Diagnose Your Hamster



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 veterinarian advice should be sought.

ANTIBIOTIC INDUCED DIARRHEA - Antibiotics with a narrow spectrum against gram-positive organisms, especially erythromycin, penicillin, lincomycin, cephalosporin and streptomycin can cause diarrhea. Symptoms and treatment are the same are those for "diarrhea."

BLADDER OR KIDNEY INFECTION - One of the first signs is excessive drinking, which in turn creates increased urinating. Occasionally there is blood in the urine and the hamster may squeal in pain while urinating. Immediate veterinarian assistance is required.

CANCER & TUMORS - Both internal and external cancerous tumors can develop. The external tumors are generally noticed as a hard lump that grows rapidly. It is possible for a veterinarian to successfully remove external tumors. 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 - A disorder resulting from hamsters being confined in a cage that is too small and doesn't allow it sufficient exercise. The symptoms include the hamster appearing to be semi-crippled by dragging its back end around. There is, however, a very simple cure and an even simpler preventative measure - 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.

CANNIBALISM - Not a disease but normally rears its ugly face with nursing moms or an outbreak of fighting when more than one hamster is kept in a cage. Frequently mothers who kill and eat their young have not had sufficient food to produce milk for the young pups. In that event, she kills the weakest pups and eats them to replace the nourishment she requires to continue caring for the balance of the litter. The solution is providing ample food for Mom - if the food supply is not increased, she will continue killing and eating the pups. As the pups get older, if there isn't ample food or water, she will mercifully kill them rather than watch them die the agonizing death of starvation or dehydration. Or, there is also the possibility that the mother may kill the litter as her only means of defense if she fears they are in danger. There are instances where a mother may only kill one or two of the pups. In this case it is normally the result of ill, injured or malformed pups. The second scenario is an outbreak of fighting between two adult hamsters in the same cage, which ultimately leads to serious injury or a fatality. When one dies the other will eat the carcass of its one-time enemy. It goes without saying that the dead hamster should be removed. The prevention is obvious - don't keep two adults, especially Syrians, in the same cage. (The exception is dwarfs who normally cohabitate without incidence.) Contrary to some reports, feeding hamsters meat does not encourage cannibalism.

CATARACTS - As in humans, cataracts normally appear in older hamsters and looks like a white film on the eye. Sometimes they are also a side effect of diabetes. Because this is an inherited condition, animals with cataracts should not be used for breeding stock. There is no treatment and sight loss is inevitable. However, since hamsters don't see well, at best, they can normally get around in their cage with no problems provided the location of items in the cage are not moved.

COLDS & INFLUENZA - Humans can transmit viral infections (colds and flu) to hamsters. Hamster colds can rapidly turn into pneumonia and death. Symptoms include sneezing, running nose, sometimes watery eyes and a high temperature, which is normally accompanied by lethargy. Treatment includes antibiotics prescribed by a veterinary, which may also be administered to prevent secondary infections. Keeping the hamster warm is essential. Vicks placed out of reach of the ill hamster but close enough to inhale will assist breathing and can help alleviate some congestion. Also, an old English remedy is lukewarm milk and water with a teaspoon of honey; but if improvement is not seen within two days treatment should be sought from a veterinary. Weight loss, shivering and chattering and conjunctivitis may indicate Pasteur Ella pneumotropica, an infection of the lungs. Again, treatment is antibiotics as prescribed by the veterinarian.

CONSTIPATION - Normally caused by an intestine blockage from commercial fluffy bedding or insufficient drinking water, especially in young ones. Other causes include lack of exercise, poor diet, pregnancy or dystocia. On rare occasions, there is the possibility of Hymenolepis tapeworms in the small intestine. Symptoms are a swollen abdomen, which is frequently discolored and a bulging anus. Immediate treatment supervised by a veterinarian is essential to save the life of the hamster.

DEMODICOSIS - This disease is associated with two species of mite - Demodex criceti and D. aurati. These mites can cause scaliness, papules and alopecia. Males are generally more susceptible to this disease than females. Immediate veterinarian treatment is essential. Occasionally the disease will return even after an effective treatment. Preventative measures include keeping the cage clean and a balanced diet.

DENTAL CARIES (cavities) - An increase in cavities has been seen with the introduction of numerous sweet hamster treats. A diet high in carbohydrates and acid can also cause increased caries, which can go to the root of the tooth and cause an abscess. Symptoms include increased salivation, facial swelling and anorexia. The veterinarian can extract bad teeth successfully.

