Hamsters only have short lifespans of around 2 to 2.5 years. That’s why you need to buy a healthy hamster – one free from illness and disease that could cut its life expectancy short.
When choosing a hamster, it’s not always possible to discover its origins or medical history. As a result, there’s no way to determine the hamster’s health without examining it first.
Paying attention to the appearance and behavior of the hamsters is essential.
How To Pick a Healthy Hamster
Consider the following factors before committing to buy a hamster:
Hamster’s Physical Appearance
You can tell a lot about a hamster’s health through its appearance, so check the following:
When you look at a hamster’s eyes, they should be bright and clear with no milky spots or cloudiness. Haziness indicates a sight problem, such as cataracts, which could lead to blindness.
There may be eye injuries, which can occur due to fights between hamsters or poor living conditions.
Conjunctivitis (red eye) is an eye condition caused by bacterial infections, allergies, trauma, and parasites. The most common symptom is redness and swelling of the conjunctiva and the area around the eye.
According to the journal Ophthalmology, meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) is an eye disorder that affects the meibomian glands, which lubricate the eyes. So, it’ll have dry eyes or eye discharge.
- Eye infections
- Trauma and mishandling
- Dental disease
If the eyes appear crusty or the hamster has difficulty moving around, it likely has an eye condition. The hamster may also paw at its face to get relief.
The teeth are harder to examine because you can’t handle them. However, you can ask a pet store employee or the breeder to help you get a better look at them.
Hamsters have four continuously growing incisor teeth – two at the top and two at the bottom. They keep them filed down by gnawing on tough, fibrous foods.
Unfortunately, some hamsters struggle to file them down and develop overgrown teeth.
Healthy hamster teeth should be long, but they shouldn’t be overgrown, misaligned, or chipped. The bottom teeth should be 2-3 times longer than the top teeth.
It’s normal for hamsters to have yellow or slightly brown teeth due to the enamel coating. If the teeth are bright white, they lack enamel and are likely brittle and unhealthy.
Hamsters don’t have good eyesight, so they rely on their hearing to navigate and identify dangers.
Healthy ears should be clean and thin without missing pieces, bite marks, or scratches. While injuries can heal and shouldn’t impair their hearing, they could get infected and cause long-term problems.
Healthy hamster skin shouldn’t have cuts, scratches, abrasions, tumors, or dry patches.
There shouldn’t be any lumps or bumps, which you can determine by giving the hamster a gentle stroke along its back, sides, and stomach.
If handling isn’t permitted, check for bumps by visually examining the skin’s smoothness.
Healthy hamsters will have a soft, slightly shiny coat with no evidence of parasites or bald patches.
However, you may find small bald patches around two black spots on the hips. These are scent glands, and missing fur around this area is normal.
A healthy hamster’s fur feels smooth to the touch – it shouldn’t appear oily, greasy, or overly wet.
Like those in pet stores, young hamsters are likely to be slightly smaller than their adult weight, but that doesn’t mean they should be skinny.
If you notice the hamster’s ribs are visible, it’s too thin. On the other hand, fat hamsters appear round, even when standing up.
Absence of Discharge
A hamster shouldn’t have any discharge around the eyes, ears, nose, anus, or genital area. Discharge is a sign of infection and one that could potentially be contagious.
Signs of Wet Tail
Wet tail is a serious condition that commonly affects young hamsters between 3-6 months old.
Patton Veterinary Hospital explains how wet tail (proliferative ileitis) is a bacterial infection characterized by watery diarrhea. Wet tail is usually caused by the following:
- Poor hygiene and overcrowding
- Inadequate diet
- Unsanitary conditions
- Parasites like pinworms
- Excessive moisture or humidity
- Bacterial or viral infections like Clostridium piliforme or rotavirus
Hamsters are clean animals who regularly groom themselves, so they shouldn’t have a noticeable scent. Odd or foul smells can indicate an illness or disease.
Also, female hamsters in heat emit a strong fishy odor, but this only occurs every 4 days. Female hamsters raise their tails when touched so you can tell when they’re in heat and ready to mate.
Normal breathing should be quiet without gurgling, clicking, or wheezing noises. If the hamster struggles to breathe or its breathing appears difficult, it likely has a respiratory condition.
Gaging a hamster’s personality is more difficult than examining its physical appearance. As hamsters become more comfortable within their surroundings, they come out of their shell.
Being in a busy store with other hamsters can be a stressful experience. Many hamsters are more comfortable in a large, dark, quiet cage with lots of toys and accessories.
Just because a hamster appears shy in a store doesn’t mean it’ll stay that way when you get home.
That said, there are things you can look for to find the right hamster:
- Happy hamsters should be bright, curious, and alert.
- An aggressive hamster will bite in defense.
- Shy hamsters hide under their bedding.
Many people prefer Syrian hamsters due to their friendly nature. Dwarf hamsters can be more defensive and less comfortable around humans due to their diminutive size.
How To Check If A Hamster Is Healthy
Another way to check if a hamster is healthy is to examine its environment. Not all breeders and pet stores provide a good living environment. Ensure the hamster has been given the following:
- A wheel to run on for exercise.
- Enough bedding to burrow into and hide.
- Nutritious food and fresh water.
These are important because the hamster is less likely to develop behavioral problems or health issues if deprived of enrichment, nutritious food, and cleanliness.
Knowing what to look for when buying a hamster ensures you find a healthy pet.