Hamster under the weather? Vet Bob helps owners spot illnesses at home
May 14, 2023
Hamsters make great family pets; they are fascinating to watch, fun to handle, and relatively easy to look after. The average lifespan of a hamster is 2-3 years and many lead happy lives without serious illness or disease. However, like all creatures they can be susceptible to illness, and being so small in size means they can deteriorate quickly if left untreated. In this article, our Vet Bob O’Brien discusses the signs to look for in a poorly hamster, how to tell if your hamster is hibernating and what to do and shares their favourite tips on how to keep your hamster happy.
How to tell if your hamster is under the weather
Bob advises that just like with any family pet, it is important to be aware of your hamster’s daily routines, eating habits and activity levels. Changes to these things can indicate illness or stress and should not be ignored. Common signs that something may be amiss with your hamster are:
- Reduced eating or loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Not drinking
- Sore eyes
- Wetness around the tail or diarrhoea
- Frequent sneezing or coughing
- Inactivity or lethargy
- Visible skin lumps, ulcers or tumour
Six common illnesses in hamsters
According to Bob, even though hamsters are fairly easy to keep, you should still monitor their wellbeing and behaviour to help spot these common hamster illnesses and health problems:
- Dental issues – Did you know that hamsters’ teeth never stop growing? Normally this doesn’t cause problems as long as they have plenty of suitable hard things to gnaw on. However, sometimes they can overgrow and cause pain and stop your hamster eating.
- Allergies – Hamsters can have sensitive skin and suffer from allergies to foods or bedding materials. This may cause skin redness, flakiness or bleeding, especially on the underside of their bellies.
- Lumps & bumps – They can also be prone to lumps and bumps which can grow large and cause problems. Bob recommends checking your hamster’s skin regularly.
- Wet tail – Hamsters can get what is sometimes called ‘wet tail’ – a watery diarrhoea which presents as wetness around their bottoms. The cause is unknown but thought to be bacterial, often brought on by changes in food or sometimes stress. It can be serious so make sure you call our Wincanton practice straight away on 01963 33226 if you suspect your hamster has it.
- Coughs & colds – Hamsters can catch common coughs and colds just like humans. They may pass on their own with time, but it is always best to get them checked out by one of our vets.
- Eye injury/infection – If your hamster is squinting, has one or both eyes closed, and/or has discharge around the eyes there is a chance they have an eye injury or infection.
Is my hamster hibernating?
Hamsters in the wild can hibernate when temperatures drop. This means they will curl into a ball and sleep deeply for a long period of time. Pet hamsters shouldn’t need to hibernate if they are kept at normal household temperatures all year round. Letting your pet hamster go into hibernation isn’t necessary.
If you think your hamster is hibernating don’t panic, even though they won’t be moving you should still be able to see them breathing. To rouse your hamster from hibernation, Bob recommends moving their cage to a warmer spot in the house (free from drafts) and they will wake gently over the course of a few hours. Once awake, it is a good idea to provide your hamster with fresh bedding to burrow into, and ensure they have fresh food and water to keep their metabolism up.
If you have concerns about your hamster’s current health, contact our team for advice on 01963 33226.
Tips to keep your hamster happy
Hamsters are likely to stay happy and healthy if their environments are well-suited to their needs. Here are a few of Bob’s favourite tips for a stress-free hamster:
- Hamsters are intelligent and get bored easily. Make sure their cage is large enough so they can run around and explore. Enrich it with tunnels, toys, and different levels so they are kept active.
- Hamsters are sensitive to noise and can pick up high frequencies inaudible to the human ear which can cause anxiety. Place your hamster’s cage in a quiet area away from televisions, kitchen appliances, computers, and vacuum cleaners.
- Hamsters love to burrow and build nests. This is also where they like to stash some of their food rather than eat it all at once. Create some cosy areas of bedding in your hamster’s cage where they can rest, nest, and feel safe.
As always, our team in Wincanton love to share pet advice so if you have any questions, please do get in touch!