DIABETES - Although it can affect all species, diabetes is normally seen in the Campbells Dwarfs and is assumed to be an inherited disease. It generally strikes between 7 and 9 months of age and can be triggered by diet, stress or a dirty cage. Symptoms include excessive drinking and urinating and possibly shaking, trembling and a low body temperature. Severe cases can also result in a coma. Contact a veterinarian at the earliest signs. Although there is no cure for diabetes, steps can be taken to enhance the quality of life for the ailing hamster. For rehydration purposes, with veterinarian directions, a solution of unflavored pedialyte can be given in the water bottle. If a sugar free diet is recommended, the following can be fed: a good quality seed mix, alfalfa, carrots, potatoes and boiled egg. Don't feed any of the commercially prepared hamster treats since many of them contain molasses and corn syrup. For additional information see Tina Bolton's Article: "Possible Diabetes in Phodopus Campbelli Dwarf Hamsters"

DIARRHEA - Do not confuse diarrhea with Wet Tail. Diarrhea is generally the result of overfeeding fresh vegetables and fruit, a sudden dietary change or mild stress. (Improperly cleaned water bottles with a build up of green algae can also cause diarrhea.) Symptoms include loose droppings that are lighter in color than normal and a wet or dirty "bottom." Remove all fresh fruits and vegetables and keep him/her on a diet of dry grains, burned toast and plenty of water. Fresh produce can be introduced after the condition has subsided for two or three days. If the diarrhea does not improve within a few days, veterinarian advice should be sought.

DYSTOCIA - A serious condition where a female is unable to expel the pups at birth. General causes include an obese female, a deformity of the female or extremely large pups. Early symptoms include lethargy and sometimes vaginal bleeding. Seek the advise of a veterinarian immediately - it may be possible to save both female and the pups.

EAR INFECTION - Lack of balance and a tilted head are the normal symptoms of an ear infection. Antibiotics, as prescribed by the veterinarian will generally clear up the infection in a few days.

EAR MITES - Notoedres, the hamster ear mite, (a species specific) causes crusty lesions in hamsters' ears, on the face and feet. Treatment consists of either Ivermectin injections by the veterinarian or it can be administered orally.

ENDOPARASITES - internal parasites, of which there are two:

- Dwarf tapeworms - hamsters infected don't usually show any symptoms. Occasionally there will be signs of weight loss and could be responsible for cases of constipation. Generally the first indication is the appearance of ova in the hamster's droppings. One possible treatment would be administration of niclosamide. Prevention is the best measure, which includes protection from wild rodents, covering all food items to decrease the risk of contamination and changing the bedding weekly. The ova thrive if the humidity is high so effort should be extended to keep the humidity lowered

- Pinworm - thought to be harmless. The banana-shaped eggs of this worm can normally be seen in the droppings. Possible treatments are thiabendazole or piperazine citrate.

EYE PROLAPSE - This is a rupture of the eye globe generally resulting from injuries sustained during a fight. Although the eye becomes dry, it will normally heal and surgery or removal of the eye will not become necessary. Antibiotics prescribed by a veterinarian should be given for 5 to 7 days.

FLEAS - Dogs and cats can transmit fleas to hamsters - excessive scratching is generally the first clue. Both the hamster and cage can be dusted with a pyrethrin powder or spray.

GLAUCOMA - Seen in Campbells Dwarfs more frequently than the other species. It is thought to be inherited and hamsters with Glaucoma should not be used for breeding purposes. It appears as though the eye globe is swollen, which increases pressure on the eye. If the eye prolapses, removal can be considered.

HAIR LOSS (Alopecia) - Hair loss in older hamsters is frequently seen as a result of chronic renal failure. Loss of hair can also be the result of rubbing on the wheel, leaking water bottle or abrasive bedding. A low protein diet is also associated with hair loss, generally a diet with less than 16% protein. Or a secondary dietary problem is overfeeding "heat" producing grains and cereals, such as corn. This is easily remedied by increasing fruits and vegetables in the diet or by feeding half the dry grain/seed mix with boiled rice or puffed rice cereal. There are two different treatments for general hair loss: 1) one or two drops of cod-liver oil daily; 2) crush a yeast tablet (without garlic, which is hard on hamsters kidneys) in top of the food for three or four days, then decrease to once a week.

