Hamsters in the wild are hardy little creatures. Although they make wonderful pets, captivity exposes them to previously unknown diseases to which they are susceptible. If neglected, minor injuries and illnesses can escalate into serious disease in hamsters, so it is important to consult a veterinarian as soon as possible, and also to educate oneself in actions to take if a veterinarian is not immediately available.
Disease in hamsters reveals itself primarily through symptoms such as huddling in a corner for long periods of time, lack of interest in food, discharge from the nose and eyes, unkempt coat, lethargy, diarrhea and wetness in the tail area.
Abscesses -These are pockets of pus under the skin, caused by a cut or bite. They are actually the body's way of preventing more serious disease in hamsters by isolating the infection. Although they may clear up on their own, it is good practice to prevent complications by having a veterinarian treat the abscess. It will be flushed, drained, and the hamster will be put on a course of antibiotics. Sometimes the inner cheek may be punctured. If the hamster's cheek pouch seems to be continually full, it may have an abscess that needs to be dealt with.
Antibiotic overdose – Overuse of antibiotics or the administration of the wrong antibiotics may result in a disease in hamsters called Fatal Toxicity. These powerful medications should only be prescribed by a licensed veterinarian. Once prescribed, it is important to follow the full course of medication, even after symptoms have abated. By killing off intestinal flora, antibiotics may cause diarrhea. This side effect can be averted by feeding the hamster probiotics within an hour of taking the medicine. Probiotics restore balance to the hamster's digestive system.
Cold and Flu – This is one area where human disease and disease in hamsters overlap. When a human caretaker is suffering from a viral infection, it is important to handle the hamster as little as possible, and to wash hands thoroughly before doing so. Symptoms such as runny eyes and nose, sneezing and lethargy are indicative of this hamster disease, which can degenerate rapidly into respiratory infection and pneumonia. A veterinarian will prescribe antibiotics, and it is essential to keep the hamster warm.
Constipation – this disease in hamsters can be quite serious if caused by ingesting unsuitable bedding material, leading to blockage. The symptoms would be a swollen belly and a bulging anus. In such instances, a veterinarian should be consulted immediately. Lack of exercise and insufficient water may also cause a less serious case of constipation. Symptoms would be fewer droppings than usual. What droppings are present may be hard and small. It is possible to administer a dropperful of prune juice to get the bowel moving. If constipation persists, a veterinarian can relieve the situation by administering medication.
Diabetes – This disease in hamsters is caused primarily by too much sugar. Some hamster varieties are more prone to it than others, but it can affect all breeds. Overeating is another cause. The first symptoms are unquenchable thirst and frequent urination. Feeding a proper, well-balanced diet is the best way to avoid this incurable disease.
Tooth Problems – While not exactly a disease in hamsters, overgrown teeth are a common problem when hamsters have not been provided with sufficient material to chew upon. Apple wood is thought to be the best wood for gnawing, as it is free of natural toxins. Dog biscuits may also be given, but they should be free of dyes and other additives. A veterinarian may show the hamster owner how to clip overgrown teeth, which can be common in older hamsters. Tooth decay may indicate a lack of calcium in the diet or too many sugary treats.
Wet tail – Stress, crowding, unsanitary bedding, and a change in diet are all conditions that encourage development of this devastating disease in hamsters. It is common in just-weaned hamsters. In addition to a wet bottom, symptoms include appetite loss and inactivity. Lacking proper attention, watery diarrhea results in death from dehydration within a matter of days. Contact a veterinarian immediately at the first sign of wet tail. It is vital to rehydrate the hamster with warm fluids. Wet tail affects Syrian hamsters more than Dwarf hamsters. This disease in hamsters is different from simple diarrhea, which can be caused by merely overfeeding fresh fruits and vegetables and is not usually accompanied by wet tail's customary lethargy and loss of appetite.
Concerned owners who notice symptoms of illness may first try to give the hamster food and water. If the pet won't eat or drink, a visit to the veterinarian may be in order. Early detection is the key to avoiding serious disease in hamsters.