Abscesses in Hamsters

Brown and white hamster on a white background

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Hamsters are fairly low-maintenance pets when it comes to health concerns but that doesn't mean they aren't prone to developing certain problems. Abscesses are one such problem that hamster owners may see. Knowing how to recognize these infections and how they can be treated can help keep your hamster healthy and happy.

What Is an Abscess?

Pus is infected material made up of white blood cells and bacteria and it can accumulate to form a lump or pocket referred to as an abscess. Abscesses are most often found under the skin of hamsters but can be internal on organs or in the mouth as well.

Signs of Abscesses in Hamsters

An abscess is most likely to form on or around the head of a hamster. On occasion, an abscess may be inside the body or elsewhere under the skin but they are more often seen in the cheeks or on the neck. A lump or swelling is usually the most obvious indication that an abscess exists but this can be difficult to see if it is internal or in the cheek pouch.

Food in the cheek pouches can look similar to an abscess but an abscess will not decrease in size as a cheek pouch will when the food inside it is removed or consumed.

If an abscess ruptures, pus and some blood may be seen on the fur in the surrounding area. This may also have a very foul smell due to the bacteria that is present. Hamsters are usually fastidious cleaners but the amount of infected fluid an abscess can produce may not be easily cleaned up or may be unreachable if it is on the neck or head.

Finally, if an abscess causes a systemic infection in a hamster, lethargy and a lack or decrease in appetite is likely to occur.

Symptoms

  • Lump or swelling under the skin
  • Foul smell
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of appetite
  • Pus and blood on the fur

Causes

Hamsters develop abscesses when bacteria causes an infection in the tissues. Aggressive hamsters that live with other hamsters are more likely to develop abscesses from bite wounds, while hamsters that live alone could be injured by their cage or toys. Puncture wounds from cage bars and ladders commonly lead to this type of infection.

Diagnosing Abscesses in Hamsters

In order to differentiate an abscess from a tumor you will need to know what is inside the lump. Your veterinarian may feel the lump and suspect it is an abscess but in order to diagnose it as such, the contents must be analyzed.

A sample of the abscess may be withdrawn with a syringe and needle and observed for bacteria and blood under a microscope or it may simply be opened up using a scalpel blade. If pus drains out then it will be obvious it is not a tumor. Internal abscesses are much more difficult to find and diagnose and involve more invasive procedures.

Treatment

If your hamster has an abscess under their skin or in their cheek pouch, it must first be drained. Your veterinarian may have already done this as part of the diagnostic testing when determining the contents of the lump or they may need to sedate or anesthetize your hamster in order to perform this task.

The abscess may then need to be flushed with saline and antibacterial agents and antibiotics are typically prescribed for you to administer at home. The exact treatment may vary depending on the location and severity of the abscess. On occasion, a culture of the type of bacteria that is present in the abscess will be obtained in order to determine the best type of antibiotics for your hamster.

How to Prevent Abscesses in Hamsters

A bite wound is one of the most common reason why a hamster would develop an abscess. In order to prevent this, house your hamster alone. Most hamster species are best kept as single rather than multiple pets anyway.

Another thing you can do to help prevent abscesses in your hamster is to ensure there are no sharp edges in the cage. Wire cages may have sharp spots on the corners and doors. Ladders, wheels, and other toys in the cage can also be problematic. Check these things regularly to help keep your hamster safe.