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Are Mites Dangerous To Hamsters?

Last Updated on: 24th September 2023, 04:12 pm

Mites are nocturnal ectoparasites that affect animals, including hamsters. They feed off hamsters’ blood, dead skin cells, and oils (from the sebaceous glands), leading to skin redness, inflammation, and irritation.

Mites can become dangerous to hamsters when left untreated because their fast-increasing numbers consume blood, making them suspectable to anemia, debilitation, and bacterial infection.

Elderly, sick, stressed, and immunocompromised hamsters are most vulnerable to mites.

What Are Hamster Mites?

Mites are tiny, blood-sucking parasites that live on a hamster’s skin and fur.

They’re relatively common, and even healthy hamsters can get them. Despite common misconceptions, mites are arachnids, which means they’re related to spiders, ticks, and scorpions.

While mite species are slightly different sizes, they all share the following characteristics:

  • Eight short legs.
  • A long or oval-shaped body.
  • The appearance of a tiny black or white dot, depending on if they’ve fed.

Their bodies are also clear, so you can see when they’ve fed on blood through the outer shell.

The most common mite species that affect hamsters include:

  • Demodex criceti.
  • Demodex aurati.
  • Notoedres muris.

They’re also occasionally affected by tropical rat mites, nose mites, and ear mites.

How Do Hamsters Get Mites?

Most hamsters have some mites on their skin at all times. They’re rarely a problem until the population gets too big because hamsters remove them while grooming.

Mites grow in number when hamsters are stressed or have a health issue.

Hamsters can get mites through direct contact with affected animals. This is most likely in pet stores or rescue shelters where multiple animals are housed nearby.

The Journal of Parasitic Diseases stated that mites are common among lab animals.

One animal will have mites, but the other won’t. Mites transfer through:

  • Playing.
  • Mating.
  • Fighting.
  • Overall proximity.

However, because most hamsters are solitary animals, they’re more likely to get mites through contaminated bedding, food, and toys. They can also catch mites through infected cats and dogs.

Mites can be a serious problem for old or sick hamsters with compromised immune systems because broken skin allows secondary bacterial infections to set in.

can mites kill hamsters?

Can You See Mites on Hamsters?

Most mites can only be seen under a microscope. Because mites are so small, you won’t be able to tell the difference between the different species.

You can check for hamster mites by holding them in your hand while wearing a rubber glove to prevent them from getting onto your skin. Gently brush the hamster’s fur and note any small black dots.

You can also dab a clean tissue against the hamster’s skin or wrap it around them. Check the tissue to see if any small black dots suddenly appear.

If the dots move around, they’re likely mites. Then, keep the tissue safe and secure to show a vet.

Symptoms of Mites in Hamsters

The signs and symptoms include:

  • Dry, red, or scaly skin.
  • Redness around the eyes, ears, nose, and tail.
  • Inflammation.
  • Frequent itching, like rubbing along the sides of the cage.
  • Hair loss (alopecia), especially on the rump and back.

You may also notice personality or behavioral changes, like stress and aggression.

What Do Mites Do To Hamsters?

Hamsters with mites will experience significant hair loss, making them look noticeably different. Once their appearance starts to change, the infestation has already taken hold.

Another issue caused by mites is mange, a contagious skin condition affecting the area around the ears and back. Repetitive scratching can also cause nerve damage, which has long-term consequences.

Can Mites Kill Hamsters?

Mites only cause death if left untreated, with most hamsters fully recovering. If left unresolved, mite numbers will multiply, resulting in anemia. This can have life-threatening consequences.

Mites can become a particularly serious medical concern in elderly or sick hamsters because their immune systems aren’t sufficiently robust to fight infection, illness, and disease.

Unfortunately, because mites are so difficult to see with the human eye, the infestation can grow and multiply, eventually leading to fatal secondary health conditions.

How To Treat Mites in Hamsters

If mites are treated sufficiently early, they’re relatively easy to remove. Unfortunately, mite numbers multiply quickly and can reoccur if not eliminated.

