When looked after well, hamsters don't usually have a lot of health problems, but occasionally an issue may arise. An eye problem is one such issue and it should not be ignored. Knowing what kind of eye problems hamsters commonly get, how to recognize them, and what can be done about them can help keep your hamster comfortable and fully sighted.
Types of Eye Problems in Hamsters
A few of the most common types of conditions or problems hamsters can develop with their eyes are outlined below. Of course, if you spot any problematic signs that an eye is injured or uncomfortable, it is always best to seek advice from a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Also known as pink eye, conjunctivitis occurs when the pink tissues around your hamster's eyes become inflamed and irritated. An infection is often also present which can cause heavy eye drainage as well as crusting around the eyelids. Trauma from the cage or another hamster, dental issues, and dirty environments can all cause a hamster to get conjunctivitis.
A corneal ulcer occurs when the eye gets scratched or irritated. Bedding rubbing on the eye and injuries from the cage and other hamsters are the most common causes of ulcers in hamsters. The eye may look cloudy and your hamster may be holding it shut or rubbing it regularly. It is a painful and often progressive problem that should not wait long to be addressed.
This emergency situation occurs when the eye comes out of the eye socket. It usually happens when a hamster is squeezed too hard. This might be through rough handling, accidental stepping on, or even through a dog or cat attack.
Diagnosing Eye Problems in Hamsters
In order to diagnose what type of problem your hamster has, a veterinarian may need to examine it. Special eye drops, stains, lenses, and lights may be used depending on what kind of eye problem is suspected. Of course, some problems, like proptosis, may be obvious.
Occasionally, a swab of any debris that is present around the eye will be examined for bacteria under a microscope. If bacteria is present and your veterinarian needs to know what kind it is, a culture may be performed.
Treating Eye Problems in Hamsters
If your hamster's eye problem needs to be cleaned before treating it, you can use a warm, wet cloth to gently wipe away debris. Saline eye drops or artificial tears can be used to rinse and lubricate the eye as well. Once the eye is clean and open, most problems will require topical medications but some may also need oral medications or even surgery.
If your hamster is diagnosed with conjunctivitis or an ulcer, your veterinarian will most likely prescribe medicated eye drops or an ointment. These topical medications are usually applied to the eye once or twice a day for one to two weeks. Occasionally oral medications like antibiotics and pain medications will also be needed depending on the type of eye problem.
Proptosis may involve the surgical removal of the eye but this will depend on the level of trauma and how far the eye is protruding from the socket. Sometimes the eye is able to be gently pushed back into place by your veterinarian.
The procedure to remove the eye is called an enucleation and, encouragingly, hamsters can continue to have a good quality of life with just one eye.
Preventing Eye Problems in Hamsters
While not all eye problems are preventable, there are some simple care considerations that can help to minimize the risk, especially when it comes to cage hygiene and handling.
Cage and Environment Cleanliness
Cages should be kept clean and free of dust and extra care. Some types and brands of bedding are dustier than others and the extra dusty ones can send tiny particles into the air that irritate your hamster's eyes. Rooms that are dusty from home remodeling projects or other reasons can also cause issues. Because of this, a clean environment is ideal not only for protecting your hamster's little eyes but its overall health, too.
Children that hold hamsters too tightly may cause proptosis in hamsters. To avoid this, supervised, gentle handling should be enforced at all times. Restraining a hamster too tightly or even innocently hugging a hamster a little too much can cause serious damage not only to its eyes but to other parts of its body as well.
Management Around Other Pets
Dogs and cats should also never be left alone with a hamster to avoid serious injuries and even death.
Aggressive hamsters can also result in trauma to the eyes of other hamsters. Hamsters generally are better kept as individual pets. If fights between pairs or groups of hamsters are regular, or you suspect a hamster is being bullied, permanent separation may be the safest and fairest option.
Finally, monitor your hamster's teeth as overgrown or irregular teeth cause problems. Providing adequate and appropriate items to chew on (not the bars on the cage), a good diet, and taking an occasional peek at those chompers can help prevent issues not only in the eyes but elsewhere.