You may think your hamster just has a tickle in his nose which is causing him to sneeze, but could it be a sign of something bigger going on? Make sure you aren't causing your hamster's sneezing with something you are putting in his cage.
Hamsters don't get the flu or a cold as we do, but they can get a respiratory tract infection. Upper respiratory tract infections can cause symptoms including runny eyes, crusty eyes that can seal shut, lethargy, a decrease in appetite, nasal drainage, and sneezing. These infections can turn into something bigger like pneumonia, but if treated right away are usually easy to cure. Bacteria from the environment or food or even another hamster can cause an infection that may make your hamster sneeze.
Hamster's Allergies and Sneezing
Do you have allergies? Your hamster could have them too. While we don't go to the extent of allergy testing hamsters, we can treat the symptoms, suppress histamine release (with the use of antihistamines), and eliminate possible sources of allergens. Some hamsters may be allergic to the fabric softener you use to wash their fleece blankets or towels.
Some hamsters are allergic to the bedding in their cage, and others may find something in their food or treats that causes them to sneeze. Dust in the environment brings microscopic dust mites that your hamster can be allergic to as well. Try switching beddings, foods, to an unscented fabric softener, and using a HEPA filter by your hamster's cage to eliminate the allergens in his environment that may be causing him to sneeze. If that still doesn't help, ask your exotics vet if you can give him an antihistamine.
Sometimes things in your hamster's environment can cause your hamster to sneeze because of the scent it gives off. Respiratory irritants can include perfumes, pine and cedar shavings, scented candles, electric "plug-in" style diffusers, and scented room sprays. Even some cleaning agents can be irritating to your hamster's tiny, sensitive respiratory tract. If you use one or several of these possible respiratory irritants, it should be easy to stop using them around your hamster or move your hamster's cage from the source of the fumes. If you use pine or wood shavings, consider switching to towels or a recycled paper bedding material such as Carefresh.
Other Reasons for Sneezing
Less likely but still possible, your hamster could have a much more serious reason for his sneezing. Tumors in the head and nose can cause sneezing but aren't usually diagnosed, since most hamster owners are reluctant to have an MRI done on their little rodent. If you see bloody nasal discharge, this could be an indicator of a serious disease process that is causing your hamster to sneeze.
If your hamster is acting abnormally in any way, seems lethargic, is eating less, not drinking, or sleeping most of the time, you should always consult with your exotics vet (find an exotics vet near you). Make an appointment to see if he needs antibiotics, antihistamines, or something else. Just because your hamster is a small pet doesn't mean there aren't some big things your veterinarian can't do for your hamster. Hopefully, the cage is just a little too dusty or a simple bedding or fabric softener change is all that will keep your hamster from sneezing, but otherwise, don't hesitate to get him checked out!
Kling, Melissa A. A Review Of Respiratory System Anatomy, Physiology, And Disease In The Mouse, Rat, Hamster, And Gerbil. Veterinary Clinics Of North America: Exotic Animal Practice, vol 14, no. 2, 2011, pp. 287-337. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/j.cvex.2011.03.007
Beginners Guide: Hamster Care. Vetcare Pet Hospital, 2020