HEAT STROKE - Sometimes referred to as Sleeper disease. In extreme temperatures, hamsters are not able to cool themselves and can go into a state appearing to be a deep sleep. The rigid and lifeless hamster may tremble or move its head from side to side and the fur may be wet and matted. It can be splashed with cool water and should be placed in a cooler area and encouraged to drink after it has recovered. It is essential to rehydrate as soon as possible to avoid possible kidney failure. It should return to normal behavior in approximately 10 minutes. If not, veterinarian assistance should be obtained.

HIBERNATION - Although hibernation is not an illness, animals in hibernation are frequently mistaken for ill hamsters. Syrians are more prone to hibernation if there is a sudden drop in the temperature, which will trigger reduced pulse and respiratory rate that results in a lifeless body that appears to be dead; however, close observation will reveal that the whiskers are generally still moving. Move the hamster to a warmer room and let it arouse slowly on its own accord. Or, hold it until it starts to revive. If it is not aroused it could die of starvation or dehydration. Sometimes it will shake just before totally coming out of hibernation. Hamsters should be kept in rooms or buildings with even temperatures and have a good supply of bedding to prevent hibernation.

HIND LIMB PARALYSIS - In a Syrian male around 6 months old, the onset of hind limb paralysis may be an indication of a hereditary defect. There is no cure and these animals should not be used for breeding purposes. Other possible causes could be from a fall, constipation, dystocia or a cage that is too small. Veterinary advice is recommended in all cases.

INFERTILITY - Obesity is one of the primary contributing factors in infertility of both males and females. Normally both will be able to reproduce after reducing. Eliminate the sweet treats, cut back on the grain ration a little and give them carrots and celery to munch on. A young inexperienced female may not always breed. For best results she should be mated to an older experienced male. Males frequently become infertile if overused. To maintain productive males, they should only be used once a week, with at least one week off during the month. In colder temperatures the male's testicles will sometime retract or the lower temperature will cause in a reduction in his sperm count.

INTUSSUSCEPTION - A condition generally following a severe case of diarrhea, wet tail or eating too many laxative plants (dandelion leaves, groundsel and lettuce). It can also occur after a case of constipation. Symptoms include bloody diarrhea, obvious abdominal cramping and sometimes prolapse of the colon and rectum. Surgery is an option, but is rarely successful.

MANGE - A very contagious skin infection caused by mites. Symptoms include excessive scratching and dry flaky skin. Additional symptoms include hair loss and scabs around the genitals, nose and ears. Because it is so contagious, isolation is necessary to reduce exposure to other hamsters, humans and household pets. Extreme care should be exercised in sterilizing everything the hamster had contact with and washing hands with anti-bacterial soap after handling it. Immediate attention by the veterinarian is required.

MITES - When small "dots" are seen moving on the hamster and it is scratching excessively, the normal cause is mites, which can be caught from other hamsters or even bedding material. Isolate the infected hamster and dust both the hamster and the cage with pyrethrin powder or spray. A veterinarian should be consulted if the scratching persists or if there are indicates of hair loss or a skin infection or scaliness.

OVERGROWN NAILS - A common problem in older hamsters. They can be clipped with a pair of nail clippers provided extreme care is taken to avoid cutting the quick. Another solution is the "sand paper wheel" created by Ken. Or another possibility would be a shallow box lined with fine sand paper.

OVERGROWN TEETH - Hamsters are one of the few animals that are born with incisor teeth. Like all rodents, those teeth are continually growing throughout the life of the hamster. Normally gnawing on hard foods, a piece of wood, pinecones, etc wear down the teeth. The rate of growth can surpass normal wear if sufficient "gnawing materials" are not provided, or if there is a hormonal imbalance or, in a few instances, a congenital problem. When this occurs, it is essential to have the teeth clipped or the ever-growing teeth will block the mouth, which could result in death from starvation. A broken tooth, gum injuries or infection and some congenital problems can cause the opposite tooth to overgrow because there is no tooth to align with. If a tooth is broken or there are gum injuries or infection, the opposite tooth will become overgrown because it is not continually meeting with the other tooth to assist in the grinding process. Older hamsters, in particular, are prone to broken teeth. The teeth of hamsters with a calcium deficiency (the result of excess sunflower seeds) will also break easily. Since hamster's teeth grow so fast, they should be checked at least once a month and clipped if there is evidence of overgrowth. This is a relatively simple procedure; but it is recommended that the assistance of a veterinarian be sought for the first clip. Most vets will demonstrate how to clip the teeth so it can be done at home the next time around.

