How to diagnose and treat a dehydrated hamster

Dehydration in a hamster is a life threatening condition that can be very serious. Dehydration is defined as excessive loss of water or fluid from the body.
A common cause of dehydration is the unforgivable neglect of water depravation by forgetting to fill his water bottle.
Dehydration is caused by not drinking enough fluid or by losing bodily fluids and not replacing them. Severe loss of body fluids can happen when a hamster has diarrhea. Or if a hamster is feeling unwell because of other health issues it may refuse to eat and drink. Essential body salts such as sodium and potassium will be lost and the body will be unable to keep the essential elements in balance. Dehydration can result from illness such as Diabetes and Wet Tail, diarrhea is a symptom of wet tail and can cause the body to lose fluids and essential elements from the body. They can become dehydrated in hot conditions. A hamster that is suffering from a stressful condition other than wet tail may also refuse to eat and drink resulting in dehydration. Watch for some of the obvious signs, sunken or dry eyes, a reduction in urination and concentrated dark urine with a strong odour, confusion, irritability, a ruffled and unkempt coat by being unwilling to groom. A rapid and sudden weight loss or skin that loses its elasticity will stay compressed when pinched. Severe dehydration may cause rapid weak pulse, fast deep breathing.


Left untreated dehydration can be fatal. Hamsters that die from a diarrhea related illness usually do so because the body has become severely dehydrated, that is because they have lost more fluid than they have taken in. As body fluids are lost the essential salts, minerals, and other nutrients are also lost, these are known as “Electrolytes” and they play a vital role in maintaining homeostasis within the body, which help to regulate myocardial and neurological function as well as fluid balance, oxygen delivery, acid base balance and much more. When these “Electrolytes” become depleted by fluid loss the body is unable to function properly.

Extra fluids should be given until the diarrhea has subsided.
Using water alone is not the best way to deal with dehydration as using water alone can complicate the situation even more, as water will further dilute the minerals salts and sugars in the body. An oral rehydration therapy (ORT) should be started immediately the diarrhea is seen and should be treated before the problem becomes serious. ORT is widely considered to be the best method for combating dehydration caused by diarrhea. ORT consists of a solution of salts and sugars that is administered orally; it is a simple cheap and an effective treatment for dehydration associated with diarrhea and other health issues that can cause dehydration. These can be obtained from any well stocked drug store or chemist. Pedialyte or Lectade are electrolyte rehydration solutions and is the same solution that is used for children with diarrhea. These products contain all the elements needed mixed in the correct quantities

What is diabetes? Diabetes is a condition where a gland in the body called “The Pancreas” fails to produce enough insulin to meet the body’s needs. This gland, the pancreas, produces digestive enzymes and manufactures insulin. When starchy food is digested it breaks down into glucose, the glucose then builds up in the blood stream. The insulin controls the level of glucose in the blood by helping it to go from the bloodstream into the body’s cells. Once in the cells glucose can be used for energy, or stored for future needs. Without insulin glucose cannot get from the bloodstream into the body cells. Since the cells are deprived of glucose the body then thinks it is being starved so the animal may then eat large quantities of food to try and feed those starving cells.
Glucose levels in the bloodstream will get higher without insulin to allow the glucose to pass from the bloodstream into the cells as it has nowhere else to go. The body then begins to use more muscle and fat to feed those cells, hence the animal develops a ravenous appetite usually accompanied by weight loss.
One job of the kidneys is to prevent the loss of glucose in the urine, all that extra sugar glucose in the bloodstream has got to go somewhere so the kidneys become overwhelmed and the excess sugar then filters into the urine. For this excess sugar to be excreted in the right consistency it needs to be in a liquid form, therefore greater than normal quantities of water are drawn from the body into the bladder creating large volumes of urine to enable the sugar to be flushed away. Because the body fluids are being depleted swiftly the animal develops an un-quenchable thirst and drinks excessively to try and replace those lost body fluids. So when the pancreas fails to work as it should results in the condition known as Diabetes.

