Home » Are Mites Dangerous To Hamsters? [Which Mites Are Harmful?]
what do mites do to hamsters?

Are Mites Dangerous To Hamsters? [Which Mites Are Harmful?]

(Last Updated On: January 14, 2023)

Mites are 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 all mite species are slightly different sizes, they all have the following:

  • Eight short legs
  • A long or oval-shaped body
  • The appearance of a tiny black or white dot, depending on whether 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 affecting 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 become a significant infestation when hamsters are stressed or have an underlying health issue.

Hamsters can catch mites through direct contact with affected animals, and this is most likely to happen in pet stores or rescue shelters where multiple animals are housed nearby. Similarly, the Journal of Parasitic Diseases explains how mites are common amongst lab animals.

Before transmission, one animal will have mites, but the other won’t. The mites transfer through:

  • Playing
  • Mating
  • Fighting

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 that get too close to their cage.

Mites can be a serious problem for old or sick hamsters with compromised immune systems. That’s because broken skin allows secondary bacterial infections to set in, and old or sick hamsters are rarely strong enough to fight them off.

can mites kill hamsters?

Symptoms of Mites in Hamsters

Most mites aren’t visible to the naked eye and can only be seen under a microscope. That’s why understanding the symptoms can enable you to determine whether your hamster has mites.

The most common symptoms include:

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

You may also notice personality or behavioral changes, such as stress and aggression, caused by your hamster dealing with the pain and discomfort of mites on its skin.

Can You See Mites on Hamsters?

Because mites are so tiny, you won’t be able to tell the difference between the various species when they’re living on your hamster’s skin. If your eyesight’s not too good, you’ll unlikely see them.

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

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

If the dots move around, they’re likely mites. Keep this tissue somewhere safe and secure to show your vet.

What Do Mites Do To Hamsters?

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

Another issue caused by mites is mange, a contagious skin condition affecting the area around the ears and on the back. Excessive, repetitive scratching can also cause nerve damage, which has long-term consequences and makes day-to-day life difficult for hamsters.

Can Mites Kill Hamsters?

Mites only cause hamsters to die in the most serious cases, with most fully recovering with treatment.

However, as mentioned, mites can become a serious concern in elderly or sick hamsters. That’s because they’re not strong enough to fight off the health problems caused by mites.

Unfortunately, because mites are so difficult to spot, it’s easy for the infestation to become serious, eventually leading to fatal secondary health conditions.

How To Treat Mites in Hamsters

If mites are treated early enough, they’re relatively easy to eradicate.

However, mites can reoccur if they’re not eliminated. So, you mustn’t leave mites alone, hoping they’ll eventually move on from your hamster.

Similarly, if you don’t move fast enough, the mites will lay eggs, continuing the infestation. Even if you keep multiple hamsters in separate cages, you’ll need to treat them all because they’re contagious and will soon infest each one. Eventually, mites will turn to you for sustenance.

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

Veterinary Assistance

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

  • Mites may not cause the problem, so another treatment is necessary.
  • Your hamster may have a secondary or underlying health issue that needs addressing first.
  • They can recommend the most effective medicines for the severity of the infestation.
  • Your vet will provide advice on how to prevent mites in the future.

You can treat your mite infestation at home, but get your hamster examined beforehand to ensure it’s healthy enough to cope with an anti-mite treatment. Your hamster may benefit from a different approach.

Vets will recommend tropical sprays and dusts that you apply directly to a hamster’s skin. An injected solution is another option, but this is for more 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 your hamster’s fur without causing any harm. Shake the spray and apply it liberally to the areas that look the sorest.

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

However, when using treatments that contain pyrethrin, make sure you have one designed for small pets.

Sanitize The Environment

If you don’t sanitize your hamster’s environment and remove the mite infestation, they’ll keep coming back, and your hamster will never be rid of them.

Deep clean your hamster’s cage with warm, soapy water, followed by a pet-safe disinfectant. You’ll also need to clean your 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 as they’ll melt.

Even though hamsters don’t like their entire bedding replaced at once, you’ll need to make an exception for a mite infestation. Hamsters will soon get over the bedding change, which is vital in removing all mites and their eggs.

You’ll also need to hoover the carpet and spray all furniture with an anti-mite treatment. Steam cleaning the carpet will also help, as the heat will destroy mites and their eggs. Remove your hamster and its cage from the room while you do this until you know the mites have gone.

A good way to check whether your treatment’s worked is by leaving a large piece of dried fruit in a dark corner of your room. Mites will be attracted to it, meaning you can see whether they’re still present if you see black dots crawling over the food.

can you see mites on hamsters?

How to Prevent Hamster Mite Infestations

Getting rid of a mite infestation isn’t easy, and you certainly won’t want it coming back. Mites are easier to prevent than they are to remove, so take preventative measures with these steps:

Reputable Breeders 

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

Both of these things are breeding grounds for mites. Pet stores don’t keep genetic records of their hamsters, so there’s no way of knowing where they come from.

Many individuals selling unwanted hamsters keep them in unclean conditions with insufficient nutrition. Again, it’s difficult to tell what kind of environment the hamster has come from, meaning it may have come into contact with mites. 

Keep The Cage Clean

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

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

While you must remove only a third or a quarter of your hamster’s bedding, get rid of any soiled substrate every few days.

You can also use a disinfectant wipe or bleach-free pet-safe disinfectant to clean plastic sides and accessories to kill mites and their eggs. Bleach isn’t always necessary and is too harsh for spot cleans.

Regularly Check The Skin  

Whenever you handle your hamster, give it the once over to check for signs of mites. You’re better off looking for dry, scaly patches of skin instead of mites themselves because they’re too small and easy to miss.

When inspecting your hamster, look for the following:

  • Signs of stress, discomfort, or overall 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 your hamster has a mite problem, which you’ll need to treat.

While mite infestations aren’t always fatal, they’re unpleasant for hamsters. Elderly and sick hamsters are most at risk of secondary health conditions caused by mites, but even healthy hamsters are at risk.