Is your hamster feeling ill ? Is the hamster ignoring his water bottle ? Lack of water in the hamster’s system is a very bad situation, but one that can be fixed. Hamsters can and should drink water, so if yours is dehydrated he will need some medical attention.
Let’s see what dehydration is, how to prevent it, some symptoms, and how to help a dehydrated hamster back on his feet.
So what is dehydration in hamsters ?
In short dehydration is the loss of water from the hamster’s body. The hamster has lost a significant amount of water through urine, vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, or drooling and is now in serious danger.
Dehydration is a problem because the cells of the body do not function very well without water, and they can shut down entirely. There is also the problem of the salts and minerals that usually come with the body’s water content, but are now missing.
This is why simple tap water won’t do to rehydrate a hamster. You will need to add salts, minerals, and sugar to his diet while he’s recovering. We’ll cover everything you can do to help the hamster, right after we find out just how a hamster become dehydrated.
How dehydration can happen in hamsters
Hamsters, like all animals, can become dehydrated for a number of reasons. Many health problems will require the body to overheat, in order to fight off an infection for example.
This is how a cold can be much harder on a hamster, or even some abscesses if they’ve gone too far.
Wet-tail is another serious condition, and hamsters suffering from it become dehydrated in a matter of hours. It’s a treatable condition, but it needs to be discovered in the beginning. Too late and even if the infection is treated the hamster will be too weakened.
Diabetes can be another problem for hamsters, since there is never enough water for them. They will also pee every few minutes, but the thirst is always there.
Digestive problems like a loose stool or vomiting can also make the hamster dehydrated.
Excessive drooling, which can be a sign of overgrown teeth or a possible neurological problem, can make the hamster dehydrated too.
Whichever problem the hamster has, it can usually be treated by a veterinarian. But the real danger of dehydration lies in the fact that it will slowly start shutting down bodily functions in the hamster.
It will be important to rehydrate the hamster mostly for this reason, more than all the other ones.
Symptoms and signs of dehydration in hamsters
There are a few ways to see if your hamster is dehydrated, most are easy to notice by just the hamster’s owner, like you and I. For example:
The hamster is not drinking water. This is the most obvious one, I know, but it’s a dead giveaway. There are hamsters who just drink very little water, yes. But if your hamster hasn’t had any water at all in the last 24h then you will need to take some measures. I’ll describe them later in this article.
The best way to check if the hamster isn’t drinking water is to mark where the current water level is in his water bottle, and check again after 24 hours. Hammies usually drink about 10 ml water per 100 gr of hamster daily. That’s 0.33 oz water for every 3.5 oz of hamster. So if you’ve got a Dwarf, you’ll barely notice the water he’s drinking, but try taking photos from the same exact angle and compare them.
The hamster’s skin is very tight and dry. You can check this by scruffing the hamster and watching how fast the skin pulls back. Hold the hamster firmly but gently with one hand, and with your other hand pinch the back of the hamster’s neck. That will not hurt the hamster, but it will pull back some skin.
If the skin snaps back into place quickly (or immediately) the hamster is just fine. If it takes a while to get back into its shape, or even still has a ridge where you pinched the hammy, the hamster is definitely dehydrated.
The hamster looks tired and weak. Dehydration tires out the body, and it will only have enough energy for the most basic things like breathing and eating a bit. Other than that the hamster will not expend any energy, like running on his wheel or playing with his cage mates.
He will mostly huddle in a corner and sleep a whole lot. His usual routine will be disrupted, and he won’t be out in the open as much. You will possibly see a very dry and warm nose on him (as in flaky nose), and possibly on his feet as well.
The hamster has lost weight, or at least looks thinner. His fur might be thinner, and he might have even lost some fur. Weight loss isn’t out of the ordinary for a dehydrated hamster, but it can have a big impact on his health.
This is because the weight loss is sudden, and in a large amount. It may not seem like much, since the hamster is so very small to begin with. But losing the water weight and some actual weight makes things much harder for the hamster.
Treatment and care for a dehydrated hamster
Alright, now that we know what dehydration is, and what the symptoms are, we can start treating it. Treatment should be done by a professional, like a veterinarian. You will need to look for an ‘exotics’ vet, who has experience with rodents, reptiles, and birds. Although for this particular problem all vets should be able to help.
The vet will administer fluids to the hamster most probably by a shot, since an I.V. drip is not very practical. You will also receive recommendations from your vet on what medicine (if any) you need to give to you hamster afterwards, like a few vitamins for example.
