Since hamsters are so small, any illness can quickly kill them. It’s important to contact a vet immediately when you see that your hamster is ill . These signs can include loss of appetite, scratching himself open, strange growths, eye and nose discharge, diahrrea and (especially for dwarf hamsters) drinking far more than usual. But if your hamster begins to act peculiarly, this also could be sign of illness.
In an ideal world, you already found a veterinarian familiar with treating hamsters long before you bring a hamster into your home. But if you haven’t, you may have to frantically call around whenever your hamster becomes sick. While you’re waiting to get a call back, there are things you can do to make your sick hamster a lot more comfortable.
Most hamsters prefer to live alone, but some dwarf hamsters like the Roborovski prefer to live in pairs or small colonies. However, you are going to have to move the sick hamster to a separate cage so that the illness doesn’t spread. Also, healthy hamsters may attack a sick hamster and certainly will take all of the best food and sleeping spots. Be sure to wash your hands after handling the sick hamster.
A hospital or quarantine cage could be a ten gallon aquarium or another hamster cage. It should be in a quiet part of the home out of drafts and direct sunshine. Be sure to put in a thick layer of bedding so that the hamster can get comfortable. A nice hidey-hole such as an old shoebox with an archway cut into one side can make a good den. Hamsters need a place to hide in order to feel secure.
Even if you only have one hamster, if he or she is sick, check on the cage conditions. Is the water bottle leaking and causing too much bacterial build up? Have you been cleaning the cage regularly? Ammonia build up can cause respiratory problems and hair loss in hamsters.
Dirty cages can also grow a dangerous fungus called aspergillis . If the cage has a new strange smell, white fuzzy growths or black growths, it could be aspergillis. This cage needs cleaning and sterilizing. Hamsterific.com suggests cleaning the cage, food dishes and toys with hot water and a 5% bleach solution. Be sure you are not using cedar bedding because that may also get a hamster sick.
Feeding and Emergencies
Feed the hamster as you usually would, but cut out any treats and do not give any new fresh foods. New foods could be a shock to the already stressed digestive system. Fresh foods also decay rapidly and can introduce even more bacteria to your hamster’s stressed body.
Hamsterific.com recommends getting unflavored Pedialyte sold for babies with severe diarrhea. You may need to use an eye dropper to be sure the hamster gets something to drink. If he is still using the water bottle, stick the Pedialyte in the water bottle.
If there are any wounds to wash, hydrogen peroxide used for humans will also work for hamsters. A regular human Band-Aid can act as a makeshift splint, but the hamster will eventually chew it off.
“Hamsters.” Nacy Ferris, et al. Bow Tie Press; 2008
“Training Your Pet Hamster.” Gerry Bucsis & Barbara Somerville. Barron’s; 2002.
Author’s personal experience