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Signs Of Illness In Hamsters And Possible Causes

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Excessive drinking is a sign your hamster is ill. Via shawn_ang/iStock/Thinkstock|Excessive drinking is a sign your hamster is ill. Via shawn_ang/iStock/Thinkstock

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Please note that the following table is not a comprehensive list of medical problems that occur in hamsters, nor is it a comprehensive list of all the possible causes for a particular sign. This is intended as a guideline only and should not replace having your hamster evaluated by an experienced small mammal veterinarian. Do not rely on your dog and cat veterinarian to treat your hamster unless you have researched them and are comfortable with their level of hamster experience.

Signs: Abdomen enlarged or swollen

Common Causes:

  • Amyloidosis
  • Bloating due to inappropriate diet
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Cushing’s
  • Dystocia, problem pregnancy
  • Gastrointestinal obstruction
  • Tapeworm
  • Tumor / Neoplasia

Signs: Appetite loss, anorexia

Common Causes:

  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea
  • Inappropriate food
  • Malnutrition
  • Malocclusion of incisors or cheek teeth
  • Pinworm
  • Sepsis (severe infection)
  • Tapeworm
  • Tyzzer’s disease
  • Tumor / Neoplasia
  • “Wet Tail”

Signs: Breathing, difficult or labored (dyspnea)

Common Causes:

  • Amyloidosis
  • Atrial thrombosis
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Heat stroke
  • Hypothermia
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Ovarian cyst
  • Pneumonia
  • Sepsis (severe infection)
  • Toxicosis
  • Trauma
  • Tumor / Neoplasia

Signs: Breathing, rapid (tachnypnea)

Common Causes:

  • Amyloidosis
  • Atrial thrombosis
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Heat stroke
  • Hypothermia
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Ovarian cyst
  • Pneumonia
  • Sepsis (severe infection)
  • Toxicosis
  • Trauma
  • Tumor / Neoplasia

Signs: Collapse or Coma

Common Causes:

  • Amyloidosis
  • Atrial thrombosis
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Heat stroke
  • Hypothermia
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Sepsis (severe infection)
  • Toxicosis
  • Trauma
  • Tumor / Neoplasia

Signs: Coughing 

Common Causes:

  • Amyloidosis
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Pneumonia
  • Upper respiratory infection

Signs: Discharge from genital (Pus, blood, mucus)

Common Causes:

  • Dystocia (difficult labor or retained fetus)
  • Ovarian cyst
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Uterine infection (pyometra)
  • Tumor / Neoplasia

Signs: Discharge from anus (Pus, blood, mucus)

Common Causes:

  • Gastrointestinal infections (such as Tyzzer’s disease, other bacterial infections,
  • Giardia, pinworms, tapeworms, Tritrichomonas, other parasites)
  • Inappropriate antibiotics
  • Inappropriate food items
  • Trauma, particularly rough handling
  • Tumor / Neoplasia

Sign: Constipation 

Common Causes:

  • Atresia anus (very young hamsters)
  • Dehydration, particularly from water bottles running empty
  • Gastrointestinal foreign body such as swallowed piece of string
  • Tapeworm
  • Tumor / Neoplasia

Sign: Diarrhea

Common Causes:

  • Gastrointestinal infections (such as Tyzzer’s disease, other bacterial infections, Giardia,
    pinworms, tapeworms, Tritrichomonas, other parasites)
  • Inappropriate antibiotics
  • Inappropriate food items
  • Stress, including recent shipment or rough handling

Sign: Excessive drinking

Common Causes:

  • Amyloidosis of the kidneys
  • Bladder infection / urinary tract infection
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Diarrhea for any reason
  • Kidney failure
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Tumor / Neoplasia
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Uterine infection (pyometra)
  • Warmer than appropriate temperature

Signs: Exercise intolerance, shortness of breath

Common Causes:

  • Amyloidosis
  • Atrial thrombosis
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Heat stroke
  • Hypothermia
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Obesity
  • Pneumonia
  • Sepsis (severe infection)
  • Toxicosis
  • Trauma
  • Tumor / Neoplasia

Sign: Eye, bulging (Exophthalmos)

Common Causes:

