Your hamster's coat
Your hamster's fur is a good way of checking how well he is. If he has a sleek coat he is likely to be well, but if it is dull and ruffled it could be a sign that he is getting ill.
Hamsters constantly groom themselves and short-coated hamsters don't need any help from you until they become old or ill. To prepare for this time, you could get him used to being brushed with a soft toothbrush.
Longhaired hamsters can't groom themselves properly. You will need to brush a longhaired hamster regularly and gently with a soft toothbrush so that his coat doesn't become matted. Get your hamster used to this while he is young and before his coat grows to its full length. Unless he falls into something sticky, don't ever bathe your hamster.
If small mats and tangles appear in your hamster's coat, try to tease them apart with your fingers. Larger mats should be snipped out with scissors, but take care not to cut the skin.
Constantly growing teeth
Your hamster's teeth grow constantly, so he needs to continually wear them down by gnawing. For this reason, Habitrail® OVO offers Cardboard Chewable Mazes, in 4 designs, so your hamster can chew on the treats you insert in the maze and on the maze itself. As well, Living World Sticks and other items for gnawing are not just a treat, but are necessary to keep your hamster's teeth healthy. If your hamster is dribbling or having eating problems, it's likely that he has problems with his teeth or they have become overgrown and need clipping by a vet.
A clean bottom
Check your hamster's bottom daily. If it is dirty it means he has diarrhea. This could be because he is stressed, you have not kept his habitat clean or he has had too much fresh food. Hamsters sometimes get a very serious form of diarrhea called "wet tail". If your hamster develops this, you must take him to the vet immediately for treatment. Before you put him back in his home, thoroughly clean and disinfect it so that he doesn't get infected again.
Colds and pneumonia
If your hamster coughs and sneezes, has a discharge from his nose and a poor appetite it is likely that he has caught a cold. Keep him warm and put him in a quiet place and if he doesn't get any better take him to the vet or it may develop into pneumonia. You can prevent your hamster catching a cold by giving him plenty of bedding and keeping his home out of drafts in a room between 18°C and 24°C (64°F to 75°F). Hamsters can catch colds from humans so avoid handling him if you have a cold.
Old hamsters may get bald patches on their fur, but if a younger hamster loses fur or gets flaky skin, it may be due to his eating too many peanuts, sunflower seeds or biscuits. Patches of bald, scabby skin could be caused by mites, ringworm or mange. You should take your hamster to the vet quickly so that he can be treated before it gets serious. When handling your hamster, check his skin for lumps as these may be abscesses or tumours. These also need a visit to the vet for checking and treatment.
Most hamster injuries are caused by falls. Your hamster is likely to suffer from shock after a fall so put his home in a warm, dark place and check on him every few hours. If you think your hamster has broken a leg take him to the vet to be treated. Wash any small cuts and bites with a weak salt solution, but if your hamster has cut his pouch carrying a sharp object, you should take him to the vet straight away. Signs that he has done this are his face swelling (when his pouch is empty), he is generally distressed, has lost his appetite and is having difficulty breathing.
In hot weather, make sure your hamster's home is in a shady place with lots of ventilation. If placed in direct sunlight he could develop heat stroke, which can be fatal. He would collapse twitching and trembling. Move his habitat immediately to a cooler area and he should recover slowly.