The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.
Hamsters can make for amazing and adorable little pocket pets, especially when you can watch them shovel food into their cheeks. Hamsters can range in size from being smaller than the palm of your hand to fitting into both of your hands, but rarely ever get any bigger than this.
As is the case with many small animals in the world, this means that hamsters are prone to falling sick very quickly, meaning that even a simple disease can take down a hamster within a matter of days because of how small their bodies are.
Because of this fact, it is up to you to do what you can to keep an eye on your hamster and watch for signs of illness so that you can get to helping your hamster out as soon as you can.
Unfortunately, because hamsters are often considered exotic animals, this means that it may be hard to learn what the signs of illness in a hamster are because knowledge is not as widespread as it is about cats or dogs.
Therefore, as the pet owner, it is up to you to try to research what you can about hamster health and knowing what the signs of illness are so that when you see them, you can take the appropriate actions.
Another problem with hamsters is that because they are exclusively prey animals, they naturally hide most signs of illness well enough to fool even hamster enthusiasts. Hamsters have had to evolve over time to be able to hide illnesses and weaknesses so that predators will not hunt them down.
Even though pet hamsters live in an environment with no predators, this doesn’t stop their instinctual behaviors.
As such, even if your hamster isn’t feeling well for whatever reason, there’s a good chance that it will be working hard to try to hide this fact from you, as you could be a potential predator.
These tricks can fool even people who have owned numerous hamsters for years on end and is one of the unfortunate aspects of owning an animal such as a hamster.
With that being said, this means that when signs of illness are severe enough for you to be able to notice them despite the hamster’s attempts at hiding, it often means that the hamster is gravely ill, as this would be the equivalent of announcing one’s weakness in the wild.
If you notice that your hamster is not acting the way it should, you need to do what you can to care for it.
The first step to this is knowing what the most common signs of illness in hamsters are so that you know what to look for. In many cases, decreased appetite is a massive indicator that your hamster isn’t feeling well.
Making Sure That Everything Is Okay
Before you rush your hamster to the vet, which can be expensive and is an incredibly stressful experience for your hamster, you first will want to check and make sure that your hamster is okay.
Hamsters can sometimes engage in certain ordinary behaviors that may come across as not eating, when your hamster is actually eating food as it should.
A good example of this is the trademark appearance of hamsters stuffing food into their cheeks. They do this so that they can not only save food for later, but also to transport it to another area of their environment so that they can have a safe stash of food that predators cannot get to, even though a pet hamster has no predators.
If you notice that your hamster isn’t coming out to eat as much, you may want to poke around its enclosure a little bit to see if there is a stash of food hiding somewhere that your hamster has been eating from. This stash of food is often kept in a corner that isn’t used for elimination, often in an area of the enclosure that is relatively well hidden.
If you find a small stash of food and your hamster otherwise seems fine, and the stash of food decreases the next day, you can simply assume that your hamster decided that it wanted to eat from its stash of food instead of from the bowl.
Over the course of days, you should still notice that the food in the food bowl decreases as your hamster either eats it on its own or adds it to its stash, even if you don’t watch the hamster eat it.
If you do find a stash of food, you shouldn’t mess with it too much, as having that stash of food remaining relatively untouched helps the hamster feel that its environment is safe and protected.
Another good reason why you may not see your hamster eating in the day is because hamsters are naturally nocturnal animals. Some hamsters may synchronize and adjust to the schedule that you have, while others may remain most active at night, and this includes eating.
Signs that your hamster is eating at night include your hamster being overall healthy and not exhibiting other signs of illness or being uncomfortable and the food in its food bowl decreasing, even if you do not watch it eat during the day.
If this is the case, then it may just be that your hamster prefers to eat during the night when it is most awake and alert, which is nothing to worry about.
The final relatively okay reason for your hamster not to be eating is because of stress. While stress is not good for your hamster and the origin of the stress should be identified and dealt with accordingly, stress is not nearly as lethal or urgent as other conditions that could cause decreased appetite in hamsters.
Hamsters, being the small prey creatures that they are, are naturally stressed out about most things in their lives. It could be that you added a new hamster to its habitat, or it could be that you moved the habitat to a better location, or that you added something new to the habitat for its entertainment, but the hamster has to have some time to destress before it investigates it.
