Posted: September 27, 2010, 5 a.m. EDT
Q: I have a dwarf hamster that is only about 8 months old. She lived with another dwarf hamster that is a year and a half old. She lost the fur on her belly and legs. She also has crusty skin with bumps on her that look like dead skin buildup. She isn't old, so I was wondering what this could be. I feed her hamster food and veggies. She eats a lot of lettuce.
A: I agree that a hamster that is 8 months is not old, but she is also no longer a baby, either. Your description of the skin and hair loss is very good, and a number of diseases can cause what you are seeing. The diseases fall into two categories: hormonal or infectious.
In an 8-month-old hamster, an infectious cause is more likely, especially because your hamster was with at least one other hamster. The infectious causes include skin parasites that may be too small to see with the naked eye. These external parasites may preferentially want to live on hamsters and may not affect you or other animals in the house. A veterinarian can check for these parasites and the eggs that they lay by looking at some hairs and the discarded top layer of skin under the microscope.
Another cause of skin and hair disease is a fungal infection. Fungal infections are seen in hamsters and are slightly more difficult to find than parasites. The veterinarian will take hairs from your hamster and put them on a culture dish and watch to see if a fungus starts to grow in a couple of days. Both parasites and fungal infections can be treated.
Some hormonal diseases can cause hair loss and give the skin the appearance you described. The most common endocrine disease is Cushing’s disease, which is a disorder of the adrenal glands. This is more challenging for a veterinarian to diagnose but with some advanced techniques, a diagnosis can be made and treatment can be attempted.
Finally, if your hamster was older, a type of skin cancer can cause what you are observing.
The best thing you can do is to bring your hamster to the veterinarian and have him or her make the diagnosis and start appropriate treatment.
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