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Old 02-10-2012, 03:39 PM   #1
Demecat
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Default How To Give Your Hamster A Health Check

How To Give Your Hamster A Health Check

Health checks are a vital activity for all pet owners. They help you get to know your animal(s) better and learn what is normal and what is not. Not only does it help identify problems before it is too late but it teaches your animal(s) to accept being prodded and poked in all places! Sadly, not enough pet owners know how to health check their pets. I have written this guide to help the members of Hamster Central learn how to properly health check their hamsters.

A thorough health check should be done no more than once a week for healthy hamsters and daily for those that are sick or injured. It should always be started at the head of the animal and work backwards towards the tail. It may also be useful to record your data in a notebook so you can tell exactly when your pet has been ill, lost/gained weight or to help you determine what your pet’s normal behaviour is.


Behaviour

By knowing what the normal behavior of your hamster is, you can immediately notice when something is wrong. Unnatural behavior can range from over-grooming to a perfectly tame hamster biting every time you touch it! Not waking up or not wanting to wake up, panting, anorexia (lack of appetite) and a lack of thirst are all signs that something is seriously wrong while tilting, running in circles, flipping and paralysis are most often due to neurological disorders.

Gradual slowing down can be a sign of ill health but, in elderly hamsters, it is often seen as a sign of old age.



Movement

Use a hard surface to watch your hamster move. You are checking to see that the hamster is moving freely, using all its limbs and that the limbs appear in their normal place. A sick hamster may prefer to sit hunched over than to walk about, and limbs that are not used or look odd could be damaged or paralyzed.

While it is on the surface, listen to your hamster breathe. If you can hear wheezing or it appears to sneeze a lot, then it could have a cold or a respiratory infection.


The Health Check

Starting at the head, check to see that it has no open wounds or unusual lumps. The eyes should be clear and bright without any bulging, soreness, discharge or crustiness. Infected eyes often discharge a red fluid, often mistaken for blood. There should be no visible blood inside or around the eye. Note: hamsters’ eyelids can sometimes stick from a bit of sleep, but a tiny amount of warm water should clear that up. The ears should be clean and, if the hamster is alert, upright with no nasty smells or discharge. Just like the eyes, the nose should have no discharge or crustiness. Just above the nose, if your hamster is a bar chewer, it might develop a bald patch that could become sore.


The hamster should not be dribbling and there should be nothing hanging from your hamster’s mouth. The mouth should not smell bad and there should be no sign of pus. If you ever see something fleshy hanging from the mouth, do not touch it but contact the vet immediately. To check the teeth, it is best to scruff the hamster. To learn how to scruff a hamster, click here. The teeth should touch and the bottom teeth should be longer than the top. If the hamster’s teeth curl or are very uneven, they will need clipping. Take note if your hamster has lost a tooth its opposite will need clipping regularly.

The cheek pouches should have no lumps. It can be difficult to determine if the hamster just has food stored in there, impacted pouches or a growth. The best way to check is time. Put the hamster back in the cage and wait for a while before re-checking the pouches. If the ‘lump’ is still there, there could be something wrong.


There should be no unusual lumps or wounds along the neck and body and at no point should there be pus leaking from anywhere or bleeding. The abdomen (stomach) should feel soft and have no bloating.

Legs should also have no lumps, swelling or open wounds and paws should have straight digits. The claws should not be too long or missing. To know if your hamster’s nails are too long, click here.

Turn the hamster over onto its back; examine the underside for wounds, lumps and pus. Now take a closer look at the hamster’s private parts. There should be no wetness, pus or feaces around the anus. With female hamsters, there should be no soreness, pus or fishy smell around or coming from the vagina. Male hamsters should not have any soreness, pus or strong smell from the urethral opening, scrotum or the testes. The penis should be retracted and not visible. There should also be no lumps or wounds on the testes.

Syrian scent glands rarely have any problems and can sometimes end up bare. Dwarf males can have trouble with their scent glands. The scent gland should not look sore, smell strongly or weep pus. Occasionally, the gland can get crusty, but bathing in warm water can clear this up.

The fur should be thick and have a slight shine to it. If the coat is patchy, appears unkempt or knotted then there could be something wrong. Gradual fur loss in young hamsters could be due to an underlying condition, although elderly hamsters often lose fur as they age. The hamster’s skin should look healthy, not dry and flakey or broken. Keep an eye on moles and any skin tags and ensure there is no bruising. Constant scratching is also a warning that something might not be right.

The tail should be straight. A kinked tail could be because of bad breeding or due to a break.

While examining the hamster, if at any time, it is really uncomfortable with you touching it anywhere, take note as it could be because the hamster is in pain. Take care not to mistake pain with an impatient hamster, or one who does not like being scruffed.

Health checks can be quite an ordeal for young hamsters, untamed or hamsters that are not used to being handled in such a way. I like to give my hamsters a little treat afterwards so they learn to associate it with a good thing.

