A hamster with a health problem is a sorry sight. But, most health issues in hamsters can be solved, especially if caught in time. Let’s see what those problems are, and how to help your hammy.
You’ll find these health issues grouped by body parts or type. Where possible I’ll link you to articles where I’ve covered that specific topic in more detail.
1. Hamster eye problems
Hamsters rarely use their eyes, that much is known to most hamster owners. Whether you’ve got a Syrian or a Dwarf type, they both can’t really see. Still, health issues do come up with a hamster’s eyes.
The most common of them being cataracts/blindness. This comes especially with old age in hammies. Do keep in mind that a hamster without his sight will be able to live his life almost the same.
Since he doesn’t usually rely on his eyes, not seeing anymore will not be a big loss, as it could be for humans.
Other problems include infections, pink eye, bulging eye, and eyes that have stuck shut due to a possible infection.
Still, for a detailed rundown on all the possible issues that can happen with a hammy’s eyes, I recommend you check out this article. You’ll find there the issues themselves, and the treatments necessary.
Sometimes a trip to the vet is necessary, sometimes the problems can be treated at home.
2. Hamster dental problems
A hamster’s teeth are possibly the most important tool the hamster has. His teeth never stop growing, in order for him to be able to eat the hard, dry grains his diet is based on.
Sometimes though, problems come up. Teeth become overgrown, possibly due to soft food or lack of a chew toy. Or a tooth might break or crack, or it could become infected.
You can find out more about hamster dental problems here, and how to treat them. Again, some may require a vet treatment, some can be treated at home.
For example overgrown teeth can be fixed by giving the hamster a multitude of chew toys he can file his teeth on.
Most of the time though, hamster teeth problems can be corrected. Even in the case of an abscess an antibiotic treatment will help the hamster recover.
A word on hamster teeth: they are never white. If you’re looking at your hammy’s long, yellow (possibly orange) teeth and wondering if you should brush them, don’t.
When I first got my Teddy I thought I had to do something. Turns out hamster teeth are not meant to be white.
Any white spots on the teeth are a sign of the tooth breaking down and possibly breaking away.
3. Hamster ear and hearing problems
Hearing is one of the primary ways a hamster navigates his surroundings. As such, any problem related to their ears and how well they can hear becomes a serious concern.
Possible problems include:
- Parasites like mites, than can travel deep into the hamster’s ear
- Earwax buildup, preventing hearing and can become painful
- Ear infection, which can spread to the brain
- Possible tumor which can take on the whole ear
These are all treatable, however the hamster won’t be able to much on his own. Actually most of the time the hammy will need your help, with any kind of health issue.
To find out more about the health problems hamsters can have with their ears, you can check out this article. You’ll find both the issues and the treatments, and even an example of a successful tumor surgery on a Dwarf hammy.
4. Hamster nail problems
Nail problems are few, and are treatable too. A hamster’s nails are used mostly for scratching and pawing at food or bedding.
Problems come up when the nails become too long, and that’s where most of the problems stem from.
A hamster’s nails grow too long when he has nothing to wear them out on. Like plenty of wood surfaces, possibly a large flat rock, or any hard surface on his cage.
This means that a hamster living solely on soft bedding, and nothing else, will end up with overgrown nails. The nails will grow very long, and eventually curve into the hammy’s paw. In some cases they will break and fall off.
My Teddy had this happen, and ever since we’ve installed 2 more levels in his cage, which are bare plastic, and he also uses his tunnel which is made of hard plastic.
An exercise wheel, used constantly, helps a lot in this regard. It wears down the hammy’s nails and keeps them trim.
Aside from overgrown nails, hamsters can also get nail infections. If they’re small, as in they don’t reach the surface and only stay for a couple of days, they’re safe to ignore.
However if it goes on for more than 2 days, and even comes to a point, you should visit a veterinarian. He will prescribe an antibiotic for the hammy to combat the infection.
Hamsters are usually very clean animals. This means that they clean themselves daily, several times a day actually, and don’t normally attract parasites.
However they can get certain skin conditions if their cage is unclean, or has spores of fungi. 2 of the most common are:
- Aspergillus – forms in the hamster’s pee corner. Grows white, and in time turns black. Spores can be deadly to hamsters, and very bad for humans too. If this happens, get the hamster to the vet immediately, and clean and disinfect the cage.
- Ringworm – not an actual worm, but a fungus. It will form bald patches on the hamster, in the shape of a circle (hence the name). Dry, flaky skin is on those bald patches, and the hamster might scratch at them furiously. Treatable, but again a vet is necessary.
Aside from these two fungi, hammies can lose their fur because of old age.
Other skin problems can be mites, and fleas as well. You can find out more on fleas on hamsters here, and how to treat them.
6. Hamster Digestive problems
Digestive problems are never fun for anyone. However a hamster is more in danger than other mammals, because of hos their stomach is shaped.
You see a hammy’s stomach forms a sort of U bend, which means that any gasses or bloating is very hard to release. Yes, hamsters are able to pass gas if necessary, but not as easily as us humans. And you probably won’t ever hear the hammy fart, sorry to disappoint.
Given the hamster’s stomach and gut layout and design, something like diarrhea does not go well. Or an upset stomach either.
This is why giving the hamster foods he can’t properly digest will be a big issue for him. You can find out more about hamster-safe foods here, most of them already in your fridge or pantry.
Another thing to keep in mind is that hamsters can become constipated. This is more common with old hamsters, given that their system is breaking down and doesn’t digest foods as well as it used to.
