General Health and Illness in Hamsters
Just like any other pet, hamsters sometimes require veterinary care. This is something to consider before making a hamster, or any pet, part of your family. Your commitment should be for life and must always include proper veterinary care.
You should find a least one clinic that deals with pocket pets or exotics, as not all clinics do, preferably before you bring your pet home. However, it is best to know of several clinics in case you cannot get to your regular veterinarian. Always have a backup plan. It is also good to have the emergency vet clinic number and address on hand and make sure they see exotics. Hamsters are nocturnal, so many times; problems will be noticed outside of regular clinic hours. Also, keep in mind that emergency clinics are usually a lot more expensive than regular clinics, so make sure that you factor this into your pet care budget.
Hamsters, as prey animals, tend to hide illnesses very well, so in many cases, symptoms will not be visible until the illness is quite serious and needs quick treatment.
Symptoms Requiring Immediate Emergency Care
- Diarrhea; could indicate wet tail and needs quick treatment by a veterinarian.
- Lying around the cage limply, many times they will feel cold
- Respiratory Problems – any trouble breathing
- Bleeding – bleeding from anywhere is a bad sign, including vaginally – females do not show when they are in heat.
- Not eating or drinking
- Rectal or vaginal prolapse; a male can also have a prolapse of the penis where he is unable to get it back into the prepuce or ‘sheath.’
- Anything that may be causing pain
Symptoms Requiring Vet Care in General
- Eye discharge
- Lumps or swellings
- Over-grown teeth
- Weight Loss
If in doubt, always call and talk to your veterinarian, make an appointment, or go to the emergency clinic.
Common Illnesses Seen in Hamsters
Wet-tail is actually an illness called Proliferative Ileitis, which is believed to be caused by bacteria. It is highly contagious and needs immediate treatment in order to have any hope of saving the hamster. Wet-tail causes severe diarrhea and causes the area around the tail to appear wet because of this. Many people notice the main difference between wet-tail and a normal bout of diarrhea is the horrible smell that it causes.
Veterinary care is required immediately if there is to be any chance of recovery.
Products such as “dri-tail,” sold in pet stores are not enough. In fact, it can make matters worse as it’s a weakened version of an antibiotic that may mask symptoms. While it may kill off the weaker bacteria, the stronger will become resistant to it, meaning that it will take a much stronger antibiotic to get rid of the wet-tail fully.
The main cause of death in wet-tail is dehydration. Giving water and Pedialyte will help to combat this. Do not feed any treats or vegetables during this time. Although vegetables will provide water, they can also make diarrhea worse. Ensure that you follow any directions from your veterinarian, and if you have questions about treatment, call and ask.
Diarrhea; Soft Stool
Different from wet-tail. If there is any doubt that it may be wet-tail, do not wait. See a veterinarian right away.
Some common causes are a change in food, food that was “off,” too many vegetables or fruit, or infection. Sometimes diarrhea will be secondary to another issue, such as an infection or other illness.
If it is just a couple of softer fecal pellets, stop feeding vegetables, fruits, new treats or new food and monitor. Adding a second water bottle with a 50/50 mix of water and Pedialyte will help with dehydration.
Veterinary treatment is required if it is severe, if the animal is dehydrated or if it persists for more than a day.
Upper Respiratory Infections (URI)
Upper Respiratory Infections are usually noticed because of the hamster breathing faster than normal or a clicking/squeaking sound with each breath. A vet should examine your pet to determine if the issue is a URI that requires antibiotics. URI’s can be fatal if not treated.
Respiratory issues can also be caused by bedding allergies, as well as other allergies.
Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)
A urinary tract infection often presents with frequent urination, sometimes containing blood. There also may be urine staining the fur.
UTI’s require a veterinary exam and antibiotics.
If you notice that your hamster cannot pass urine, it should be treated as an emergency.
Lumps and Swellings
Lumps and swellings can be anything from impacted cheek pouches to cysts, to abscesses, to tumors. Any unusual lump needs to be examined by a veterinarian.
Impacted Cheek Pouches
Hamsters store and carry food and bedding in cheek pouches, and they can hold a large amount for such a small creature. Most times, if you see your hamster with full pouches, it’s nothing to worry about. However, the pouches can become impacted or damaged.
If you notice that your hamster hasn’t emptied his pouches for more than a day or that he’s trying to empty them and can’t, there is a good chance that something has become stuck. While it may sometimes be possible to un-pouch him yourself, it is not recommended as there may be damage to the pouch, which is the cause of the impaction.
Most times, a veterinarian can remove the impaction without having to use anesthesia. However, there may be some cases where it may not be possible without putting him under. It is important to have an impacted pouch checked by a vet to ensure that there is no damage to the pouch and no infection present.
Overgrown or Misaligned Teeth
As with all rodents, hamsters’ teeth grow constantly. In some cases, either due to a genetic jaw deformity, or injury a hamster can develop overgrown teeth or misaligned teeth.
Signs that there may be a teeth issue include drooling, dropping food, weight loss, and in serious cases, the hamster will stop eating completely.
A veterinary visit is needed in order to find out how bad the issue is and what can be done about it.
Treatment consists of anything from a quick trim in the vet’s office every few weeks up to surgery if the molars are involved. Sometimes one trim will do the job, and everything is fine from that point, but often it does become a regular occurrence needing regular vet care.
First Aid Kit for Hamsters
Keeping a first aid kit stocked with supplies for your hamster is a good idea, and the more pets you have the better it is to ensure that you have the things you need on hand in case of illness or injury.
Before using any medication on this list talk to your veterinarian, if used for the wrong illness some things can make the situation worse.
- Styptic powder or Styptic pencil – Can be used when cutting nails if you cut the quick as well as for other small skin wounds that aren’t deep.
- Cotton swabs and Q tips – Variety of uses
- Cotton balls
- Vet wrap – Self-adhesive bandage, sticks to self but not to fur or skin. Good for holding gauze on a wound.
- Gauze – Non-stick to stop bleeding as well as cover wounds
- Saline Solution – Contact lens cleaning saline solution can be used as it’s sterile. Used to flush out wounds
- Feeding syringes in a variety of sizes – Used for force feeding/hand feeding as well as medicating
- Acidophilus capsules Powder used to replenish “good” bacteria in intestinal tract.
- Baby food – Used to build up strength as well as if your hamster won’t eat. Be sure there is no garlic or onions in the ingredients.
- Pedialyte – Electrolyte replacement fluid for a hamster who isn’t drinking/eating. Also good to add a second water bottle during hot summer temperatures.
- Critical Care – Force feeding formulation created by Oxbow, can be obtain through some vet clinics.
- Small Towels or face cloths – Can be used to restrain, keep warm, or to stop bleeding
- Ice pack – Used for heat related illness (e.g. heatstroke), do NOT put directly on animal
- Small hot water bottle – Used to help warm hamster, do NOT put directly in cage or on animal
- Stethoscope – Can help in hearing respiratory issues
- Hand warmers – Used for camping there’s a pouch inside that you break and it stays warm for hours, DO NOT put anywhere the animal can get to it they are toxic!
- Small flash light – Can help to see wounds or other issues.
- Magnifying glass – Can help to see wounds or other issues.