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Dr. Kara
Dr. Kara, Board Certified Veterinarian
Category: Vet
Satisfied Customers: 17901
Experience:  Over 20 years of experience as a veterinarian.
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My daughters dwarf hamster (robos) has died in its sleep at

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My daughter's dwarf hamster (robos) has died in its sleep at just one year old. Is this normal. It is one of a pair, the biggest one, and they had to be separated because they were fighting and put in separate cages. My daughter didn't always clean their cages weeky, would this contribute to this little cute hamster dying?
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.

Fifi 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 Fifi may have 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.

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

While it is possible that not cleaning their cages as often as she should have could have been a contributor, if that were the only problem then both should have passed away. It is true that that increased odor from urine can be a stress on the respiratory tract and increased waste products in the cage can increase the amount of bacteria in the cage, but I doubt that was the only contributor to this little one's death.

Please tell your daughter that it is very unlikely that she did anything wrong, that she just had the misfortune to fall in love with a sick little one. 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.

I will give you some general care guidelines to keep her remaining hamster healthy.

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 non-scented 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 he 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.

Dr. Kara and other Vet Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Thank you for your much valued answer, it is a great help, my 14 year old daughter was very upset and at least, we know more now which will help us with our other roborovski (hope thats spelt right) and our syrian hamster too. Once again, thank you.

You are very welcome, I am glad I could help. I love these little ones, they are really fun to own, but their inbreeding is unfortunate. Please give your daughter my condolences and let her know one of ours died in his sleep at three months of age. My daughter was heartbroken as well so I can well sympathize with your family.