It’s difficult to not love a chubby, rat-sized teddy bear, but it’s also challenging to bring them up. Unlike cats who usually take care of their cleanliness, hamsters need a lot of pampering to stay healthy. Otherwise, they’ll end up with mites. But how do hamsters get mites, to begin with?
Hamsters get mites from an unclean environment, or from getting in contact with other infected hamsters. The mites will then burrow into their skins, causing an itchy infection.
In this article, we’ll show you everything you know about these mites, what they do, how to treat them, and how to prevent them from being a constant headache.
Mites and Hamsters: An Overview
Mites are small, parasitic creatures that can affect all mammals. However, most parasites are specific to a certain host, meaning that they won’t affect just any mammal.
Hamsters can get many sorts of mites, but the most common type is known as Demodex.
Unfortunately, these mites aren’t visible to the naked eye, so you won’t be able to spot them as you do with fleas on cats.
Moreover, you won’t notice any symptoms until your hamster faces a stressful situation. Stress reduces your pet’s immunity, leading to the appearance of mite infestation symptoms.
However, as long as there’s no stress, your hamster will be able to keep the infestation at bay. The mites would then live in the oil glands and hair follicles of your hamster’s skin until they can cause an infestation.
The point here is that the absence of symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean the absence of disease. That’s why you should occasionally have your hamster checked by a professional vet to make sure that everything is okay.
Let’s figure out how the whole thing starts.
How Do Hamsters Get Mites?
As we mentioned earlier, hamsters can get mites from having a dirty cage, or from being in contact with other infected hamsters.
Before proceeding any further, there’s something important you should understand. You can never completely eradicate mites. There will always be a small number of mites on your hamster’s skin at any given time.
The trick is to constantly keep those mites from multiplying by keeping your hamster in a good, clean environment.
Now let’s break down the two main reasons for mite infestation:
1 – A Dirty Cage
Dirty cages contribute greatly to all types of infections, not just mites. The dirtier the cage gets, the more microbes replicate inside.
These microbes will find their way into your hamster’s bloodstream through their food, skin, or simply through the air they breathe. With time, the immune system will exhaust itself trying to fight these microbes.
This is when mites find it much easier to replicate and increase their numbers enough to show symptoms.
2 – Contact With an Infected Hamster
Your hamster, despite having good immunity and a clean cage, might get infected with mites if it stays around an infected hamster for too long.
This usually results when you bring a new hamster home, or if you attempt to socialize your hamster with another one.
The mites will then easily slip from one hamster to another, causing the symptoms. But what exactly are those symptoms?
Symptoms of Mite Infestation
Here are the telltale signs that your hamster could be suffering from mites:
1 – Red Rash on the Skin
Mites will burrow into the skin of your hamster. To the skin, these are foreign bodies, so the skin would respond with inflammation and irritation.
That inflammation might be visible to you as a red rash around the nose or eyes of your hamster.
2 – Patches of Hair Loss
The damage to your hamster’s skin can extend down to the hair follicles. These follicles are the essence of hair growth and they’re quite resistant, but they will stop growing hair if they’re damaged extensively.
That’s why you might see patches of lost hair on your hamster. The hair follicles that give in first will stop producing hair, resulting in a randomized pattern of hairless patches.
3 – Constant Rubbing and Scrubbing
The non-stop irritation makes your hamster very itchy. The furry creature has no idea what’s going on, but it’s uncomfortable at that certain spot, so it’ll try to rub the infected part with its legs in hopes of reducing the itchiness.
This might provide temporary relief, but it’ll worsen the case in the long run. That’s because constant friction will irritate the skin even more.
4 – Scaly Patches
When the infection stays untreated for extended periods, the upper keratinized layer of the skin will start to tear and flake.
Don’t worry, it’s not a terrible-looking sight. Do you know that white layer that you sometimes pick off of your skin? This is a similar appearance. It’ll only be slightly harder and can be in large patches.
However, despite not looking that bad, it still indicates that your hamster’s mite infestation is getting out of control.
Identifying the Mites
We mentioned earlier that you can’t directly see a mite because it’s a microscopic creature. You can, however, see clusters of them.
If you suspect that your hamster has an infestation, wear some gloves and wipe your hamster’s nose with a paper towel. If you see some dark spots that aren’t dirt, then your hamster is infected with mites.
We’d like to add some extra emphasis on the “wearing gloves” part. You can probably guess why. Mites can cause human infection as well.
Note: Everything we mentioned so far doesn’t replace a visit to the vet. These signs and symptoms can help you identify an existing problem. However, proving your suspicions and reaching a definitive diagnosis is best done by a qualified vet.