You can help a constipated hammy by giving him softer foods like carrots, steamed veggies from this hamster-safe veggie list, and getting him to a veterinarian if he does not produce and droppings in 24 hours after the soft food.
7. Wet-tail in hamsters
Wet-tail is more common in Syrian hamsters than Dwarf types. Still , that does not mean Dwarf types can’t get wet-tail at all. They’re just much less likely to get it.
Wet-tail is most frequent in young hamsters, that were just weaned (approx. 4 weeks old) and are eligible for adoption. It’s usually stress based, and everything from his mother pushing him away when he still tries to suckle, to being taken to the pet shop, and then take to your home is all very alien to him.
So a young Syrian hammy that was just brought home might develop wet tail. Treatment does exist, but it’s not a 100% survival rate.
Still, your hammy needs to see a vet right away. If you’ve noticed the symptoms within 24 hours the survival chances are pretty high.
- a wet tail, because if a very watery diarrhea
- possibly smelly rear-end, because of the constant soiling
- smelly cage
- weakness, lack of appetite or thirst
- a matted, sweaty look about the hamster
You can find out more about wet-tail in hamsters here, including how to treat it and the steps you should take in caring for a hamster recovering from wet-tail.
8. Diabetes in hamsters
Another big problem in hamsters is diabetes. This is most common in the Dwarf types, so the Syrians have it easier here.
Diabetes can come about in a few ways, mostly because of a poor diet. That means a diet with too much sugar and carbs, and very little exercise. This is not the only reason, but one of the biggest.
Another reason is that the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, or that the body is very resistant to it. This means that the body’s blood sugar will stay very high.
It will cause weight gain, circulatory problems, difficult breathing, and other problems that stem from these.
You can find out more about diabetes in hamsters here, and also about how to treat it. Sometimes it’s not completely treatable, but at least you can do some things to make the hamster’s life comfortable even so.
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Sometimes hammies develop extra cells. These cells are sometimes benign, sometimes they’re harmful and become cancer.
However even benign tumors can be bad for the hamster’s health, as they can block certain body parts. For example a tumor around the ear can extend to the entire half of the face.
These usually can be removed, but not many vets are willing to perform surgery on such a small animal. The problem is that the anaesthesia is hard to do, and the patient himself is very.. well, tiny.
Still, some vets have tried and even succeeded. I’m sure in your area you’ll be able to find someone who can help. Best to look for an ‘exotics’ veterinarian. They have experience with rodents, reptiles and birds and will possibly be able to help you more than a regular vet.
Try everyone though, you never know who is going to save your friend.
10. Hamster cheek problems
Finally, the hamster’s cheeks are another problem. The thing is that hammies stuff everything in their cheeks.
Food, nesting material, a bit of bedding, droppings. Mothers even stuff their babies there when they move them.
However sometimes these cheeks can become injured, either by a sharp corner from the food, or maybe they were over stuffed.
They can sometimes come out completely, like an inside-out pocket. Other times the cheek becomes sticky with residue and whatever is in the cheek will become stuck.
All of these can be solved, and they can also be avoided. Mostly by not giving your hamster any sticky, saucy foods that he will put in his cheeks (grain-based foods end up in his cheeks usually).
You can find out much more about hamster cheek pouches here, including how to treat the various problems that come up, and how to identify each one.
About a hamster’s general health
Hamsters are fairly hardy animals. They don’t develop health issues very easily, even if they are so sensitive. However once they do happen, hammies don’t really know what to do on their own.
That is, they can’t get over most problems on their own.
A flea infestation will drag on for months, a cold can be fatal, and an infected cheek pouch can lead to death.
Still, hamsters are able to take care of themselves, mostly by how absolutely clean they are. Up until their very last days, hamsters know that cleanliness equals health.
So they tug and pull at their fur, comb through it, fluff it up, groom it some more, every few hours.
This is also done to avoid developing a strong scent that predators will use to find them.
Your help is crucial here. Your hammy depends on you, and his health becomes your responsibility. This is a reason to become fast friends with a good veterinarian (again, look for one labeled ”exotic”).
Keeping your hamster healthy
Keeping your hamster healthy revolves around a few simple things. Cleanliness is chief among them, and the hammy himself is very good at keeping himself clean.
Still, there are a few things you can do to help your hamster friend stay healthy:
- Regularly cleaning the cage, once per week. More on safe bedding and nesting material here.
- Giving the hamster a commercial food mix, which has all the nutrients balanced the way he needs them.
- Only treating him to occasional treats, and in moderation to avoid weight gain and joint problems. More on hamster-safe foods here.
- Making sure that the floor or other surfaces you let him roam in the exercise ball are clean, and dust free. More about hamster exercise balls here.
- Keeping the hammy in a room that’s at a constant temperature. The optimal range is 20-23 C/68-75 F, and the cage should be kept away from drafts or direct sunlight.
- Having an exercise wheel for your hamster friend, so he can run to his little heart’s content. More on hamster exercise wheels here.
Aside from all these, remember that your pet hamster needs a calm and gentle person handling him. So a child or other pet should be kept away from the hamster. Any interaction should be supervised. Hamsters are very bad with stress, and will bite back if handled wrong.
A word from Teddy
I hope you found what you were looking for here. Us hammies do get sick every now and then, and we need your help with getting healthy. So this article was supposed to give you an overview of what kind of problems we can have.
If you want to know more about us hamsters, check out the related articles below. You’ll find more info on how to care for us properly, and keep us happy.