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Hamster With Gunk In Eye

What is going on with a hamster that has a swollen, pink eye with discharge?

Karen Rosenthal, DVM, MS
Posted: September 11, 2014, 1 a.m. EDT

Syrian hamster eyes
© Gina Cioli/I-5 Studio
A healthy hamster has clear, bright eyes with no hair loss around them.

Q: I have a 3-year-old hamster that was perfect until a couple of weeks ago when she started to be very sluggish and slept a lot. I thought it could be old age. The next morning when I checked on her she had some gunk in her eye. I wiped it off, but it progressively got way worse. Her left eye is swollen and pink, and she’s also losing hair around it. I’m so scared. What is going on? I plan to take her to a veterinarian as soon as I can find one nearby.

A: When hamsters develop eye disease, like many other animals, there can be an unusual amount of build up of material near the eyes. This material can include white blood cells, either due to infection or inflammation, and as it dries, it can look like what we may call "gunk.” 

Infections can be due to many types of bacteria. Inflammation can be due to eye conditions such as cataracts, corneal injuries and even glaucoma. As this material (the gunk) dries, it sticks to the hair. Once your hamster tries to clean the area, it is not easy to get this dried material off the hair and the hair is pulled out along with the "gunk.” Now you have material building up around the eyes and hair loss around the eyes. 

This tells us that your hamster has an eye condition, but we cannot yet determine the exact cause as so many eye conditions look just like what you describe. What your veterinarian will do is gently remove any remaining material and then examine the eye and the tissues around the eye. If antibiotics or anti-inflammatories are needed, these can be given either orally or as eye drops.

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Posted: September 11, 2014, 1 a.m. EDT

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