Posted: August 27, 2011, 5 a.m. EDT
Q: What may possibly be causing my hamster's front feet to be turned inward almost to a 90 degree angle all of a sudden? She also falls over due to this and struggles to walk. I have had my golden hamster, Lucy, for almost 2 years now, indicating an idea of her age. She appeared to have had a stroke earlier this year (only by my opinion, no diagnosis). She was wobbly and leaned to one side for a day or two. She appeared paralyzed on one of her sides and had trouble standing up on her hind feet to look around. She eventually bounced back to normal.
The main/current issue: She has been perfectly healthy ever since, until this past week she has really gone downhill. I suspect it is her time to be passing, as she is almost 2 years old. I give her daily attention, but one day I looked at her and her ears were down, pinned to her head, her eyes very sunken/smaller than usual, and her face very skinny and elongated. This is when I saw that her feet were angled inward very strangely, and she wobbles so badly when she walks that she can't even stand up without falling over onto her back or side. She has been like this for about five days now and not showing any improvement.
Her cage emits an unusually strong odor to what I think would be her urine as opposed to her feces. Her hind end is usually saturated with light-colored pee. Sometimes perfectly dry, indicating that it isn't wet tail disease. She eats very well, still drinks, and although she sleeps more than normal she still has the power to run on her wheel and in her ball when I wake her up.
What might be going on with her? The reason I have not taken her to a vet is because she shows no signs of pain and still eats, drinks and attempts to exercise the best she can.
A: From what you describe, it seems like your hamster is very sick and could benefit from a visit to the veterinarian. The changing position of the front feet could signify a number of physiologic problems. Veterinarians approach an issue like this by examining the structures responsible for maintaining proper balance and movement.
First, we would palpate her muscles and bones to make sure there are no deformities, swellings, fractures or other trauma. Then we would examine the neurologic function of the legs, including the ability to feel pain, walk properly, balance and her ability to determine where her feet are placed spatially. Next we would look at other neurologic functions to determine if she has neurologic deficits that indicate a lesion in the higher functioning areas of the brain and spinal cord.
Based on what you tell us and the physical examination, we would consider diseases such as infections, cancer, degenerative causes and even toxins as the cause to the signs that are apparent in your hamster.
You bring up a good point — at first your hamster appeared very sick and then she seemed to rally. Now she seems so healthy to you, you are not sure you should even visit a veterinarian. The ability to “hide” disease is a common characteristic of many of our small mammal pets (and birds), which makes it difficult for both owners and veterinarians to know if these animals are sick.
This ability to hide illness is desirable if a hamster is out in the wild, but in a home situation we want to know when our pets are sick. This is another reason to visit your veterinarian, even if your hamster now appears “healthy.” Your doctor will be able to determine, through an examination, if your hamster has rallied on her own to recover or is just hiding signs of illness.
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