OVARIAN CYSTS - Cysts are fairly common in females that have never been bred. Symptoms include a swollen belly and a bloody vaginal discharge. A veterinarian can drain the cysts or ovariohysterectomy can be performed.

RECTAL PROLAPSE - Generally the result of a serious case of diarrhea or it frequently follows intussusception. Surgical replacement is rarely successful. Medications prescribed by the veterinarian should be administered along with increased fluids to prevent shock. This is a condition that is rarely seen in Campbells Dwarfs.

RINGWORM - This is a very contagious fungal infection of the skin. Symptoms are circular hairless patches of dry scaly skin. This has become more common with the increased use of plastic enclosed cages. (Condensation gets the bedding damp, which is an ideal environment for fungus.) Always wear gloves when handling a hamster with ringworm. Treatment consists of clipping the hair, sterilization of the cage, improved cage ventilation, bathing the infected areas with a povidone-iodine shampoo and administration of griscofulvin under the direction of a veterinarian.

SARCOPTIC MANGE - This particular type of mange is quite rare; but very contagious. The mite Sarcoptes Scabei causes it. In humans, this disease is called scabies. The condition can be treated if immediate medical treatment is sought. Infected animals should be isolated and everything it came into contact with sterilized.

SHOCK - Occasionally a hamster can go into shock from a fall. Symptoms include shivering, lifeless and breathing heavily. Rub it gently to increase blood circulation and put it back in its cage, preferably in a darkened room. If signs of improvement are not seen within an hour, seek the advise of a veterinarian.

STROKES - Usually it is older hamsters that suffer from strokes; however, occasionally a younger one will be stricken. The first sign of an impending stroke is the hamster tires easily and may even collapse after using the wheel. Normally the hamster is paralyzed on one side, looses its sense of balance and sometimes tilts its head to one side. Keep the cage in a warm quiet environment. Until the hamster begins to recuperate, it may be necessary to hand feed and water it. It generally takes a couple of weeks before it is up and moving around. In some cases the head tilt is permanent. Even after recovery, it is recommended that the hamster be kept in an aquarium with no wheel.

TESTICULAR TUMORS - A firm enlargement of the testicles found more frequently in older males. The only effective cure is castration.

TYZZER'S DISEASE - The bacteria Bacillus piliformis, which is carried by wild mice, causes this disease. It normally affects newly weaned pups and hamsters under stress. It is extremely contagious and usually fatal. Symptoms include lethargy, loss of appetite, extreme diarrhea, dehydration and weight loss. Treatment is seldom successful; but would consist of keeping the hamster warm, sterilization of the cage, plenty of fluids and administration of oxtetracycline under the direction of a veterinarian.

WET TAIL -(proliferative ileitis) - Also known as transmissible ileal hyperplasia. Wet Tail is undoubtedly the most common and one of the most serious diseases of hamsters. It is generally triggered by stress associated with weaning, environmental changes, malnutrition, dirty cages, and overcrowding. It used to be referred to as "shipping fever" because inadequate and overcrowded shipping boxes and being exposed to several different environments is extremely stressful to young hamsters. Especially since they have just suffered the trauma of being taken away from their mothers. Fortunately there are now products available that will balance the stomach's pH and also help reduce stress. Wet Tail is, in fact, a severe case of watery diarrhea that can result in death from dehydration within two days if left untreated. The hamster is lethargic and usually sits in a hunched position. Very extreme cases can cause a rectal prolapse or intussception. It is imperative that a veterinarian be contacted at the first signs of wet tail. Unless immediate emergency measures are taken, treatment may be unsuccessful. It is essential to keep the hamster in a warm clean cage with adequate ventilation, but not a draft. Since dehydration is the primary cause of death, it is imperative to give warm fluids immediately. As an emergency rehydration fluid, until the veterinarian recommends something else, they can be given unflavored pedialyte (available in most grocery stores). All food should be removed the first 24 hours. Antibiotics, as prescribed by the veterinarian, may include neomycin or metronidazole. Injections of multivitamins, especially Vitamin B, can be helpful. Vitamin B can also be given in the form of nutritional yeast. Prevention, in this case, is obviously more effective than treatment. All measures should be taken to reduce stress; clean cages and bedding are essential and a good balanced diet. Dwarfs very seldom get wet tail; but it is quite prevalent with Syrians. At the first signs, isolate the ill hamster from all other hamsters because severe cases can be contagious. Sterilize everything the hamster has come into contact with and thoroughly wash hands with an anti-bacterial soap both before and after handling the hamster or anything that has been exposed. The bedding should be changed daily and the soiled bedding disposed of. In the event of death, dispose of everything the hamster has had contact with that cannot be thoroughly sterilized. Diluted household bleach works well to sterilize the cage, food dishes, water bottle, wheel, toys, etc.