Weighing

Electronic scales with grams on and a high sided container are best for weighing your pet. Hamsters very rarely stay still so choose the mode weight (the weight that flashes up on your scales the most times). The size of your hamster will determine its weight. Large, hobby breeder, syrians are often around 200g while a chinese can be as light as 30g. The best way to check if your hamster is overweight is to look for ‘spare tires’ and to see if the hamster can walk without being hindered by its stomach.

How often you weigh a hamster is a controversial topic. Some hamster fanciers prefer to do it weekly while many choose monthly, choosing to only weigh their hamsters weekly if they need closer monitoring.


The Hamster’s Environment

The hamster’s environment (where it lives) can tell you a lot about the hamster’s health. It can also be the source of a hamster’s problems. At every clean out, you should check all toys, houses, etc for sharp edges, breaks, rotting and general wear. Remove and replace anything that could potentially harm your hamster. Also check the cage/tank/tub that your hamster lives in for damage or possible escape attempts/routes.

Absolutely nowhere should there be blood. Blood in the wee corner, or strong smelling urine could indicate an internal problem. Stools should be firm, dry and well formed. Depending on the hamster, they may be scattered around or placed somewhere. Lack of stools could mean that your hamster has diarrhoea or a blockage.

Keep an eye on the hamster’s food store levels. Some sick hamsters will still hoard, just not eat. It can also be a good indicator as to whether you are wasting food by ‘overfeeding’. How much your hamster drinks can be monitored by monitoring the water bottle and the wee corner combined. Increased thirst often includes increased urination. Check the bottle and the substrate under it regularly for leaks or blockages.


Normal Hamster Behaviour Commonly Mistaken For Problems

I’ve never seen my hamster’s testes but now I can!
Male hamsters can let their testes descend from the scrotal sac or draw them close to the body. This is done to regulate the temperature, so the testes will descend when the hamster is warm and vice versa when they are cold.

My female stinks!
Every four days, female hamsters go into heat. During that time, they smell stronger and may give off a tiny amount of discharge from their vagina. It is a good idea to monitor the smell and discharge, any change from normal could indicate a problem.

My hamster ate it’s poo!
This is an important part of your hamster’s digestion and is called coprophagy. Hamsters have a special organ, its function is to produce vitamin B. However, to get the vitamin B into its system, it has to eat and re-digest its own feaces.


Points to Remember...

While health checks are a great ‘MOT’ for your hamster, they are no excuse for not generally observing your hamster. If you notice or feel something odd, deal with it there and then.

Should you come across something that you feel isn’t right, please do not hesitate to get in touch with a vet. It could turn out to be nothing much, but it could also save you from a lot of pain later on. It is also often a lot cheaper to treat something before it gets bigger or worse.

If you keep groups or pairs of hamsters, it is vital to be especially vigilant when it comes to wounds. Wounds often mean that the hamsters have been fighting and if you are continuously finding wounds, it may be better to separate the hamsters.



With special thanks to Vectis Hamstery for photos and videos. Do not use text or images without written permission from the author.
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Last edited by souffle; 02-10-2012 at 03:56 PM.
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Old 02-10-2012, 03:58 PM   #2
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Default Re: How To Give Your Hamster A Health Check

A fabulous and comprehensive guide Demecat
Thank you so much.
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Old 02-10-2012, 04:03 PM   #3
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Default Re: How To Give Your Hamster A Health Check

That's lovely, Demecat. Well done! I'm glad the piccies were useful to you
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Old 02-10-2012, 04:31 PM   #4
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Default Re: How To Give Your Hamster A Health Check

Thank you Vectis for being so kind as to let me use your stuff and for answering questions about dwarfs/chinese hams!
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Old 02-11-2012, 02:07 AM   #5
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Default Re: How To Give Your Hamster A Health Check

Well written and informative guide. Thanks for your efforts.
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Old 02-11-2012, 03:12 AM   #6
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Default Re: How To Give Your Hamster A Health Check

Thank you so much for the guide.
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Old 02-11-2012, 05:23 AM   #7
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Default Re: How To Give Your Hamster A Health Check

Great guide!!!

Howeveer, I like to health check my Hams every three days.

Comprehensively written, well done, I also loooove the photos.
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Old 02-11-2012, 08:24 AM   #8
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Default Re: How To Give Your Hamster A Health Check

Quote:
Originally Posted by Hammie.A View Post
Great guide!!!

Howeveer, I like to health check my Hams every three days.

Comprehensively written, well done, I also loooove the photos.

The 'no more than once a week for a thorough health check' is advice given by professionals and I agree with it. Doing it any more often could result in paranoia or even worse, someone could overlook something developing slowly as normal.

General observation is done every time you handle or see the animal. It isn't as stressful to the animal as a thorough health check and is designed to spot immediate problems (sudden head tilt, stroking finds a bite, etc).
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Old 02-12-2012, 04:37 PM   #9
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Default Re: How To Give Your Hamster A Health Check

I only disagree cause I've always had to.

Mum had loads of mice like 50 breeding females at any one point so every day to three days was needed.

Also at college there is 200 plus rodents so again its needed.
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Old 02-14-2012, 10:32 AM   #10
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Default Re: How To Give Your Hamster A Health Check

Fantastic guide, I'd agree with the time setting, even at college we check once a week so I think the basis is good.
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