Bladder Stones: Hamsters are susceptible to formation of stones within the urinary tract. The bladder is the only location within the urinary tract in which stones would likely be detected upon physical examination by a veterinarian. Signs of bladder stones may or may not be detected by hamster owners and are usually associated with infection within the urinary tract, frequent urination, straining on urination, blood in the urine, increased water consumption, listlessness and inappetence. An experienced veterinarian may be able to remove the stones. This is accompanied by appropriate antibiotic therapy. Dietary management to help dissolve the urinary stones and prevent their recurrence is not practical with hamsters.
Cancer: Cancer is very common in pet hamsters. The incidence increases with age (as is the case with most animals) and is higher among females than males because of the variety of cancers that involve the female reproductive tract. Tumors of hamsters may be benign or malignant Hamsters are vulnerable to an unusually large number and variety of benign cancers. Cancers involving hormone-producing organs (such as the thyroid and adrenal glands) are among the most common tumors found in hamsters. These cancers cause hormone imbalances, hair loss and changes in behavior, as well as other significant signs. Veterinarians can often perform surgery to completely remove small external tumors. Internal tumors, however, are much more difficult to diagnose and remove. The small size of the patient, the even smaller size of the organ(s) involved, the sometimes inaccessibility of the tumor and the expense involved are some of the reasons why an owner of a pet hamster might elect euthanasia (putting the pet to sleep) or do nothing, allowing the hamster to live out its life instead of performing surgery in these situations.
Lack of Food and Water: Partial or total neglect of hamsters by their owners is an unfortunate but common problem. Neglectful owners fail to provide adequate supplies of food and water for their pets, and are unaware of any medical problems. Potentially serious dehydration, starvation, stomach ulcers, eating of bedding material, and even cannibalism have all been reported as a result of food and/or water deprivation. Sipper tubes often become clogged or continually contact bedding material, thereby draining the water bottles to which they are attached. Water bottles and their delivery tubes must be checked constantly for these problems. Parents must set a “good example” for their children and teach them a routine of care and maintenance of their pet hamster. Careful observation and vigilant attention to their hamster’s every need should be emphasized. Neglect to any degree is intolerable and always results in some detriment to the hamsters.
Abscesses: Abscesses are most often caused by bite wounds from fighting. These wounds become infected, forming abscesses that appear as firm, painful lumps under the skin. Abscesses from injuries other than bite wounds may be indistinguishable from those hat result from fighting. Abscesses of one or both cheek pouches are also very common among pet hamsters. These commonly result from penetrating wounds to the lining of the pouch caused by harsh foods or bedding materials. It may be very difficult for you to know whether a swelling in the area of the cheek pouch is an abscess or simply food or bedding being temporarily stored within the pouch. Generally speaking, the swelling resulting from a cheek pouch abscess persists, but a pouch swelling from stored food or bedding disappears when the animal empties its cheek pouch.If an abscess is detected or suspected, the abscess must be opened and the pus drained or removed by veterinarian. An appropriate antibiotic also will be prescribed. Furthermore, the underlying cause(s) for he abscess must be eliminated, if possible.
Wet Tail (Proliferative ileitis): The most serious intestinal disease of hamsters is “wet tail.” The bacterium suspected of causing this disease is called Lawsonia intracellularis, which can also cause intestinal disease in swine, dogs, ferrets, primates and other animals. This disease most often afflicts hamsters of weaning age (3-6 weeks old), but hamsters of all ages are susceptible. Since weanling hamsters and those slightly older are commonly sold in pet stores, wet tail is a fairly common disease among recently acquired hamsters. Long-haired “teddy bear” hamsters re highly susceptible to wet tail. Signs include lethargy, inappetence, unkempt hair coat, sunken, dull eyes, increased irritability, hunched posture, very fluid diarrhea, and a wet, soiled anal area and tail. Blood from the rectum and protrusion of the rectal opening (prolapse) may be noted in particularly serious cases. Hamsters with wet tail must be immediately examined and evaluated by a veterinarian. Fluid replacement, oral antidiarrheal medication, and antibiotics will be given, along with supportive care to keep the patient warm, clean, comfortable and well nourished. Treatment is often unrewarding, and death may occur as soon as 48 hours after the onset of initial signs. This disease is not transmissible to people.
Salmonellosis: Several species of the bacterium, Salmonella, can cause serious intestinal disease (salmonellosis) in hamsters under certain circumstances. Salmonellosis is transmissible to and equally serious in people. The bacterium is usually acquired by eating food contaminated with the organism. Pet hamsters established in homes would most likely become infected via this route. For this reason, fresh fruits and vegetables must be thoroughly washed before they are offered to hamsters. Newly purchased pet hamsters may harbor the Salmonella organism, having acquired it from the colony into which they were born. Salmonellosis in hamsters may manifest itself as sudden illness that often is fatal or as a more long-standing disease that causes weight loss. Salmonellosis can be diagnosed on stool culture by a veterinarian. Antibiotic treatment of the disease may or may not be recommended by the veterinarian, depending upon the public health implications. Euthanasia (putting the patient to sleep) would be recommended if treatment is not undertaken.
Rabies: The subject of rabies inevitably comes up whenever an individual is bitten by a hamster and because hamster bites are so common. Hamsters are not natural hosts of this virus. Therefore, the only way that a hamster could become infected with the rabies virus is to become exposed to infected saliva from a natural host of the virus (skunk, fox, bat, etc.). This is highly unlikely, since hamsters are almost exclusively indoor pets.
Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis: This viral disease can be transmitted from hamsters to people. A large number of cases in 1974 and 1975 were traced to a common infected hamster colony. Signs of this disease in people include recurrent fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, sore throat, rash and arthritis. The natural host in the wild for the causative virus is the rodent population. Hamsters would most likely acquire their infection from this source. Because hamsters are almost exclusively indoor pets, they are unlikely to become infected with the virus. Hamster owners must, however, restrict contact between their pets and orphaned wild rodents that have been adopted.