Flystrike (myiasis) is a potentially fatal health condition that sometimes affects hamsters.
Hamsters that can’t groom themselves due to age-related conditions like arthritis are most at risk of flystrike. The presence of urine or feces on the fur will attract flies, who’ll lay their eggs.
Flystrike occurs when flies lay eggs on the hamster’s soiled fur. The eggs hatch into larvae and burrow into the skin, sustaining themselves on the hamster’s tissue.
Flystrike can be treated by removing the larvae, cleaning the wound, and administering antibiotics. In severe cases, a vet will surgically remove the necrotic (dead) bodily tissue.
Can Hamsters Get Flystrike?
Flystrike is most commonly associated with outdoor animals, like rabbits and cattle, because they’re more exposed to flies than indoor animals. However, hamsters can still get flystrike.
Flies will land on the fur and find an area to lay their eggs, like an open wound on or near the anus. If the eggs aren’t promptly removed, they’ll hatch into maggots (larvae).
A hamster kept in sanitary conditions is less likely to develop flystrike. Equally, a hamster fed the right diet that maintains a healthy weight will be better placed to keep itself clean and less likely to attract flies.
Hamsters in warm climates are most at risk because flies are more abundant in hot and humid conditions.
What Does Flystrike Look Like in Hamsters?
Here are the warning signs of flystrike in hamsters:
- A pungent or unusual odor.
- Lethargic behavior.
- Furr loss.
- Patches of wet fur.
- Skin reddening.
- Dirty bottom with open wounds.
- Wet, clumpy fur around the bottom.
- Sawdust-like clumping around the bottom, which may be larvae eggs.
- Swarming flies around the cage.
How Do Hamsters Get Flystrike?
While some cases of flystrike are a case of misfortune, it’s rare for the condition to arise in hamsters that receive quality care and attention. Here are the main causes of flystrike:
Lack of Grooming
Hamsters are naturally clean animals, so a happy and healthy hamster will adhere to a strict grooming regime. Hamsters are likeliest to develop flystrike around the bottom, so this area must be kept clean.
Flies will be attracted to the strong smells of fecal matter and urine. This means that a hamster that can’t clean itself will always be at more risk of flystrike.
Senior hamsters with symptoms of arthritis will struggle to contort their bodies into an appropriate shape. Overweight hamsters will also struggle to adopt grooming positions.
Hamsters that can’t groom themselves will need assistance. So, get some pet-safe wet wipes from a pet store and clean a hamster vulnerable to this condition at least once daily.
Unsanitary Living Conditions
If a hamster lives in an unclean cage, flies will be attracted. Even if the hamster is grooming itself, it may struggle because fecal waste and uneaten food can rot and attract flies.
According to the Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences, hamsters can also develop flystrike by consuming larvae, which can happen if flies lay eggs in an unsanitary cage.
Hamsters like hoarding food, so they may unintentionally eat larvae-covered food.
If the hamster gets hurt while exploring outside its cage or falls from a height while climbing, it may result in an open wound. These cuts can accommodate a fly, who’ll lay eggs within.
Open wounds are the most dangerous location for a hamster to develop flystrike.
Maggots will initially feast on dead tissue as the wound heals, but they’ll remain within the hamster’s body as it closes up. Then, they’ll start feeding on living tissue.
How Do I Protect Hamsters from Flystrike?
These core components of hamster care will reduce the risk of flystrike:
Daily Health Checks
Once you’ve earned the trust of a hamster, it’s more likely to welcome handling. So, pick up the hamster at least once daily and inspect it for signs of ill health.
If there are any open cuts or wounds, these need to be cleaned with a hamster-safe antibacterial solution. Wounds should also be bandaged, but this is only safe once the larvae have been removed.
Check the hamster’s bottom. Clean up fecal staining with wet wipes and warm water, and identify why the hamster is struggling to remain clean.
Regular Cage Cleaning
Spot clean daily, removing any uneaten food, poop, and urine-soaked bedding. You’ll also need to deep clean the hamster’s habitat weekly.
Complete this cleaning often enough to protect the hamster from flystrike but not so frequently that constant rehoming causes stress.
Remove the soiled substrate (not all of it) so that the hamster’s scent isn’t lost.
Ensuring the hamster eats well and appropriately means it’s less likely to develop gastric issues like diarrhea. Stomach upsets make it very difficult for hamsters to stay clean.
The right diet will also keep a hamster energetic and prevent it from gaining weight.
As discussed, an overweight hamster will find it increasingly difficult to groom, which becomes increasingly important as it ages and its energy levels diminish.
Redesign the cage if any areas are overly humid or damp. This is essential because flies are drawn to warm and moist living environments.
Ensure the hamster’s cage isn’t positioned in direct sunlight. Flies are drawn to sunlight because it helps them locate food sources and mates.
Mesh Screen Over The Cage
A mesh screen will stop flies from entering the cage while permitting air to circulate freely.
Shield The Habitat from Flies
Consider hanging drapes that will deter flies from entering doors or windows. Also, consider applying fly trap stickers to windows or outside the hamster’s tank.
Avoid using conventional fly spray to kill insects. The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry stated that rodents could tolerate the chemicals, but respiratory infection and toxicity are concerns.
A pet store will stock specialized products like ‘Beaphar fly guard spray’ and ‘Johnson’s fly strike protector,’ intended to protect hamsters from flystrike.
Use A Flea Comb
Flea combs have fine teeth that’ll find fly eggs or larvae in the hamster’s fur. Combing through the fur with a flea comb will enable you to detect flystrike and take preventative action.
How to Treat Flystrike in Hamsters
Flystrike won’t resolve itself – the condition will claim the hamster’s life if veterinary attention isn’t immediately sought. Most hamsters won’t survive longer than 24-48 hours.
You can conduct some basic first aid on the hamster. Take a pair of tweezers and manually remove any maggots you can see with the naked eye. Don’t submerge the infected area in water.
A vet will sterilize the area and prescribe antibiotic treatment for flystrike. If you identify the problem sufficiently early and seek veterinary assistance, the hamster will most likely survive.