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Common Hamster Health Problems

Wet Tail

Syrian hamsters can all potentially carry the wet tail bacteria, usually this is kept under control but under stress the bacteria can overwhelm the system causing the hamster to become lethargic, suffer from a wet bottom area/diarrhoea and loss of appetite, a strong unpleasant smell is often present. It’s important to always get to know what’s normal for your hamster, any deviation from that should be investigated as soon as you spot them behaving out of character.

Signs to look for

Spending more time sleeping
Ears are always folded down
Looking dishevelled
Not touching food or treats
Mess on the bedding

You MUST take your hamster to a vet as soon as you spot these symptoms as wet tail is a fast acting killer. Your vet will most likely prescribe antibiotics (baytril) and a protein supplement. I cannot stress how important it is to consult a professional vet, you CAN NOT cure your hamster using pet shop bought medicine.

Over Grown Claws

Sometimes claws become overgrown and need to be trimmed. Unless you are confident you can successfully attempt to do this yourself it is best to ask your local vet to do this for you. If the claws are not seriously long allowing your hamster to run on very fine sandpaper or a course ceramic tile for a short time may help wear them down, this should be done under close supervision as not to cause harm to the feet.

Overgrown Teeth

Hamster’s teeth grow continually and wood chews or dog biscuits should be provided to stop them overgrowing and causing problems. If your hamster stops eating and has a visibly sore mouth its time to consult a vet for a tooth trim.

Matted Fur

Long haired (often referred to as Teddy bear) hamsters sometimes get knots or bits of bedding stuck in their coat. Never attempt to bath your hamster to remove these, take a sharp pair of scissors and carefully remove the offending item.

Brushing your hamster can help knots from forming so try to do this regularly.

Skin Problems

Hamsters can contract Ringworm and Mange, symptoms include reddening of the skin and bald patches/general hair loss. These can be treated successfully by a vet. Do not confuse your hamster’s scent glands that he/she has on each hip as a bald patch, these are perfectly normal. Fleas are uncommon but are often a result of poor cage hygiene and can be treated with a small animal flea powder.

Colds

Hamsters can pick up human colds so never handle your pet if you have one. If your hamster appears to be snuffly provide plenty of bedding and keep him or her in a warm place.

Hibernation

If the room temperature drops below 10c/50f degrees your hamster may go into hibernation. This is basically a very deep sleep and it may appear that they have died as their whole body slows down. Gently warm your hamster to see if he appears more lively. NEVER do this in an oven or Microwave! The ideal temperature for your pet is around 68-78 degrees F.

Smelly Hamster?

Hamsters are odourless creatures, but poor cage cleaning can sometimes induce a pungent smell! Ideally try to clean your hamster’s whole cage weekly, if the smell persists try removing the litter around the toilet area daily. Some hamsters can be ‘toilet trained’ to wee in a small pot or dish making this easier. Sometimes you will see your pet wee on their food, this is rather distasteful to humans but actually softens hard food matter making it easier to digest.

A female may smell more than a male due to her heat cycle, this is a rather musty odour but is perfectly normal. A male may scent mark quite a bit in new surroundings, this also is normal.

Hamster Essentials

An IntroductionWe all think of Hamsters as children’s pets right? It might surprise you to know that they are becoming very popular with the more mature pet owner due to their small size and relatively low feeding and housing costs.

 
So, what will you need?A heavy ceramic food dish and a ball bearing drip water bottle attached to the cage at a suitable drinking height are a must.

A good mix of dry hamster food that does not contain additives should be provided, such as Harry/Hazel Hamster or Vita mix complimented with a small selection of fresh fruit and vegetables. Only give small portions of fresh food at a time as too much can cause stomach upsets, and also to ensure your pet eats it and is not left rotting in their food stash.

Your Hamster will need a nest of some kind, many people choose to provide a house or box where he or she can feel safe away from prying eyes. There are many on the market and this can be a fun way to add a bit of interest to your pets home, of course Syrian hamsters are much larger than their Dwarf cousins and will need something bigger.

The cheapest and best nesting material is plain, ordinary toilet tissue or paper towel torn into strips and placed into the cage, ideally, it should be easy to pull apart when wet in case it gets pouched/swallowed. NEVER use the fluffy type of bedding, this is very dangerous to your pet should it be swallowed or become trapped around their limbs.

The base nesting material can be wood shavings, avoid Cedar shavings as they have been proved to give off toxic fumes and can cause lung problems. Pine shavings are a hot subject on many hamster forums, there is no conclusive research to prove that it is harmful to hamsters so I will keep an open mind on this subject. Of course you may choose to use paper based alternatives, the most common being Aspen or Carefresh. This is very much a personal choice and can be adapted to suit your hamster’s needs and your budget.

A good sized exercise wheel is an excellent way to amuse your pet and also vital for exercise. It is important to purchase a solid wheel if you can because the metal, or runged versions can be dangerous if feet or limbs become caught and may result in a breakage. An excellent way to make these wheels safer if you have one or can’t afford/find a solid one is to wind cardboard strips around it stopping any danger of small feet becoming trapped.