How to diagnose and treat a dehydrated hamster

Symptoms of diabetes in the hamster are very similar to those in humans. A hamster suspected of having diabetes can show a range of signs. The most common signs are, the hamster may experience shaking or shivering this is sometimes referred to as trembling, excessive drinking of water combined with more than is considered a normal amount of urinating, stumbling, (unsteady gait) a rapid heartbeat heavy breathing, tiredness, lethargy, irritability, behaviour changes, poor co-ordination and eventually possible coma.
Blood sugar levels have to be kept in balance for the body to function efficiently. If blood sugar levels are allowed to drop too low hypoglycaemia (or hypo) is the term used. An immediate and fast effective treatment for a ‘hypo’ or mild hypo involves consumption of a sugary drink (honey mixed with warm milk) as fluids work quicker than solids, this should be followed by something more substantial in the form of solid food: solid foods take longer to break down and therefore releases at a slower rate.
If a mild hypo is left untreated blood sugar levels will continue to fall starving the rest of the body of glucose and energy leading to more serious problems. In most cases familiarity with the early warning signs and symptoms of hypoglycaemia can be recognized and treated.

A high blood sugar / glucose level, hyperglycemias (or hyper) is the term used. This may cause the hamster to become fatigued and dehydrated, the hamster may experience an un-quenchable thirst and drink excessively, therefore pass a lot more urine than is considered normal.

How to diagnose and treat a dehydrated hamster

In some pets diabetes may not be caused not by a lack of insulin itself, but can be the result of hormonal changes.
Diabetes is very rarely seen in the Syrian hamster but is not unknown. The Dwarf hamster is predisposed to this disease.
The longer this is left untreated the more complications are likely to set in. Diabetes can cause serious health issues this includes heart disease, blindness, cataracts and kidney failure. Diabetes is a metabolic disease that requires treatment and lifestyle changes.
There is no cure for Type 2 diabetes but diet is a critical component of treatment, and in many cases this can be quite effective on its own. (Diabetic diet)
An early diagnosis and treatment may prevent or reduce further complications.
Typically, the very early signs of the onset of diabetes are increased thirst and frequent urination (known as Polyuria.) Changes in appetite can increase and decrease.
The Campbell’s dwarf hamsters are predisposed to this condition: The cause of diabetes mellitus is complex and involves both genetic and environmental factors. The chances of a hamster developing type 2 diabetes can increase with age. Obese and overweight hamsters are also at risk as overweight animals may not produce the quantity of insulin needed.
A hamster with a bladder or a kidney infection may drink and urinate excessively producing very similar symptoms to diabetes. Some owners may misdiagnose this condition which can be treated effectively and a veterinary visit will be needed to confirm the caus e.

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It’s in our nature to nurture, and when our pets become poorly it can be a worrying time. This is something we, unfortunately, experienced first-hand recently, when our own hamster Oscar became incredibly ill very quickly. As hamsters are so small, they are not only more susceptible to becoming sick but less resilient at fighting illness. This is why it is so important to take steps to ensure that your hamster stays healthy.

How to look after a sick hamster will depend on the illness they have. Prevention is always better than cure, so look out for signs that your hamster is poorly. If your hamster does get sick, keep them warm and hydrated and follow veterinary advice.

Hamsters are relatively low maintenance. As they are generally bought as pets for children, they will need supervising to check that the hamster is being given fresh food and water daily and that they are being kept in a clean environment.

Your hamster will thrive in a loving, caring home, so the more attention you can give them, the happier and healthier they will be.

How to know if your hamster is poorly

Unlike people, hamsters cannot tell us when they feel under the weather. Instead, it is up to you, as a pet owner, to look out for signs that all may not be well.

Most hamsters will start to display symptoms and behavior that is out of the norm in order to alert us to the fact they are sick. This can be as simple as:

  • Sleeping for longer periods than normal.
  • Displaying a lack of interest in their food.
  • Being too lethargic to groom themselves.
  • Becoming irritable upon handling.

You should also check to see how your hamster interacts with you. If they normally come bounding over to the cage door for a cuddle yet stay cowed in their bed, it is often a sign that they are sick or injured. Your placid companion may also get nippy with you and even vocal if they are in pain or distress.

