Ectoparasitic Skin Disease in Hamsters
It is actually common to find mites on hamsters, but typically only in small numbers that do not bother the host animal. However, their numbers may increase dramatically due to a weakened or underdeveloped immune system, irregular grooming, and/or stress in the hamster.
If treated promptly, mite infestation need not become a serious health concern. Also, it can be prevented by maintaining a clean living area for your hamster.
Symptoms and Types
Mites are generally hard to see with the naked eye, especially the Demodex species that commonly affects hamsters. The hamster's skin may appear irritated, inflamed, or reddened, especially around the ears, face, feet, and tail. Due to its intense urge to scratch at the affected areas, it may attempt to rubbing itself on cage wire. Other common signs of mite infestation include:
- Rough, dry, and scaly skin (in prolonged cases)
- Hair loss, especially on back and rump
Although hamsters are most frequently infested with the Demodex criceti and Demodex aurati mite species, they may occasionally be affected by ear mites, nose mites, and tropical rat mites. Often, mite infestation occurs in males and older hamsters due to stress, malnutrition, and a weakened immune system. Newborns may also be affected because of their underdeveloped immune systems.
Clinical symptoms such as irritated skin and intense scratching may lead your veterinarian to suspect a case of mite infestation. However, the only way to confirm mite infestation and identify the species type is to acquire a skin scraping of the affected area and examine it under a microscope.
As with other cases of ectoparasitic infestation, mite infestation is treated by topical application of mite-killing medicated dusts and sprays. Shampoos that contain selenium sulfide or ointments that contain the medicine amitraz may be used for this purpose. Meanwhile, Ivermectin is the drug of choice for treating cases of ear mite, nose mite, or tropical rat mite infestation.
Living and Management
Establish a drug regimen with your veterinarian and bring it in regularly for follow-up exams. In addition, clean and disinfect the hamster's cage and lay out fresh bedding material before placing the hamster back into its cage. There may still be mite eggs and nits that may cause reinfestation.
The best way to prevent mite infestation is by providing a clean, stress-free living area for your hamster. Proper care and nutrition will also lower the risk of mite infestation.