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By Sky Zhu

August 25th, 2023

Hamster Health Checks

While hamsters don't need routine vet check-ups, it's very important to regularly monitor all aspects of your pet's health with health checks. Hamsters are prey animals, so they instinctively hide symptoms of illness to avoid seeming vulnerable to predators in the wild. Combined with their short lifespan, it can be very hard to spot a health issue before it's too far gone, decreasing the chance of survival in situations with serious, life-threatening illnesses. Luckily, signs of most illnesses in hamsters can be spotted with a thorough examination.

We recommend conducting a health check at least every week, though a higher frequency never hurts, especially if your hamster is aging! You should keep record of any numbers or observations. Please bring your hamster to an exotic vet ASAP if you notice anything unusual! Illness progresses fast in hamsters.

A physical health check should include the following:​

(This guide is for hamsters who are comfortable being handled. Health checks are important for all hamsters and you may have to adapt the method you use to check if your hamster is very squirmy.)

First, gently feel around your hamster's head and neck, making sure there aren't any bumps or wounds. Your hamster's eyes should be clear and bright, with no bulging, discharge, crust, or bleeding. The ears should be alert and upright, with no discharge (same with the nose!). Saliva should not be dripping out of the mouth and it shouldn't smell bad. Then, check the teeth. Scruff the hamster (YouTube tutorial on how to scruff) and check the teeth. The top and bottom should both be yellowish orange in color, and the bottom teeth should be longer than the top. If teeth are overlapping, crooked, curling, or uneven, seek out an exotic vet as soon as possible!

Going down the body and limbs, make sure there are no bumps, lumps, bleeding, swelling, or abscesses. Paws should have straight fingers without any swelling or crookedness. The nails should not be overgrown or curling. The abdomen should feel soft and not bloated. On their scent glands (sides of their hips for Syrians and Chinese, tummy for Robos and Russian Dwarfs), check for any overly strong smells or crusting.

Turning your hamster to their underside, check again for wounds, bleeding, lumps, or swelling. There should be no swelling, pus, or lumps near their genitals (male hamsters' genitals often appear quite large, and this is no cause for alarm).

The fur covering the whole body should be thick and shiny, though older hamsters may have a fur loss or thinning. The skin should not be flaky, irritated, red, or excessively itchy. 

Finally, weigh your hamster using a sensitive digital scale with gram units (ounces aren't precise enough to track small changes). Depending on species, a normal weight can range from as light as 30g to 200g. Find the specific weight ranges for each species here. 

 

Keep in mind that the "normal" weight will differ from hamster to hamster, so it's important to weigh your hamster on a regular basis. Your hamster's weight should not fluctuate too greatly, but when they're still young and growing, their weigh may gradually increase over time. As hamsters age, their weight may drop slightly over time but nothing should be drastic. A sudden, significant change in weight could be a sign of illness and calls for a vet visit. Here are some tips for choosing a vet for your hamster!

Every day, you should be observing your hamster's behavior so you can notice any changes. For example: excessive scratching, sluggishness, eating or drinking less than usual, not using the wheel. 

Health checks are vital for all hamster owners to keep an eye out in case of any issues. Many health issues are easier and less expensive to treat if caught earlier.

Note: These methods may not work for more skittish hamsters. A popular alternative is putting the hamster in a open glass jar or measuring cup to observe them close-up and weigh them. While this method works better for shy hamsters, it may not work as well as a physical health check, so be sure to bring your hamster to the vet if you see any possible signs of illness.

Boba, a Syrian hamster, gets her teeth checked at the vet

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Healthy hamster teeth

Feeling the body for bumps

Checking scent glands

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Feeling the underside

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Weighing your hamster

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