It’s cold and flu season and whilst in our house we appear to be wallowing in our own sick beds for fear of infecting each other, it made me wonder if we should also be steering clear of our hamster Oscar?
It is true, hamsters can catch colds. Although they are covered in fur, they can still feel the chill, especially if their cage is close to windows, doors or drafts. Your hamster can also catch a human cold from you as this airborne virus is highly contagious.
Hamsters are susceptible to many human illnesses and although a cold can be a nuisance for us, they can cause serious damage to a hamster’s respiratory system and in some cases prove fatal.
How do hamsters catch colds?
The most common way a hamster can catch a cold is through interaction with humans or other hamsters who are harboring the virus. As colds are contagious, they are easily spread from host to host.
A hamster that is left in a chilly room or located near windows or doors is also vulnerable to catching colds, as are those who are given baths. Hamsters are relatively clean animals, so they shouldn’t need to be given a full-body wash – especially as it can lead to them catching a chill if they are not dried off properly.
How to stop hamsters from catching a cold
If you are feeling unwell then you should try and avoid touching your hamster for a few days, until you are over the worst of it. That means putting their welfare first and resisting the urge to give them cuddles or playtime. If there is someone else who can do this for you, then your hamster won’t miss out.
If you have to handle your hamster when sick, always make sure that you wash your hands before (and after) picking your furball up, wear gloves and try to change their food and water whilst they are asleep.
If you have more than one hamster sharing a cage, then you should separate them whilst your sick hamster recuperates. This will decrease the chances of both hamsters catching a cold.
Although it is true that hamsters can catch colds from humans and fellow hammies, they are also just as likely to catch one through other means. As hamsters are highly sensitive to temperature change, you need to ensure that during the wintertime that they are kept well away from drafts and are given plenty of cozy bedding.
How do I know if my hamster is ill?
If your hamster has a cold, then it will display the same symptoms that people do. A sniffly or runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing and coughing are all signs that your hamster is under the weather.
A hamster suffering from a cold may start to wheeze, make clicking noises and be uninterested in any food. If they have a sore throat, then it is likely they will want to drink more in order to soothe it.
Try and pick your hamster up in order to observe it and monitor their behavior. If they feel cool or hot to touch, then they may have a fever. This is often accompanied by involuntary shivering and they are likely to be much more lethargic than normal.
What to do if your hamster is sick with a cold
It is important that you don’t take any chances, and that you take your sick hamster to visit the vet for advice and a proper diagnosis. You vet may even prescribe your hamster with some antibiotics to treat their symptoms.
Although there is very little you can do to help your hamster get well, you can aid their recovery by ensuring they are warm enough with plenty of bedding. You should also clean out their cage thoroughly with disinfectant to get rid of any unwanted germs.
If you have a heat pad, then you could try placing that underneath the cage to give them extra warmth. Some people also recommend giving a warm drink of milk and honey – but be careful to only give them a few mouthfuls. This can be given from your finger or via a small syringe/eyedropper so that it is administered in a controlled manner.
Finally, make sure that your hamster has a balanced diet. A certain amount of vitamin C can be found in most raw vegetables, especially the green ones including cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage.
Can hamsters die from having a cold?
Providing your hamster’s cold is treated early enough, then there is a good chance that your hamster will make a quick recovery.
And whilst it is highly unlikely that your hamster will die from a common cold, they could get really poorly from the symptoms. Colds and respiratory infections if left untreated could end up turning into something more serious such as pneumonia or bronchitis which can be fatal for a hamster.
Being cold can also trigger hibernation in Syrian hamsters. As pet hamsters don’t know how to hibernate properly, this can put them in danger of dying from dehydration.
Colds are rife throughout the winter and can make us feel dreadful, but for a little hamster, they can be deadly. By following some simple precautions, we can prevent our little balls of fluff from getting sick.
And remember, a sick hamster is normally a sad hamster, so it is important that you lookout for signs that your hamster is suffering.