  • Abscess (periorbital)
  • Glaucoma
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Tight restraint
  • Tooth root abscess or injury
  • Trauma
  • Tumor / Neoplasia

Sign: Eye, Cloudy

Common Causes:

  • Cataract
  • Corneal ulcer
  • Keratitis (infection of the cornea)
  • Trauma
  • Tumor / Neoplasia

Sign: Eye, crust

Common Causes:

  • Conjunctivitis
  • Corneal ulcer
  • Dehydration
  • Foreign object
  • Inappropriate bedding (dusty, etc.)
  • Upper respiratory infection

Sign: Eye, Squinting 

Common Causes:

  • Conjunctivitis
  • Corneal ulcer
  • Dehydration
  • Foreign object
  • Inappropriate bedding (dusty, etc.)
  • Upper respiratory infection

Sign: Hair loss, asymmetrical

Common Causes:

  • Barbering
  • Early shed
  • Mange (demodecosis)
  • Ringworm (dermatophytosis)
  • Trauma, cagemate aggression 

Sign: Hair loss, symmetrical 

Common Causes:

  • Cushing’s disease
  • Ovarian cyst
  • Pituitary tumor
  • Tumor / Neoplasia

Sign: Hair loss, focal

Common Causes:

  • Barbering
  • Early shed
  • Mange (demodecosis)
  • Ringworm (dermatophytosis)
  • Trauma, cagemate aggression

Sign: Head Tilt

Common Causes:

  • Ear infection
  • Trauma
  • Tumor / Neoplasia
  • Vestibular disease

Sign: Nasal Discharge

Common Causes:

  • Allergies
  • Anemia from other health conditions
  • Inappropriate bedding (dusty, etc.)
  • Incisor malocclusion
  • Upper respiratory infection

Sign: Polydipsia (excessive thirst)

Common Causes:

  • Amyloidosis of the kidneys
  • Bladder infection / urinary tract infection
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Diarrhea for any reason
  • Kidney failure
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Tumor / Neoplasia
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Uterine infection (pyometra)
  • Warmer than appropriate temperatures

Sign: Polyuria (excessive urination)

Common Causes:

  • Amyloidosis
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Inappropriate diet
  • Kidney disease
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Tumor / Neoplasia
  • Uterine infection (pyometra)

Sign: Pruritis (itching)

Common Causes:

  • Allergies
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Dermatitis, bacterial
  • Inappropriate bedding (dusty, etc.)
  • Mange, demodecosis
  • Pinworm
  • Ringworm
  • Tumor / Neoplasia

Sign: Sneezing

Common Causes:

  • Allergies
  • Anemia from other health conditions
  • Inappropriate bedding (dusty, etc.)
  • Incisor malocclusion
  • Upper respiratory infection

Sign: Sores, draining

Common Causes:

  • Cutaneous abscesses
  • Trauma
  • Tumor / Neoplasia

Sign: Sores, scabs

Common Causes:

  • Mange, demodecosis
  • Ringworm
  • Self-mutilation (overgrooming)
  • Trauma, bite wounds
  • Tumor / Neoplasia

Sign: Sudden death

Common Causes:

  • Atrial thrombosis
  • Heat stroke
  • Inappropriate food item
  • Poisoning (pesticides, paint fumes, etc.)
  • Sepsis
  • Trauma
  • Tumor / Neoplasia
  • Uterine infection (pyometra)

Sign: Swelling beneath skin

Common Causes:

  • Cutaneous abscesses
  • Bite wounds
  • Foreign object
  • Impacted scent gland
  • Tumor / Neoplasia

Sign: Swelling of the belly

Common Causes:

  • Amyloidosis
  • Bloating due to inappropriate diet
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Cushing’s
  • Dystocia, problem pregnancy
  • Gastrointestinal obstruction
  • Tapeworm
  • Tumor / Neoplasia

Sign: Urination, exessive

Common Causes:

  • Amyloidosis
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Inappropriate diet
  • Kidney disease
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Tumor / Neoplasia
  • Uterine infection (pyometra)

Sign: Wheezing

Common Causes:

  • Allergies
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Pneumonia
  • Upper respiratory infection

By: Kevin Wright, DVM, DABVP

Featured Image: shawn_ang/iStock/Thinkstock