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Why Are My Hamsters Back Legs Not Working?

Last Updated on: 24th September 2023, 05:43 pm

When hamsters suddenly start dragging their rear legs and struggle to move around, you know something is amiss. Hind leg paralysis (lameness) has many causes, making diagnosis difficult.

Most conditions result in permanent hind leg lameness. As hamsters are so small and vulnerable, it isn’t easy to operate on them successfully.

Why Is My Hamster Not Using Its Back Legs?

You may find your hamster not walking properly or walking weirdly. Hind leg paralysis rarely gets better without treatment unless your hamster’s lameness is only temporary. Let’s explore the causes:

Lack of Exercise

This condition is called cage paralysis. Hamsters enjoy exercising, so a lack of movement is abnormal. Hamsters stop exercising for the following reasons:

  • A small cage.
  • No accessories and enrichment.
  • Sickness and injury.
  • Old age.
  • Obesity.

The muscles and bones degenerate without sufficient exercise, making them feel stiff and difficult to move. Then, the affected hamster has to drag its back legs around.

In extreme circumstances, hamsters with cage paralysis can’t move at all.

Bacterial Infection

Another reason your hamster’s back legs aren’t working is the bacterial intestinal infection called Campylobacteriosis, which is caused by the bacterium Campylobacter.

The condition initially manifests as diarrhea before developing into something more serious.

Campylobacteriosis causes the hamster’s immune system to create antibodies to fight the bacteria. However, because the cells and bacterial components are chemically similar, the antibodies attack the body’s nerve cells. When this happens, temporary paralysis sets in, preventing hamsters from moving.

Most cases of Campylobacteriosis resolve with treatment, with affected hamsters regaining the use of their back legs. However, some hamsters are left with movement issues for the rest of their lives.

hamster can't use back legs

Heredity Genes

According to the Journal of Heredity, hind leg paralysis is caused by a sex-linked mutation in male Syrian hamsters aged 6-10 months.

The main sign of this heredity defect is that hamsters suddenly drag their back legs around. Unfortunately, there’s no cure for this condition, and euthanasia is the kindest option.

Accidents and Injuries

Spinal trauma is among the most common paralysis-causing injuries, and it mainly occurs when hamsters fall or are dropped from a height.

Also, spinal trauma is seen in hamsters put into exercise balls. They fall off elevated surfaces and roll down the stairs because they can’t see or smell where they’re going.

Another issue is free-roaming. Hamsters are quick and sometimes get trodden upon where they’ve gotten under their owners’ feet. So, the hamster suffers a spinal injury and loses the use of its back legs.

The MSD Veterinary Manual explains how lameness is caused by tendon or muscle strains. Hamsters break their fragile bones on unsuitable mesh exercise wheels, rendering them paralyzed.

Similar to many other causes of paralysis, spinal trauma and broken bones are difficult to treat.

Obesity

Obesity causes muscle weakness, making it difficult for overweight hamsters to move their legs. While not paralyzed, they become so degraded over time that they struggle to move.

Experimental Animals explains how obesity is common among hamsters due to high-sugar diets.

Vitamin Deficiencies

Vitamin D and E deficiencies are responsible for hind leg paralysis. In particular, vitamin D enables the body to absorb calcium and phosphorus.

Without sufficient calcium, the blood dissolves bone to use as calcium. This decreases muscle tone around the hips and legs, making them so weak they can’t support the hamster’s weight.

Most animals get vitamin D through sunlight. Because hamsters live in cages that lack natural light, they’re prone to developing vitamin D deficiencies.

Herbivorous diets that lack the nutrients hamsters need also contribute to vitamin D and E deficiencies.

You can prevent this by providing a high-quality diet consisting of scientifically formulated pellets and a limited amount of varied fresh fruits and vegetables.

Also, ensure you move your hamster to a room with natural light. However, be careful of direct sunlight as this can cause heatstroke and dehydration.

Stroke

Many strokes result in temporary paralysis, although severe strokes can cause permanent lameness.

Before a stroke, hamsters show signs of exhaustion and unsteadiness. They may also collapse after a period of activity. Other noticeable symptoms include:

  • Swaying or falling over when walking.
  • Head tilt.
  • Running in circles.
  • Rocking backward and forward while sitting.

Strokes occur during the evening when a hamster is most active. Some hamsters can survive a stroke, recovering within 2-3 weeks, but they can reoccur.

Diseases

Heart disease, renal disease, cancer, and pneumonia cause body weakness.

Because these conditions affect hamsters internally, one of the first symptoms you’ll notice is your hamster dragging its rear legs.

How Do I Know If My Hamster’s Leg Is Broken?

Hamsters hide their pain to protect themselves from predators, showing only subtle signs of discomfort. This means it’s tricky to spot when hamsters aren’t well.

However, if broken bones are responsible for your hamster’s paralysis, it’ll drag its back legs behind it while moving around.

It’ll also hide in a burrow or hideout to keep itself safe, making it difficult to diagnose the problem. There are other signs to look for, too, including:

  • Swelling around the break.
  • Strange sounds from the broken bones, such as crackling or popping.
  • An open wound.
  • Blood around the injury.

Broken bones are painful and won’t get better without veterinary assistance.

How To Prevent Hind Leg Paralysis

There are things you can do to prevent hind-leg paralysis, such as:

Increased Cage Size

Cage paralysis is relatively easy to prevent and treat by providing a cage measuring at least 80 x 50 cm.

Hamsters require lots of space to forage and explore. Syrian hamsters need more space, so they’ll be happier in 100 x 50 cm cages.

Enrichment

Alongside a large cage, you should provide accessories your hamster can use for exercise, such as:

  • Exercise wheels.
  • Tunnels and hides.
  • Chew and foraging toys.

Most hamsters benefit from regular out-of-cage time to stretch their legs by running and exploring their surroundings. Aim to get your hamster out for approximately 30 minutes per night.

hamster not walking properly

Healthy Diet

A hamster’s primary food source should be quality seed mix and scientifically formulated pellets (lab blocks). However, you can also provide vitamin-rich foods in moderation.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, hamsters can get vitamin E through these sources:

  • Sunflower seeds.
  • Almonds.
  • Peanuts and peanut butter.
  • Spinach.
  • Collard greens.
  • Pumpkin.
  • Red bell pepper.
  • Asparagus.
  • Mango.

Good sources of vitamin D include:

  • Oily fish.
  • Eggs.
  • Green vegetables.
  • Cod liver oil.

Hamsters can eat these foods in moderation a few times a week.

What Do You Do If Your Hamster Can’t Walk?

If your hamster hasn’t been walking well or has hurt its back legs, seek immediate veterinary assistance.

As explained, some causes of hind leg paralysis are treatable, but only with prescribed treatment. Where there’s been a serious breakage or spinal trauma, you’ll need to consider euthanasia.

Don’t delay in assisting a paralyzed hamster. If you notice signs your pet hamster’s rear legs aren’t working, you must act quickly to preserve its quality of life.