Hey Pet Parents & Pet Lovers,
Today is going to be a bit of a more serious article that covers how to tell when your hamster is sick. As we all know, it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether or not your small mammals are sick. As a small animal owner, you’re going to want to make sure you’re checking your little one every time you feed them to make sure everything looks A-Okay. So, to help assist you with your examinations I’ve compiled a list of all of the most common illnesses that may affect your little hamster friend and what to look for to tell if they have them!
*Note: If you are looking for specific symptoms/a specific disease/illness I recommend hitting Control+F to search quickly
Most Common Signs of Diseases, Illnesses or Injuries
- Loss Of Appetite
- Huddling into the Corner of Their Cage
- Discharge from eyes or nose
- Inactivity or Lethargy
- Dirty, unkempt/ruffled fur
- Wetness around the tail
- Hair Loss
1. Respiratory Infections
Signs: Sneezing, wheezing, loss of appetite, decreased activity, laboured breathing, discharge from eyes and/or nose.
Respiratory infections are fairly serious as they tend to lead to illnesses such as pneumonia. These are commonly caused by drafts or other forms of sudden temperature changes and you should contact your vet immediately if your hamster is showing any of these signs. If you are certain that the respiratory infection was not caused by a draft or temperature, it may have been caused by the bedding you use for your hamster. Respiratory problems have been connected to bedding that is cedar and pine as it commonly irritates hamsters’ respiratory tracts (which can lead to an infection.) It is recommended that you use paper bedding for your hamster.
With all of this in mind, if your hamster is only sneezing, the chances of them having a respiratory infection is fairly low. Sneezing can happen for a number of reasons such as dust and may just be a sign that your hamster needs a bedding change.
2. Wet Tail
Symptoms: Diarrhea (signs of a wet tail), lethargy, ruffled/dirty coat, loss of appetite.
This is a highly contagious disease that is by far the most common in hamsters that have been recently weaned. The scientific names for wet tail are regional enteritis and proliferative ileitis. Although the cause is not fully certain, vets know that it is associated with a bacteria called “Campylobacter jejuni” and assume it can be triggered by dietary changes, stress, and overcrowding. Hamsters that have this condition are at risk of a quick death, however, with immediate treatment from a vet your hamster should make a speedy recovery. Supplements such as Oasis Vita-Drops High Potency Multi-Vitamins are commonly recommended as a treatment, however, I would still recommend seeing a vet.
3. Hamster Abscesses
Symptoms: lumps on the body or in mouth
Abscesses are pockets of infections that are caused by breaks, scratches, or cuts in your hamster’s skin. If these openings are left uncleaned/untreated pus will accumulate forming lumps that may sometimes drain on their own. Abscesses can also appear in your hamster’s mouth especially if your hamster eats harder foods. Abscesses in the mouth are commonly confused with food in your hamster’s pouches. There are no “over the counter” medications for abscesses and you will need a vet to either give you antibiotics, flush out the abscesses or even drain them if they have grown too large.
Abscesses can also be caused by overgrown teeth as hamster’s teeth never stop growing. To help stop hamster’s teeth from getting too long I would recommend getting a number of chew toys such as Apple Orchard Chew Sticks, Natural Wood Toys, Kaytee 3 Count Chew Toy, Wooden Interactive Toy Ball and Nut Knot Nibbler.
Symptoms: a wet tail, soft feces
Every animal can experience diarrhea, this is when stool is soft or wet. Diarrhea is most commonly caused by intestinal parasites or dietary change. Another cause can be overfeeding fresh foods such as fruits and vegetables. If your hamster has eaten too many fruits or vegetables make sure to stop feeding fresh foods for the next few days. Your hamster should not have a loss of appetite and should not act lethargic/decrease their activity. If you do notice lethargy or a lack of interest in food make sure to take your hamster to the vet. Commonly a hamster that is sick will stop drinking and will begin experiencing dehydration which can be extremely deadly. If the cause of the diarrhea is a parasite or hidden illness, your vet will commonly prescribe antibiotics/medications.
5. Skin Diseases
Symptoms: hair loss, redness, lesions, flakiness, scratching
It’s not uncommon for hamsters to experience things like hair loss, especially during certain seasons or as they grow older, however hamsters are susceptible to a number of skin diseases such as ringworm. Other diseases include skin infections and allergic dermatitis which must be dealt with by a veterinarian. Diseases are commonly worsened or irritated by cedar bedding, so to help start the healing process switch over to paper bedding.
