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Dr. Kara
Dr. Kara, Board Certified Veterinarian
Category: Vet
Satisfied Customers: 16513
Experience:  Over 20 years of experience as a veterinarian.
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My daughters syrian hamster has died suddenly after 3 months.

Resolved Question:

My daughters syrian hamster has died suddenly after 3 months. He seemed very lively the night before racing around his cage and has been eating ok although he has been drinking rather a lot recently. He usually sleeps in his house but in the morning noticed he was sleeping in the corner of the cage. He didn't wake for his food as he usually did and realised a lot later when she got in from school the hamster was dead and in the same place. There was a bit of Poo near him but not excessive amounts. It just seems a mystery as before this he looked and acted very healthy. What do you think it could be? It's her first pet and she is so upset about it.
Submitted: 3 years ago.
Category: Vet
Expert:  Dr. Kara replied 3 years ago.
Hello, my name isXXXXX have over 20 years of experience as a veterinarian and I'd like to help with your questions regarding your daughter's hamster's sudden death.

Leonard may have had heart disease (which we see as a genetically based, congenital problem in these little ones as they are very inbred). Unfortunately heart disease is not very treatable in these little ones. Cardiomyopathy is a known defect in hamsters. They often die a sudden death at a very early age from this so the history you have given makes me think that Leonard had cardiomyopathy. In this disease the heart muscle becomes very weak and doesn't circulate blood through the body and lungs properly. This leads to pulmonary edema, or fluid build up in the lungs, which makes oxygen exchange in the blood cells very difficult. This causes weakness, poor appetite and difficulty getting around due to low oxygen levels. They can die suddenly from a blood clot being thrown. These clots form because of the abnormal circulation in the diseased heart. They will often drink more because the body reads low oxygen levels as dehydration stimulating the thirst center, so that makes sense too.

Other possibilities are other congenital organ failures like liver or kidney disease, though these are much less common in hamsters then other species.

Please tell your daughter that it is very unlikely that she did nothing wrong, that she just had the misfortune to fall in love with a sick little fellow. Because hamsters are most active when we are sleeping we often miss that they aren't playing as long or as hard as they usually do. Hamsters are prey animals and are masters at hiding their illnesses from us.

If your daughter chooses to get another hamster I'll give you some general care guidelines.

Please don't use wood chips of any type for bedding.
Wood chips of any kind can be a problem. They release aromatic oils and can carry bacterial and fungal spores. I recommend recycled paper pulp bedding as it is hypoallergenic, nontoxic and absorptive.

What should you use to clean the cage? I like very dilute antibacterial hand soap with very hot water, then rinse well in very hot water and dry well. You can also use a 5% bleach solution, but you must rinse very well to remove any odor. The cage should be cleaned completely weekly as hamster urine is very concentrated and can be very irritating to the nasal passages.

Ideally they should be eating rodent blocks. These are nutritionally complete whereas with seed mixes they eat what they like, not necessarily what is good for them, making for a weak immune system and poor bone structure (as seeds tend to be high in phosphorus and low in calcium).

Inside the cage give them things to chew on (untreated pine wood blocks and nonscented paper towel and toilet paper rolls are fine) as well as an exercise wheel. If it's squeaky use olive oil to grease the axle.
Small cardboard boxes to play in, chew on and hide in are great too.

Keep the cage away from drafts, including heating vents and windows/doors.

And make sure that the cage is in a quiet area so that he or she can get needed rest in during the day.
None of us are very friendly when we are tired.

If you notice that her or she isn't eating normally, you notice changes in the coat or feces, lethargy, or sneezing then it's time to seek a veterinarian who is comfortable treating hamsters. These little ones are prey items so they hide their illnesses well, if you think that your hamster is sick it is likely he or she is sick.

Please let me know if you have further questions.

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