Common Hamster Diseases: What to Keep an Eye Out For
Hamsters are common pets. They live for an average of 2 years, but their life span can vary. Hamsters will hide their illness until they are very sick and begin to show more obvious signs of illness such as lethargy, abnormal breathing, weight loss that is noticeable, rough or poor hair coat, and reduced body temperature. It’s very important to interact with your hamster every day, assess their food intake, check for buried stashes of food, and monitor water intake to help alert you about illness and diseases as soon as possible. Continue reading to learn about the most common hamster diseases and symptoms to watch out for.
Diarrhea (Wet Tail) in Hamsters
Young hamsters are more commonly infected with a bacteria called Lawsonia intracellularis that can cause severe diarrhea. Diarrhea can quickly lead to life-threatening dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities.
Diagnosis can be made based on clinical symptoms, the age of the hamster, and fecal PCR testing. Treatment involves antibiotics, fluid support, and assisted feedings to help them recover. In severe cases, the hamster may prolapse their rectal tissue, have the intestines fold into itself, or become obstructed. These are often fatal conditions if not immediately treated.
In adult hamsters, a different bacteria is often the cause, Clostridium piliforme. This is also called Tyzzer Disease. This is often seen in hamsters that are stressed, overcrowded, have a poor diet, are kept in too warm temperatures, and from pet stores.
Intestinal parasites such as Giardia and Coccidia are another common cause of diarrhea in hamsters.
Treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the diarrhea.
Cancer Can Affect Hamsters
Hamsters are prone to developing cancers. Syrian hamsters are at higher risk for developing melanoma, a form of skin cancer. These are often darkly colored skin growths and are 10 times more common in males than females.
Djungarian hamsters are 5 times more likely to develop cancer compared to Syrian hamsters. Mammary tumors (breast cancer), and skin tumors such as papillomas and fibromas, are the most common forms of cancer.
Lymphoma is the most common cancer of hamsters. It can affect the white blood cells, lymph nodes, skin, liver, and spleen. Symptoms include enlarged lymph nodes, lethargy, reduced appetite, weight loss, and patchy coat.
Hamsters can develop bacterial pneumonia and can be infected by humans! Symptoms include abnormal breathing, rapid breathing, discharge from the eyes or nose, and lethargy. Staining the discharge from the nose and eyes can help screen for bacteria. Treatment includes an antibiotic and supportive care.
Be sure to avoid handling your hamster when you have a cold to reduce the risk of them getting infected also.
Hamsters can develop blood clots in the heart as a result of heart failure. This tends to affect female hamsters at a younger age than males, about 1 year of age in females and nearly 2 years of age in males.
Symptoms include increased breathing rate, increased heart rate, and blue discoloration to the skin, gums, and tongue. If left untreated, most hamsters will pass away within a week of showing symptoms. There is no cure for heart failure, but medications can be given to help reduce the overall fluid volume in the system and reduce the amount of work the heart has to do.
Heart enlargement, called cardiomyopathy, can affect hamsters that are over a year and a half in age. Clinical symptoms include increased breathing rate, cold extremities (paws), lethargy, and reduced appetite. Diagnosis can be made based on clinical symptoms, radiographs of the chest to assess the heart size and shape, and possibly an ultrasound of the heart (echocardiogram). Heart supportive medications can also be used to reduce the stress on the heart, but there is no cure.
Common Skin Diseases in Hamsters
Hamsters can develop abscesses under the skin, often as a result of a prior fight or bite wounds. The abscess develops under the skin once the initial wound heals and can feel like fluid or a firm bump under the skin. Treatment may involve antibiotics, lancing and flushing the abscess, and pain management.
Hamsters can also get skin infections from Demodex mange mites. These are different Demodex mites than dogs and cats. Hair loss and non-itching skin are common symptoms. Your vet can perform a skin scraping to look for the mites and begin treatment.
Ringworm, a fungal infection, can also affect hamsters. Patchy areas of hair loss and crusting skin are common symptoms. Your vet can perform a fungal culture to confirm ringworm is the cause of the skin lesions and begin treatment, which may be oral antifungals or medicated shampoos or dips.
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