Hamsters are active small animals that enjoy moving around and running, sometimes at speeds of 3-6 miles per hour, with the Syrian hamster being the fastest species.
Moving isn’t only a means of navigating but a way to stay healthy. According to Arthritis & Rheumatism, exercise can prevent osteoarthritis in hamsters, which allows them to stay agile and pain-free as they age.
So, it’s concerning if a hamster is experiencing trouble walking, moving from one side of the cage to another, or shifting its limbs. If so, you need to identify the cause.
This will improve the hamster’s chances of being successfully treated and recovering its mobility. If the issue is left unattended, the hamster may be permanently demobilized.
Why Is My Hamster Struggling To Walk?
If a hamster can’t move, check for physical disabilities. This may include an injury to one of the legs or bruising that could discourage the hamster from moving.
If the hamster isn’t injured, it could be sick. This may be a short-term illness causing lethargy or a disease affecting the nervous system.
Some issues can be resolved at home, while others need veterinary intervention.
Broken, Fractured, or Paralyzed Legs
Due to their size and behavior, hamsters are prone to broken or fractured bones, which can cause hamsters to lose their ability to control their legs.
Such injuries can be due to an incident, like a fall from a height or stepping on a hamster.
Hamsters can escape out of their cage or escape your supervision while free-roaming and may injure themselves when running around furniture and objects.
Even if the hamster is safe in its cage, it can be injured by the cage. Wire mesh exercise wheels are a common culprit, where they get their legs caught while running.
Symptoms of broken or fractured legs include the following:
- Dragging its back legs when moving
- Swelling of the affected area or limb
- Open wounds
- Crackling or popping noises
Remove any hazards, and use a gentle but firm grip when holding the hamster. Don’t let the hamster roam by itself, and stay close to the ground when picking it up.
Hamsters can become dehydrated within hours if they’ve been physically active, like when playing, especially if they don’t have access to clean water.
Hamsters with diarrhea are also prone to dehydration. The symptoms include:
- Sunken eyes
- Loose skin
- Labored breathing
To check if a hamster is dehydrated, perform the pinch test.
Gently pinch the loose skin on the scruff; the skin should immediately revert to its original form. If it’s dehydrated, the shape of the pinch will hold for longer because the skin has lost moisture and elasticity.
If the hamster is dehydrated, provide clean drinking water. You’ll need to take the hamster to an emergency vet to administer IV fluids in severe cases.
Never soak or bathe a hamster to rehydrate it, as bathing can cause colds.
If a hamster can’t walk properly, it may circle the cage or a small area. If a head tilt accompanies this, it may have a problem with its ears. This can be due to an ear infection or a tumor in the inner ear.
Bacteria can infect the inner ear, causing pressure inside the ear canal, pain, and balance issues. Because the hamster feels pressure on one side of its head, it might tilt it, causing it to move in circles.
Tumors have the same effect. If it’s near the surface of the skin, you’ll be able to see the tumor as a lump.
Ear infections can be treated with a course of antibiotics. In the case of tumors, surgery will be required.
A stroke happens when the brain isn’t supplied with sufficient blood.
This can be due to a blood clot preventing enough blood from reaching the brain or be caused by a burst blood vessel that bleeds onto the brain.
Hamsters of any age can have a stroke, but those aged 2-3 years are more prone to this condition than others. Symptoms of stroke in hamsters include:
- Rocking backward and forwards when sitting down.
- Swaying or falling over when walking.
- Head tilting.
- Irregular breathing.
- Weakness and lethargy.
- Seizures or convulsions.
Hamsters can recover from a stroke on their own, but medical intervention is recommended. Effects like disorientation and mobility issues can last for a few days and disappear completely.
A hamster may fall victim to additional strokes, and future strokes often worsen. Eventually, temporary paralysis can become permanent, and the strokes may turn fatal.
A vet can examine the hamster, determine the cause of the stroke, and provide treatment.
Some hamsters can recover fully, showing no signs of debilitation. Others may need minimal assistance but continue to live a full life. Unfortunately, brain damage can’t be reversed.
Various diseases can affect a hamster’s mobility, especially those which affect the nerves, muscles, and bones. Diseases that cause weakness will also prevent your hamster from moving, including:
- Heart and blood vessel disorders
- Renal disease
Some diseases are curable, while others need routine treatment to ensure mobility isn’t lost.
Arthritis affects the joints, especially in elderly hamsters. Common symptoms of arthritis include:
- Swelling of the joints.
- Problems moving.
- Decreased range of motion.
- Redness or warmth at the joint.
- Limping or favoring one side.
- Abnormal sounds from the joint.
There’s no cure for arthritis, but there are ways to make a hamster more comfortable, including:
- Only having one level inside the cage.
- Changing tubes so that they slope gradually.
- Providing pain medication.
- Encouraging exercise.
- Anti-inflammatory foods.
The lifespan of hamsters varies, depending on their species. Most hamsters are considered seniors once they reach 2 years old.
Senior hamsters will be less active, energetic, and mobile. They’ll sleep more often and use their toys and exercise wheels far less.
Old age makes a hamster more prone to injuries or accidents, leading to mobility issues.
Back Legs Not Working
When hamsters’ back legs stop working, this is sometimes referred to as hind leg paralysis.
Your vet will help a pet hamster recover from a broken or fractured leg, and it’ll be able to move properly once the healing period is over.
If an issue like pneumonia or a stroke is responsible, treatment and adjustments to the hamster’s lifestyle can sometimes help it return to normal movement.
Sudden Hind Leg Paralysis
According to the Journal of Heredity, hind leg paralysis (the disease) is genetic, specifically passed along the male sex chromosome. You would only see this affect male Syrian hamsters aged 6-8 months.
Even if a hamster falls in this category, it can still be paralyzed due to other causes.
If the cause is hereditary, there’s no cure. You may opt for palliative care, which would entail keeping the hamster as comfortable as possible. However, a veterinarian may recommend euthanasia.