Checking your Hamster’s health is not complicated and doesn’t take much time so you can perform this check-up on a weekly basis and avoid many unpleasant and potentially painful or dangerous situations.
The hamster’s health check is done by observing your hamster’s behavior on daily basis. Inactivity, sneezing/coughing, or circling around with no obvious reason are signs that something is wrong with your pet. It is important to keep track of how much he eats, to learn how to examine him easily on a weekly basis, and make sure he is not suffering from any health issue. Weekly home health check-ups should include examination of your hamster’s eyes, ears, nose, teeth, claws, back area, skin/coat, weight. Pay special attention if you have a senior hamster as many illnesses come with the age ( like tumors for example).
First look at your pet’s eyes – healthy hamsters have bright and clear eyes, without discharge or white haze ( these are called milky or cloudy eyes). White haze could be the sign of a cataract. You should consult your vet.
Check if your hamster can properly open its eyes. Is there any crust on them? Look at your pet from above and check if one eye is sticking out more than the other. If this is the case, your hammy might have protruding eyes, caused by infection or injury. In that case, you should seek for vet’s help.
You should also check your hamster’s eyelids. Sometimes they change their shape and start rubbing against the eye. This pretty painful condition is called Entropion and requires the vet’s help.
Next, check the ears, they should be open, on alert. You can check your pet’s hearing if you do some gentle snapping or clicking with your fingers and watch for his reaction, focusing on your pet’s ears. He should be moving his ears and paying attention to hear better all the sounds that come from you.
Don’t forget to check the skin of the ears, is it dry and flaky? Do you spot dark wax and hair loss? These signs may indicate mite infestation. Your vet can treat this condition easily.
If you look at your hamster’s nose, it should be clear, without any blockages that can make his breathing more difficult. The nose should be without any discharge. If you hear some wheezing even quite one, that could be a sign of chest infection, do seek for vet’s help.
If your hamster has a wet and runny nose, he might be suffering from a cold or an allergy. This could be a reaction to dust in wood shavings.
Observe your hamster, does he rub his nose against the cage bars? This might be the sign of boredom but by rubbing his nose against cage bars, the hamster can get scabs or wounds. In the best-case scenario, your hammy will end up with a bald spot. To prevent boredom in hamsters and possible wounds as a side effect, do read our article on ”How Can I Keep My Hamster Entrained”
Teeth should be yellow/orange and short enough to enable your tiny friend to close its mouth normally. If you would like to learn more about hamster’s teeth’ normal look but also about possible dental problems, read our article ”How Can I Keep My Hamster’s Teeth Short and Healthy?”
Claws could make similar problems as teeth if they grow too much, that is why you should examine them regularly. The hamster should be able to keep the claws short ( just like teeth) by himself but in case he needs help ( especially if he is getting older ), you are there to help. Hamster’s claws are pretty short and must not have curves. If they have, it means that they are too long. Claws overgrowth could be the sign of liver disease according to the experts from Chicago Exotic Animal hospital
If you need to cut your pet’s claws you can use some small scissors or nail clippers. The hamster’s nails are transparent so for safe trimming you need bright light and some experience. It is important not to cut the part of the nail called quick ( nail ends – blood supply area) as that could be very painful for your tiny friend.
You should cut the end of the nail but pay attention not to come too close to the quick. Offer some treats to your hamster so he can be busy and let you do the job. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, let professionals do the claws trimming.
Scent Glands Check
Scent glands – if you have a Syrian hamster, he has two scent glands placed on his hips area, each on one side of the body and if you have Dwarf or Chinese, he has only one at the place where you expect to see the belly button. Scent glands are important for marking the territory so make sure your hamster has healthy glands.
Dr. Melissa A. Kling, DVM, of Macon, Ga (secretary of the Assn. of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians ) says that scent glands are often seen as tumors by mistake of the hamster’s owners. Microbiologist Elizabeth Johnson, a fourth-year student of veterinary medicine and surgery at Glasgow University School of Veterinary Medicine in Scotland explained that Syrian’s scent glands are looking wet or greasy and sometimes colored and Dwarf’s glands are more tumor-like and therefore many owners worry when they notice them.
