By Karen Rosenthal, DVM, MS
My hamster hasn’t been eating much in the past week and seems shaky and week. He also doesn’t come out of his den much lately. He is a Dalmatian hamster and is about 1 year, 4 months old. I plan to take him to the vet, but what kind of tests could they do… blood work? Could he just have a cold, or be getting older?
Hamsters, like many of our small mammals, become hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) when they do not take in calories. The shakiness, therefore, may not be part of the disease, but may be due to the lack of eating.
Not eating in hamsters is a non-specific sign of disease. That means almost any disease process can cause this and does not allow us to narrow down the potential causes to your hamster’s problems. Blood work would be a great idea.
The first thing your veterinarian will do is ask lots of questions about housing, diet, possibility of environmental toxins and access to other animals. This history may lead your veterinarian to a certain disease that is causing the problems you are seeing. If the history and physical examination do not give a specific answer, then potentially blood work will be necessary.
Blood work usually consists of a complete blood count (CBC) and a biochemistry panel. The CBC will tell your vet if an infection is present and if your hamster is anemic, amongst other information in the CBC. The biochemistry panel will tell your vet if the liver and kidneys are functioning properly and if there is a metabolic imbalance present in your hamster.
Our teddy bear hamster (age unknown; we’ve had him for three months and I suspect he’s about a year old) has been a bit lethargic and off his food the past few days. Usually when we feed him at night he scurries up to his bowl, fills his cheeks and heads down to his “pantry” to deposit his food. Then he runs around a bit at night. He hasn’t done much of that for the past two days, and we noticed that he’s been sort of crouching in a corner of his cage. We were wondering what advice you might have.
What you are describing are non-specific signs of illness — the lack of activity and decreased appetite. Almost any disease processes can cause that to occur. It is unusual for such a young hamster to show those signs of illness.
My advice is to visit a veterinarian who is knowledgeable in hamster diseases and let him or her look at your hamster. You will get questions about his caging, his diet and other animals in the house. Bring pictures with you of his cage area, his food and any toys he plays with. These may allow your veterinarian to narrow down some of the possible causes for your hamster’s illness.
Next, the physical examination may lead your vet to the cause of this disease.
With such a young hamster, this is an unusual situation and no one disease is a common cause for what you are describing. The sooner you visit the veterinarian, the better it will be for your hamster. Small mammals cannot go too long without proper nutrition.