The most common problem in hamsters is ‘wet tail’ (proliferative ileitis or transmissible ileal hyperplasia). The causes are unclear and various bacteria can be isolated from animals with the disease, which can be transmitted by direct contact. However there are probably a host of factors that predispose to the condition.
The small intestine in these cases is thickened, which may cause the signs resulting in death in the early stages of the disease but also just when the animal seems to be recovering. Treatment with antibiotics works only rarely and the vital factor is supportive therapy: fluids by mouth to resolve the dehydration in these small animals with fairly rampant diarrhoea.
Interestingly, antibiotics can themselves cause intestinal upset and so only antibiotics prescribed specifically for your hamster should be given to your pet.
As with all rodents, hamsters’ incisor teeth grow continually and have to be worn down all the time. When there is malocclusion (teeth do not grind together satisfactorily) there will be severe problems of teeth overgrowing. This causes gum ulceration and subsequent pain and failure to eat adequately.
Misalignment of the teeth can easily make a hamster unable to drink quickly
In hamsters, as with other rodents, respiratory disease is common and can be caused by viruses or bacteria. Because hamsters are kept singly by most owners the sort of respiratory problems seen in big colonies of mice and rats are less likely to occur.
Problems of hair loss, scratching and red skin may be related to a mite called Demodex or to a fungus, Ringworm. Both of these can be diagnosed by a skin and hair sample examined under the microscope. There are effective treatments for both these conditions.
For more hamster advice give us a call at Mercer and Hughes Vet Surgery to speak to a member of our veterinary team.
Alternatively contact the NHC www.hamsters-uk.org for information on varieties and how to contact a breeder.