All about Chinese hamsters. All in one place.
Chinese Hamster Library
All about Chinese hamsters. All in one place.
Chinese hamsters are generally healthy; most do not become ill. Signs of illness can be quite subtle; as a prey animal they often hide weaknesses.
It is important to give your Chinese hamster a regular health check, because it is easier to treat problems if you can detect them early. If a hamster needs to see a vet, they find it less stressful when they are used to being checked.
A health check has two stages: observation and the nose to tail approach. Click here for a Chinese hamster health check video demo.
Stage 1: Observation
Look in the cage.
Food: How much have they eaten? What is in their store? Not eating can be a general sign of an unwell hamster, or indicate a specific problems like overgrown teeth. Make sure there is no spoiled food in the store because mouldy food can cause stomach upsets.
Water: How much water have they drunk? Hamsters only drink a small amount of water each day. It’s a good idea to know what your hamster usually drinks so you can spot if something changes. A blocked water bottle or being unwell can make a hamster drink less and cause dehydration. Elderly hamsters tend to drink more water as their kidneys get less efficient. In Chinese hamsters, a significant increase in water intake can be a sign of diabetes.
Substrate and nesting material: Is their poo normal? Are they peeing a normal amount? Chinese hamsters don’t usually have a wet corner, but prefer to use their wheels! If a Chinese hamster suddenly develops a wet corner, consider testing them for diabetes. Check the nesting material for signs of diarrhoea or bleeding.
Look at the hamster
Behaviour: Are they active, or sluggish and sleepy? How are they moving? How are they holding their ears? A well hamster’s movements are smooth. They hold their ears up. They are active and inquisitive. An unwell hamster holds their ears back and they have a hunched posture. They may act out of character, like biting when they normally wouldn’t.
Stage 2: Nose to Tail Approach
Nose: Is there any running, snuffling or sneezing? Is there any fast breathing? Hamsters can catch human colds which can become chest infections and need antibiotics from a vet.
Eyes: Is there any watering, bulging, clouding or marks? Hamsters can get eye infections or bits of bedding in their eyes which can lead to soreness, watering or scars. Older hamsters can suffer from cataracts (clouding of the eye) or glaucoma (raised eye pressure and bulging).
Ears: Are they clean and held upright? Are there any new nicks or any scars? If a dwarf hamster lives with other hamsters they can get injuries to the ears.
Body: Feel around the pouches, neck and down the body for any lumps or bumps. Does the hamster feel as chunky as usual or are the bones more prominent? Weight loss can happen with age, but can also be caused by overgrown teeth, dehydration or imbalances in the diet.
Fur: While feeling the body, also look at the fur. Is it thick and plush or are there areas of thinning? Look for any signs of scratching. If a dwarf hamster lives with others, are there any bite wounds or areas of plucked fur? Chinese hamsters tend to target around the nose, eyes and tail in arguments. There are lots of causes of fur loss, including age, hormones, mites, allergy and rarely Cushings. A vet’s opinion is often needed to tell them apart. Hamsters in barred cages can lose fur on their noses due to rubbing it on the bars while chewing them.
Paws: Are the paws clean? Are there any sore areas? Is the hamster limping or lame? Are the nails too long? Hamster nails can grow quickly and trimming can be easily done. If you are not confident, then seek guidance from your vet.
Bottom: Is the hamster clean underneath? Are there any signs of diarrhoea? In females, is there any discharge or bleeding from the vent? Diarrhoea has many different causes, from infection to eating too much fruit and vegetable. Female hamsters can suffer from pyometra (womb infection).
Tail: Is the tail straight and clean? Are there any bite marks? Chinese hamsters can develop a kinked tail from an injury like falling.
Teeth: Hamster teeth are supposed to be yellow! They grow constantly so can become overgrown. Check that they are equal length, not too long and not curling inwards. Normal Chinese hamster teeth are shown in the photo above; it is normal for the lower incisors to be up to 3 times longer than the upper ones.
Did You Know?
You can do a mini-health check every time you handle your hamster.
Watch their behaviour and movement. Make sure they are clean and alert.
When you pick them up, you can feel if they are too fat or too thin.
When you stroke them, you can feel for any lumps or bumps.
If you find anything has changed on a health check or you are worried that your Chinese hamster is unwell, ask your vet for advice. Seek veterinary attention for these symptoms:
sneezing, sniffles and coughs
diarrhoea or constipation
unexplained fur loss or itching
hunched and ruffled appearance
bleeding from the vent in females