The main signs to look for include loss of appetite, weight loss, and behavioral problems, but you should also check for particular symptoms of the following health problems.
f a wound is not treated quickly then it may heal over before the infection has cleared, causing pus to form under the skin and create a lump known as an abscess. It can be difficult to distinguish an abscess from a tumor if the original wound was not spotted, although if a wound is visible on the lump then it is most likely an abscess. If your hamster is scratching in a particular area then it may be because of an abscess, so be sure to look for any swollen areas or redness in the skin.
Abscesses can also be caused by cheek pouch injuries, so if your hamster has swollen cheeks or its cheek pouches appear to be continuously full then this may be an indication of an abscess. In the event of an abscess developing you should take your hamster to a veterinarian for the pus to be drained and possible further treatment. If the abscess bursts beforehand then it is still important that you visit the vet as additional treatment may be necessary to clear the infection.
Abscesses can be prevented by cleaning any bites, scratches or other wounds with peroxide, and contacting your veterinarian as soon as an injury leads to infection. You can also prevent wound from occurring in the first place by acting to protect your hamster from injuries such as broken bones and cheek pouch injuries.
Your hamster may fall and suffer a broken limb or tail. This can occur if you handle your hamster unsafely outside its cage, or if there are multiple levels in its cage with areas where your hamster could fall from. If your hamster has broken any bones it will become evident from limping or a bent tail.
Broken bones cannot be plastered and so must be left to heal naturally. However, if a bone breaks through the skin and becomes exposed then you should take your hamster to a veterinarian to prevent infection. Also, if your hamster is showing signs of shock, this should be treated straight away.
To allow bone to heal naturally you should keep your hamster alone in its own separate cage, preferably an aquarium or another solid-sided cage with only one level to prevent climbing. Any exercise wheel and climbing toys should be removed as exercise will hinder recovery. It is also advisable to feed your hamster calcium supplements, or simply some milk-soaked bread or high calcium dog biscuits.
Broken bones should heal within one or two weeks, although your hamster may be left with a permanent limp or a crooked tail. Therefore it is best to try to prevent such accidents happening in the first place.
You can help avoid dangerous falls by ensuring there are no unprotected areas in a multi-level cage where your hamster may fall from a height, and by buying a safe hamster wheel. You should also ensure that you always handle your pet at a low height and over a soft surface, such as your lap.
Occasionally a hamster may suffer from shock, such as after injuring itself, although the cause will not always be known. If your hamster is in shock then it will typically seem fairly limp and lifeless, while it may also be shivering, breathing heavily and have a colder temperature.
Shock should be treated immediately by rubbing your hamster’s back gently to encourage blood circulation. Also make sure your hamster’s cage is in a dark, warm and quiet room. If your hamster does not recover within an hour then it may need veterinary treatment, while any broken bones or other injuries will also need to be treated. You can help prevent shock in the same way as preventing broken bones, by making sure its cage is safe and by handling it safely.
Skin problems can be caused by fungal infection, allergy, mites or mange. Symptoms include fur loss, dry, flaky skin, persistent scratching and skin sensitivity. If you notice any of these symptoms in your hamster then inspect its skin for mites. These are sometimes visible as small specks moving on a hamster’s coat, and you may find it easier to view them in the dark using a flashlight. You should isolate your hamster in a separate cage away from other hamsters, and use an anti-mite spray that can be bought from a pet store. Make sure however that you shield your hamster’s eyes from the spray. You should also clean the cage, spray it thoroughly with the ant-mite spray and replace the bedding. Ensure that any hay is replaced with alternative bedding as hay can be infected with mites. You may need to repeat this a few times depending on the instructions given on the spray.
A mild case of mites should clear within two days. Otherwise you should take your hamster for veterinary treatment to avoid mange developing. Mange is a more serious skin infection that is caused by mites. Scratching becomes even more frequent and there is more obvious fur loss, while scabs may also appear. You should treat mange in the same way as mites, except that you should take your hamster to the vet immediately. You should also clean the cage with a pet safe disinfectant.