Hamsters can even become stressed enough to not eat when you change the brand of food they eat too suddenly, or if the type of food it eats changes. They can become extremely stressed if another animal, such as a cat or dog, or an unfamiliar person walks by, especially if they are loud or cause a ruckus.
All of these situations can be stressful for your hamster, leading it to not want to eat as much as it should for a little bit while the hamster takes the time to realize that its environment is actually safe and that its little world is not in danger.
In some unavoidable situations, the most that you can do is offer some time for the hamster to calm down and adjust to the new changes, which should only take a few days at most, while in other cases, you should try to do what you can to eliminate the stressor.
Either after the hamster is used to the stressor or after the stressor has been eliminated, your hamster’s eating should return to normal. If it begins exhibiting other signs of illness or if it doesn’t get better after a few days, you may need to check in on the hamster again to see if it is stress-related or if the hamster is actually sick.
Problems with the Food
Hamsters will also choose not to eat if the food they are given is unacceptable for whatever reason. As mentioned earlier, this reason could be as simple and easy to get over as the brand or type of food changing and your hamster needing a bit to adjust to it, while other times, the problem might be the food’s location.
If your hamster deems that there is enough of a problem with the food that it can no longer eat, you need to address this. If this is the reason why your hamster isn’t eating, then there’s a good chance your hamster will also show signs of agitation, as it probably wants its food but may not understand how to get around the problem with it, causing frustration.
Problems with the food can include the food’s location, the environment of the enclosure, and the actual content of the food itself.
Problems with the food’s location can include the food being obstructed by something, such as a toy that the hamster accidentally blocked its food off with, or if the food dispenser is broken and cannot produce the food the hamster needs. If the hamster cannot physically get to the food, then there’s a good reason why the hamster hasn’t been eating.
Problems with the environment typically involve an aggressive or dominant hamster in the cage trying to take control of the food or bully the submissive hamster into not wanting to eat. This situation needs to be resolved before it breaks out into violence, as hamsters are fully capable of killing each other in situations such as this.
And finally, problems with the food itself mainly involve the food being inadequate, different, or moldy. A hamster could have spilled water on its pellets, causing them to disintegrate and thus stressing the hamster into not wanting to eat the strange new form of its food, or the fresh foods you may have fed the hamster are moldy.
There is also a chance that the problem is with your hamster’s health that vets cannot fix: age. Much as with people, as hamsters age, they may have trouble jumping and moving around, which means that if you kept the food on the top shelf of the enclosure, an elderly hamster may not be physically capable of reaching the food anymore, requiring you to bring it to a level that the hamster can safely reach.
Identifying the Signs of a Sick Hamster
Now that you have a good sense of what “normal” causes for your hamster not eating regularly during the day are and other reasons why your hamster may not be interested in eating, if you notice that your hamster doesn’t fit any of these categories, it may come time to look for other signs of illness, as it could be that your hamster has developed a sickness.
Sickness in hamsters is hard to spot, and you shouldn’t fault yourself too much for not being able to spot the signs of it, as hamsters are notorious for hiding signs of illness. Typically, if your hamster is feeling so poorly that it can no longer eat as it normally would be able to, there will be additional signs of sickness in your hamster’s life.
Signs of sickness range from physical symptoms to mental ones as your hamster tries to cope with how bad it feels, with some signs being more indicative of a serious illness that needs to be seen by a vet immediately.
Physical signs of sickness are the ones that are the easiest to spot. They involve diarrhea, blisters, balding, inflamed skin, vomiting, and weight loss. The lost weight may come from the lack of food, or it may be caused by additional symptoms combined, such as vomiting and diarrhea leading to malnutrition.
Mental signs of illness mainly surround your hamster’s ability to act the way it used to, including depression, lethargy, and aggression.
Depression and lethargy can be caused by the hamster no longer having the energy to get up and move around, interacting the way it used to be able to, whereas aggression is typically caused by the hamster being in pain and wanting all others to stay away so that they do not exacerbate the pain.
If your hamster isn’t eating and has any of these other symptoms, it is often a sign that there is something very wrong with your hamster’s health and you need to do what you can to fix it. Hamsters not eating is not only a very severe situation, but it also takes a lot of sickness for your hamster to reach this point.
Because hamsters are so small, not eating for several days can quickly lead to deterioration and death, especially combined with the underlying illness that started the lack of appetite in the first place. You have a hamster that may die within a day if you do not get it seen by a vet.