Welcome to Dashing Hamsters. I created this website back in 2005, initially to have a place to share my love of hamsters. Throughout the years I have come across a lot of information that just often doesn't match up. Care standards and information are outdated, and these little creatures are misunderstood by many. So I decided to make this website as more than just a hamster lover's website, but a hamster website for modern owners who are looking for up to date advice on how to care for and understand their beloved hamsters. On DH you can learn about hamsters, see some cute pictures and read through a hamster filled blog.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Home Health Check

Hamsters are prey animals and so in order to avoid looking like easy targets, they hide any illness quite well. The best way to catch a health issue early on, hopefully before it is too late to deal with, is to perform a health check up on your hamsters. This allows you to become familiar with their behaviour and their body so that you are able to detect issues right away. If your hamster seems off in any way, then it is best to consult a hamster-experienced exotic vet (most regular vets don’t know much about hamsters) in order to ensure that your hamster is alright. Health check ups should be done at least weekly.

Make time to be able to watch your hamster while they are in their home and even outside of their cage so that you may become familiar with the way that they behave. A sudden change in behaviour can indicate a health issue and so it is imperative that you are able to recognize when their behaviour is off. While health check ups can be done weekly, watching their behaviour should be a daily practice.

  • Is your hamster grooming themselves regularly?
  • Is your hamsters ears perked up?
  • Is your hamster just not behaving like themselves?
  • Is your hamster sleeping more than normal? (note: hamsters often sleep more as they get older)
  • Is your hamster still running around, using their wheel, etc.?
  • Is your hamster having problems emptying their cheek pouches?

It is important to weigh your hamster weekly, a sudden loss or gain in weight is another indication that something is wrong health-wise. Being able to detect any sudden weight changes is important and so a digital kitchen scale (one that measures per gram and not in increments) is an important tool for the health check up. You should also find somewhere to log your hamster’s weight each week.
Average weight of hamsters will depend much on their diet, their environment, their sex, their species and even how well bred they are.
  • Syrian Hamster (Mesocricetus auratus): Can weigh anywhere from 90-200 grams, what is important is that your hamster doesn’t look obese or underweight and that they maintain their weight.
  • Chinese Hamster (Cricetulus griseus): About 30-45 grams
  • Roborovski Dwarf Hamster (Phodopus roborovskii): About  25-35 grams
  • Russian Campbell Dwarf and Winter White Dwarf Hamsters (Phodopus campbelli and sungorous): About 35-55 grams.

**Note: These are average weights

Hamsters, have incisors that continuously grow throughout their lives and so it is important to check their teeth. Scruffing them or getting them to open their mouths while reaching for a treat is the best way to check their teeth.
  • Are any of the teeth broken?
  • Do the teeth seem crooked?
  • Are any teeth missing
  • Are the teeth white? (Hamsters teeth should be a yellowy-orange colour, though will be more white when they are still young)
  • Are the teeth too long (the bottom two teeth are slightly longer than the top two)
  • Is your hamster drooling?
  • Can your hamster eat hard foods?
  • Is there any foul smell coming from their mouth

Hamsters eyes should be bright and clear. Most hamsters have black eyes, though they can have red eyes or eyes that appear red only in certain light. Hamsters can also also be born “odd-eyed”, where their eyes are two different colours.
  • Are the eyes clear and shiny?
  • Are they opened normally?
  • Is there anything ‘weeping’ from the eye that might indicate an infection?
  • Are the eyes squinty?

  • Are the hamster’s ears upright or always folded down?
  • Is your hamster continuously scratching at their ears?
  • Is there any discharge coming from the ears?

Nose and Lungs
While checking your hamster’s nose it is important that you are also checking their breathing in order to check out their lungs. Hamsters can catch colds from humans, which can be fatal if not treated promptly. Scents throughout the homes (air fresheners, sprays, etc.) can cause respiratory issues as well as soft wood shavings such as pine, cedar or spruce or if the bedding is too dusty.
  • Is the noise clean and not too wet?
  • Is there any discharge coming from the nose?
  • Is your hamster sneezing or coughing?

Listen closely to their breathing:
  • Is there any odd sounds, clicks, wheezing or chirps as they breathe?
  • Are they struggling to breathe
  • Are they breathing faster than normal?

