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Hamster Care
Housing
Choosing a Cage
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Feeding
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Health
Common ailments
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Beginners' Guide
FAQ

Common hamster ailments

Hamsters, just like humans, may occasionally fall ill. Always have the address, opening hours and emergency numbers of a reliable veterinarian prepared in case your hamster falls ill suddenly. As a responsible pet owner, you should always be observant about changes in your hamster's behaviour and physical conditions for symptoms of illnesses. Here are some of the common ailments that a hamster may have. More will be updated, and meanwhile, if you have more information about other hamster ailments, especially diabetes, please contact Hamster Hideout.

Colds
Wet Tail
Diarrhea
Constipation
Mange
Fleas and Lice
Running Eyes
Lumps and bumps
Paralysis


Colds
A cold is easily detected by a lack of activity and ears held back against the head. The nose may appear swollen because the fur is ruffled from wiping a nasal discharge. In advanced stages, the hamster gets thin, the fur loses its luster, and sniffling and sneezing can be heard. Disinfect the cage, and all watering and feeding dishes. Provide fresh, dry bedding, and keep the cage free from drafts. Offer plenty of wholesome foods supplemented with cod-liver oil. As a preventive measure, do not handle your hamster while you have a cold.
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Wet Tail
This is a highly contagious bacterial illness that causes severe diarrhoea in a hamster and can, and often does, prove fatal. Stress is an important factor in the proliferation of wet tail (and explains why the disease is so prevalent in young hamsters in their early days in new homes), as are sudden changes in diet, habitat overcrowding, extreme temperatures and unsanitary living conditions. If your hamster has wet tail, you should bring it to see the veterinarian immediately.
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Diarrhoea
As an isolated disorder, diarrhoea is not to be confused with wet tail. It is commonly the result of an overfeeding of vegetables and fruits or contaminated foods. Diarrhoea is often indicative of another ailment, such as stomach upset or blockage. Discontinue the feeding of fruits and vegetables for a day or two. If the condition persists, consult a veterinarian.
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Constipation
A wet tail can also indicate constipation. In both old and young hamsters, constipation is directly related to the ratio of pellets and water they are eating. In the case of the young, they consume the pellets which swell up in their intestines because they aren't getting enough moisture. Babies suffering from this ailment may be saved by making available milksop and juicy greens. In adults, the same cause is attributable. The hamster seems to waste away because it will not eat dry food if sufficient water is not available. Therefore it is essential that clean fresh water is always available. Provide plenty of carrots, carrot tops, other leafy vegetables and fruits.
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Mange
If your pet shakes its head a lot, scratches its ears, loses its hair, and has a poor general appearance, check for parasitic spiders or insects. The condition is mange, which results in grey, warty scabs on the ears, nose and genitals. Your veterinarian will probably recommend a medicated bath, Sterilize the cage and all equipment and replace the bedding. Wash your hands well after handling the animal. A high standard of hygiene is the necessary control.
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Fleas and lice
These pests can be passed on to your hamster from cats, dogs, rats, and mice. You should bring your hamster to the veterinarian to obtain flea powder to kill the parasites instead of buying off the shelf or using your other pet's flea powder, as some flea powder may contain harmful ingredients to your small pet. Change the bedding before each application so any eggs ready to hatch will be discarded. Be sure to eliminate fleas and lice from all other afflicted household pets.
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Running Eyes
Tears may form in the eyes indicating trouble in the cheek pouches. Soft food may have become stuck back near the shoulder. Flush out the pouch with water of the hamsters body temperature using an eyedropper or syringe. Offer only soft foods that are eaten on the spot. Do not offer excessive amounts that your pet will hoard in its pouches.
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Lumps and bumps
Hard lumps anywhere on the body may be cancerous tumours. Have them checked by a veterinarian.
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Paralysis
A common ailment which can be avoided is paralysis. Often the result of a lack of exercise, an afflicted hamster will spend most its time hunched over, often unable to raise its head. Provide a roomy cage, an exercise wheel, or some other activity or recreation to effect a speedy recovery.

Another type of paralysis results from a spinal injury or from a vitamin D deficiency. The first signs are stiffness of the paws, leading to loss of movements in the forepaws, and then slowly to death. Feed your hamster plenty of wheat gem and wheat germ oil. Have your pet examined by a veterinarian.
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Related Article(s):
Signs of a healthy hamster
Keeping your hamster healthy

References:
The information from this page is largely adapted from
A Step-By-Step Book About Hamsters by Anmarie Barrie (T.F.H. Publications, 1987), pages 40-44.

Additional references:
The Essential Hamster by Betsy Sikora Siino (Macmillan Publishing, 1999)

Dwarf Hamsters: A Complete Pet Owner's Manual by Sharon Vanderlip (Barron's Educational Series, 1999)

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