We first realised that something was wrong with our hamster Oscar when he started to lose weight really quickly. One day, he was an energetic and sparky hamster running around his cage, wheel and tunnel whilst stuffing his cheek pouches with food and the next he was lethargic, lying next to a full, untouched bowl of food. Upon handling him, we noticed that when stroking him, his bones protruded more than usual, his bottom was damp, and he had lost the sparkle in his eye. It was at this point that I made a veterinary appointment for the next day.

Other more obvious signs that your hamster is ill may include:

  • Loss of fur and bald patches.
  • Excessive saliva or a wet chin.
  • A runny nose.
  • Watery eyes.
  • Diarrhoea. This can often be a sign of something more sinister such as wet tail.

By the morning, Oscars condition had deteriorated further and in addition to the less obvious signs, he was now being sick in his cage and had diarrhoea.

What to do if your hamster is sick

We all have “off” days and it may just be that your hamster feels unwell. If this is the case, then make sure they are kept warm with plenty of bedding and that the room is kept at a cozy temperature.

If they have a lack of appetite and are not drinking enough then they may become dehydrated. To check, you should pinch the scruff of their neck to examine for elasticity. If it is bounces straight back, then chances are they are ok and might just need enticing with watery foods such as grapes or cucumber. If the skin remains stretched, however, then you will need to seek veterinary assistance.

Colds, watery eyes and runny noses, for the majority of cases, can be treated at home. Extra care needs to be applied when handling your hamster and assistance may be required to help wipe away any excess fluids with a damp cotton bud. Look out for infections such as pink eye as these need to be treated straight away.

The cage should be cleaned more regularly, and stress kept to a minimum. And if you have more than one hamster sharing a cage, then it is a good idea to quarantine them.

If your hamster looks sick to the point that you feel it needs immediate attention, then we recommend consulting your vet. This way, they can conduct a full examination and determine whether any procedures or medicines need to be administered.

When we took Oscar to the vet, she immediately spotted how skinny and dehydrated he was. He was also in a lot of distress, trying to burrow out of sight in his travel cage – which was quite upsetting to see. Although the vet was unable to diagnose anything specific, she did prescribe us some antibiotics for the sickness and some rehydration food. We are pleased to report, that after a few days of tender loving care, recuperation and medicine, Oscar is almost back to his pre-sickness self.

How to care for a dying hamster

Unfortunately, hamsters are not immortal and only have an average lifespan of between 2-3 years. If your hamster is suffering from old age, or a known disease, then there are things that you can do to care for it.

Talk to your vet or local pet store about the best types of food for your hamster and the most effective way to feed it. Hamsters with dental conditions, those that are unable to chew or are simply off their food, may need additional help and a change of diet.

The same goes for exercise. It is good to keep your hamster active, but they may be too weak to climb, and a change to the cage setup may make life easier for them. Give them plenty of bedding, let them sleep when they want and always remember to handle them gently.

If your hamster is visibly in a lot of pain, then you may want to consider putting a stop to the suffering. This is never an easy decision and one which you should talk through with family, friends and veterinary professionals.

How to explain the death of a hamster to your child

It is never easy delivering bad news, especially to a child who may not have experienced losing a pet or a loved one before.

And, statistics show that losing a pet, to some, can feel the same as losing a family member or best friend.
Make sure that from the outset you make it clear to your child that the joy of owning their own hamster comes with the heartbreak of knowing that they won’t live forever. This fore planning will enable them to understand the concept of death when it occurs.

Never underestimate, however, how traumatic the loss of a pet hamster can be for the whole family and don’t try to underplay it. Whilst some smaller children may not understand, older children are likely to feel an immense sense of loss.

Therefore, it is important that we deliver the news at the correct time when the child is calm and has plenty of emotional support around them. Let them ask questions and explain in as much detail as you feel is appropriate.

Your child is likely to experience a range of emotions that are completely normal when going through the grieving process. This might include sadness, anger and upset at the idea of never being able to see or hold their hamster again.

