It’s in our nature to nurture, and when our pets become poorly it can be a worrying time. This is something we, unfortunately, experienced first-hand recently, when our own hamster Oscar became incredibly ill very quickly. As hamsters are so small, they are not only more susceptible to becoming sick but less resilient at fighting illness. This is why it is so important to take steps to ensure that your hamster stays healthy.
How to look after a sick hamster will depend on the illness they have. Prevention is always better than cure, so look out for signs that your hamster is poorly. If your hamster does get sick, keep them warm and hydrated and follow veterinary advice.
Hamsters are relatively low maintenance. As they are generally bought as pets for children, they will need supervising to check that the hamster is being given fresh food and water daily and that they are being kept in a clean environment.
Your hamster will thrive in a loving, caring home, so the more attention you can give them, the happier and healthier they will be.
How to know if your hamster is poorly
Unlike people, hamsters cannot tell us when they feel under the weather. Instead, it is up to you, as a pet owner, to look out for signs that all may not be well.
Most hamsters will start to display symptoms and behavior that is out of the norm in order to alert us to the fact they are sick. This can be as simple as:
- Sleeping for longer periods than normal.
- Displaying a lack of interest in their food.
- Being too lethargic to groom themselves.
- Becoming irritable upon handling.
You should also check to see how your hamster interacts with you. If they normally come bounding over to the cage door for a cuddle yet stay cowed in their bed, it is often a sign that they are sick or injured. Your placid companion may also get nippy with you and even vocal if they are in pain or distress.
We first realised that something was wrong with our hamster Oscar when he started to lose weight really quickly. One day, he was an energetic and sparky hamster running around his cage, wheel and tunnel whilst stuffing his cheek pouches with food and the next he was lethargic, lying next to a full, untouched bowl of food. Upon handling him, we noticed that when stroking him, his bones protruded more than usual, his bottom was damp, and he had lost the sparkle in his eye. It was at this point that I made a veterinary appointment for the next day.
Other more obvious signs that your hamster is ill may include:
- Loss of fur and bald patches.
- Excessive saliva or a wet chin.
- A runny nose.
- Watery eyes.
- Diarrhoea. This can often be a sign of something more sinister such as wet tail.
By the morning, Oscars condition had deteriorated further and in addition to the less obvious signs, he was now being sick in his cage and had diarrhoea.
What to do if your hamster is sick
We all have “off” days and it may just be that your hamster feels unwell. If this is the case, then make sure they are kept warm with plenty of bedding and that the room is kept at a cozy temperature.
If they have a lack of appetite and are not drinking enough then they may become dehydrated. To check, you should pinch the scruff of their neck to examine for elasticity. If it is bounces straight back, then chances are they are ok and might just need enticing with watery foods such as grapes or cucumber. If the skin remains stretched, however, then you will need to seek veterinary assistance.
Colds, watery eyes and runny noses, for the majority of cases, can be treated at home. Extra care needs to be applied when handling your hamster and assistance may be required to help wipe away any excess fluids with a damp cotton bud. Look out for infections such as pink eye as these need to be treated straight away.
The cage should be cleaned more regularly, and stress kept to a minimum. And if you have more than one hamster sharing a cage, then it is a good idea to quarantine them.
If your hamster looks sick to the point that you feel it needs immediate attention, then we recommend consulting your vet. This way, they can conduct a full examination and determine whether any procedures or medicines need to be administered.
When we took Oscar to the vet, she immediately spotted how skinny and dehydrated he was. He was also in a lot of distress, trying to burrow out of sight in his travel cage – which was quite upsetting to see. Although the vet was unable to diagnose anything specific, she did prescribe us some antibiotics for the sickness and some rehydration food. We are pleased to report, that after a few days of tender loving care, recuperation and medicine, Oscar is almost back to his pre-sickness self.
How to care for a dying hamster
Unfortunately, hamsters are not immortal and only have an average lifespan of between 2-3 years. If your hamster is suffering from old age, or a known disease, then there are things that you can do to care for it.
Talk to your vet or local pet store about the best types of food for your hamster and the most effective way to feed it. Hamsters with dental conditions, those that are unable to chew or are simply off their food, may need additional help and a change of diet.
The same goes for exercise. It is good to keep your hamster active, but they may be too weak to climb, and a change to the cage setup may make life easier for them. Give them plenty of bedding, let them sleep when they want and always remember to handle them gently.
If your hamster is visibly in a lot of pain, then you may want to consider putting a stop to the suffering. This is never an easy decision and one which you should talk through with family, friends and veterinary professionals.
How to explain the death of a hamster to your child
It is never easy delivering bad news, especially to a child who may not have experienced losing a pet or a loved one before.
And, statistics show that losing a pet, to some, can feel the same as losing a family member or best friend.
Make sure that from the outset you make it clear to your child that the joy of owning their own hamster comes with the heartbreak of knowing that they won’t live forever. This fore planning will enable them to understand the concept of death when it occurs.
Never underestimate, however, how traumatic the loss of a pet hamster can be for the whole family and don’t try to underplay it. Whilst some smaller children may not understand, older children are likely to feel an immense sense of loss.
Therefore, it is important that we deliver the news at the correct time when the child is calm and has plenty of emotional support around them. Let them ask questions and explain in as much detail as you feel is appropriate.
Your child is likely to experience a range of emotions that are completely normal when going through the grieving process. This might include sadness, anger and upset at the idea of never being able to see or hold their hamster again.
Once the initial shock has passed, you can help your child to focus on the positives by remembering their pet hamster and the happy times they had together.
It is really important to pay close attention to the health of our hamsters incase they start to get sick. By making sure they are well fed, watered, have clean bedding, substrate and plenty of love and care, will help to ensure that our hamsters are physically and emotionally happy.
There are no guarantees in life and the same applies when it comes to your hamster getting sick, ill or injured. But, by keeping a close eye on them and seeking veterinary assistance if required, gives them the best chance for a full life.