6. Ear Infections
Symptoms: your hamster will circle or twirl
Similar to humans, hamsters can get ear infections. Ear infections are not usually fatal but do require medical attention from a vet.
7. Demodex Mites (Commonly Associated with Sarcoptic Mange and Acariasis Skin Disorder)
Symptoms: redness around eyes, nose and ears
Sometimes hamsters get mites (tiny parasites), which can live in their hair follicles. Your hamster may begin rubbing their body against their cage or their toys. If left untreated mites may cause diseases such as mange or acariasis skin disorder. To make sure your hamster has mites you will want to comb their fur and look closer with a magnifying glass. To treat mites you will want to thoroughly clean your hamster’s cage with anti-mite spray and you will want to take your hamster to the vet for treatment.
Symptoms: hair loss
As mentioned earlier, commonly hair loss is related to age, however, sometimes hair loss is also caused by poor diet. When hamsters don’t have enough protein they begin losing their hair, so make sure you cut back on cereals and add more proteins to their diet. A vet may also recommend you use cod liver oil to promote proper skin and fur health for your hamster friend.
9-12. Eye Problems
Pink Eye or Conjunctivitis
Commonly pink eye will be accompanied by some respiratory problems or discharge. Symptoms include mucus or sticky eyes. You will want to make sure you clean your hamster’s eyes with a saline solution. Pink eye can commonly be cured from home and will take about 2-Weeks to heal
Sometimes sand, dust or bedding gets stuck in your hamster’s eyes causing them to get scratched or tear. It is recommended that you use a Q-Tip to clean around your hamster’s eyes and you will want to disinfect with sodium chloride.
This is when your hamster’s eyelids are turned inward and is commonly seen in dwarf hamsters & Syrian hamsters. This commonly causes decreased vision and may cause your hamster to tear up. Luckily, your vet may be able to help your hamster by giving them eyedrops or ointments, although sometimes surgery is required.
Sticky eyes are more common with older hamsters as stickiness is similar to what we call “sleep” or “eye poop”. While a hamster is asleep they secrete fluids to keep their eyes nice and moist, however, sometimes they secrete too much causing the “sleep” to harden and may cause them to be unable to open their eyes. IT is suggested that you use a lukewarm wet cloth (or Q-Tip) to help loosen up the build up. Often as soon as you begin cleaning your hamster’s eyes, they will begin to clean themselves.
Symptoms: diarrhea, constipation, weight loss, impaction or anorexia
Hamsters can be affected by two different types of worms (tapeworms and pinworms). Both affect their small intestines and are commonly from fleas, new masters, contaminated water, and insects. Note that these worms can be transferred to their humans and are transferred through fecal matter. You will need to isolate your hamster and will have to wear gloves while handling. You will want to speak to a vet about treatment, however many blogs recommend a dog dewormer (in small doses) or piperazine (a generic medication for all pets) for pinworms. I would highly recommend speaking to a vet before treating your hamster, especially as over medicating can cause complications.
Symptoms: a change in personality (usually ends with aggression), convulsion
Rabies is an incurable disease (for hamsters) and is passed through saliva. If your hamster exhibits signs of rabies and bites you make sure you get a rabies vaccine immediately, as it can be cured in the early stages, however, is incurable once it reaches a certain point. Consult a vet on what the appropriate steps would be if your hamster has rabies.
15. Cage Paralysis
Commonly caused due to the lack of exercise or obesity due to having a small cage or no toys that promote healthy activity. Commonly hamsters will become stiff and will begin dragging their back legs while trying to walk. If caught early enough it can be cured by placing your hamster in a larger habitat or providing more accessories such as tubing. Supplements like Vitamin D & E can help promote better health for your hamster.
16. Hind Limb Paralysis
This is commonly caused by an injury to your hamster’s spinal cord. It is also known to be a hereditary trait that is found in male hamsters that would have been passed by the previous generation. Extreme cases of Hind Limb Paralysis cannot be treated, however, you will want to consult with a vet to see if the infection can be cured with an anti-inflammatory and antibiotics.