Once the initial shock has passed, you can help your child to focus on the positives by remembering their pet hamster and the happy times they had together.


It is really important to pay close attention to the health of our hamsters incase they start to get sick. By making sure they are well fed, watered, have clean bedding, substrate and plenty of love and care, will help to ensure that our hamsters are physically and emotionally happy.

There are no guarantees in life and the same applies when it comes to your hamster getting sick, ill or injured. But, by keeping a close eye on them and seeking veterinary assistance if required, gives them the best chance for a full life.

How to diagnose and treat a dehydrated hamster

Last update: 20 January, 2020

The common hamster illnesses can really knock your little friend off balance, and knowing how to recognize and prevent them is very important in order to keep your hamster happy and healthy.

Diarrhea can be common

Diarrhea is not an illness in itself, but it’s the most frequent symptom of the most common hamster illnesses. It can pose a serious risk to their health as they can get severely dehydrated in a very short space of time.

The main causes of diarrhea in hamsters are:

  • Sudden changes in their diet
  • Poor hygiene of their cage and accessories
  • Use of veterinary drugs (mainly antibiotics)

If your hamster has diarrhea, go straight to a specialist vet. Make sure you keep your hamster as hydrated as possible and ensure that their environment is clean.

Most common hamster illnesses

Hamsters hardly ever get sick in their natural habitat because their body is quite resistant and their intelligence helps them avoid predators and stay safe.

However, by being domesticated, they can be exposed to various imbalances due to changes in environment and diet. This means that it’s your responsibility to make sure that these things are just right for them.

Below, we’ve listed the most common hamster illnesses and their main features and causes.

1- Abscesses

An abscess is a lump that forms under the hamster’s skin and you will be able to feel it. This happens due to an accumulation of pus caused by an infection.

Normally, the infection is the result of an injury or a bite from another hamster. But this will happen if the wound isn’t properly cleaned and disinfected.

Abscesses can often form near the hamster’s cheeks and make them look swollen. It’s important to spot these earlier as things can get more complicated if the abscess ruptures.

Once the abscess is developed, there’s only one thing you can do, and that is to have it removed by a vet. It goes without saying that you can’t do this yourself.

2- “Wet Tail”

“Wet tail” is one of the most common hamster illnesses and has a high mortality rate. It can affect hamsters of all ages but is more common when they’re very young, just after weaning. At this point, they experience a radical change in their diet.

As the name implies, the infected animal has a permanently wet tail due to constant diarrhea. This means that there is a high risk of the hamster becoming dehydrated and dying in a short space of time. This imbalance in the body is normally caused by an unbalanced diet or a sudden change in diet.

3- Flu and colds

Flu and colds affect hamsters in much the same way as they affect humans. As a result, the symptoms are very similar: fever, sneezing, lying down a lot, wet nose, etc. Again, in this case, it’s important to go straight to the vet as soon as you recognize the first symptoms.

Unfortunately, their little body is very vulnerable when infected by the influenza virus. Most hamsters develop pneumonia and, as a result, the mortality rate is high.

Outbreaks of flu and colds occur during the winter, so it’s important to take extra measures during colder seasons. Pay special attention to the air conditioning and heating in your home and the location of your hamster’s cage.

4- Diabetes

Diabetes is another of the common hamster illnesses which have similar symptoms in humans. The Campbell’s dwarf breed is particularly vulnerable to this illness.

Diabetes is caused when the pancreas doesn’t create enough insulin. As a result, the body is unable to control blood sugar levels. This means that a lot of glucose is no longer converted into energy and remains “stuck” in the body.

Then, the hamster enters a “state of starvation” because the body isn’t making use of the glucose. This is why diabetic hamsters can eat a large amount of food and quickly gain weight. An animal that always seems to be hungry is often suffering from diabetes.

5- Tumors

Hamsters can develop tumors in different parts of their bodies, particularly when they’re older. They normally take the form of solid lumps under the skin, so it’s important to pay attention to any physical changes in order to spot tumors early.

Obviously, in such a case, it’s essential that you go straight to your vet. If possible, the tumor will need to be removed.

