Celia Haddon - Cat Expert

Understanding animals through their behaviour



Photo copyright Erica Peachey, www.ericapeachey.co.uk

Hamsters are small but they still need veterinary care. They are prey animals, so they try not to show any sign of pain or illness. We cannot hear them crying or shrieking. Hamsters may suffer from tooth problems, food stuck in their face pouches, stomach trouble and diarrhoea sometimes called wet tail, lung disease, heart disease, cancers, hormone disorders, skin diseases and parasites, arthritis, and others. If cold, hamsters go into hibernation, appearing dead. If you put the cage into a warm area your hamster will wake up.

Chronic stress often shown by bar biting, bad housing, the wrong kind of bedding, a poor diet and lack of exercise often make hamsters ill. Here are some signs that something is wrong with your hamster. If you recognise any of them, take your hamster to a vet.

  • Stops eating. Drooling or is wet round the mouth.
  • Fewer, smaller or no poo pellets.
  • Half closed or unfocussed eyes.
  • Bites, when before he usually did not. Flinches from being touched.
  • Crawling with his tummy on the floor. Collapsed.
  • Stiff movements, lameness, or no control over body movements.
  • Sits immobile. Isolated.  Stops nest building or hoarding food.
  • Overgrooming, bare patches, or persistent scratching. Stops grooming so fur starey, rough, matted.
  • Stretching with back arched, or hunched posture.
  • Discharge from eyes or nose.
  • Wet round the tail area.
  • Frequent deep breaths or rapid shallow breathing.
  • Drinks more or urinates more than usual. Or stops drinking.
  • Hair standing on end.
  • Self mutilation such as chewing limbs.
  • “Not his usual self ” or “just looks wrong”. Behaviour is somehow different.

These signs were adapted from the references below. Signs that would probably only be recognised by experts were omitted.


Adby, S., & Neill, D. O, (2004), Hamsters in Sickness and in Health, Milverton, UK, Capall Bann Publishing.

Hawkins, P.,(2002), Recognising and assessing pain, suffering and distress in laboratory animals, Southwater, UK, RSPCA

Mayer, J., (2007), ‘Use of behavior analysis to recognize pain in small mammals,’ Lab Animal, 36, 43-48

Orcutt, C. J., (2005), ‘Common hamster diseases and treatment,’ Proceeding of the North American Veterinary Conference, 1358-1360.


These notes are my copyright. I am also usually happy to have the exact words reproduced on websites, in return for a link, my name, and if permission is asked beforehand. I like to check the websites where it might be used. Email me via this website for permission which will usually be given. Organisations wishing to use them in print should contact me via this website. Copyright © 2007 Celia Haddon. All Rights Reserved.

Safety notice.

All normal safety precautions should be taken when dealing with animals. The advice in this section should be taken only at the owner’s own risk. All sick animals should be seen by a vet.

General advice of the kind found in this website is no substitute for an individual consultation with a vet or qualified behaviourist working on a vet’s referral.

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