An alert and observant owner can often spot when something is wrong with his or her hamster, and being familiar with the signs of hamster illnesses can help decide when a trip to the vet is necessary. Some conditions, such as wet tail, are contagious, and a sick hamster should be isolated from others. Others, like salmonellosis, can spread between humans and hamsters and make both pet and owner sick if proper precautions are not taken.
One of the most important things to consider when dealing with hamster illnesses is that many types of bacteria and viruses can infect humans and hamsters. If a cold or flu has recently been going through the family, it may also infect a hamster that has been exposed. Lethargy and runny eyes can indicate that the hamster has caught a cold. Many mild cases of exposure will pass, just as in humans, but to prevent illness in humans as well as hamsters, contact should be limited while ill, and methods such as washing hands and food should be observed when feeding the hamster.
Like other animals, hamsters can be vulnerable to a number of skin problems ranging from fleas to tumors. Many pet stores carry sprays that will kill pests while not harming the hamster, as fleas or mites are commonly brought home along with a new pet. Hamsters that share a cage with another or play with other hamsters can develop abscesses or sores if fighting and biting turn aggressive; if this happens, keeping the cage and area clean while the hamster heals can prevent infection and illness. Tumors or lesions may develop on the skin of a hamster, which may be one of the first signs of cancer; a veterinarian will be able to tell the difference between this and less serious hamster illnesses.
Diarrhea is one of the most common hamster illnesses and can develop in hamsters of any age. Sometimes it is stress related, in instances where the hamster is moved to a new cage or a companion is added or taken away. Other times, it may develop because of a change in diet, or in severe cases it could be a condition called wet tail. Wet tail, named for the appearance it creates, requires veterinary attention and is often accompanied by lethargy, a lack of interest in food or toys, and trembling.
Some hamster illnesses are similar to those found in humans. Bladder infections, ear infections, and heat stroke can all occur in hamsters, with many of the same symptoms seen in humans. Hamsters can also suffer from strokes, which can require some extra care but in many cases can be managed. The hamster may have difficulty walking or eating at first and may develop a head tilt, but with help and gentle exercise, he or she can continue to lead an active and comfortable life.