Skin Abscesses in Hamsters

PetMD Editorial
July 22, 2010
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Inflammatory Lesions in Hamsters

Skin abscesses are essentially infected pockets of pus under the skin. In hamsters, they are usually caused by bacterial infections from wounds received during fights with cage mates or from injuries caused by sharp objects found in the cage such as wood shavings.

When encountered, skin abscesses should be immediately assessed and treated by a veterinarian to prevent the infection from spreading throughout the hamster’s body.

Symptoms

Skin abscesses are often located around the hamster's head, though they can occur anywhere on the body. The swelling may be felt or seen beneath the hair, and the area will be red and sensitive to your touch. If the abscess has ripened then it pits when pressure is applied. A hamster's cheeks and lymph nodes around the neck may even be swollen if the infection is severe. If the abscess ruptures, pus may ooze out and soil the surrounding hair.

Causes

Skin abscesses may occur after bite wounds or other trauma sites become infected. Injuries received from sharp objects such as wood shavings can also lead to infection and abscesses.

Diagnosis

A physical examination will be used to differentiate from other common skin conditions such as cysts and hematomas. The examination will include puncturing the abscess and collecting blood and/or pus samples to identify the type of bacteria causing the infection.

Treatment

Before rupturing the abscess and completely draining and flushing it with an antiseptic solution, your veterinarian will assess the abscess and decide whether to surgically remove it or apply topical heat-producing ointments, so as to ripen the abscess. (Appropriate topical antibiotic creams may be applied as needed.) Skin abscesses removed surgically often heal better than those that are lanced, drained, and flushed.

If the flank glands, which are found in males over the hip, are infected, your veterinarian may shave the area around them, clean them, and apply ointment with antibiotics and steroids.

Living and Management

If your pet hamster has undergone surgery to remove the abscess, follow all postoperative procedures as recommended by your veterinarian. Restrain the animal so that it does not groom the affected area and interfere in the healing process. In addition, consult your veterinarian about routine dressing changes for the area in which the abscess has been removed.

Prevention

To best prevent skin abscesses from forming, make the hamster's cage has no sharp edges or objects that can cause injuries such as jagged wood shaving. Separating hamsters that are known to fight can also lower the chances of abscess-forming wounds from occurring.