If your hamster has an underlying condition which is causing the dehydration – like wet-tail or vomiting – the vet will treat that as well. In some cases he might need the hamster to stay with him for a couple of days for observations and further treatment.
But if for some reason you can’t reach the vet, there are a few things you can do at home. Very few of them will work as well as a professional treatment, but you can try these to help your hamster feel better.
- Give your hamster slices of fruit and veg. Like cucumber, peeled apple, lettuce, a few leafy greens, carrot. Give a little at a time, since too much can cause diarrhea, which will worsen the dehydration.
- Add an electrolyte water to his water bottle. Unflavored Pedialyte will work well, and can be found fairly easy. If your hamster is diabetic this is not recommended, as Pedialyte contains sugar.
- Place the hamster’s water in a shallow dish, so he can access it easily. Sometimes the dehydration is so severe the hammy can’t even get up to the nozzle of the bottle.
- Rehydrate by mouth, with an eye dropper or small syringe (no needle). Hold the hamster firmly but gently, and place a drop of water on his lips every half hour. More than a drop at a time may go in the wrong way.
- Plain water isn’t going to help very much, since it lacks the salts and minerals needed by a dehydrated body.
These are all steps you can take so the hamster’s treatment goes along smoothly, and in a couple of days he should recover. Feeding the hamster overly wet food (like too much cucumber for example) will upset his stomach. His usual dry grain mix will be fine.
You can also take steps to ensure the hamster gets better by not placing him near warm spots, like a heater or in the kitchen when there is a lot of cooking(and heat) going on. Keep him away from drafts as well, as those can worsen his health and add another problem to his already weak body.
Dehydration itself isn’t a threat to the hamster’s cage mates, but his other possible conditions (if it’s not just dehydration) might be, so separating the sick hamster is probably a good idea.
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Preventing dehydration in hamsters
Dehydration can be prevented, but in most cases isn’t a sum of many steps. So we’ll go through the various steps you can take to make sure the hamster is safe from dehydration.
Make sure that the hamster’s water bottle is working properly. This means that the bottle’s nozzle should be free of any blockages, and there should not be anything sticking into or out of it. The little metal ball at the end of the nozzle should move freely, and allow water to drip, if pushed back.
You can test this by tapping the small ball with your finger, and observing whether water is coming out or not. If it does, that it’s fine. If it doesn’t, there might be something inside the nozzle. You will have to take it apart and use a Q-tip to inspect the length of the nozzle.
Another way to test the water bottle is to squeeze the side of it, and see if water drips out of the nozzle. Most of the time the water bottle is working just fine, and it’s an illness that’s actually affecting the hamster.
The temperature and general ‘weather’ of the room you keep the hamster in is very important. The temperature should be around 20-23 C/68-75 F, and his cage away from any direct heat, sunlight, drafts, or cold corners.
Try and offer your hamster a mix of dry, commercial mix, and some safe foods found in your pantry and freezer. Too much wet food can cause digestive problems in your hamster, and give him a bout of diarrhea.
Which is why veggies like cucumbers or lettuce should be given sparingly, and only in small amounts. The same goes for apple, watermelon, and most everything that has juice in it.
If you’ve got more than one hamster in the same cage, and one becomes sick, separate them immediately. The illness from the first hamster can get to the healthy hamster, and manifest itself through dehydration, even if it’s nut just that.
Always wash your hands before and after handling your hamster. This will prevent the spread of any bacteria from your hands to the hamster, and keep everyone safe.
A stressed hamster will refuse to eat, drink, and even rest properly. Hamsters can get stressed by things like handling them too much, an abusive cage mate, overly curious pets and children, getting scared too often, and even being brought home for the first time.
If the hamster won’t or can’t drink water
There are some hamsters, possibly those who have been taken away from their mother or siblings earlier than necessary, who haven’t learned to associate the water bottle with water, and drinking. They simply don’t know what to do with that bottle.
In this case you can again squeeze the sides of the bottle to make a small drop appear, which hopefully will attract the hamster. Once the hamster drinks that drop, his tongue will push the ball at the end of the nozzle, releasing more water.
If that does not work, try putting his water in a small, shallow dish in a corner of the cage. Make sure that dish isn’t easy to overturn, since a wet hamster is a sick hamster and he will not recover fast.
A word from Teddy
I hope you found what you were looking for in this article. Us hammies can get sick from time to time, and we rely on you to help us figure things out and treat us.
If you want to know more about us hamsters, you can check the related articles below. You’ll find more info on how to keep us happy and safe, and give us a good life.