Your hamster should be able to run on his/her wheel without bending their back, often the wheels that come with cages are very small and although fine for Dwarfs, a fully grown Syrian hamster will need something larger. These are often referred to as ‘Jumbo’ wheels and come with different brand choices, Wodent Wheel, Rolly Jumbo, Comfort Wheel and Silent Spinner all being popular. Take time to choose the one that is right for your Hamster

There are many different toys available for hamsters but more often than not a simple cardboard tube or box can provide hours of entertainment as can an empty and cleaned ceramic flour pot or glass jar. This are particularly useful in hot weather, providing a welcome cool spot to retreat to.

Wood chews should be provided to help prevent your hamsters teeth overgrowing, try to find ones with natural or no colouring, remember hamsters have poor eyesight and really don’t care what things look like!

Taming Your Hamster

Many theories exist as the best method of taming your hamster. Of course all have their own merits and we all have different ways of approaching this crucial stage in getting to know your pet. My preferred method is to allow the Hamster to dictate its own pace, letting it come to you when its natural curiosity gets the better of him or her.
 
Starting out
 
It’s important to let your new pet settle in to its new cage when you first bring it home, 1 or 2 days should be sufficient for them to become familiar with their new surroundings and start to get to know the sounds, sights and smells of their new environment. Its important here to let the Hamster move at his own pace, an early forced attempt at holding them before they are ready can cause a major setback which may take weeks to repair.Slowly and quietly talk to your Hamster, much like you would talk to a small child, let them become familiar with their name. Offer small treats such as some plain popcorn (the type you pop at home from corn kernels) or a cornflake, later on you can give small pieces of fruit and vegetables but it is important not to introduce these too quickly at first, they can cause stomach upsets in young animals not used to this in their diet.

The 1st attempts at contact

My preferred method of initiating the first contact is to sit on the floor with your pet’s cage in front of you. Make sure the room you are in has all doors closed and escape routes blocked in case of unexpected dashes for freedom! (The bathroom is excellent for this as it has minimal hiding places, but check whatever space for escape holes, if one is there they’ll find it!)

Open the door of the cage and attract your Hamsters attention by offering a treat or waving your fingers gently in their eye line, always introduce your hand at eye level, don’t attempt to bring your hand in from above as this will scare them and provoke a predator response (think big bird swooping down to eat you – you’d run!). Let the Hamster sniff at your fingers if they wish but do not touch them at this stage as it will more than likely startle them, it can be helpful to keep your hand still in the cage for a while to help them get used to it.. After a few nights of repeating this your Hamster will know what to expect when your hand enters their cage, they will know it’s not a bad thing as it often brings food, at this stage they may start to explore your hand or try to climb onto it. You must let them take things at their own pace, a sudden grab for them will more than likely leave you with a painful bite and reduce confidence levels on both sides.

After doing this for a while your Hamster may well now ask to come out if the cage door is open and will climb out on its own, now you can attempt to pick them up. Using both hands gently scoop them up, making no attempt to place your hands around their body, fold your arms and let him or her run over you for a few minutes, whilst they are doing this stroke their back lightly. Having a cup or bowl is useful to place them back into the cage at this stage as being grasped may cause them to jump suddenly or ‘ping’ as it is known. This is why it is very important to be as close to the ground as possible should this occur.

After a few nights of doing this your Hamster should become more accustomed to you, and allow you very gently put your hand around them and replace them into the cage, I find once they get the taste for freedom it’s usually followed by an attempt on their part to come out again straight away!

The exercise ball can be a great taming tool here, let them climb out of the cage and into a ball, let them run around for 15 minutes, and then place the ball opening against the cage to let them return home untouched, after a few times of doing this when it’s time for home let them come out onto your knee instead and gently stroke them, if they feel unhappy let them return to the safety of the ball. If you repeat this they will associate having fun running around with being touched, and once they become interested in play time they should be willing to be interacted with to get it. Another great and safe way of getting to know them is to sit in an empty bath with the cage and let the hamster explore, this helps them get to know your scent, do this for short periods at first so they don’t become scared.

Depending on how much time you dedicate to this routine your Hamster could be tame in a week or two, but never rule out a sudden unexpected jump until you have owned and handled them regularly for at least 2 months, its best not to rush this process, don’t get over confident and forget the golden rule to take things slowly.

However experienced you are at taming there is a very strong possibility you will get bitten in the process at some point, this I’m afraid is par for the course, some Hamsters are more highly strung than others, you may get screamed at, hissed at, and all manner of other tricks to keep you away, but the most important thing is not to let it discourage you, to coin an old phrase, you must get right back on the horse! Needless to say if I had a pound for every time I have felt small teeth I would be a very rich woman, I still bear the scars! Has it put me off Hamster ownership? No way!

Conclusion

It might seem a daunting task at first but with a little time and patience you can share a special bond with your pet. After all, a happy Hamster enjoys time out of his cage interacting with you and your family. I don’t claim to know everything and every owner develops their own way of doing things but this method has worked well for me over the years, should you choose to follow it I’m sure it will for you too, good luck…. and don’t give up!