Usually your hamster is a little fluffy ball of fun, but what happens if they start to lose a bit of that fluff?
It can be scary to see a bald patch on your hamster, but don’t worry — most of the causes of hair loss are easy to fix, and it’s actually so common that it has its own special name in the veterinary world: alopecia. So what are some of the causes of alopecia, and what can you do about them?
Both common and easy to fix, friction is when your hamster loses hair from rubbing a certain spot on its body too much. This could be caused by the hamster itself licking or biting certain areas repeatedly in an overzealous grooming practice, or could be that they’re rubbing up against a fixture in their environment too often.
Face sores are often caused by leaky water bottles that cause water to run down their chins when they’re trying to drink, or by rubbing their face on the bars of wire cages. For the water bottle, it should be obvious what to do — fix it, or get a better one. In terms of cage friction, this is often a sign of stress caused by a cage that is too small for their needs, meaning that you should get your hamster a larger cage, preferably not a wire one.
Hair loss on the legs may be caused overuse of a metal hamster wheel, which often rubs up against the same spots repeatedly. There are many alternatives to metal hamster wheels that may not be as abrasive, or the simplest solution may be just to remove the hamster wheel for a short period of time until the fur grows back. If the fur doesn’t grow back, then you’ll know that something else is causing the alopecia.
Depending on the type of your hamster, their fur may be thinner at some times of the year than others, usually in spring or fall. That’s because, just like cats and dogs, hamsters shed regularly. This is not a cause for concern and actually means that your hamster is quite healthy.
Much like humans, hamsters require a diet rich in vitamins to keep them up and running, and fur loss can be a sign that they aren’t quite getting all the vitamins they need. Usually, fur loss occurs because of a deficiency in Vitamin B, or a lack of protein in the hamster’s diet. In this case, you should ask your vet what diet would be right for your hamster. They will likely recommend that you supplement your hamster’s regular food with fresh fruits and veggies, cooked eggs, cheese, or whole-grain pasta. They might also recommend that you give your furball water-soluble vitamin packets that are specifically designed for small pets, but make sure that your vet recommends this before you move forward with it.
Hamsters only rarely get ticks — they don’t venture outdoors, so they have to catch them from somewhere else, usually you or your other pets that roam around outside. Ticks usually prefer warmer weather and are dormant in the winter, but deer ticks — most common on the east coast of the US — are active all year ‘round. A tick will often look either like a little black dot with legs or a swollen gray lump embedded if your hamster’s skin. Because the hamsters can feel the bite, they often scratch at the tick, and this is what causes them to lose fur in that area.
When removing a tick, you have to be careful to ensure that you get all of the head and mouth parts out of the skin. Tweezers or even fingernails will usually do the trick, if you’re not too squeamish. If you’re nervous about getting it right, there are tick removal tools that can help you, or your vet will be happy to lend you some assistance.
Although fleas are also pretty rare for hamsters, they can be itchy and cause your hamster to scratch its fur away. It should be easy enough to see if your hamster has fleas — they’re visible to the naked eye, and their droppings, known as flea dirt, appear as little black dots among your hamster’s fur. An easy way to tell flea dirt from actual dirt is to brush a small portion of it out of the fur and onto a paper towel, then wet it. If it’s actually flea dirt, it will turn red because of quantity of blood in it.
There are many products made specifically to clear up fleas, but make sure to get the ones specifically marketed for hamsters. Clean your hamster’s cage thoroughly, as well as throwing out their old bedding and any other permeable materials within the cage. That should ensure that all fleas and their eggs are eliminated.
Mites are much more common than either ticks or fleas for hamsters, and, unlike the other two, they are invisible to the naked eye. These mites don’t cause a problem if they’re in small numbers, but if your hamster has a weakened immune system, irregular grooming patterns, or is stressed, the mites will be quick to take advantage of that and increase their numbers. Sure signs of mites include reddened skin, rough dry patches, and, of course, hair loss. The vet can confirm your suspicions by taking skin samples and viewing them under a microscope.
Like fleas, mites are treated with topical sprays or powders that will be readily available in most pet stores — just get the ones labeled for use on hamsters. Make sure to clean your hamster’s cage with warm water, get rid of bedding and soft toys, and disinfect any other items in the cage.
Despite what you might think, hot spots are actually pretty rare in hamsters, and the other sore spots mentioned in this article do not count as hot spots. Hot spots are actually open, oozing wounds that are caused by a fungal infection that makes your hamster so itchy that they actually chew their own fur and skin off.
This is, of course, very uncomfortable, so if your hamster has a small, open wound that won’t heal, be sure to address it right away. Make sure that your vet tests for fungal rather than bacterial infection, as if a fungal hot spot is mistaken for some other bacterial infection, the vet may prescribe antibiotics that will do nothing while making your pet even more uncomfortable.
Hamsters can become allergic to substances in their cage, usually their bedding, which can cause them to develop a rash and lose some fur. For this reason, cedar wood shavings should never be used for your hamster’s bedding — oils within the wood are too strong for the hamster’s sensitive skin. Dyed paper bedding can also be irritating, as well as dyed food. Thankfully, this problem is easily fixed — just find some better bedding and provide your hamster with a more natural diet.
Hamsters, like all animals, can get ringworm. These fungal infections will appear as a distinctive ring of hair loss with flaky, yellowed skin. Be very careful when handling a hamster who you believe has ringworm, as the fungus is contagious to humans — always wear gloves. Ringworm in hamsters is most often caused by an environment that is too humid, so if you want to prevent this fungus in the first place, make sure your hamster’s enclosure is well-ventilated.
There are many topical shampoos to treat ringworm. Most of these contain miconazole, povidone iodine, or keratolytic, and any of them should do the trick. If your hamster has long hair, you might consider trimming it to ensure that the treatment can reach the affected area. This treatment should be accompanied by a thorough cleaning of your hamster’s enclosure.
This is the scary section where we tell you the larger diseases that hair loss might indicate, but remember that the causes before these are much more common and should be your first consideration when your hamster starts losing hair. That being said, hamster hair loss can indicate that your hamster has T-cell lymphoma, a cancer that attacks the skin, or kidney inflammations. These are very rare, but if you think this may be the case for your furball, check it out with your vet.
Less worryingly, hair loss can often be an indication of hormonal imbalances. This should not severely affect your hamster’s quality of life as long as you keep them warm in the absence of their luscious fur coat. They may also just be losing fur because of old age — not much you can do about that.
It’s likely that your hamster’s hair loss is one caused by one of the unintimidating, easy-to-fix sources, but if you’re unsure about why your hamster is losing fur, you should always ask your veterinarian. Armed with these tips, and your veterinarian’s help, you’ll be able to get your furball back to full fur capacity in no time!