HAMSTER INJURIES

Despite all our best efforts sometimes our little hamsters get hurt. It may be from another hamster, another pet, or an overactive sense of adventure.

By far most injuries to dwarf hamsters are caused by other dwarf hamsters. As cute as they are, they can also be quite vicious when they're angry.

The first thing to do after giving the injured hamster proper medical care is to remove the cause of the injury. If the injury was caused by another hamster do not allow the hamsters to continue to live together hoping they can "work things out". If one is already hurt things will get worse, not better.

Small injuries can be taken care of with topical ointments. Make sure to check with a vet though to make sure it's safe for hamsters. If your hamster's injury is more serious contact a vet immediately.

Hamsters are very tough resilient little creatures and, if given proper care, should be up and around playing soon.

COMMON INJURIES

ABSCESSES: Usually the result of cuts and bites that have either been overlooked or not properly cleaned. Once an abscess (a lump filled with pus) has developed, a trip to the vet is required. The veterinary will lance the abscess, drain it and generally prescribe antibiotics.

BROKEN LIMBS: Normally the result of a fall. If a broken limb is suspected it is best to obtain the advise of a veterinary, who probably will not wrap or splint the break since it will only be a matter of time before it is chewed off. The limb may not heal straight but this won't affect the resilient little hamster. However, if the limb is being dragged or looks inflamed veterinary assistance should once again be sought. To allow healing time, without additional injury, the hamster should be moved to an aquarium (no barred cage to climb), the wheel should be removed and any other toys that would require the use of the broken limb. Keep the little one as quiet as possible and let Mother Nature take care of the healing process.

CUTS AND BITES: Young pups sometimes get a little overzealous in their squabbles; or fights occasionally break out during unsuccessful mating resulting in cuts and bites. The injured hamster with just minor cuts and bites should be placed in a separate cage. They will then lick and clean the cuts and bites, which will heal quite rapidly. More serious cuts and bites should be tended to by cutting the hair from around the wound with blunt scissors. To prevent the cut hair from falling into the wound, wet the scissors and the hair will cling to the scissor blades. Once the hair has been removed, wash the area with a saline solution or peroxide and coat with a good antibiotic ointment. Veterinary treatment should be obtained at the first signs of infection or the start of an abscess.

IMPACTED CHEEK POUCHES: Hamsters' cheek pouches are dry - not moist like humans - and they can become impacted if he/she is unable to extract what is in the pouch. Sticky foods, commercial fluffy bedding and some sharp pointed seeds are the most common culprits. An impacted pouch will appear as a lump (sometimes resembling an abscess) and on occasion can be so large that it causes the eyes to close. There is no effective home remedy for this condition, the pouch needs to be emptied and rinsed by a veterinarian. This is one of those situations where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure - don't feed sticky foods that could adhere to the inner lining of the pouch and be aware of anything given the hamster that it might possibly put in it's pouch. (Like small babies that tend to put everything in their mouths, a hamster generally tries to put everything in its pouch!)

IRRITATED EYES: Occasionally an eye can get scratched during a squabble with another hamster. Or, it can become irritated from something in it - such as dust, dirt, a wood chip, etc. If the eye is "matted" shut soak it with a wet washcloth - warm water please! This may have to be repeated several times before the eye opens. Once the eye is open cleanse it with saline solution (the saline solution made for contact lenses is sterilized and works well). Boric acid can also be used. Normally eyes heal very rapidly. A veterinary should be consulted in the event of a serious injury or if the redness persists. The saline solution can be used straight from the bottle. However, a solution needs to be prepared with the Boric Acid - mix one teaspoon of Boric Acid with one-half cup of cool boiled water.



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