Hamsters are pretty hardy animals, but any injury and illness can easily turn fatal due to their small size. This is made worse by the fact that few vets are experienced in hamster care. So, you need to be on the lookout to spot any illness and find treatment as soon as possible.
Eye infection is one of the common issues that affect most hamsters. Failure to take quick action to find treatment can lead to blindness. It’s important to understand what eye infections in hamsters look like, common causes, as well as treatment options.
Here we will discuss the different types and symptoms of eye problems in hamsters, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention to help you care for your furry friend.
Types of eye problems in hamsters
Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is an eye problem where the tissues surrounding the hamster’s eye become inflamed and irritated. Common causes of pink eye include eye injury due to trauma from hamster fights or the cage, dirty beddings, and dental issues like an overgrown tooth.
Symptoms of conjunctivitis
- Redness and swelling around the eyelids
- Crusting around the eyelids if infected
- Eye discharge
2. Corneal ulcers
Corneal ulcers occur when the eye gets irritated or scratched. It is mostly caused by injuries from other hamsters or the cage and bedding rubbing on the eye. The condition is very painful and can progress quickly, thus requiring immediate attention.
Symptoms of corneal ulcers
- Regular rubbing and shutting of the eye
- Eye looking cloudy
- Ocular discharge
- A red sclera, which can be swollen
- Decreased appetite due to pain
Exophthalmos or proptosis is an emergency situation where the entire hamster’s eye comes out due to an injury or infection. Proptosis can lead to eye loss, and therefore, you should call the vet for immediate care.
Some of the injuries that can cause the problem include accidental stepping on the hamster, rough handling, and attack by larger pets such as dogs or cats.
Symptoms of proptosis
- Bulging of the eye
- Eyeball becomes slightly enlarged
- Watery discharge
Stickiness is a condition where the hamster secretes excess fluids that glue the eyelids together when it dries up. Eventually, the hamster may not be able to open one or both eyes after sleep. The issue is more common with older pets.
Symptoms of stickiness
- Dry fluid on the outside of the eye
- Inability to open one or both eyes
Entropion is a genital disorder that mostly affects Syrian and dwarf breeds. It causes the eyelid to turn inwards, leading to irritation, excessive tearing, decreased vision, and pain. Mostly, the situation can only be treated by vets and sometimes require corrective surgery.
Symptoms of entropion
- Watery eyes
- Eyelid twitching
- Aggression due to pain
- Squinting and rubbing
Diagnosing eye problems in hamsters
Since most eye problems in hamsters exhibit similar symptoms, you may need the help of a vet to diagnose the exact infection. The vet will use lenses, stains, special eye drops, and lights based on what they suspect.
However, you may diagnose proptosis independently due to its distinct symptoms of budging eyes. However, you will still need the intervention of the veterinarian for treatment.
A swab of any remains present in or around the eye may also be examined to determine whether or not there is a bacterial infection. If bacteria are found, the vet may then perform a culture to know which kind it is to inform the right cause of treatment.
Treatments for eye infections in hamsters
Treatment for eye infections in hamsters is mostly dependent on the specific problem and extent of the damage. If you can diagnose that your hamster has an eye infection that is still in the initial stages, you can try to treat it using home remedies.
However, if there are advanced symptoms such as too much swelling, the puss has started forming, or proptosis, you will need the help of a professional.
1. Home remedies for eye infections in hamsters
Below are the steps you can follow to treat your furry friend at home;
- Form a saline solution by dissolving 1 tsp of salt in a cup of warm water.
- Get a clean Q-tip or cotton ball and dip it in the saline solution. Ensure it is not dripping.
- Hold your hamster gently and use the wet Q-tip or cotton ball to wipe the infected eye (s). It is recommended to use a separate cotton ball for each eye. DO NOT re-dip a used cotton ball in the mixture. Use a new one each time until the infected eye area is clean.
- Hold the hamster until the cleaned eye area is dry, then let it back to the cage or quarantine cage.
- Repeat the same process every 6 hours or as soon as you notice discharge around the infected eye.
2. Vet interventions
It’s advisable to seek veterinary help if the eye problem doesn’t resolve within 48 hours of home remedy. The vet will diagnose the problem and treat it accordingly. Some of the interventions include:
a). Topical medication
The vet can clean the infected eye area with a warm, wet cloth and use artificial tears or saline solution to lubricate it. He may also recommend topical medication or, in some cases, oral medication.
b). Ocular ointment/eye drops
If your hamster suffers from corneal ulcers or conjunctivitis, the vet will likely prescribe a medicated ointment or eye drops. You will then be required to apply the topical medication once or twice a day for 1-2 weeks when the issue is expected to resolve.
The vet may prescribe pain medications and antibiotics for serious eye problems.
Surgery in case of proptosis. The vet may surgically remove bulging eye(s) depending on the extent of the damage. Sometimes, the vet can gently push back the protruding eye to its place.
N/B: Even after surgical removal of the eye, the hamsters can still lead a quality life; one because their vision is generally poor, and secondly, they have a strong sense of smell.
How to prevent eye problems in hamsters
Prevention is always better than cure. And although you cannot prevent all eye infections in hamsters, there are some simple handling and cage hygiene care tips that can help you reduce the risk.
1. Keep their cage and surrounding area clean
Hamsters are very sensitive to dust and their eyes can easily get irritated. Keep their cage, beddings, and toys clean. Change the beddings at least once per week and keep the surrounding environment clean.
2. Gently handle the hamsters
Gently handle the hamsters at all times, as holding or hugging them tightly may cause proptosis. Supervise children to ensure they do not restrain the hamsters too tightly as this can lead to injuries, including eye injuries.
3. Routine dental care
Irregular or overgrown teeth can eventually cause eye problems in hamsters. Follow routine dental care such as providing a good diet, appropriate items to chew, and occasionally checking their teeth to keep them healthy.
4. Manage hamsters around other pets
Never leave hamsters unattended around cats and dogs to avoid eye and other serious injuries. Hamsters can also harm themselves. If you notice aggressive ones, separate them from the rest or separate the one being bullied from the others. Generally, it is best to keep hamsters as individual pets.
FAQs about eye infections in hamsters
Can an eye infection kill a hamster?
Eye infections in hamsters are rarely fatal. Even in the unfortunate event when they lose their eyes, they still can lead a quality life.
Can a hamster live without an eye?
Yes, hamsters can still lead a healthy, happy life without the eyes. Hamsters can become blind over time or suffer irreversible eye injuries that render them blind. However, the hamster can still enjoy a good life provided you keep everything going as usual.
Eye infection is one of the issues affecting hamsters, and you should be on the lookout for any symptoms highlighted above. You can always start with home remedies but if the situation doesn’t improve or is in an adverse stage, consult an experienced vet.