17. Mastitis Infection
Symptoms: hamster will appear bluish and/or swollen, bloody discharge from nipples
This is an infection that only occurs to hamsters who have given birth recently. Commonly occurs between 7-10 days after birth. Mothers who are not feeling well will commonly kill their litter by eating them. Mastitis is caused by an infection in the mammary glands and is an infection that can occur in any animal. The infection is caused by cuts and is usually due to new masters who are too aggressive when trying to get milk from their mother. Mastitis can be avoided by getting antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and painkillers from the vet before your hamster gives birth. If not treated immediately, it can develop into a more serious illness.
18. Lumps & Tumours
Tumours and lumps can appear on a number of places on your hamster’s body. These include testicles, mammary glands, face, chest and belly. In males, testicles may begin to harden or may become distended/may never retract. This is a sign of a tumour and may require castration. Mammary tumours will appear directly under the nipples and are one of the fastest growing tumours. They are commonly caused by bacterial infections or from pregnancy/breastfeeding. Facial lumps are very similar to abscesses, and will commonly be caused by hard food. As for tumours on the body, lumps aren’t usually a concern unless they are ulcerated. In all cases, it is best to consult your vet on what proper protocol should be.
Symptoms: hunching, pain in the abdomen, blood in feces, diarrhea, constipation, rectal prolapse
Intussusception can be caused by a number of things and may not include all of the symptoms above. It is a problem with your hamster’s digestive tract that is commonly caused by the folding of the intestines. Commonly this medical condition leads to the obstruction of the intestines and may lead to a more fatal illness or even death. A vet visit is absolutely necessary with this problem as it will require surgery. Unfortunately, many hamsters will not survive this medical surgery.
20. Kidney Disease
Symptoms: increased thirst, excessive urination, weight loss, swollen abdomen, alopecia, a foul smell
Kidney failure or disease is the most common illness and is caused by accumulated proteins causing Amyloidosis. Kidney failure can also be caused by heat stroke and without proper treatment, it will lead your hamster to die. Sometimes no symptoms are shown when a kidney fails as hamsters can live with one functioning kidney. Vets may recommend a strong antibiotic to treat kidney infections, however often once a hamster has this disease there isn’t much time left for them. To prevent kidney failure you will want to make sure you lower your hamster’s protein and provide the hamster with vitamin-enriched water.
21. Dry Ears
Sometimes hamsters get dry ears which will cause them to scratch their ears aggressively. This is not something you need to take your hamster to the vet for, however, you may want to purchase some petroleum jelly to help soothe your hamster’s itchy ears.
22. Reproductive Issues (Pyometra & Polycystic Ovaries)
Symptoms: musky odour while in heat, milky vaginal discharge, blood on the genital area, and when more extreme yellow vaginal discharge (pyometra)
This seems to only affect Syrian hamsters and only happens during their “time of month.” If ever your hamster excretes yellow vaginal discharge take them to the vet immediately as treatment is absolutely essential. Pyometra is a life-threatening condition which commonly needs surgery to remove both the uterus and ovaries. The operation is highly successful and will save your hamster’s life.
Although not always connected, some female hamsters experience something called “polycystic ovaries” which is a hereditary condition which causes the abdomen to bulge. Commonly surgeries are performed to remove both the ovaries and the uterus in this condition.
23. Aspergillis Fungus
This fungus is caused by an unclean cage. When urine is left uncleaned it has the capability of growing fungus which can cause your hamster to get extremely sick. The fungus usually appears as white and will turn black once the hamster urinates on it. Commonly hamsters that have bladder infections are more prone to develop this disease. Make sure you are cleaning the cage and use an anti-fungicide to help prevent the fungus from spreading or developing further. The fungus can develop on fresh food and can spread fairly quickly. Your hamster will require antibiotics and an anti-fungal medication, so make sure that you contact a vet immediately. Note that fungus can be spread through air-borne spores, so if you have a few hamster cages next to each other you will have to treat them all.
Symptoms: excessive drinking and urination, low body temperature, trembling, comatose
Diabetes is commonly seen in dwarf breeds of hamsters, however, it can affect all animals. It commonly means feeding your hamster a very specific diet that limits their sugar intake. If your hamster seems to be showing signs of diabetes make sure to speak to your vet about a diet switch and provide them with a large water bottle to prevent dehydration.