Hello & welcome, I am Dr. B, a licensed veterinarian and I would like to help you with your wee one today.
How long has Bubble been itching?
He seems to be drinking a lot more water and eating less. He has been eating Burgess Dwarf Hamster Harvest for quite a while along with some other hamster treats such as carrot drops and fruit drops, also some dried type biscuits that prevent smelling. I have been putting Baephar cage fresh granules under the sawdust in his cage and was wondering if this was the cause. He seems to be wobbly on his feet as well.
The bedding is a mixture of viscose and paper flake. I don't see any scabs yet but I am sure I will if the problem is left.
Thank you Tania,
Now as I am sure you can appreciate, when we can see itchy skin disease in hamsters for a number of reasons. These can include bacterial infection, fungal infections, parasites, nutritional issues, allergies, and even hormonal disease and organ failure. All of these can make a hamster itchy, constantly scratch, and cause self-trauma like the bleeds and hair loss.
Now I am glad that you haven't noticed anything on his body since this does make concerns like bacterial infections (which cause pustules and pimples), and fungal infections (which often will have scaling with hair loss) perhaps less likely at this stage. Still we do have a number of potential issues to consider.
Just a quick note about bedding and the cage fresh granules, we can also see allergies arise to some of the standard chips/shavings/etc. Therefore, to rule out an allergy to his bedding/granules, you might want to try him on paper based bedding or even shredded newspaper for the short term to make sure the self trauma isn’t secondary to allergic disease.
After ruling out bedding, our next focus would need to be diet. As I am sure you are aware, not all hamster diets are ideal and some can negatively impact sensitive hammies. Therefore, I would advise checking the nutritional values on the back of the diet you are feeding now. Protein levels are important because we can actually see itchy skin in hamsters who have a protein deficiency (<16% of the diet). As well, protein deficiency is also known to cause changes to the skin quality (drying/scaling which is itchy too). Also we can see diet causing skin issues if they are being overfed grains and cereals (ie corn). Depending on the diets’ contents, you may want to consider changing diets (though do note it can take 4-6 weeks for food allergens to leave the skin cells) or supplement anything that is lacking. If you need to address any overdose of grain/cereal by offering more fruits and vegetables in the diet ( two good links for further information on that HERE and HERE) or by feeding half the dry grain/seed mix with boiled rice or puffed rice cereal. And even if you do check and confirm your diet is balanced, do try and monitor what he actually chooses to eat from it since we can see selective grazing (due to preference for the unhealthy bits or dental disease) thwart even the best quality diets.
If his diet and what he chooses to eat is fine, then we can put that lower on our list of concerns and turn to the very common reason for itchiness/skin disease of the hamster, parasites/mites. Now in this category there are a range to consider. We have super pruritic mange inducing mites that can make hamsters rip themselves raw. We see Cheyletiella. (aka ‘walking dandruff'’) cause itching and dander. Furthermore, we can also see mites called demodex that these animals are born with but then cause disease when the hamster is suffering from an underlying issue that are weakening the immune system. In all cases, to diagnose each mite’s presence, a vet can check a sample of scale/crust/scraping under the microscope. If present or suspected, these mites tends to respond to treatment with injectable or topical mite medication (ie ivermectin based, Xeno, etc). Finally, systemic disease (metabolic conditions like diabetes; cancerous; organ based issues like kidney or liver disease) can also cause manifestations of skin disease. And while these are not as common as the above, with Bubbles increased thirst they would concerns for him. In these cases, we often will have other hints (ie appetite decline as he has, weight loss, etc) but not always. And typically if we rule out the above, then we have to consider these agents. Often a good physical exam by his vet +/- a check of bloods or urine can tell us if any of these are an issue and the underlying cause for his skin disease. Now turning to his poor appetite, this is a concer for wee Bubble. Often itchy animals get to a point where they are just too exhausted and we can see appetite and weight decline. In his case, you do want to be aggressive since he is wee and doesn't have the same body reserves of a bigger animal. Therefore, you do want to try to tempt him to eat. Try hand feeding him favorite foods but if he isn’t willing to eat, you have to start syringe feeding. It is worth speaking to the vet about diets to syringe feed to your hamster. I tend to use Oxbow’s Critical Care feed for anorexic pocket pets. (HERE) or Supreme Recovery diet (LINK) . These are highly nutritious herbivore feeds that can be easily made into a slurry for syringe feeding. And it is much easier to use then trying to create a balanced critical care diet at home. While you are looking into procuring one, you can use veggie baby food (even as a temptation just now) in the meantime to get nutrition and fluids into him.
Overall, hamster itchiness can be triggered by a range of issues. Ideally, in Bubble’s case you do want to try to keep him eating while you determine the trigger for his signs. To do so, you want to approach this in a step-by-step fashion. First, you should review the diet you are feeding and what he is actually eating (Try to make sure he is getting >16% protein ad possibly up his fruit/veggies). Then you want to cover him with an anti-parasitic spot on (with ivermectin like Xeno) or a Pyrethrin based powder to help you treat and rule out mites/etc. If he is drinking more and becoming wobbly and doesn't respond to ruling these out, then you will want to follow up with his vet so that they can aid you in pinpointing which of the remaining signs are the definitive cause for his skin issues and abnormal thirst.
I hope this information is helpful.
If you need any additional information, do not hesitate to ask!
All the best,
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