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Hamsters are one of the most adorable creatures in this world and this makes them extremely endearing pets. A healthy and happy hamster is usually resistant to most diseases and does not catch them easily. However, once developed, these health issues, which depend both upon the type of hamster and the body part affected, can cause great discomfort to your hamsters. These could range from hamster eye problems to hamster skin problems. Therefore, an awareness of the most common hamster diseases is absolutely necessary to deal with these unforeseeable situations promptly and effectively. Here, we present to you a list of the most common health issues that hamsters suffer from-
Cold- This is one of the most common hamster illnesses and one of its most common symptoms include a nose that appears swollen due to the fur being disarranged from wiping a nasal discharge. Along with this, the hamster shows a certain level of inactivity and its ears are seen held back against its head.
In the advanced stages of infection, the hamster gets thinner and the fur loses its luster, and sniffing and sneezing become more common.
You can start by disinfecting the feeding dishes, water bowls and the cage. Make sure you provide a new bedding to your hamster and keep the cage free from drafts. Give your hamster a wholesome diet consisting mostly of foods supplemented with cod liver oil. If you are suffering from cold, it’s advisable to maintain distance from your hamster and avoid touching it as a preventative measure.
Wet Tails- One of the most common hamster health issues seen in young hamsters, this is a very contagious bacterial illness that causes severe diarrhoea and can often prove fatal. Stress can be an important factor in the rapid increase of wet tails. Stress during the first few weeks or days in a new home, sudden change in diet, overcrowding of habitat, unsanitary living conditions and surroundings and extreme temperatures are some of the most common causes for wet tails in hamsters.If detected, your hamster must immediately be brought to the notice of a veterinarian.
Diarrhoea- This must not be confused with Wet Tails, with which it shares absolutely no connection. Diarrhoea in hamsters develops mostly due to overfeeding of fruits and vegetables, or contaminated foods. It is usually an indicative of other hamster illnesses such as stomach upset or blockage.
Try not giving your hamster fruits or vegetables for a day or two. If the condition persists, then take the hamster to a vet.
Constipation- Wet tails can often lead to constipation. Constipation in both young and old hamsters is directly proportional to the ratio of pellets and water consumed. In young hamsters, their intestines swell up due to lack of moisture after consuming pellets. Milk and juicy greens can be incorporated in diets of baby hamsters suffering from this condition.
On the contrary, adult hamsters abstain from consuming dry food if sufficient water is not available. So, it is advisable to ensure fresh clean water is available at all times and introduce spinach, carrots and other such leafy vegetables and fruits in your hamster’s diet.
Mange- Hamsters begin losing their hair, shake their head frequently, scratch ears and in general display a poor appearance, often resulting from parasitic spiders and insects.This condition is known as Mange, which results in grey, warty scabs on the ears, nose and genitals. Maintain high standards of hygiene to fight this condition. Sterilise the cage and replace the bedding. Your vet could even recommend a medicated bath for your pet.
Fleas and Lice- These pests are usually transferred from cats,dogs,rats and mice to the hamsters. You should take your hamster to a vet who will recommend applying flea powder to kill the parasites. Avoid buying flea powder directly from the stores, without consulting the vet, since some of the products contain ingredients that can be harmful for smaller pets. Make sure to remove fleas and lice from other afflicted household pets to prevent re-infestations.
Runny eyes- Runny or watery eyes indicate that something is wrong with your hamster’s cheek pouches. The most probable reason could be stuck food near the shoulder. Flush out the stuck food with water of the same temperature as the hamster’s body using an eyedrop or a syringe. Offer only soft food that is easily digestible and doesn’t collect in your hamster’s pouches.
Lumps and Bumps- If you notice hard lumps anywhere on your hamster’s body, then immediately contact a vet. These lumps could be symptoms of cancerous tumours.
Paralysis- Another common illness affecting the hamsters is paralysis which generally happens due to lack of exercise and sufficient physical activity. Afflicted hamsters, suffer from great pain and spend most of their time hunched over, unable to raise their head. To ensure a speedy recovery, provide a spacious cage to your hamster, an exercise wheel and introduce some kind of activity or recreation to give your hamster a daily workout.
Another type of paralysis results from a spinal injury or from vitamin D deficiency. The first signs that you observe is stiffness of the paws and loss of movements in the forepaws which eventually results in the hamster’s death. Feed your hamster plenty of wheat germ and wheat germ oil. If necessary try taking your hamster to the vet for a regular check up.
