Routine Health Care of Hamsters
To locate a veterinarian for your hamster, check with other pet owners for recommendations, look in directories of exotic animal veterinarians, or check the listings of your state’s veterinary medical society. Select a practice that makes you feel comfortable, has experience in treating hamsters, and offers access to a 24-hour emergency care program. If you travel regularly, you may also want to ask about boarding for your hamster when you must be away from home.
Pay attention to the way your pet routinely looks and acts and how it interacts with you or with any cage mates. One good way to do this is to spend time with your hamster every day. This is a way to develop a warm relationship with your pet and also gives you a regular opportunity to check for signs of illness. Problems that are noticed early are easier to solve (see How to Tell when Your Hamster is Sick).
When a hamster is sick, it may show signs of illness such as weight loss, hunched posture, lack of energy, changes in the consistency of its fur, loss of fur, or difficulty breathing. Changes in behavior may also indicate illness; sick hamsters often stop exploring and playing in the cage as they usually do. Early signs of sickness include changes in the color, consistency, smell, and amount of urine and feces. The fur around a hamster’s genitals should be checked for stains from feces, urine, or vaginal discharge. You should also keep an eye out for any fight wounds or other cuts and bruises that might become infected.
When you notice any changes in your hamster’s appearance or behavior, you should take your hamster to your veterinarian for a checkup. The veterinarian may ask for a sample of your hamster’s feces to check for worms or bacteria. The veterinarian might check your hamster’s mouth for overgrown teeth or blocked cheek pouches. Your hamster’s ears and eyes will be examined to look for inflammation or oozing. Its feet should be examined for sores and overgrown or broken nails. Your veterinarian may gently feel your hamster’s belly for growths or lumps. As with humans, high temperature is a common sign of illness, so your veterinarian may check your pet’s temperature. A hamster’s normal body temperature usually ranges from 98°F to 101°F (36.7°C to 38.3°C).
Hamsters are not normally aggressive, but they can become aggressive if they are startled or suddenly awakened, are sick, or are not handled gently. Therefore, it may be easier to carefully scoop a sick hamster up in a small container than to pick it up with your hands.
There are several ways to give medicine to hamsters. For pet owners, the most common method is by mouth. You may be instructed to use a dropper to provide liquid medication. Take care to provide only the dose prescribed by your veterinarian. Hamsters are very small and easy to overdose.
Veterinarians have additional options for providing necessary medications. For example, the veterinarian can place medicines directly into a hamster’s stomach or give injections under the skin or into the abdomen.
Certain antibiotics can cause problems with hamsters’ digestive tracts, so your pet may not tolerate these medications. Do not use antibiotic creams or other medications containing antibiotics on your hamster without specific directions from your veterinarian. Using antibiotics on your hamster could endanger your pet’s life.
Diarrhea and other illnesses can cause hamsters to become dehydrated rapidly. If your pet becomes dehydrated, your veterinarian may need to provide fluid treatment.
Prevention is the key to keeping your hamster healthy. To prevent illness, make sure your hamster has a proper diet, access to clean water and bedding, and a clean and sanitary cage.
The most important step you can take, after being sure your hamster’s home is kept clean, is to be sure your hamster cannot get out of its cage. Many hamsters are seriously injured when they escape from their cages.
When taking your hamster out of its cage, handle it gently but carefully. Active hamsters can be dropped or can fall off tables or other furniture. These falls often result in broken bones, head injuries, or other serious problems. Whenever your hamster is outside its cage (for example, when you are cleaning the cage), place the hamster in a secure place, such as a second hamster cage, to prevent the hamster from wandering off into dangerous areas. Do not assume that your hamster will sit idly on a table while you clean the cage. Their instinct is to wander off in search of food as their ancestors did in the wild, so be sure that any hamster outside of its cage is carefully protected and secure.
Like other rodents, hamsters have incisor teeth that grow continuously throughout their lives. All hamsters need food and other items to chew that allow them to wear down their teeth naturally. Overgrown teeth can cause drooling, loss of appetite, and weight loss. If your hamster’s teeth are not worn down through normal gnawing and eating, your veterinarian will need to trim them occasionally. Hamster food that is ground into a powder can get trapped in a hamster’s back teeth, causing cavities.
Hamsters tend to have fewer dental problems than some other rodents. However, it is a good idea to ask your veterinarian to check your pet’s teeth for overgrowth and other problems.
The average home holds many hazards for hamsters. They love to gnaw on electrical cords and other potentially dangerous objects. They will also chew on furniture and take advantage of any opening to get into areas under the kitchen cabinets, beneath the refrigerator or the oven, or inside dryer vents. Because they are so small, hamsters are easy to step on, and even a small child weighs enough to seriously injure or kill a hamster by crushing it underfoot. Hamsters should be kept safe from larger household pets such as dogs and cats.
Also see professional content regarding care of hamsters.