A healthy hamster will have bright, black eyes that are wide open while it’s awake. If the eyes are glued shut and surrounded by gunk and crust, it likely has “sticky eye.”
The hamster can’t open its eyes without assistance, largely because a sticky substance keeps them shut.
Sticky eye can be caused by a hamster oversleeping. When a hamster’s eyes are closed, it releases fluid to keep the eyes lubricated. If the hamster doesn’t blink, this fluid can leak from the eyes and harden around the eyelids, growing hard and crusty.
Conjunctivitis or trapped objects are common explanations for sticky eye in hamsters.
Sticky eye can usually be treated at home, with regular cleaning of the eyes and preventative measures. The issue only requires veterinary intervention if caused by a bacterial infection.
What is Sticky Eye in Hamsters?
“Sticky eye” is a colloquial term for a hamster’s eye seemingly glued shut, usually due to gunk or crust built up around the eyes.
While hamsters don’t rely on vision as a primary sense for negotiating the world, they keep their eyes open while awake.
Hamsters of any age or species can be impacted by sticky eye, although it’s more common in seniors.
How Do Hamsters Get Sticky Eye?
Sleeping to excess is the most common explanation for a hamster developing a sticky eye.
When a hamster’s eyes are closed, fluid is secreted to keep the eyes moist. If too much fluid is released and not blinked away, it can harden and form a sticky, gunky crust.
This means that the longer a hamster closes its eye, the more likely it’ll become crusty and glued closed. Sticky eye is more prevalent in older hamsters (who sleep more) and during summer when these crepuscular animals stay out of the light as long as possible.
Sticky eye upon waking isn’t always a concern, especially if the hamster is otherwise healthy. However, if other changes in behavior or demeanor accompany sticky eye, it’ll need treatment.
Foreign Objects in The Eye
One reason for sticky eye is that the hamster has a foreign object trapped in the eye, causing irritation. The hamster will keep its eyes closed because it is painful to open them.
As hamsters like to dig and burrow, ensure they have safe substrate and bedding. Avoid any material that contains dust that could get trapped in a hamster’s eye, like sawdust.
A foreign object is likely to blame if a hamster has developed sticky eye seemingly out of the blue and shows no other signs of ill health. Gently pick up the hamster and look for anything untoward.
If you can’t detect a foreign object, it’s likely something very small, like dirt. Carefully clean the hamster’s eyes with a Q-Tip or warm cloth, being careful not to poke its eye.
Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)
Hamsters can develop eye problems like conjunctivitis (pink eye). Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the outer layer of the eye. Common symptoms of conjunctivitis in hamsters include:
- Red or pink (hence the nickname) rings around the eyelids.
- Swelling around the eyes, sometimes spreading to the rest of the face.
- Irritation of the eyes, leading to near-constant rubbing.
- Discharge from the eye, initially watery but growing thicker and pus-like over several days.
A vet will ascribe a treatment plan, usually involving antibiotics and an eye-cleaning regime.
A vet can also identify the cause of conjunctivitis, as the infection comes in three forms:
Viral conjunctivitis may arise in hamsters that experience a respiratory infection.
A hamster with viral conjunctivitis will have a watery discharge from the eyes. You’ll need to clean this several times daily, preventing the discharge from hardening.
A hamster usually starts showing signs of recovery from viral conjunctivitis within a week. The streaming from the eyes will calm down and eventually cease, and any associated swelling will also subside.
The symptoms of bacterial conjunctivitis are that the hamster’s eyes will stream with discharge and become glued closed, only opening with cleaning and assistance.
Again, this concern can be a side effect of a respiratory infection or unsanitary living conditions.
If a hamster has bacterial conjunctivitis, antibacterial eyedrops will expedite recovery.
Reactive conjunctivitis irritates the conjunctiva, the thin membrane that protects a hamster’s eye.
The core difference between a trapped object and reactive conjunctivitis is that the infection will be caused by something intangible.
The Canadian Journal of Ophthalmology lists cigarette smoke as an irritant. Others include:
- Fumes from paints or household cleaning products,
- Aerosols, such as deodorant sprays or air fresheners.
- Ammonia from a hamster’s urine if a cage hasn’t been spot cleaned.
If a hamster has reactive conjunctivitis, the trigger must be removed. Then, clean the hamster’s eyes daily.
How Long Does Sticky Eye Last in Hamsters?
If it’s just a case of a hamster oversleeping or old age, sticky eye can be resolved by clearing away the gunk surrounding the eyelids.
If a hamster’s sticky eye is due to conjunctivitis, treatment will be needed for a full recovery. With antibiotics, the signs and symptoms should clear up within 2 weeks.
Hamster Sticky Eye Treatment
If conjunctivitis isn’t responsible, sticky eye can be resolved by cleaning the eyes. Here’s how:
- Cleaning the area surrounding the eye with a Q-tip or soft, damp cloth. Use warm water.
- Applying a hamster-safe saline solution to the area.
- Place a used teabag in the fridge for 20 minutes to cool down. Then, wipe the area around the eye.
Once the area surrounding the eye has been cleaned, lift the eyelids and help the hamster open its eyes. If the eyes are still gunky and resistant to opening, you haven’t cleaned them sufficiently.
If the sticky eye continues to be a concern, and you notice other issues with the hamster’s eyes, like swelling or discharge, cleaning alone is insufficient treatment.
Can Hamsters Die from Sticky Eye?
It’s very unlikely that sticky eye will directly cost a hamster its life.
Sticky eye can be a symptom of a wider health concern, like conjunctivitis, so don’t ignore it. A vet will determine if the hamster needs treatment and make recommendations for its ongoing care needs.