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Hamster Health and Diseases

Last Updated: 03.05.20


As our recent article shows, hamsters can suffer from a wide variety of diseases, from the common cold to tumors. They will show signs of illness, such as lack of appetite and activity, fur loss or diarrhea. In case this happens, you need to rush them to the vet for appropriate treatment.

Hamsters have become a part of our homes and families, as beloved pets due to many traits that make them unique creatures. However, just like people, hamsters can get sick, and when they do, it’s a matter of life or death, as these tiny creatures are extra sensitive. Some types of diseases are quite common among hamsters, while others rarely affect them.

Some of these diseases are genetically linked, and it is quite hard to foresee them or to prevent them in any way, such as tumors. On the other hand, there are some types of diseases that commonly affect hamsters that are quite easily preventable, and all it takes to do that is by being informed and taking good care of your pet hamster.

Keep in mind that once these tiny buddies get sick, nurturing them back to health can be a tricky business, as they do not tolerate most types of medicine, just like many other species of animals do, and they cannot receive most of the antibiotics available on the market. So, in the case of these guys, prevention is key, and of utmost importance to their lifespan.

Moreover, it’s important to understand that hamsters get spooked easily and can get stressed in a number of situations. Stress causes the hamster’s immune system to lower and it also causes many metabolism deficiencies, therefore the higher the stress, the higher the chance your pet hamster will get sick. A part of prevention is a quiet and balanced environment. 



Signs of illness

You will most likely spot that your tiny friend is not feeling well immediately. However, this might mean that he or she has not been well for a few days now, as they do not show signs of illness right away. This is one of the reasons it is of utmost importance to them to be handled daily, so you can reduce this time to a minimum.

Common signs of illness include lack of appetite, lack of physical activity, occasional sneezing, staying put in a corner, wetness around the tail, diarrhea, or a weird-looking coat. All of these signs show something is very wrong and you need to take immediate action, meaning you need to contact your local vet about it as soon as possible.

If you have more hamsters in the same enclosure, it would be best to separate the sick one from the group, and first of all, to give him or her a chance to recover in peace, and to be able to follow food and water rations. Secondly, you need to keep the others as safe as possible, preventing them from getting sick too. 


Common cold

You may have never thought about that, but hamsters do catch the common cold from humans. They are some of the few pets that will get sick if their owner is sick. The symptoms are also very similar to ours, including sneezing, runny nose and eyes, lack of appetite, and weight loss. If you notice your hamster sneezing, increase the level of vitamin C you are giving him/her.

In some severe cases, the cold may result in difficulty breathing and even pneumonia, which needs antibiotic treatment, and there is no guarantee your little friend will make it. That’s why it’s best not to handle your hamster if you have a cold, and if it is a severe cold, you might choose to move the cage to a different room than the one you are in. 

Since the common cold is a viral infection, there is not much you can do about, except prevent the pet from coming in close contact with others, administer as much vitamin C as possible to boost the immune system, and give your friend a quiet time to recover from the cold. Avoid putting him/her in any sort of stressful situation, including having strangers in the room the hamster is in.


External parasites

There are a number of external parasites that can affect hamsters, from fleas and ticks to mites, such as Demodex criceti and Demodex aurati. External parasite infestations will cause a lot of scratching and discomfort to your hamster, to the point of appetite loss, loss of fur, and in some cases, even wounds caused by excessive scratching.

Hamsters can easily pick up fleas if one of your other household pets, for instance, your dog or cat, becomes infested with them from outdoor playtime and you do not notice it in due time. As fleas search for new warm-blooded hosts all the time, it’s possible to make the jump into your hamster’s enclosure. Ticks have seldom been spotted on hamsters.

Veterinarian treatment is available, but you need to make sure you treat all of your household pets at the same time, to prevent any further infestations. Moreover, the treatment for hamsters should only be used as advised by your local veterinarian, as it does have some degree of toxicity and hamsters are known to be extra sensitive to chemical substances. 

Things tend to be a bit more complicated than that when it comes to fur and ear mites. Usually, hamsters get these parasites from other infested hamsters, as these two Demodex species are specific to hamsters. To prevent this situation from occurring, make sure any new hamster you bring home comes from a trust-worthy source, and that it is healthy.

In case you notice your hamster is scratching his or her back or ears more than usual, or more than it is normal, make sure you take your tiny friend for a medical check-up as soon as possible. Don’t wait until it starts getting wounds on the body to act on it, as the only way to nurture your friend back to health is by thoroughly applying the prescription medicine advised by your vet.



Other common diseases in hamsters

Hamsters can sometimes get abscesses, due to the infection of scratches or cuts in their skin or cheek pouches. This happens because they spend their lives burrowing in wood-based bedding, which can sometimes be quite sharp. Also, the food they eat can be abrasive, causing lesions in their mouths.

Any sign of infection or abscess needs immediate veterinarian care. It’s best not to try and treat it at home, as hamsters are sensitive to most antibiotics available on the market. Also, the vet might advise you on changes you can make in the hamster’s enclosure to prevent this type of illness from reappearing in the future.

Tumors are another big issue in hamsters. Usually, older female hamsters can develop tumors, as their hormones start changing. You can easily tell a tumor from an abscess, as tumors are hard lumps associated with fur loss in that area. If you suspect this is going on with your tiny friend, make sure to seek out veterinarian expertise on the matter.

Gastrointestinal problems are not that common in hamsters, but when they do show up, they can be life-threatening. Whether it’s something they ate or a bacterial infection, diarrhea quickly leads to massive dehydration of the organism. If this is the case with your hamster, immediate veterinarian care is in order, as time is important in these situations.

Hamsters suffering from intestinal bacterial infections will be lethargic, have a hunched-back posture, spend their time rolled up in a ball, in the corner of the enclosure, and will stop eating or drinking water. This condition is often associated with stress in hamsters, as their immune system drops, allowing their intestinal bacteria to develop uncontrollably.

Tyzzer’s disease is one particular bacterial infection that affects hamsters and one of the first clinical signs you will see is diarrhea. Tyzzer’s is caused by Bacillus piliformis, and hamsters might get it if kept in close proximity to mice. However, this disease has also been associated with high levels of stress in both young and adult hamsters.

Although it’s more common in newly weaned babies, that suffer from separation anxiety from their moms, and young hamsters that change the environment they are used to as they are being purchased as pets, it’s not that uncommon in adult hamsters too. The safer and happier your pet hamster feels, the less chance of him or her getting sick.



Irina Ionescu

As a long-term learner and animal lover, Irina helps her readers find the best products and accessories for their pets, as well as the latest training techniques, tips & tricks on how to handle animals.

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