Any health issue with a pocket pet needs to be addressed as soon as possible. Their small size and fast metabolism means even a short delay can be fatal. This is not a complete list. I will update this page as I can. Species specific issues are addressed in the 101 pages.
Aging: a fellow breeder wrote this page on caring for Elderly Campbells Dwarfs. While this was written for Campbells Dwarf Hamsters the advice is applicable for any pocket pet.
Problems with this icon are a result of putting the wrong genes together. If you aren't sure of the genes you have then it's best to err on the side of caution and assume the worst.
Problems with this star are genetic and all animals in that breeding line should be retired. This means parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, and any offspring and their offspring. You should also contact those who have bought animals from these lines to warn them. If this seems extreme consider this: When diabetes first showed up in a certain Campbells Dwarf hamstery it took years to convince the breeder. In the meantime, this hamstery was mass producing diabetic Campbells Dwarfs, selling and shipping them around the world.
Animals that are aggressive should not be used for breeding. This is how Pet Store Campbells Dwarfs became fur covered piranha. This also includes species aggression in social species.
Your pet is at the bottom of the food chain. To show weakness in the form of illness or injury makes them easier prey. Observe your pet and learn what is normal behavior. Then you will know when they are displaying abnormal behavior and need help. This includes:
It's a good idea to join at least one online group for support. There are many out there. Try a few out to see which one you like best. The best ones have a solid base of experienced pet owners, rescuers, and breeders who are happy to answer rookie questions without judgment. I've listed those I belong to on my Groups page.
In the Food
Ants & Flies - Use the same precautions you would with your own food.
Seed Weevil - The most likely weevil is the Gray Sunflower Weevil. They bore into the sunflower seed and lay their eggs. When the eggs hatch, the larvae eat the seed then exit the husk. It's very common to find these in pet foods that contain sunflower seeds. They don't harm your pet but a badly infected batch of food can have these hard little beetles all over your home. Click on the Weevil for more information from the North Dakota State University Agriculture Dept.
Indian Meal Moth - Have you ever noticed in a pet store these little moths flying around? Or opened a bag of food or seed and had a couple of tiny moths fly out? Or noticed tiny, white caterpillars in your pet's food? Those are Indian Meal Moths and their larvae. They eat any kind of grain - critter food, dog/cat food, bird seed, breakfast cereal - and can chew into plastic bags. Once they get established in a home they are very difficult to get rid of. Follow this LINK for detailed information on dealing with them in the household. This LINK has real pictures of the critters as well as information.
Mites & Fleas - Rodent mites are minute but visible to the naked eye. These can infest any furred animal and can be carried by people and their clothing. They can be brought in with food or bedding from pet stores with wild mice, rats or birds or their own mite problems. Follow this LINK to see how I treat my animals. Clicking on the mite will take you to the Texas Cooperative Extension site on mites in the home. A word of caution on this site: they are not dealing with pocket pets but vermin (wild mice, rats & birds) with mites. Fleas are not common with pocket pets unless you have cats and/or dogs that are infested in the house. With any blood-sucking parasite, it is extremely important to treat pocket pets before it becomes a full-blown infestation. They are small and will suffer anemia quickly from the loss of blood and die.
Worms - It is possible that a pocket pet will get these. It's most common among wild caught reptiles. If you suspect your pet has any kind of worm take it to the veterinarian ASAP. As mentioned with the blood-sucking parasites, your pocket pet is too small to delay treatment. The usual cycle of worms in small mammals (including cats & dogs) is:
Diarrhea - All animals can get diarrhea either from food (bad, new kind or too much of a good thing), disease or stress. Diarrhea is a symptom not a disease. Just as a sneeze is a symptom of a cold. If you sneeze you may not have a cold - it could be an allergy or just something tickling your nose. Diarrhea does not mean wet-tail. Wet-tail is a species specific illness of Syrian hamsters caused by a single source of bacteria. Any diarrhea can be fatal to a small animal. They don't have much in body fluids to be able to loose the moisture and nutrition diarrhea causes. Identifying the cause and fixing it quickly is extremely important to the survival of your pet.
Zoonoses - These are illnesses that can be passed between animals and humans. Rabies, Bubonic Plague and Monkey Pox are a few of the better known zoonoses. Click the picture for a detailed and up to date list.
Tumors - These are fairly common in hamsters, mice and rats. Just like with us they can be benign or malignant. Only your veterinarian can determine which type it is and of course determine if surgery is necessary or an option. Common locations for tumors are: gerbils and dwarf hamsters ~ scent gland; syrians ~ anywhere; mice and rats ~ mammary glands.
Impacted Pouches - This happens occasionally with hamsters (or any animal with a pouch). You may be able to clear it out yourself and if nothing else is wrong the animal is fine. However, most of the time an infection has set in. Sometimes the pouch gets punctured. There was even a case were a bean sprouted inside a pouch and was sending it's roots into the cheek of the hamster. These all required veterinarian care.
Abscesses - I debated which area to put this under. I think most people and veterinarians would watch for abscesses with a known injury. Gerbils and Dwarf Hamsters have scent glands near where their belly button would be. These can become infected and develop an abscess, sometimes requiring surgery.
Pyometra - This is an infection of the uterus and can occur in any species and in unbred females as well as breeders. There are two types, Open and Closed. Open Pyometra allows the pus and blood from the infection to drain through the vagina. Closed Pyometra does not drain and causes bloating as the uterus fills with pus. Both need to be treated by a veterinarian immediately and the decision will need to be made whether to treat with antibiotics or euthanize. If the infection is too advanced or the animal's health isn't good then euthanasia is the kindest choice.
Environment - Being so small it's very difficult to treat injuries and wounds. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Wire rung wheels can cause leg injuries especially with social animals. Use solid or mesh wheels that won't let little legs slip through and break. Check for gaps that are big enough to temp escape but are too small for the animal to get out of. There have been incidents of small rodents getting their heads stuck trying to go through the little hole in those coconut houses. Another situation occurs when critters chewing cage bars get their teeth caught, especially when chewing the top of the cage. This requires wire cutters to extract the poor pet. Don't get paranoid but do be careful and look at everything your pet is exposed to from their eyes.
Fighting - Probably the other most common injury is due to fighting. Syrian hamsters are solitary from the age of 6 weeks on. Getting together only briefly to mate. The mother then tolerates her pups only until they are weaned. Social animals aren't always social with the one they are with. Usually this is brought on by reaching adolescence and trying to figure out dominance. Once blood is drawn you need to separate them permanently. In the wild, these animals have the choice to leave and find another place and regroup. In our homes they have no way to escape their aggressor. Some species are more bark then bite. The common bite areas are the genitals, tail, paws, ears. In fact the ears and tails are often missing in badly monitored groups like those in pet store feeder tanks.
Barbering - This can be a form of Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder, a result of boredom, an infection or tumor. The affected animal over grooms itself and it's cage mates. Sometimes there are only bald spots but in severe cases the skin is groomed away too. First you need to rule out health issues and boredom. If nothing works to distract the groomer then the affected animal needs to be isolated to prevent harm to it's cage mates.
This page was last edited on June 28, 2011