Can Humans Catch Mites From Their Hamsters?
Mites can transfer to a healthy human if they come in direct contact with an infected hamster. However, there’s no risk unless the infection in the hamster has progressed to a condition known as mange.
Without dwelling too much into science, mange is an advanced condition of mite infection where the skin is rashed, irritated, blistered, and crusty.
The number of mites at this point is so high that even our skin, which is much thicker than a hamster’s skin, can still be infected with mites.
The signs and symptoms will be almost identical to those of your hamster.
Treatment of Mites
Now that we understand the causes and symptoms of mites, it’s time to know how to handle the situation.
The treatment will include two aspects; removing all the causes, and giving medications. Still, you shouldn’t give any medications unless your hamster gets checked by a vet.
Hamsters are tiny animals. So, giving them the wrong medication or even an extra dose of the correct medication can pose serious health risks.
That said, here are the treatment steps:
1 – Isolation
The very first thing you should do is remove your hamster from the cage. This applies whether you have one or more hamsters.
If you have one hamster, then you need to move him to a new, clean cage until you thoroughly disinfect the old one. If you have multiple, then you need to isolate the infected hamster along with any other one that you suspect.
2 – Medication
After consulting your vet, you’ll often have to use a topical ointment like selamectin. Your vet may also prescribe a shampoo that contains 1% selenium sulfide.
The ointment and the shampoo both will act to eradicate the mites without harming the skin, providing that you use the correct doses.
The doses will vary depending on the age and the size of your hamster, so make sure to ask your vet about the proper doses, then write them down.
3 – Cleaning the Cage
If you manage to treat your hamster but bring him back to the dirty cage, then you’re throwing all of your efforts away. A dirty cage will just repeat the cycle, so make sure not to only clean it, but disinfect it as well.
Note: Keep in mind that if your hamster is consistently getting mites despite your best efforts, then this could reflect an underlying condition that’s compromising your hamster’s immunity. A full examination at the vet could help catch and eliminate such a hidden disease.
How to Prevent Your Hamster From Getting Mites
Right now, we’re in the fortunate situation of having a healthy hamster. Whether you’ve just fought off an infection, or you’re trying to prevent it from happening.
Either way, you’ll need to follow these steps to keep this fortunate situation and allow your hamster to be as healthy as possible.
Keep the Cage Clean
All hamster owners know how messy these little furballs can be. They’re witty, energetic, and will cause a mess even around the cage.
To keep things under control, you should change your hamster’s bedding whenever it starts to get dirty. There’s no specific time for this, but a good rule is to do it at least once a week.
If you have any toys or hiding places in the cage, you should clean those too.
Additionally, you should give a deep clean to the whole cage at least once a month. This’ll ensure the best possible environment for your hamster.
Keep Your Hamster Clean
The concept of clean doesn’t necessarily mean regular bathing. In fact, you shouldn’t bathe your hamster unless there’s a visible stain on his fur, or if you’re instructed by your vet.
What we meant by keeping the hamster clean is to keep an eye on its fur, legs, ears, and nose. If you notice any dirt there, then use a clean tissue to wipe it away.
Having your hamster checked once or twice a year is also a great idea to catch anything before it becomes a bigger issue.
Don’t Introduce New Hamsters Right Away
We’re not saying don’t expand your hamster family, we’re only saying do it gradually. Aside from the risk of mite infection, you should also take it slow so that the hamsters will get to know each other.
The best way to have a win-win situation is to place the new hamster in a separate cage, but close to the old cage. That way, your hamster(s) will see their new buddy, and get used to it, but not touch it too soon.
When your new hamster settles in, and you’re sure that there are no symptoms, you may go ahead and place them all in one cage.
That’s everything for today. To sum it up, mites are small creatures that thrive in dirty environments. So it’s best to keep your hamster’s home clean and make sure that the new buddies are also clean.
If your hamster ends up with an infection, follow the vet’s instructions, and disinfect the whole cage. After you treat the condition, make sure to keep the environment clean to prevent future infections. Most importantly, do it all while wearing gloves to prevent getting the infection yourself.
I have a bachelor’s degree in Film/Video/Media Studies, as well as an associates degree in Communications. I began producing videos and musical recordings nearly 15 years ago. I am a guitarist and bassist in Southwest MI and have been in a few different bands since 2009, and in 2012 I began building custom guitars and basses in my home workshop as well. When I’m home, I love spending time with my three pets (a dog, cat, and snake) and gardening in my backyard. I also like photographing wild birds, especially birds of prey.