Your hamsters' health: what to look out for

Hamsters live on average for three years and are generally healthy animals. Often, most illnesses come with age. Make sure you find a vet who has chosen to specialise in small mammals to get the best possible care for your hamsters.

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Hamsters live on average for 3 years and are generally healthy animals. Often, most illnesses come with age. Make sure you find a vet who has chosen to specialise in small mammals to get the best possible care for your hamsters.

Parasites and fur loss

Parasites, such as fur mites, can be fairly common in hamsters, particularly in Syrian hamsters. Incorrect bedding is one of the most common causes of this. However, in some cases, your hamster may be suffering from hormonal changes or tumours, which may cause hair loss that appears to be symmetrical.

Consult your vet if your hamster is showing any of these signs of a parasite infestation:

  • Hair loss
  • Red, irritated skin
  • Severe dandruff
  • Small scratches all over their body
  • Visible lice or mites which look like orange or black dots within the fur

Wet tail

Wet tail is often brought on by stress – like change in their surroundings or the presence of another animal in your hamster’s environment. A build-up of bacteria in the cage can also cause wet tail, so regular cleaning is very important. Symptoms of wet tail include:

  • Watery diarrhoea
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite & sudden weight loss
  • A very strong smell of faeces

Wet tail can prove fatal within days, and unfortunately doesn't respond well to treatment. If you suspect your hamster has wet tail, take them to your vet as soon as possible.

Tumours

Tumours are fairly common in an elderly hamster. They can grow very quickly because hamsters have a fast metabolic rate. Mammary tumours are the most common and are the most likely to be cancerous.

When you handle your hamster - and you should do this regularly – check for unusual lumps and bumps on their body. If you’re at all concerned, take your hamster to the vet.

Nails and old age

As your hamster gets older, their nails will start to grow rather rapidly. Placing items like fruit tree wood for them to climb on can help file their nails down. However, your vet will be able to trim their nails if you don’t feel confident.

When your hamster reaches around two and a half years of age, you will start to notice a few common changes, including:

  • Overgrown nails
  • Hair loss, leaving sparse bald patches
  • Sleeping more
  • Drinking more
  • Lumps and bumps
  • Weight loss, but teeth remain in good condition
  • Becoming wobbly when walking about. Always keep an eye on your hamster if they’re housed in a mesh cage. Elderly hamsters can get caught in the bars if their nails have grown.

If you feel your hamsters are starting to struggle with one or more of these symptoms, talk to your vet. While they’re perfectly natural, you’ll want to make sure they’re comfortable and not in pain.

Dental health

Your hamster’s teeth will continually grow, so make sure you provide them with a varied diet and plenty of things they can gnaw on, including safe fruit tree twigs.

Occasionally, hamsters can suffer with overgrown incisors (the front teeth). This is more common in hamsters that have been bred poorly or have been involved in an accident where they may have fallen with an impact.

Regularly check your hamster’s teeth to make sure they remain a good length. They should be a light yellow colour, although they can be white when they’re very young.