, they are not only more susceptible to illness but also less resilient in fighting it. This is why it is important to take precautions to keep your hamster healthy.
How to look after a sick hamster depends on the illness. Because prevention is always preferable to cure, keep an eye out for signs that your hamster is sick. If your hamster becomes ill, keep them warm and hydrated and seek veterinary care.
Hamsters are low-maintenance pets. Because they are typically purchased as pets for children, they will require supervision to ensure that the hamster receives fresh food and water on a daily basis and is kept in a clean environment.
Your hamster will thrive in a loving, caring environment, so the more attention you can give it, the happier and healthier it will be.
How can you tell if your hamster is sick?
Hamsters, unlike humans, cannot communicate when they are sick. Instead, it is your responsibility as a pet owner to look for signs that all is not well.
Most hamsters will start to display symptoms and behavior that is out of the norm in order to alert us to the fact they are sick. This can be as simple as:
- Sleeping for longer periods than normal
- Displaying a lack of interest in their food
- Being too lethargic to groom themselves
- Becoming irritable upon handling
You should also pay attention to how your hamster interacts with you. If they usually come bounding over to the cage door for a cuddle but stay cowed in their bed, it’s a sign that they’re sick or injured. If your calm companion is in pain or distress, they may become nippy with you and even vocal.
We first noticed something was wrong with our hamster Oscar when he began to lose weight rapidly. He was an energetic and sparky hamster running around his cage, wheel, and tunnel stuffing his cheek pouches with food one day, and a lethargic hamster lying next to a full, untouched bowl of food the next. When we touched him, we noticed that his bones protruded more than usual, his bottom was damp, and he had lost the sparkle in his eye. At this point, I scheduled a veterinary appointment for the following day.
Other more visible signs that your hamster is sick include:
- Loss of fur and bald patches
- Excessive saliva or a wet chin
- A runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Diarrhoea. This can often be a sign of something more sinister such as wet tail
Oscar’s condition had deteriorated further by the morning, and in addition to the less obvious signs, he was now sick in his cage and had diarrhoea.
How to look after a sick hamster?
We all have “off” days, and it’s possible that your hamster is sick. If this is the case, make sure they have plenty of bedding and that the room is kept at a comfortable temperature.
They may become dehydrated if they lack appetite and do not drink enough fluids. You should pinch the scruff of their neck to test for elasticity. If it bounces right back, they’re probably fine and just need to be enticed with watery foods like grapes or cucumber. However, if the skin remains stretched, you will need to seek veterinary assistance.
The majority of colds, watery eyes, and runny noses can be treated at home. Handling your hamster with caution is advised, and assistance may be required to wipe away any excess fluids with a damp cotton bud. Look out for infections like pink eye, which must be treated right away.
The cage should be cleaned more frequently, and stress should be minimized. If you have more than one hamster in the same cage, you should quarantine them.
If your hamster appears sick to the point where you believe it requires immediate attention, we recommend contacting your veterinarian. This allows them to conduct a thorough examination and determine whether any procedures or medications are required.
When we took Oscar to the vet, she noticed how skinny and dehydrated he was right away. He was also in a lot of pain, trying to burrow out of sight in his travel cage, which was heartbreaking to witness. Although the veterinarian was unable to make a specific diagnosis, she did prescribe antibiotics and rehydration food. We are happy to report that Oscar is almost back to his pre-sickness self after a few days of tender loving care, recuperation, and medicine.
What should you do if your hamster is dying?
Unfortunately, hamsters are not immortal and have a lifespan of only 2-3 years. There are things you can do to care for your hamster if it is suffering from old age or a known disease.
Consult your veterinarian or a local pet store about the best types of food for your hamster and the best way to feed it. Hamsters with dental issues, those who are unable to chew or are simply off their food, may require additional assistance and a change in diet.
Exercise is the same way. It is beneficial to keep your hamster active, but they may be too weak to climb, and a change in cage configuration may make life easier for them. Allow them to sleep whenever they want and always remember to handle them gently.
If your hamster appears to be in a lot of pain, you should think about putting an end to the suffering. This is never an easy decision, and you should discuss it with family, friends, and veterinary professionals.
How to explain the death of a hamster to your child?
It is never easy to deliver bad news, especially to a child who has never lost a pet or a loved one.
Statistics show that for some, losing a pet is the same as losing a family member or best friend.
Make it clear to your child from the start that the joy of owning their own hamster comes with the heartbreak of knowing they won’t live forever. This forethought will allow them to comprehend the concept of death when it occurs.
However, never underestimate or try to minimize how traumatic the loss of a pet hamster can be for the entire family. While some younger children may not understand, older children are likely to be devastated.
As a result, it is important that we deliver the news at the appropriate time, when the child is calm and surrounded by plenty of emotional support. Allow them to ask questions and explain in as much detail as you deem necessary.
When going through the grieving process, your child is likely to experience a range of emotions that are completely normal. This could include sadness, anger, and distress at the prospect of never seeing or holding their hamster again.
Once the initial shock has worn off, you can help your child focus on the positives by recalling their pet hamster and the good times they shared.
It is important that we keep a close eye on our hamsters’ health in case they become ill. Our hamsters will be physically and emotionally happy if they are well fed, watered, have clean bedding and substrate, and receive plenty of love and care.
There are no guarantees in life, and your hamster becoming sick, ill, or injured is no exception. However, by keeping a close eye on them and seeking veterinary assistance if necessary, they have the best chance of living a full life.
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!
Waiting for our next post here.