Given their small size, a hamster's health is susceptible to both environmental changes and disease. These often show in the form of respiratory problems. Here's how to keep your hamster safe and healthy, and to be aware of symptoms should they arise!

Here we'll give you an overview of what to consider when it comes to your hamster and avoiding respiratory problems.

First, it's important to understand that respiratory problems in hamsters can develop in two ways; from problems or changes within their environment to those stemming from disease.

Environmental factors are typically the cause for most respiratory problems in hamsters. Often, these can be from substances that appear harmless to the animal, or simply from unintentional oversight on behalf of owners. The issue can become problematic, sometimes fatal, if not addressed quickly.

Your hamster's environment

A safe environment for a hamster is in a large cage away from draughts or areas that vary in temperature i.e. next to radiators, open doors, windows etc. This is also something to consider when travelling with your hamster, if only to the vet, but especially for longer journeys. A relatively constant temperature is advised and one that is not cold.

Hamsters are also sensitive to light and sound, therefore finding a location away from TVs, computers, and music speakers is highly recommended. Keep in mind your hamster is nocturnal so nighttime lights are best avoided. Considering the location of your hamster's cage will help reduce any potential stress and encourage a stronger immune system.

Additionally, your hamster's cage should be cleaned regularly - ideally once a week. Their litter tray or area will require cleaning more often again. Removing signs of urine and droppings on a daily basis will help to keep them healthy and from developing any adverse reactions to old excrement.

Part of keeping a hamster's environment safe includes having the right products for their bedding, floor covering, toys, and food. The wrong bedding or floor covering, including products made with pine, can cause serious respiratory problems for hamsters. Likewise, various foods can be toxic for hamsters, which can in turn weaken immune systems and make them more susceptible to illness.

Exposure to disease 

If your hamster contracts a bacterial or viral infection, and you have other hamsters, you will need to have them quarantined for ten days before any further interaction. This also applies when introducing your hamster to other hamsters; ensure they are in good health and not carrying any unwanted viruses or bacteria. A vet will help guide you in this process. It's also important to wash your hands thoroughly in between holds, cleaning, and feeding to avoid any cross-contamination.

While not common, pneumonia or coryza (inflammation of the nasal membrane) in hamsters must be treated quickly with antibiotics. If left too long or untreated, it can be fatal to your animal. Pneumonia can be identified by hard breathing, as a result of congested lungs, and coryza by a runny nose and / or frequent sneezing. Your hamster will likely begin avoiding food and water, and become much less active.

Signs of improvement usually appear after five days of treatment. In the meantime, you need to keep your hamster away from draughts, and in a non-humid room with a temperature approaching 22°C.

Your hamster may not want to eat or even drink during this time. It's important they keep hydrated and fed, so where possible, try giving them a few drops of water with a syringe (which can be found in pharmacies or from your vet). If they are not eating, try giving them room-temperature stewed apple or other soft/liquid baby foods.

If you notice any signs of illness in your hamster, it's important to get them to your vet as quickly as possible. He or she will be able to help provide treatment options to ensure your hamster makes a full recovery quickly.

Has your hamster ever fallen ill?

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