Ringworm in Hamsters: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Although the name ringworm might make one think the disease is caused by worms, it is in fact a fungal infection that affects the skin causing alopecic lesions with a reddish, scaly appearance.

It is a common illness in hamsters and usually starts on the head before spreading to other parts of the body. It is a treatable and manageable infection but humans should avoid contact with infected hamsters because ringworm can be passed to humans.

This article will focus on everything you should know about ringworm in hamsters such as:

ringworm infection in hamsters

What is ringworm in hamsters?

Ringworm is a fungal skin infection caused by the fungi Trichophyton mentagrophytes and Microsporum species. Also called dermatophytosis and medically known as tinea, hamsters get infected when the fungus enters their habitat, comes in contact with them, and bores into the hamster’s skin and hair follicles.

Ringworm is a zoonotic infection, which means it is contagious and transmissible to humans and vice versa. If your hamster has the infection, make sure to seek veterinary care and use protective gloves when handling your pet or when cleaning its cage.

Symptoms of ringworm in hamsters

While some hamsters do not show any sign of the infection, notable symptoms of ringworm in hamsters include bald patches that start on the head and face, crusty & flaky lesions where the patches form, and erythema or redness of the skin. The bald patches and lesions may spread to other parts of the body if the infection is left untreated. 

In severe cases, the lesions may become inflamed, infected, and filled with pus. You might also notice your hamster scratching itself due to itchiness. If you notice any of these symptoms then take your hamster to the vet as quickly as possible.

Causes of ringworm in hamsters

As mentioned above, ringworm is a fungal infection caused by the fungi Trichophyton mentagrophytes and Microsporum species. Transmission occurs mainly through contact with infected hamsters or contaminated items such as bedding in the cage. Hamsters can also get ringworm from humans.

The fungi that cause ringworm can occur in enabling environments with excessive humidity, poorly-ventilated plastic cages, moisture in bedding materials, overcrowding in the cage, and stress factors such as sudden habitat changes and poor husbandry.

Stressful situations can lead to immunosuppression making the hamsters more susceptible to infections including ringworm.

How hamsters get infected with ringworm

Hamsters get infected with ringworm mainly through contact. It could be direct contact with infected hamsters and other pets such as dogs and cats or rodents such as mice, rats, squirrels, porcupines, beavers, and guinea pigs.

Contact with contaminated items such as bedding and toys is another mode of infection. Keeping in mind that humans can transmit the infection to hamsters, you should always handle your hammy while wearing protective gloves.

One thing to keep in mind is that fungi spores can survive for up to two years. Therefore, thoroughly clean and sanitize hamster cages and any item an infected hamster might have come in contact with to prevent future infections.

Diagnosis of ringworm in hamsters

Your veterinarian may use any of the following options to diagnose if your hamster has ringworm.

a). Dermatological examinations

The vet will look for round-shaped alopecic lesions on the hamster’s face and parts such as the ears and nose. The lesions may be accompanied by inflammation, crusting, erythema, and scaling. If the infection has been left untreated for a long time, the lesions will also be found on other parts of the body.

b). Cytology

This involves taking a sample from the lesion edges and staining with Periodic Acid Schiff so that the spores and/or hyphae of the fungus causing the infection can be observed under the microscope.

c). Fungal culture

The vet will take a hair sample from the part where the lesions form and then grow it in a selective culture medium for fungi. Unfortunately, this procedure can take weeks and may not be ideal in some cases.

d). PCR

The procedure is quite similar to fungal culture as it involves taking samples of hair or skin from parts where the lesion forms. The advantage of this procedure is that it provides a diagnosis in a much shorter time.

Treatment of ringworm in hamsters

Treatment of ringworm in hamsters includes topical antiseptics, topical antifungals, oral antifungals, and sterilization of the cage. Disinfection of the cage should be done at least twice a week. You should get rid of any cage materials that cannot be disinfected.

Always follow strict biosecurity measures when administering treatment or disinfecting the cage to avoid getting infected. Wear gloves and protective clothing that covers every part of your body that could potentially come in contact with contaminated items.

Your vet will also recommend isolating the infected animals from other pets to prevent the infection from spreading to healthy pets.

Preventing hamsters from getting infected

Apart from keeping your hamster’s cage clean and its living space well-aerated, there are predisposing factors that increase the chances of infection. As mentioned above, stress causes immunosuppression, which makes the hamster more susceptible to infections.

We recommend that you read our previous article about the causes and signs of stress in hamsters. It is a guide on how to calm down a stressed hamster by providing a positive environment to make your lovely hammy feel safe and happy.

FAQs about ringworm in hamsters

Let’s have a look at a few common questions regarding ringworm in hamsters.

a). Is ringworm in hamsters contagious?

Yes, ringworm in hamsters is contagious and transmissible. Infected hamsters can spread the infection to other hamsters and pets through contact or sharing materials such as bedding. The infection is also transmissible to humans through contact with infected hamsters or contaminated materials.

b). Can ringworm kill hamsters?

Although ringworm is unlikely to kill a hamster, health complications may arise if the infection is left untreated for an extended period. This can be fatal if the infection starts to spread to other parts of the body.

c). How common is ringworm in hamsters?

Ringworm is not common in hamsters and is rarer in golden and dwarf hamsters. However, there are predisposing factors that increase the likelihood of a hamster getting the infection.