Ultimately, to keep your hamster happy and healthy, you need to pay close attention to any notable changes, pay regular visits to the vet, and ensure that they’re properly dewormed.

How to diagnose and treat a dehydrated hamster

Dehydration is a common emergency seen by our vets here at Animal Emergency Center in Memphis. Dehydration happens when your dog’s body loses more water and electrolytes than they are taking in, subsequently causing severe issues with their internal organs, body temperature, joints, and digestion.

Dehydration in Dogs

All mammals, humans and dogs alike, rely on water to keep their bodies functioning properly. In fact, water plays a vital role in the functioning of virtually every body function. When your dog is losing more water and electrolytes than they are taking in, dehydration occurs and your dog’s body will begin to breakdown.

Dehydration in dogs is a very serious concern that can lead to kidney failure, loss of consciousness, and in extreme cases, death.

How Dehydration Happens

Your dog’s body will naturally lose water throughout the day simply through panting, breathing, urinating, defecating, and evaporation through their paws. This loss of fluids and electrolytes is then compensated for when your dog eats and drinks.

If your pup’s body reaches the point where their fluid intake is less than the amount they are losing, their body’s blood flow and the volume of fluids is reduced, which reduces the delivery of oxygen to your pet’s organs and tissues.

Electrolytes are naturally occurring minerals that humans and dogs need to keep their bodies healthy. Electrolytes include sodium, chloride, and potassium which help to balance the body’s pH, move nutrients into cells, facilitate muscle function, and regulate nerve function.

Symptoms of Dehydration in Dogs

The most common and easiest to spot symptom of dehydration is the loss of elasticity in your dog’s skin. If you pull lightly on your dog’s skin and it doesn’t readily go back to its original position, your dog is likely suffering from dehydration!

Xerostomia is another sign of dehydration in dogs. Xerostomia is when your pet’s gums lose moistness and become dry and sticky, and your dog’s saliva becomes thick and pasty. Other symptoms of dehydration include loss of appetite, panting and dry nose. In severe cases your dog’s eyes may become sunken or your pet may collapse from shock.

The Primary Causes of Dehydration

Your dog could become dehydrated for a number of reasons including heat stroke, illness, fever, persistent vomiting or diarrhea, and insufficient fluid intake.

Immediate Treatment if Your Dog Becomes Dehydrated

If your dog is displaying symptoms of shock, heat stroke, or severe dehydration, call your veterinarian immediately. Your vet may advise you to begin offering your dog small amounts of water to begin the rehydration process while you are on your way to their office. Treatment for dogs suffering from this level of dehydration is re-hydration using intravenous fluids.

If your dog is severely dehydrated immediate emergency care is essential! Contact your closest animal emergency center for advice and to let them know you are on your way.

If your dog is mildly dehydrated provide your dog with small amounts of water to drink every few minutes or offer your dog pieces of ice to lick. You could also provide your dog with Ringer’s lactate (an electrolyte replacement fluid) to help replenish their lost minerals. It is important not to offer too much water all at once since this could cause your dog to vomit, causing even further dehydration. Even if your dog is suffering from a mild cause of dehydration it’s a good idea to contact your vet for additional recommendations.

Preventing Your Dog from Becoming Dehydrated

If your dog is suffering from continuous or severe bouts of vomiting and diarrhea contact your vet to book an examination in order to determine the underlying cause. Severe vomiting and diarrhea can be a symptom of a number of serious conditions and requires immediate attention. To help keep your dog hydrated while they are experiencing these symptoms offer your pet an electrolytic solution until they feel better. If the symptoms continue IV fluids may be the only way to prevent the serious side effects of dehydration.

To prevent your healthy dog from developing dehydration, always provide your pet with an easily accessible and ample supply of clean drinking water. If your dog spends time outdoors in the hot weather, or enjoys vigorous exercise, they will need extra amounts of water in order to stay hydrated.

Dogs typically require at least one ounce of water per day for each pound of body weight. If you’re unsure whether your dog is drinking enough, ask your vet for advice on how to ensure your dog consumes enough fluids.