Last Updated on: 24th September 2023, 09:33 pm
Hamsters spend lots of time cleaning their fur. So, you need to understand the difference between a hamster grooming itself to stay clean (normal behavior) and scratching incessantly (abnormal behavior).
A hamster that keeps scratching itself likely has a skin issue. This could be dry skin or mange, which is often linked to stress caused by the hamster’s living environment or lifestyle.
Hamsters can have allergies, so remove any triggers and check for parasites like mites.
Is it Normal for Hamsters to Scratch a Lot?
A small amount of scratching is to be expected from a hamster.
Small animals use their claws to remove dirt and debris from their fur. However, there’s a difference between normal grooming and excessive scratching.
Is My Hamster Itching or Grooming?
The main difference between itching and grooming is the frequency and duration of the behavior. Grooming frequently happens in short, controlled bursts while scratching at the skin is a persistent act that can’t be ignored.
Looking at the hamster, you’ll also notice the difference between grooming and itching. Bald patches on the fur or signs of bleeding warn that a hamster is scratching to excess.
Why is My Hamster Itching So Much?
If a hamster is scratching to excess, it has itchy skin. There are various explanations, including:
A hamster may be scratching to excess because it feels unclean. Monitor the hygiene of the hamster and check if it looks overweight.
Small animals usually remain trim as they eat comparatively little and get exercise. If a hamster is aging and eating inappropriately, it may gain weight.
If a hamster is fat, it’ll struggle to contort itself enough to groom. As you can imagine, this will grow frustrating, especially if dirt clings to the fur.
Provide the hamster with a sand bath. Rolling around in sand is the hamster equivalent of a soak in the tub. You can get chinchilla bathing sand from a pet store.
Look carefully at your hamster’s skin while petting it. Does your hamster’s fur leave a trail of dandruff behind in the palm of your hand? If so, your hamster has dry and flaky skin.
Dry skin has numerous causes in hamsters. An inappropriate temperature could be to blame, as this will prevent the hamster’s skin from gaining appropriate moisture.
Keep the ambient temperature of your hamster’s room between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Poor diet is another common reason hamsters struggle with dry skin, especially when older. At least 16% of a hamster’s daily intake must be protein-based, alongside a teaspoon of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Check that the hamster is still grooming itself, as the skin will dry out if it stops caring for its own needs. If a hamster loses interest in keeping itself clean, something is amiss.
One way to treat dry skin in hamsters is through extra virgin olive oil. Take a soft cotton swab and dab it in olive oil before applying it to the dry skin of the hamster. Let the oil sit on the skin for 4-5 minutes.
Alongside persistent dry skin (especially around the stomach), loss of fur, and constant scratching, common signs that a hamster has an allergy include:
- Wheezing and struggling for breath.
- Wet and leaky eyes.
- Sneezing and a runny nose.
- Swelling around the feet and paws.
A hamster could be allergic to anything in its environment, especially something that has recently changed. If the hamster starts displaying hitherto-unseen signs of allergy, consider whether you’ve adjusted any of the following:
- Food (whether muesli, pellets, or treats).
- Food dish or water bottle.
- Toys and entertainment.
- Ambient chemicals, such as air freshener in the hamster’s room.
- Cleaning chemicals to refresh the cage.
Never give a hamster medication like Benadryl following an allergic reaction.
Most hamsters have some mites, but not enough to cause a problem.
According to the Canadian Veterinary Journal, the Demodex aurati and Demodex criceti mites are hamsters’ most commonly found mites.
Mites multiply if the animal is stressed or lives in an unsanitary environment.
If mites grow in number, mange becomes likely. The symptoms of a mite infestation in hamsters are dry, itchy skin and large patches of bare fur.
A vet will prescribe a topical treatment that clears up mites quickly. You’ll also need to thoroughly clean the hamster’s cage to remove any remaining parasites.
Sometimes, dry skin can be a consequence of stress.
Boredom is a primary source of stress in hamsters, so ensure the cage offers sufficient entertainment to a small animal. That means meeting all of a hamster’s core needs and instincts:
|Running wheel and climbing apparatus.
|Bedding that can be repositioned according to a hamster’s wishes.
|Bury food and treats (nothing fresh) in the substrate and around the cage.
|A substrate that allows the hamster to dig and get underground.
|Provide hiding places, whether wooden igloos or cardboard boxes.
|Chew toys that allow the hamster to file down its teeth.
|Tubes connected to the cage, and playtime outside the cage on occasion.
Keep a hamster’s cage in a room without illumination and ensure that other pets, especially cats, can’t access it. This will go some way to preventing stress in a hamster’s life.
A hamster scratching its scent glands may be expressing excitement. This is likeliest in male hamsters delighted by the prospect of playtime outside the cage.
The location of the scent glands depends on the species. Syrians have flat scent glands (flank glands) on the hips, usually covered by fur. In dwarf hamsters, you’ll find the scent glands near the navel on the ventral midline.
When a male hamster gets excited, its glands grow more prominent and odorous. An agitated male will lick at these glands, engorging them, then start scratching at them as though it has inflammation.
If the hamster is just excited, the scratching will cease when its expectations are met.
The key to getting a hamster to stop scratching is discovering the cause of the itching, which could be physical or psychological.