Hamsters’ teeth should be checked regularly to make sure they are not over grown or uneven. If one tooth has snapped off (which can happen if the hamster is prone to bar chewing) lower than the other, the hamster will still be able to eat, but if at all worried a check up at the vet is advisable. The hamster’s bottom teeth should be longer than the top. If you have any concerns over your hamster’s teeth at all please see a vet.
It is a good idea to regularly weigh your hamster, this way you will be able to tell if there is rapid weight loss. Like humans, a hamsters weight will naturally fluctuate throughout the day (can be as much as 6g) so it is best to try to weigh them at the same time and in the evening, as with humans a hamster will lose weight as it gets older, so expect the weight to fall once a hamster is over about 18 months. The average size for an adult Syrian is around 200g, though many Syrians brought in pet shops will weigh considerably less than this, and ones from breeders can weigh a lot more (ours average between 200g - 350g. A hamster is fully grown at around 6 months of age, you should notice a slow weight gain up till this point, though some may have finished growing by 4 months. By keeping a record of your hamster’s weight you will have more information to give a vet should there be any issues, you will know what weight is more normal for your hamster, and if your hamster looses a lot of weight quickly (especially if this is accompanied by loose droppings or the hamster has stopped eating) seek immediate veterinary aid.
You should check your hamsters nose every time you get him out , is it overly wet? Is there any discharge? Hamsters can catch colds very easily, and become very ill in a very short space of time, if you have a cold it is best not to hold your hamster to help prevent it catching the cold from you! If the hamster does not seem to be getting over the suspected cold it could be the hamster is allergic to something in the cage, some are sensitive to fine wood particles, (especially if it is fine sawdust or any other dusty bedding that you use). It could of course be an early sign of a more serious infection, if your hamster is losing weight and/or condition seek out veterinary advice.
Hamsters’ eyes should be clean, clear and bright. Some species of hamster (most commonly Winter Whites) can get eye infections very easily. They can have anything from a slightly weepy eye, or a sty on the eyelid to an eye condition called Glaucoma which causes the eye to swell as it fills with liquid, and can give the appearance that the eye is bulging, if you think there is a problem with your hamsters eyes a visit to the vet is advised.
Hamsters nails can become over grown, though natural digging and climbing activities should keep their nails relatively short . If you find the nails look a little long you can place a smooth stone or small piece of paving slab in the cage under the water bottle just the act of drinking and standing on the stone should keep the nails in check. It is also worth adding a bowl of chinchilla sand to the cage if the hamsters fur seems a bit greasy or just lacks its usual lustre. The hamster will roll in the sand which will naturally clean its coat, removing any excess oils. Dwarfs more often appreciate a bowl of sand than Syrians do and will more willingly roll about in it, though Syrians will often use it as a toilet which does have its benefits.
If the nails are very long, or are not wearing down it is worth taking to hamster to the vet to have their nails trimmed. Long nails can impede the hamster’s movement and can cause the hamster pain, plus they run the risk of getting them caught and pulled out!
If the hamster coat condition has gone downhill rapidly and a sand bath has not helped it may be worth going to the vet, your hammie may have an underlying condition or may be feeling under the weather. Check your hamsters weight too, to see if they have lost any at this point. Hamsters fur will thin with old age. Do not be alarmed if an old hamster starts to look ragged with bald bits and tufts, however, if a young hamster is experiencing hair loss it needs looking into by a qualified professional. Hair can also thin from a mite infestation or allergy, and even a more serious condition such as Cushings Disease. By visiting a vet your hamster can be tested for mites etc, and receive any treatment or care needed.
As with loss of fur, inflamed skin or flakiness can be an allergy or mites. It is important though to seek a vets advice as he will be able to treat these easily, he will of course be able to diagnose more serious conditions too, the dark spots on the top of the hips in Syrians though, are the Scent Glands, many people mistake these for a scab or rash, but they are perfectly normal and should be there.
Dwarfs living in pairs or colonies need to be checked over for any signs of aggression. The moment blood is drawn it is often best the pair are separated before more injury or death is caused. Small bites should heal well, though can be quickly cleaned with a cotton bud dipped into some lightly salted warm water, more serious injuries will require a trip to the vets.
Syrian scent glands are located on the hamsters hips, some people often worry that these are lumps or cuts on the hamster but they are perfectly normal and should be there. Syrians scent glands rarely cause any problems, however, if the hamster is overly licking the hip spot or rubbing against things so that the hair around it starts to wear thin causing the scent glands to become more obvious or sore it may be worth making a few changes to your hamsters clean out routine. This is often a sign of over scenting, try leaving behind some of the hamster’s old bedding and a handful of dirty substrate when cleaning out the cage, also try not to scrub the scent off his/her toys like a wheel that may be in the cage too.
Dwarf scent glands can be a lot more problematic. They are found on a males belly in the place you would expect a belly button and are usually stained yellow. Due to their location they can easily become infected, either due to the hamster over scenting or due to bedding particles getting stuck. Check male dwarf’s gland regularly; if it starts to look crusty simply wipe it over with a damp cotton bud very gently. If you are worried it is infected at all (area may be raised, red, hot, there may be noticeable pus) please see a vet.
It is important to regularly check hamsters’ openings to make sure all is ok. If there is staining and you have noticed loose droppings this needs immediate investigation. It can be caused by the hamster simply consuming too much fresh food (remember only ever feed small amount of treats at a time, especially if it is fruit or veg or another wet food like porridge and remove any uneaten food before it fouls) In which case the hamster will improve if you stop feeding them the fresh foods for a while (and then only introduce a few back slowly in very tiny pieces) Young hamsters can develop diarrhea due to stress, and this can lead to wet tail, (pet shop hamsters are known to suffer with this as they are not handled as much as if they were bought from a breeder) A hamster that has wet tail needs to see a veterinary immediately as they can go downhill very very quickly. If any hamster seems ill a trip to the vet as quickly as possible is called for, as they are prey animals they hide signs of illness, so if your hamster looks unwell it is probably quite sick, often there isn’t time to ‘wait and see’.
With female hamsters any kind of discharge from the top opening needs veterinary advice quickly. It can be a sign of infection, Pyometra, which is an infection of the womb and is quite common and is extremely serious. Any discharge especially if it smells or is discolored can be due to an infection, the hamster will need to see a vet as soon as possible. It is worth remembering though that a females cycle is every 4 days and at different times through this the hamsters smell can lessen and increase. It is important to know your hamster and its natural smells to know if something is wrong at all, I think that a female in season smells very much like wet cat food just to give you an idea.
you should check your hamster over for any lumps and bumps regularly. Hamsters can get growths both benign and cancerous. Early detection of lumps, as with human, is a vital step in helping overcome such issues. Sometimes lumps are ulcers or an abscess that will need a vet to sort out. Often lumps are cured by a short course of antibiotics, but there are many more serious causes of them in hamsters, if in doubt see a vet.
Hamsters, as with people, can develop diabetes. It’s worth checking how much water your hamster has been drinking and maybe even keeping track of how often the water bottle needs refilling. Diabetes is currently more likely in Campbells and hybrids (Campbells x Winter White crosses) but any species can develop it. If you are concerned about your hamsters drinking level and if they are urinating more it is worth checking it out. Even though there is no cure there are dietary changes that can be made to help the hamster, but these should not be made unless the hamster defiantly has diabetes. You can test a for diabetes by using a urine test strip meant for humans (that can be brought in most chemists). It may be worth a trip to the vet no matter what the result, to find out why there is a change in your hamsters drinking and urination and to give you peace of mind.
GOLDEN RULE: if you are in any doubt about the health of your hamster please seek out veterinary advice.