How to Tell if my Hamster is Sick

Knowing the types of ailments your hamster might experience is an important part of being a good pet owner. If you can recognize the signs that something isn’t quite right, you’ll have the tools to take better care of your furry friend so it can live a full, enjoyable life.

This article will go over the typical signs of sickness, the most common hamster illnesses, how to take care of a sick hamster and how to prevent illness.

How to Tell If My Hamster Is Sick

Typical Signs of Illness in Hamsters

Hamsters often show these tell-tale symptoms when they are sick or injured.

  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Hair loss
  • Patchy or ruffled coat
  • Diarrhea
  • Wheezing
  • Eye discharge
  • Runny nose
  • Moist body around their tail
  • Hiding or cowering in a corner

If you notice these signs, consult a veterinarian.

Common Hamster Illnesses

The most prevalent illnesses in hamsters affect their respiratory systems, digestive systems and skin. Let’s take a look at some details.

Colds and Respiratory Infections

The same germs that get humans sick can also cause illness in hamsters. Drastic temperature changes, wind drafts and especially dry air may weaken a hamster’s immune system and make it more susceptible to illness. Cedar and pine bedding are also known to irritate a hamster’s lungs, which may lead to infection.

Symptoms of respiratory infection include:

  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Eye discharge
  • Runny nose
  • Appetite loss
  • Lethargy
  • Ears pressed against the head
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If your hamster has a cold, discontinue handling your hamster any more than what is necessary. Disinfect its entire cage, dishes and water bottle and change its bedding. Then, take it to the vet.

Wet Tail

Wet tail is a serious and highly contagious condition most commonly seen in hamsters recently weaned from their mothers and in new hamsters recently brought home. It is associated with stress, crowding, dietary conditions, exposure to extreme temperatures and unsanitary living conditions.

Symptoms of wet tail include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Disheveled appearance

Wet tail is known to kill hamsters within a week. If you suspect your hammy has wet tail, we recommend an urgent visit to the veterinarian.

Diarrhea

Most commonly caused by eating too much fresh fruits and vegetables, diarrhea in hamsters is another condition that you should take seriously. It can be very harmful and even deadly to small animals like hamsters.

If your hamster has diarrhea:

  • Stop feeding it fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Keep it hydrated
  • Don’t handle it unnecessarily

Not all hamsters experiencing diarrhea have wet tail, but monitor your pet closely. If diarrhea doesn’t clear up within a day or two, or it’s combined with other symptoms, contact your veterinarian.

Constipation

When a hamster isn’t hydrated enough, pellets may swell in its intestines and plug things up. If your hamster is experiencing constipation:

  • Make sure fresh water is available 24/7
  • Supplement your hamster’s diet with leafy and juicy greens, carrots and fruits

The most common cause of constipation is dehydration.

Skin Diseases

There are a lot of causes for skin diseases, including but not limited to mites, ringworm (not actually a worm, but a fungal infection), skin infections, lice, fleas or irritation from cedar cage bedding (which should be avoided with hamsters).

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Your hamster may have an unwelcome guest on its skin if you notice these symptoms:

  • Excessive hair loss
  • Patchy coat
  • Peeling skin
  • Rashes or red skin
  • Excessive scratching
  • Scent glands are inflamed or irritated

Your veterinarian may prescribe a medicated bath for your hammy if it has a skin disease. Make sure you sterilize all cage equipment, provide fresh bedding and practice excellent hygiene around your hamster.

Abscesses

Abscesses are localized infections that form a lump or bubble underneath the skin. They’re often caused by minor scratches or cuts that become infected.

Sometimes, abscesses occur in hamsters’ cheek pouches after they try to tuck away a sharp-edged piece of food for later. If your hamster constantly looks like they have food stowed away in their cheeks, they may have an abscess.

A veterinarian will be able to drain your hammy’s abscess and prescribe it a safe and healthy dose of antibiotics.

Beware Of Home Remedies

There are many ways to help a sick hamster get better at home. However, any home treatments should only be done in conjunction with veterinary recommendations. Never self-prescribe medications or other treatments for your hamster. It’s always best to take your hamster to the vet if it’s sick.

Can I Give My Hamster Antibiotics?

Medications that are safe and effective for humans, like penicillin and amoxicillin (among many others) are lethal to hamsters. Never give your antibiotics without consulting a veterinarian. 

Can I Give My Hamster Flea Powder?

If your hamster has fleas, it can be tempting to simply purchase a flea powder online. There are seemingly an infinite number of them out there!

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However, beware! Many flea powders are created with large pets like cats and dogs in mind. Some flea powders contain ingredients that can hurt small animals. Consult a veterinarian for the best recommendations on how to treat your hamster for fleas.

Preventing Illness in Hamsters

In medicine, the best remedy is prevention! Your hamster will benefit from these.

  • A well-balanced diet. Your hamster’s daily diet should mainly be hamster food mix. Fresh foods are occasional treats only.
  • Constant access to clean water. Your hamster always needs to be able to have a drink when it needs one.
  • Consistent temperature. An ideal temperature range for hamsters is 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Consistent humidity. Somewhere between 40% and 70% is appropriate.
  • Reduced stress. Give your hammy access to hiding places and space to spread out.
  • Daily exercise. Make a wheel and other enrichment toys available.
  • Hamster-friendly toys and habitat. Avoid creating the possibility a hamster could fall a long distance or get stuck somewhere in its cage.
  • Let it sleep. Hamsters are nocturnal, so they’ll sleep most of the day.

Giving your hamster a hygienic, safe and low-stress lifestyle is by far the best way to avoid sickness.