Both Dr. Kling and Johnson agree that hamsters show some of the following symptoms in case they have some issues with their scent glands: crusting, redness, presence of pus, unusual swelling, and discharge. A sick hamster could show signs of aggression, not willing to be held, not be able to move around, etc.
Back Area Check ( Genitalia and Button Area)
Genitalia and button area – hamsters are prone to reproductive disease so keeping an eye on your hamster’s genitalia and button area is recommended.
Males can get testicular cancers although this is not so common situation. Look for any bump, lump, bruise or darker area on your furry pal’s testicles.
Note that hamsters are able to retract their testicles if it is too cold and then return them back when they warm up. The owners usually get wrong about this thinking that their pet suffers from a sudden tumor.
Females can be affected by an infection called Pyometra, a life-threatening uterus infection, usually affecting older females, say the experts from the Hamster Society of Singapore.
If you notice any swelling or hard parts in the lower abdomen area check the vet. Plus if you notice that your hammy is drinking more water than usual indicates the problem.
If you would like to know more about this health condition, symptoms, and therapy I suggest you read the Human Society article on this topic.
Also if you detect vaginal discharge you should consult a vet, even more, if that discharge has a strong smell which is almost always a sign of some infection that needs to be treated.
Check your hamster’s coat on a regular basis. Does your hammy scratch a lot? Does he have bald patches? Do you see black-colored material on your pet’s fur? All of these can be sign of some injury or parasites infection.
If you notice something like black dust on your furry friend’s coat, try to put some of it on the white kitchen paper towel. Add a water drop and see what happens. If the ”dust” transforms from black to dark red, you can be pretty sure that your hamster has a problem with fleas ( fleas are mainly formed from the blood so when you add water, the black ”dust” becomes reddish)
When checking a hamster’s skin, look for cuts, scratches, dry skin, lumps, bumps, swollen areas... If you notice that your hamster has bald spots, dry skin and that he scratches a lot, your pet might suffer from Sarcoptic mange ( type of mites).In this case, urgent vet’s help is necessary.
It’s important to keep a record of your hamster’s weight. Weight loss may indicate many serious health conditions such as respiratory or parasites infection. Your hamster may lose some weight due to dehydration so always check how much water he drinks and if the water bottle works properly.
If you notice that weight loss is followed by diarrhea, seek the vet’s help immediately, as your friend might suffer from an internal parasites infection ( worms)
This is not something you will do on weekly basis, you need to observe your hamster every day in order to spot some changes that could indicate some problem.
Your hamster is not active as you think he should be. Where is the problem? Most probably, he is bored. He doesn’t have much to play with or he spends his time in a tiny cage and therefore he eats and sleeps constantly. This is not good. It shouldn’t be like that. You can do a lot of things to keep your hamsters happy and entertained. This is not difficult nor expensive. Take a look at our article related to this topic ”How Can I Keep My Hamster Entertained?”
If your hamster keeps circling around and around, you might think that this is another sign of boredom but actually it could be the sign of an ear infection. So if you notice such behavior, take your pet to the vet.
Additional Check For Senior Hamster
Many illnesses come with the age. Hamsters live approximately 2-3 years so pay special attention to your elderly pet.
Tumors are more common in older hamsters, especially mammary tumors. Tumors generally grow quickly in hamsters due to their fast metabolism. Always check your hamster’s body looking for unusual lumps.
If your hamster is urinating less than usual, check his stomach. If it is hard and looks bloated, it might be a sign of bladder stone. Ask for the vet’s help.
Sticky eyes are another issue that affects mostly older hamsters. This condition appears due to eye secretion during hamster’s sleep. The eye secretion dries out disabling the hamster to open his eyes properly when he wakes up. If this happens you can take a cotton swab, put some lukewarm water on it and gently hold on to the crust. This should soften it and enable your pet to open its eyes. Never try to force a hamster’s eyes to open as this act could cause serious damage to your pet.
The part of responsible pet ownership implies regular health check-ups. You should perform them at least once a week but do observe your hamster every day not to miss some behavioral changes that could indicate some health issue.
I hope you find this article helpful as a guideline what are the things you should check in your hamster. Of course, if you notice any of the following signs rush to the vet :
- Loss of appetite
- Drinking less or more then usual
- Overgrown teeth
- Runny nose, sneezing, coughing
- Unusual lumps, bumps, swelling