We all hope that our pet hamsters die peacefully in their sleep due to old age having lived a happy and healthy life. And, for the majority of hamsters this is often the case, however, hamsters are not invincible, and it is important that you are aware of the types of diseases that your hamster can become susceptible too.
Some hamsters die due to illness such as abscesses, respiratory infections and wet tail. All of these ailments are treatable if caught in time and providing your hamster is strong enough to recover, as failure to do so could lead to their death.
Here we take a look at the different types of diseases that affect hamsters, ways in which your hamster may harm themselves and the best ways to help your hamster live for longer.
Common hamster ailments
Pet hamsters, in comparison to their wild ancestors, live a rather sheltered life. They are not exposed to the elements, do not have to put themselves at risk in order to gather food supplies and have cozy pre-fabricated homes in which to relax.
That said, even pet hamsters can get sick either through a bacterial, viral or fungal infection. And, when left untreated – and sometimes even with very best veterinarian intervention – these diseases can prove fatal.
Hamster bacterial infections
Abscesses can occur anywhere on your hamster’s body and are incredibly painful to bear. They form through cuts or scratches on the skin and can also occur in the cheek pouches, when coarse food material scratches the lining of the mouth. The good thing about an abscess, however, is that it is visible, and these hard or soft lumps and bumps can be remedied if caught in time.
An abscess is a bacteria infection which needs to be drained and treated by your vet with a course of antibiotics. But failure to treat it immediately could mean the bacteria seeps into their bloodstream, causing your hamster to die of bacteremia.
Wet tail is another type of hamster bacterial infection which is also referred to as proliferative ileitis. Wet tail can be contracted when your hamster comes into contact with the bacteria “lawsonia intracellularis” which is found in feces. It may be incubated through contaminated food and water sources, but only becomes a threat when a hamster’s immune system is lowered.
Stress is often the main factor in this, and anything from environmental changes to illness, dietary adjustments, an unclean habitat or even travelling can have serious implications. Affected hamsters may die very quickly, exhibiting signs such as diarrhea, lethargy, loss of appetite, and a disheveled coat.
Hamsters can catch coughs and colds just like us humans can, but did you know that the most common way a hamster can catch a chill is through interaction with us or other hamsters who are harboring the virus?
Whereas a cold for us can be an inconvenience, for your hamster, if left untreated, a simple cold can turn into a serious respiratory infection, pneumonia and even result in death.
Constant sneezing, wheezing, weeping eyes and difficulties breathing are all signs that immediate veterinary attention is required.
Hamster fungal infections
Fungus grows when moisture is trapped, and the area is unable to dry out. Therefore, an unclean hamster cage can be prone to fungus developing.
Fungus can be deadly for a hamster, so you need to be especially careful. The most common fungal problem that hamsters might develop is ringworm, which is a type of skin infection that is characterized by bald patches, generally starting on the head and face. Ringworm can spread quickly so it is important that you visit your vet as soon as you spot symptoms occurring.
Other common reasons for your hamster’s life potentially being cut short, include falls and injuries. Hamsters can be very nimble when they need to be and although most will scamper unscathed from a fall, not every hamster will have a lucky escape.
Hamsters are prone to tumbles, drops, and other mishaps but their size is often their savior as smaller things tend to hit the floor with a lower terminal velocity than items that are bigger and heavier. That said, if your hamster does get dropped accidentally from a height or lets go of its bars whilst at the top of their cage, there is a chance that they could suffer a serious injury, brake a bone or even die.
How to help your hamster live longer
We know that you should never judge a book by its cover and the same can be said for the humble hamster. For although they may look small, sweet and inconspicuous they can be strong, robust and fierce when required, and this puts them in good stead for battling illness and injury. Here are some top tips on how to improve your hamsters lifespan, and keep it happy, healthy and safe from harm.
- As most hamster diseases are contagious, it is really important that if you have more than one sick hamster in a cage, you sperate them into different environments to prevent the risk of others catching it. When your hamster becomes healthy again, you should reintroduce them slowly.
- If you are feeling under the weather yourself, then try to steer clear of handling your hamster. Get other family members involved in caring for your hamster and always wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling them.
- Keep your hamster in a room that is well ventilated yet moderate in temperature. Hamsters are prone to getting cold, especially in winter, as they only have a thin layer of fur, so make sure they are situated away from cracks and window ledges yet not pushed up against radiators for fear of overheating.
- Avoid walking around whilst carrying your hamster as there could be a chance that they slip, fall or jump from your grasp. Hamsters like to feel secure, so hold them securely whilst sitting on a chair so they feel cossetted in your hands.
- Make sure you clean your hamster out regularly to prevent any fungal infections from occurring. You do not have to do a full cage clean every week, providing you spot clean their toilet area every few days.
- Provide plenty of nutritious food and top up your hamster’s water daily so that they are well fed and hydrated. It is also a good way to keep an eye on whether they are eating and drinking regularly or if there is a change or loss in appetite.
- Handling your hamster daily can help to alert you to any changes in behavior or physical appearance and enables you to seek veterinary assistance quickly if required.
How to cope when your hamster dies
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 you should prepare yourself for the worst.
If you notice your hamster isn’t moving around in their cage, is inactive in their nest and feels stiff to the touch, it is possible your pet has passed away. You may want to consult with your vet to confirm your pet’s diagnosis and determine if you would like to proceed with a burial.
Statistics show that losing a pet, to some, can feel the same as losing a family member or best friend. Regardless of the circumstance, you should never underestimate your feelings. However, once the initial shock has passed, you should focus on the positives by remembering your hamster and the happy times you have shared.
As much as we would like our pet hamsters to stay with us forever, these cute balls of fur have a limited lifespan. Illness and accidents can cut short your time together, so it is important that as responsible pet owners we do all we can to look out for potential signs and symptoms that could cause our hamster’s harm. Live everyday with your hamster as if it were their last and cherish each moment together.