Never leave mites untreated, hoping they’ll eventually go away. Also, if you have several hamsters in separate cages, you must treat them all because they’ll spread.

Here’s how you can get rid of mites in hamsters:

Veterinary Assistance

Before taking steps to get rid of mites, consult a veterinarian. Vets are invaluable for these reasons:

  • Mites may not have caused the problem, so another treatment is necessary.
  • A hamster may have a secondary or underlying health issue that must be addressed.
  • Vets can recommend the most effective medicines based on the species and severity.
  • A vet will provide advice on how to prevent mites in the future.

You can treat a mite infestation at home, but get the hamster examined to ensure it’s healthy enough to cope with an anti-mite treatment.

Vets usually recommend tropical sprays and dusts that you apply directly to the hamster’s skin. An injected solution may be recommended in severe cases.

Hamster Mite Spray or Dust

According to the German journal Hautarzt, pyrethrin, a substance in commercial mite sprays, is toxic to mites and other parasites but not mammals.

Mite sprays and dusts are safe to apply directly to a hamster’s fur without causing harm. Shake the spray and apply it liberally to the areas that look sore.

You don’t have to get prescription anti-mite treatment from a vet. You can find them in most pet stores. They’re usually marketed for cats and dogs but work just as well on hamsters in smaller doses.

When using pyrethrin-based treatments, ensure you buy one intended for small pets.

Sanitize The Environment

Mites will return if you don’t sanitize the hamster’s environment and remove the infestation.

Deep clean the hamster’s cage with warm, soapy water, followed by a pet-safe disinfectant. Then, clean the hamster’s accessories and toys.

Baking wooden items in the oven will destroy the mites and their eggs. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to do this with plastic items because they’ll melt. Anything plastic can be soaked.

Even though hamsters don’t like their entire bedding replaced at once, you’ll need to make an exception with a mite infestation. Hamsters will eventually get over the bedding change.

You’ll also need to hoover the carpet and spray all furniture with an anti-mite treatment.

Steam cleaning the carpet will help because the heat will destroy mites and their eggs. Remove the hamster and its cage from the room while you do this until you’re certain the mites are gone.

A good way to check whether the treatment has worked is by leaving a large piece of dried fruit in a dark corner of your room. Mites will be attracted to it, so you’ll see black dots crawling over the food.

can you see mites on hamsters?

How to Prevent Hamster Mite Infestations

Getting rid of mites isn’t easy because they’re small and good at hiding. Mites are easier to prevent than they are to remove, so take the following preventative measures:

Reputable Breeders 

Hamsters are easy and cheap to source from pet stores, but they’re often given the cheapest, lowest-quality foods to keep costs low.

These are breeding grounds for mites. Pet stores don’t keep genetic records of their hamsters, so there’s no way of knowing their origins.

Many individuals selling unwanted hamsters keep them in unclean conditions with insufficient nutrition. Again, it’s difficult to determine if a hamster has been kept in the right living conditions.

Keep The Cage Clean

You don’t want to clean a hamster’s cage frequently, as removing familiar scents causes stress.

This doesn’t mean you should let the hamster’s cage become filthy, as regular spot cleaning is the best way to prevent mites from making the hamster’s environment their home.

While you should remove no more than a third of a hamster’s bedding, remove any soiled substrate.

Use a disinfectant wipe or bleach-free pet-safe disinfectant to clean plastic sides and accessories to kill mites and their eggs.

Check The Skin  

Whenever you handle a hamster, check for signs of mites. Look for dry, scaly patches of skin rather than mites themselves because they’re too small and easy to miss. Look for the following signs:

  • Signs of stress, discomfort, and behavioral changes.
  • Dull, greasy, worn, or missing fur.
  • Discharge or runniness around the eyes and nose.
  • Evidence of wheezy or labored breathing.
  • Lumps on or around the scent glands.

These symptoms indicate that a hamster has a mite problem, which must be urgently treated.

Mites are blood-sucking, nocturnal ectoparasites that can cause anemia. Elderly and sick hamsters are most at risk of secondary health conditions, but even healthy hamsters are at risk.