You will have to part the hamster’s fur in order to see their skin, be sure to do this in a couple of spots along their body, especially a spot where they may have been scratching at a lot.
  • Is the skin scaly or flaky?
  • Is the skin red or irritated?
  • Can you see parasites crawling around? (Some cannot be seen by the human eye)
  • Are there any cuts, scratches or other wounds? (Especially if your have dwarf hamsters living together)

Water Consumption
Watch your hamster’s water consumption, if they aren’t drinking at all than this can indicate an issue, though keep in mind that hamsters are small and they don’t drink much. If your hamster is drinking too much than this can indicate a sign of diabetes.
  • Is your hamster drinking frequently
  • Is your hamster not drinking?
  • Has your hamster tested positive for diabetes? (This should be done regularly with urine test strips that can be obtained at the pharmacy or chemist. If you have a diabetes-prone species which include, Russian Campbell Dwarfs, hybrids, some lines of Winter White dwarfs and Chinese hamsters. )
  • Do a ‘tent test’ or a ‘pinch test’ of the loose skin on the hamsters shoulders. This just means that you gently pinch some of the loose skin (not to cause pain) to check if the hamster is dehydrated. The skin should snap back to normal quickly. If it goes down slowly than this means that the hamster is dehydrated.

A hamster’s fur should be cleaned and well groomed, hamsters seem to take pride in their coat, rivaling even cats in this matter and so loss of interest in keeping well groomed is a sure sign that something is wrong. Keep in mind that long haired syrian hamsters may need assistance to keep their fur in check, brushing them daily with an unused toothbrush usually works to keep out mats and take out any tangled bedding. Other species, especially roborovski dwarfs may seem to get an oily coat, providing a sand bath for them to roll around in should help this.
  • Is the coat shiny, and not dull?
  • Is there any missing patches of fur?
  • Is the fur thinning (older hamsters often have their fur begin to thin)
  • Is the fur well kept and groomed?

Hamsters nails can become overgrown and cause discomfort, the best way to help with this is to prevent it. The easiest way to prevent it is to provide sand for them to dig in. Others also recommend placing a rock under their water bottle. I do not recommend putting sand paper on their wheel as this can cause much discomfort to their paws. If they become too long it is easier to have a vet trim them, or at least teach you how. Otherwise be sure to get a friend to help you, this makes it much easier.
  • Are the nails overgrown, do they twist or curl?
  • Are any nails missing?
  • Do your hamster’s nails seem to grow excessively? (May be an indication of diabetes)

Scent Glands
Hamsters have scent glands that allow they to mark their territory. On syrian hamsters there is one scent gland on each hip- this is normal and isn’t an issue. On other species of male hamsters, the scent gland is on the belly, about where a belly button should be and due to it’s location it is more common for it to become infected. If your hamster seems to be over scent marking their cage, especially after you clean it, then it may be an indication that they are uncomfortable with you taking away their scent. Be sure to leave a handful of old bedding aside and sprinkle it around their cage.
  • Is the scent gland(s) irritated, raised or crusted over?
  • Is there pus coming from the scent gland(s)?

Genitalia and Anus
Be sure to check this area to ensure that there is no discharge and that everything is clear. Hamsters feces should be rod shaped, not to dry or too runny.
  • Is the hamster’s feces runny? (If it is a young syrian than this could be a symptom of wet tail and a vet must be sought immediately).
  • Is the hamster’s feces overly dry? (Your hamster needs more fresh foods in their diet if this is the case).
  • Is there any odd discharge from any of the openings?
  • Is their any odd smell? (Keeping in mind that females do go into heat every four days and may emit a noticeable smell be sure to remember this smell so you can determine it between smells that might indicate infection).
  • Is there any feces stuck to your hamsters bottom?
  • Are they red, irritated or swollen (don’t mistake testicles for swelling in males)
  • Is your hamster urinating frequently?
  • Is your hamster’s urine normal? (May vary from creamy yellow to clear yellow depending on what they’ve consumed).

Physical Check Up
Check your hamster’s gait, the way they hold their body and feel over their body for any lumps or bumps.
  • Are there any lumps or bumps?
  • Is your hamster walking normally, not limping or dragging their feet?
  • Is any part of your hamster’s body swollen?
  • Is your hamster hunched over? (This can indicate that they are in pain)
  • Is your hamster have trouble with balance or even having trouble walking straight?

Further Reading

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