If your hamster is sneezing, you may think he just has a cold, but hamsters are not susceptible to either colds or the flu. They can get similar illnesses, however, and that’s often caused by their environment.
While a hamster sneezing may be awfully cute, and it is, there may be serious health issues behind that little noise.
When your hamster is sneezing, it may be a sign of either an upper respiratory infection or an allergy. Just like with their owners, hamsters are susceptible of a number of different allergies, so you may have introduced something to them and not realized it was an allergen.
What’s in His Cage?
There are several items that hamsters need in their cages to be comfortable and sanitary, but those items may cause an allergic reaction. If your hamster is sneezing, take a careful look at everything in his cage to determine which might be the allergen.
If you have a towel or blanket in the cage, try removing it or switching to a less harsh detergent and see if this curbs the sneezing. Avoiding fabric softener may also help.
Foods and Treats
Food and treats can also be the culprit. If you have introduced a new type of food, or even a different brand, the food may be what’s to blame. It’s common to try different treats for a hamster once ina while, and a new treat may be the problem.
If you haven’t changed the food, your hamster may have developed an allergy to one ingredient in it. Try to feed the hamster one type of seed or pellet at a time and add another as you see that it isn’t causing sneezing. Over a few days you can discover whether it’s one of the foods that is causing the problem.
One of the most common allergens in a hamster’s cage is his bedding. Many types of bedding are made from cedar or pine shavings, and these can be highly allergenic. He may like to build little nests with those shavings, but the oils and scents in them may be affecting him.
A hamster’s respiratory tract is tiny and very sensitive, so being around an allergen all day can cause a serious respiratory problem. Using paper small animal bedding is less allergenic and perfectly soft for your hamster to sleep in.
There are several commercial beddings that are made from recycled paper to give hamsters a soft place to bed that is oil and scent-free.
Cleaning the Cage
Play close attention to what you use to clean the cage. To keep it sanitary, you may be using an anti-bacterial cleaner when you change out the bedding.
This can be helpful for controlling bacteria, but these can be made from harsh chemicals that will cause sneezing and coughing. Consider using water and scrubbing it clean rather than using any harsh substances on it. If this doesn’t work, consider a mild, unscented soap to help you get it clean.
It’s possible for hamsters to pick up bacteria from each other. This can then turn into a bacterial infection. If you have two hamsters who fight, this can be especially dangerous.
Their nails may be tiny, but they can break the skin of another hamster and cause a wound that can easily become infected. A hamster may also spread bacteria to the food which is then eaten by another hamster who can get sick from it.
Outside the Cage
Just as your hamster is highly affected by everything in his cage, he can be affected by the environment outside of it. This includes scents in the air and the general condition of the room.
If the room has a lot of dust and is not regularly dusted, dust mites will be attracted to it, and this is a common allergen. Even if you don’t see dust in your hamster’s cage, some of it will settle in a dusty room right in your little friend’s cage.
Be sure to dust at least weekly to keep dust mites at bay and your hamster more comfortable.
Scents in the Air
It’s common these days to use some type of scent to create a better smell in the home. This may be essential oils in a diffuser or humidifier. It may also be the burning of candles or incense.
Many homes use room sprays or plug-in scents to keep a room smelling pleasant. However, all of these can cause irritation to a hamster’s nose that results in sneezing.
The best way to combat this is to simply not use these products in the same room as your hamster cage. If others are using scent products in the home, consider using an air cleaner with a HEPA filter near the cage to clean the air of these scents.
Also think about whether you or someone else in the home is using a strong perfume. It may be better to spray on the perfume after you have left the house to avoid causing irritation to your hamster.
If you are using highly scented soaps in the shower or your shampoo has a strong smell, consider switching to unscented varieties. The same goes for your laundry detergent. This can be especially important if you often handle your little furry friend.
When you think about all of the possible scented items that you use around the cage, you may not think about the cleaning supplies that get used in the room.
Products like window cleaner and other spray cleaners can have a strong scent that can become an irritant. Consider switching to unscented products or simply cleaning with water. Mixing up your own cleaning solution may be helpful.
Just put a small amount of unscented hand soap into the water and mix it into a useful cleaning agent. If you can’t get around the strong smells of standard cleaning products, try moving your hamster’s cage to a far corner or to another room entirely to help his respiratory system.
Other Causes of Respiratory Problems
If you’ve removed everything that could be causing a reaction and your hamster is still sneezing, it may be time to take him to a small animal vet.
They may be able to recommend an antihistamine that can be given in tiny doses to your hamster to make him feel better. Sometimes an allergen is simply something outdoors that is in bloom, and if a HEPA filter doesn’t take away the sneezing, an antihistamine may be the only option left.
There are other causes of sneezing, however, that are much more serious than respiratory irritants. One possibility is tumors in your hamster’s head and/or in the nose that cause sneezing.
These can be hard to diagnose, as few owners would be willing to get an MRI for their hamster, but it is a possibility. One symptom of this condition is a bloody discharge from the nose.
Symptoms of Respiratory Illnesses
Getting an upper respiratory tract infection is a common problem in small animals like hamsters. Sneezing may be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to these infections.
If your hamster has stopped drinking, is not eating much, seems lethargic much of the time, sleeps all the time, has breathing trouble, his fur becomes dull, his nose is runny, his eyes are crusty or sealed closed or he spends a lot of time shivering, you may need to see a vet about a serious health condition that may be curable with either antihistamines or antibiotics.
If an upper respiratory infection is left on its own without any treatment or removal of allergens, this condition can turn serious quickly. Hamsters can develop pneumonia, which is a lung infection that can be fatal to hamsters. It may be hard to get rid of pneumonia quickly enough to save your pet’s life.
If your pet isn’t eating a well-balanced diet, it may be making him more susceptible to respiratory infections. To keep his immune system able to fight off irritants before they become pneumonia, be sure that he is getting all of the vitamins and minerals that a hamster needs.
A poor diet can result from feeding a hamster only treats instead of meals full of a variety of nuts, pellets and seeds. Giving them the occasional slice of fresh fruit and vegetables can also help them to stay healthier.
A slice of apple, banana or carrot can be a fun treat as well as a boost to the immune system.