Owning a... hamster
At the vet
To keep your hamster healthy, it is essential to keep the cage clean, the bedding fresh; feed wholesome, fresh food and plenty of fresh greens, and provide plenty of fresh, clean drinking water.
Wet tail:- Wet tail is often fatal and must be treated as soon as possible if the hamster is to recover. Symptoms include a discharge from the anus which looks like a thick jelly, and a pungent smell around the rear end. Soon after this discharge, the hamster's health quickly deteriorates and within a few hours it will die. If your hamster shows symptoms, take it to the vet immediately. Remove all the bedding from its cage and thoroughly sterilise everything the hamster will come into contact with.
Diarrhoea:- Symptoms are a wet tail and a dirty bottom, with sloppy, messy droppings. See your vet immediately as hamsters will become dehydrated very quickly.
Constipation:- Very rare. Symptoms include a swollen stomach and no fresh droppings. Plenty of green food should be fed to try to loosen the bowels. If this doesn't work, ask your vet's advice.
Colds:- Continuous sneezing, runny eyes, a wet nose, loss of appetite and sleepiness are symptoms of a cold. Always seek veterinary advice. To prevent colds, keep the cage warm and away from draughts.
Eye infections:- Clear or opaque liquid will ooze from the eye. The eyelids may become glued together. Use cotton wool soaked in saline solution to gently wash the eye and open the lids. If the liquid is thick, there may be a foreign body irritating the surface of the eye. Seek veterinary advice.
Mange:- This causes fur loss and subsequently many bald patches over the whole body. You will see small pimples around the ears and hindquarters and the skin will become flaky and sore. It is extremely contagious and infected animals should be immediately isolated. Medication is available in shops, but always seek veterinary advice.
Fur loss:- Hamsters need to gnaw on things to wear their teeth down. If there is not enough for them to chew in their cage, they will probably resort to chewing the bars, which can cause fur loss around the head and nose. Provide some extra stimulation for your hamster to prevent this. If the hamster has an exercise wheel, its fur may get caught as the wheel spins and a lump may be pulled out. Don't worry if this happens as the fur will soon regrow.
Mouth infections:- If the teeth become overgrown, they may pierce the hamsters mouth and an infection will build up. This can be prevented by gnawing, but if the teeth are still too long they will need trimming by your vet. Hamsters can also injure their cheek pouches, mainly caused by sharp objects such as the husks of oats, which should not be fed to hamsters. An infection may build up, leading to an abcess. A swollen face could indicate such an abcess. Seek veterinary advice.
Hibernation or sleepiness:- In the wild, hamsters hibernate during the winter and although this has been bred out of them over the years, some may revert if conditions are cold. The hamster's breathing will become very shallow, and it will feel cold to the touch so that on first impressions it seems dead. This is a natural process and will not do your hamster any harm. Keep it warm and away from any draughts and it will soon wake up. Never wake up a hibernating hamster as the shock could kill it. General sleepiness could be caused by an illness, such as a cold. Older hamsters will sleep for longer periods than young hamsters, and may only wake up for a couple of hours each day.