Quick reference for problems, injuries, and ailments. This section has been reviewed by Dr. Taylor Douglas, DVM, Sunriver Veterinary Clinic, Sunriver, Oregon. In general, hamsters, especially those in the wild, are robust little animals and are not affected by many natural diseases.
However, hamsters are very susceptible to infectious diseases from other animals, including humans. Many of the problems and ailments associated with hamsters are a direct result of captivity. Due to their small size, a minor illness can quickly become a major issue if immediate treatment is not sought. Additionally, since they are nocturnal, early signs of illness often go unnoticed.
To ensure good health, hamsters should be checked regularly, including their eating habits, exercise habits, teeth, limbs, and body for lumps, cuts, and abrasions. A sick hamster generally becomes irritable and bitey,” frequently becoming lethargic or walking almost stiff-legged if forced to move or sitting in a “hunched” position. Their eyes are usually dull, sunken, and sometimes watery, and they don’t eat much, resulting in weight loss.
Symptom: Possible Cause
Blood in Urine: Bladder or Kidney Infection
Bloody Diarrhea: Intussusception
Breathing Heavy: Shock, Colds or Influenza
Broken Limb: Broken Limb
Bulging Anus: Constipation, Intussusception or Rectal Prolapse
Closed Eye(s): Impacted Pouch or Irritated Eyes
Crusty Lesions in ears, face, feet: Ear Mites
Cuts or Bites: Abscesses, Cuts or Bites
Dragging Hind Quarters: Broken Limb, Cage Paralysis or Hind Limb Paralysis
Dry Scaly Skin: Demodicosis, Mange, Mites, Ringworm or Sarcoptic Mange
Eating Babies: Cannibalism
Eggs in Feces: Endoparasites
Excessive Drinking: Bladder or Kidney Infection or Diabetes
Extreme Diarrhea: Tyzzer’s Disease or Wet Tail
Eye Rupture: Eye Prolapse
Facial Swelling: Dental Caries or Impacted Pouch
Hair Loss: Mange, Mites or Ringworm
Head Tilt: Ear Infection or Strokes
Lethargy: Colds & Influenza, Tyzzer’s Disease or Wet Tail
Lifeless: Heat Stroke, Hibernation, Shock or Strokes
Long Nails: Overgrown Nails
Loose Droppings: Antibiotic Induced Diarrhea or Diarrhea
Loss of Balance: Ear Infection or Strokes
Lump: Abscesses, Cancer or Tumors, Impacted Cheek Pouch or Testicular tumors
Overgrown Teeth: Overgrown Teeth
Paralysis: Cage Paralysis or Strokes
Runny Nose: Colds or Influenza
Salivation: Dental Caries
Scratching: Allergies, Fleas, Mange or Mites
Shaking/Trembling: Diabetes, Heat Stroke, Hibernation or Stroke
Sneezing: Allergies or Colds & Influenza
Swollen Abdomen: Constipation
Swollen Eye: Glaucoma
Tires Easily: Strokes
Unable to have Babies: Dystocia
Watery Eyes: Allergies, Colds or Influenza or Irritated Eyes
White Film on Eye: Cataracts
Weight Loss: Diabetes, Endoparasites or Tyzzer’s Disease
Wet “Bottom”: Antibiotic Induced Diarrhea, Diarrhea or Wet Tail
Wheezing: Allergies or Colds & Influenza
Vaginal Bleeding: Dystocia or Ovarian Cysts
Common Problems and Ailments:
Allergies – Hamsters can become allergic to bedding (particularly cedar shavings), some foods, cigarette smoke, perfumes, furniture polish, etc. It is also thought that some allergies are hereditary. Increased scratching, sneezing, runny eyes, swollen feet, wheezing or white flakes around the eyes and ears after the introduction of something new are a sign of a possible allergic reaction. Remove whatever has been added to the cage or food and watch for signs of improvement.
If there is no improvement within a couple of days, it might be the result of an infection, and veterinary advice should be sought. Antibiotic-induced diarrhea can be caused by antibiotics with a narrow spectrum against gram-positive organisms, especially erythromycin, penicillin, lincomycin, cephalosporin, and streptomycin. Symptoms and treatment are the same as those for diarrhea.” One of the first signs of bladder or kidney infection is excessive drinking, which in turn creates increased urination. Occasionally, there is blood in the urine, and the hamster may squeal in pain while urinating. Immediate veterinary assistance is required.
Cancer and tumors can develop both internally and externally. External tumors are generally noticed as hard lumps that grow rapidly, and veterinarians can successfully remove them. However, internal tumors are not normally diagnosed early enough for surgical intervention.
Symptoms include weight loss and a general appearance of being ill. Cage paralysis is a disorder resulting from hamsters being confined in a cage that is too small and not allowing sufficient exercise. The symptoms include the hamster appearing semi-crippled by dragging its back end around. The cure is simple and the preventative measure is even simpler – a larger cage and more exercise.
It is also thought that diets low in vitamins D and E may be a contributing factor to this condition. Vitamin supplements may be beneficial.