Signs of Illness in Hamsters

by Sam Mazzotta

DEAR PAW’S CORNER: One of my pet hamsters died just a week after I got it at the pet store. I would really like to know why it died, because the pet store would not tell me. The only clue I have is that it had a wet tail before it died. I’d like to get another hamster, but how do I know if I’m getting a healthy pet from the store? - Hamster Lover

DEAR HAMSTER LOVER: That’s an important question, and one all potential hamster owners should pay attention to. Many, if not all, pet stores have “as is” policies regarding hamsters and other very small pets like goldfish, because so many of them fall ill or die soon after being purchased. But you certainly don’t want to bring home a hamster that’s already sick — not only are you stuck with trying to make it well, but the illness can quickly spread among your other hamsters.

When purchasing a new hamster, look for these telltale signs of illness or injury:

- Wet tail (indicates diarrhea, a clear symptom of illness or worms)

- Lethargic, with dull eyes

- Huddles in one corner for a long time, doesn’t respond quickly to being picked up or petted

- Runny nose and watery eyes

- Rough, matted or patchy fur

- Bites or scratches from other hamsters.

If you notice any of these signs, don’t buy that hamster, and notify store management so that it can isolate the sick hamsters from the healthy ones.

I also recommend that anyone wanting to keep a hamster collect as much information on caring for these small pets as possible. A smaller pet is not necessarily an easier pet to keep — it depends entirely upon you for its health and welfare.

Send your tips, questions and comments to Paws Corner, c/o King Features Weekly Service, P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475, or e-mail them to

4 thoughts on “Signs of Illness in Hamsters

  1. Tracy

    We bought a hamster for our daughter and 2 weeks later she had babies. To keep it short, we still have 2 of the babies. One seems to have diarrhea, and his fur is scruffier than the other 2 females we have. I wonder how he could get diarrhea if his mom is healthy? He’s never been exposed to any other hamsters…He also has what I now know is bumble foot, which we are caring for and it is much better. We discovered a burr on his wheel which is now padded.

  2. Victoria

    I have three hamsters, all male. I d ont know if their trying to find out who is the alfa or something, but they fight. Like i’ve had them biting their eyes, mouth, and backs. So i put them all in different cages, will that make them lonely?

  3. paul

    well, hamsters squeak alot… or at least mine does, i guess since he is a old hamster he may be sick. you should check for all of the symptoms (listed above). I wish you luck!

  4. Sam

    My hamster keeps squeaking at and when i go and check on him he either stops or i have to wake him up by picking up the igloo thing he sleeps in. I am getting fairly worried though casue he is almost 3 years old in February. What do I do if he dies?

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