Skin is the largest organ in or on any mammal’s body. It protects from outside pathogens and keeps everything that should be inside, well… in. Skin issues are often a visual clue to a creature’s underlying health, and this is no different for small mammal pets.
In this article, we’ll be looking at
- Hot spots: why they usually aren’t the culprit for small mammals
- Hamster skin issues
- Rabbit skin issues
Is it a hot spot?
So here’s the thing, a lot of the time, you’ll hear “hot spot” used to describe any kind of sore that a pet may have, but hot spots (aka acute moist dermatitis) are actually a very specific kind of sore; they are a symptom rather than a disease and occur mostly in dogs and cats. Hot spots are usually caused by an infection (bacterial or fungal) or some other kind of irritation (bug bite or thorn or small cut, for example) and is a place where your pet has literally chewed the fur and skin right off, leaving an open, oozy wound that won't heal.” It’s important to notice whether the skin irritation on your pet looks more like a sore or rash and whether or not it’s open/oozing. (Yes, we know that’s gross, but hot spots are unfortunately both gross and uncomfortable for your pet so you should always pay close attention to their skin and behavior). Unlike with most rashes or sores, with hot spots, often the infection is fungal, not bacterial, so make sure your vet tests for the cause because treatments differ. If antibiotics are given when fungus is present, the fungus will bloom and grow and the hot spot will get worse while your pet also has to deal with unnecessary antibiotics which may have other side effects.
In general, the kinds of rashes and sores that pet owners think are hot spots are actually just caused by more regular skin irritants, but if they are left untreated, these areas can become hot spots. Now how does this apply to hamsters and rabbits? Well, it applies in that for the most part, these small mammals don’t get hot spots, but they can get other serious skin issues, so you should be familiar with these.
Hamsters are susceptible to a variety of skin conditions hamsters do get sores on their skin that are very similar to the affliction of cats and dogs. Fur can trap bacteria and heat, leading to the formation of the sores. Most often, they’re found on the stomach, sides, and head.
There are a variety of other things that can cause sores on hamsters:
- Chin sores: Can be caused by leaky water bottles that run down their chins as they try to drink or from the hamster rubbing its face on the bars of their cage (if they live in a wire cage). The face rubbing can be a result of anxiety or stress if their cage is too small, so watch for that and other possible stressors as well.
- Leg sores: Sometimes the metal exercise wheels that hamsters use can cause enough repetitive friction against their legs that sores eventually form and are worsened by bacteria and other factors if they’re not found.
- Other sores: Hamsters, like cats or dogs, can over-groom themselves, repeatedly biting or licking certain areas, and this can cause sores and hot spots anywhere on the body.
Hamsters are susceptible to mites, which can be incredibly hard to see with the naked eye, especially if they’re the Demodex species which commonly affect hamsters. Rather than looking for the mites first, you should look at the skin of your hamster. If it appears irritated, inflamed, or reddened (especially around the ears, face, feet, and tail), this may as a result of your hamster scratching the affected areas. Some other symptoms of mite infestation are rough, dry, and scaly skin (which lasts for extended periods of time) and hair loss on the back and rump. If you notice these, then it’s time to look for mites, but even if you don’t see any, you should take your hamster to the vet for them to confirm the cause of the skin irritation. To do this, they’ll have to take a skin sample to examine under a microscope.
Mites are treated by applying a topical mite-killing medicated dust or spray. Sometimes shampoos that contain ointments with amitraz can be used, as can shampoos with selenium sulfide. These are the active ingredients that will kill the mites. A vet may also prescribe Ivermectin as a treatment for ear mites, nose mites, or tropical rat mites (all of which are less common). In addition to treating your hamster directly, you should also clean out their cage and replace old bedding with new after disinfecting everything else. You want to make sure you get rid of any and all mite eggs and nits that may still be present, as these can cause a reinfestation.
Rabbits are prone to very similar skin conditions as hamsters, and treatments are very similar as well. As with any creature, skin health can be a good indicator of the rest of their general health. Unhealthy skin is a surefire way to find other underlying health issues.
Fleas and Mites
Rabbits can get both fleas and mites as a result of environmental factors. Fleas can be anywhere on the rabbit, while mites are most commonly found in/around the ears and face/neck area. Symptoms of both infestations include patches of fur falling out and irritated, red skin along with increased scratching. Treatment for mites includes injectable or oral ivermectin, given in treatments two weeks apart. More recently, Revolution (selamectin) has been prescribed and used effectively. Flea treatments include Advantage (imidacloprid) or Revolution (both used at a kitten dose or cat dose depending on the size of the rabbit) applied topically once a month.
Ear mites can cause crusty patches in and around the ears, and sometimes these mites can be seen moving with the naked eye. Treatments are similar to that of mites found elsewhere on the rabbit. As always, consult your veterinarian before starting any kind of treatment.
A lot of treatments for skin issues in rabbits include dip-baths or shampoos, but there have been reports of rabbits going into shock and even dying as a result of this shock after being given a dip bath. There is no known medical reason for this, but a generally accepted theory is that wet rabbits can easily succumb to hypothermia and shock as a result of temperature difference during and after the bath. If you bathe your rabbit (whether as a treatment for a skin disease or as a general practice), make sure that the water is slightly warm (not hot!) and that you are watching your rabbit closely after the bath for signs of shock.
Small mammal pets require just as much care and attention as larger pets like cats or dogs, and they’re susceptible to similar skin conditions. Be sure to watch them closely for changes in behavior or changes in their skin and fur to ensure that they are happy and healthy.