Dental Problems- A hamster’s most important tools are its rapidly growing teeth which are needed for chewing hard, dry grains. Sometimes, these teeth that never stop growing, become overgrown due to soft food or lack of chew toys. At times, the tooth may even break or crack if infected. Most of the time, this can be fixed by giving the hamster a variety of chew toys to file on. If required, an antibiotic treatment could also fix the dental problem. Please note that a hamster’s teeth are generally yellowish and sometimes orange in colour, and not white. In fact, white spots on a hamster’s teeth indicate that the tooth is breaking down and could detach eventually.
Nails Problems- Hamsters mostly use their nails for pawing and scratching at food or bedding. Since a hamster in captivity does not get hard surfaces like rocks or wood surfaces to scratch on, it’s nails are left unchecked and tend to overgrow. Overgrown nails sometimes get infected too.
Nail problems are treatable and do not require much efforts. You can introduce a hard surface or even an exercise wheel that would help in wearing your hamster’s nails. In case, the infection lasts for 2 or more days, then visit the vet, who would prescribe an antibiotic to curb the infection.
Cheek Problems- Hamsters tend to stuff everything in their mouths- ranging from food,nesting material,droppings,parts of bedding, and mother hamsters even stuff their babies inside their mouths. This often results in the cheek getting injured from a sharp edge of the food or any other material that they overstuffed. Sometimes, these cheeks may come out like an inside-out pocket. Cheeks also tend to become sticky because of the residue inside the mouth and everything inside the cheeks gets stuck.
Avoid giving your hamster sticky and saucy food that could result in food getting stuck in its mouth.
Diabetes- Diabetes is another one of the serious diseases hamsters can get. It is mostly caused by a diet consisting of a high amount of carbs and sugar combined with very less physical activity. Another possible cause could be insufficient production of insulin, or the body’s resistance to insulin. This results in high levels of sugar in the bloodstream, weight gain, breathing problems, circulatory problems and all the problems that stem from these conditions.
Dwarf hamsters are more prone to diabetes as compared to Syrian hamsters. In fact, diabetes is one of the most serious dwarf hamster diseases. This is because their genetic make up makes it easier for them to catch diabetes at some point in their lifetime.
It’s best to take your diabetic hamster to an experienced vet. Also, a balanced diet with moderate carbs and sugar, and daily exercise will burn off the excess fat and use up the extra sugar, reducing the effect of diabetes and further elongating your hamster’s life.
Digestive problems- Digestive problems in hamsters can be more severe than in other mammals due to the unique U-shape of its stomach and the design of the gut. This makes it difficult for hamsters to release any gas or bloating. This makes even a normal condition like an upset stomach or diarrhoea unbearable for the hamster. Old hamsters are more likely to get constipation due to a failing digestive system.
Give your hamster easily digestible food.
Skin, fur and parasites- Hamsters are known to be extremely clean animals.They clean themselves several times a day and therefore, don’t get infested with parasites usually. However if their cage or surroundings is not cleaned regularly, or come in contact with spores of fungi, they may get certain hamster skin diseases. Two of the most common hamster skin conditions are-
Aspergillus- This fungal infection develops in the hamster’s pee corner. Once the infection kicks in, the fungus appears white and then eventually turns black releasing airborne spores, which can be deadly for both hamsters and humans. Some of the most common symptoms include lethargy, breathing difficulty, wheezing, blood in urine, inflamed skin and excessive diarrhoea.
If you notice any of these hamster health problems, immediately go to your nearest vet.
Ringworm- A very common hamster skin infection, it can easily be passed on to other animals and humans. Ringworm is not actually a worm, but a fungus. Common symptoms include circular patches of hair loss and dry,scaly skin.
To cure the infection, the hair around the infected area will have to be clipped or trimmed and the affected portion be bathed with a povidone-iodine solution as advised by a vet. Some vets may just prescribe an anti-fungal cream. Immediately, disinfect your hamster’s cage and if possible, replace it with a new one. Also, avoid exposing your hamster to unfamiliar animals.
As a preventive measure, replace leaking water bottles and ensure that the cage is well ventilated.
The right decisions and a sincere approach from your end can help your hamster in living a longer and healthier life. Sometimes, problems appear bigger than they actually are. If you learn to deal with these situations appropriately, you can be the best friend your pet will ever get.