Your vet says ‘give your hamster this medication once a day for one week’.
What’s your first thought? ‘I’ve got this!’ or ‘How am I supposed to do that?’
Here are some suggestions for achieving your vet’s instruction, including what equipment you’ll need and how to measure up the medication. Don’t forget to ask your vet and vet nurses for their advice too.
Small bowl (optional)
Tea towel (optional)
First, a little note about measuring medication.
A dose of medication for a hamster is usually very small, less than 1 millilitre (ml). If you think you need to give over 1ml then re-check with your vet. Often the dose is less than 0.1ml, especially for dwarf hamsters. There are no numbers on a 1ml syringe for doses smaller than 0.1ml so you have to count little lines very carefully.
The medication bottle should have a label with the dose on; make sure you are clear how much you should give and how often. Vet surgeries often provide a syringe to administer medications, so you can ask the vet or vet nurse to show you how to draw up the medication if you are not sure. It is better to check and double check the dose before leaving the vet surgery.
The photos above show the difference between 0.02ml and 0.2ml on a 1ml syringe.
Giving Medication Using Food
Food helps to mask the taste of medication. The most commonly used antibiotic Baytril (enrofloxacin) tastes really bad! If you put it in your hamster’s water it can put them off drinking. Also you are not sure how much they have taken. The most commonly used painkiller Metacam (meloxicam) seems quite appealing to hamsters and many will lick it up from the syringe.
You can mix the medication dose into a small (pea-sized) amount of baby food or wet dog food. Only use a little bit of the food so the hamster can eat it quickly and therefore take the whole dose.
I like to use wet dog food as most of my hamsters find it an appealing treat and it is strongly flavoured to hide the unpleasant-tasting medications even in small amounts. Not everyone prefers to use dog food for their hamsters; you could instead use a meaty baby food.
It is useful to familiarise your hamster with taking food and water from a syringe when they are healthy. You may never need to use the skill for real but it is better to train it and not need it. The featured image for this post is a training session.
You can use soft food or liquid in a syringe as a reward during handling. Things you can use are puppy weaning pastes, malt paste, thin baby porridge or homemade bone broth (unseasoned, no onion).
Remember to only use small amounts if using for medications.
No-Choice Medication Techniques
Sometimes your hamster just needs to have their medication; it is a matter of life or death. They are not really wanting to eat. In that case you may need to take the choice from them. It is better to have co-operation in care tasks, but sometimes (ideally rarely) this is just not an option. Here are two no-choice techniques.
Wrap your hamster in a clean tea towel so the paws are inside and the head is poking out. Hold the hamster in the towel and with the other hand (or another person) gently place the syringe into the hamsters mouth and slowly squirt the medication in.
Make sure the end of the syringe is pointing towards the pouch to reduce the risk of squirting the medication into the hamster’s airway and therefore lungs.
Hamsters have a lot of loose skin around the back of their necks which allows them to fill their enormous pouches. You can use this to hold the hamster to administer medication.
Hold firmly but gently. Support your hamster’s body on your hand so that the body weight is not hanging from neck.
If you are new to scruffing, one person can hold the hamster and the other place the syringe in its mouth. Like in the swaddling method, make sure the end of the syringe is pointing towards the pouch to reduce the risk of squirting the medication into the hamster’s airway.
To learn more about hamster health and health checks, visit the Chinese Hamster Library.
Do you have any questions about giving medications to hamsters? Ask below and I will answer.
But remember, that if you are worried about your hamster’s health or not sure about the medication dose, you should speak to your vet!
Do you have suggestions for future blog topics? A how to scruff video? Unexpected dwarf hamster pregnancy advice? Something else? Comment below.