What Is Ringworm in Hamsters?
Have you ever spotted an area on your hamster where the hair looks thinner? Perhaps the skin looks dry, and maybe a little red. These signs could mean your hamster is suffering from ringworm.
Ringworm is a common condition amongst hamsters, particularly seen in the very petite dwarf hamster. Some hamsters show no symptoms at all, while others will have mild bald patches. Severely affected animals could have skin changes over most of the body. Humans and rodents alike can become infected with ringworm and pass the infection to one another.
If you notice ringworm symptoms in your hamster, seek veterinary care as soon as possible.
Symptoms of Ringworm in Hamsters
The signs of ringworm vary dramatically between animals—with some showing no symptoms, and others with severe signs. For those showing a lot of skin changes, a veterinarian may recommend additional testing to look for problems such as Demodex (a skin mite) which can make a mild case of ringworm more severe.
Common signs of ringworm in hamsters include:
Bald patches often on the head, neck, chest, or forelegs
Dry, flaky skin that looks like dandruff
Scaly or crusty skin
A thickening of the skin, especially on the underside (stomach) area
A red rash which is often circular in appearance
Causes of Ringworm in Hamsters
Ringworm is not actually caused by a worm—but rather by a fungal infection. There are several different funguses which are involved, with Trichophyton mentagrophytes being the most common. This fungus is easily passed between animals, and many hamsters become infected when exposed to an animal carrying the infection.
Hamsters can also contract the fungus through exposure to contaminated bedding or catch the fungus from their humans. If your hamster has ringworm, it’s important to make an appointment with your own healthcare provider, since the virus can spread between hamster and human.
How Veterinarians Diagnose Ringworm in Hamsters
Sometimes, the clinical signs are common enough that a veterinarian will be able to make a diagnosis based on the physical exam, combined with a Woods light test. A woods light test looks for glowing hair consistent with the fungus under a special UV light.
If a more definitive diagnosis is needed, a veterinarian will take a small sample of skin or fur for a fungal culture. A sample of the fungal culture is then sent for lab testing to determine the type of fungus detected.
Occasionally, a veterinarian may put a sample of fur under the microscope, looking for evidence of fungal spores.
In any ringworm case that is severe (infection covering a large part of the body, or affecting the pet’s ability to eat/move around), or not responding appropriately to therapy, a veterinarian will most likely recommend additional testing to look for conditions such as Demodex, malignancies, or additional underlying health issues that may be interfering with treatment.
Additional testing may be necessary if your hamster isn’t responding to treatment. Hamsters may also have skin mites or other underlying diseases which can suppress their immune system and make it harder for them to respond appropriately to therapy. When in doubt, stay ahead of the problem and check any skin problems out with your veterinarian.
However, most cases of ringworm in hamsters are typically mild and can be treated with the right medication.
Treatment of Ringworm in Hamsters
Ringworm treatment in hamsters is typically straightforward, but may present a bit of work for pet parents. There are several steps involved in the successful recovery of an affected hamster, regardless of how mild the ringworm is. Treatment for ringworm in hamsters includes:
Isolate affected animals: Because ringworm can spread between animals, even those of different species, it’s important to isolate any pet showing signs of ringworm. Keeping tabs on any animal that has been inside the household will help slow or stop the spread. It’s important to have all pets in the house tested for ringworm, to ensure that every pet is treated as soon as possible. Be sure to use pet safe products.
Sanitize both the animal and pet parent's living environment: The spores which cause ringworm can easily live in an environment for a long time. Likewise, these spores may “hitchhike” on a pet parent’s clothing. A deep cleaning of the entire environment including thorough vacuuming and treatment of all surfaces with a fungicidal cleaner is important. Special attention should be paid to the hamster’s cage, toys, and bedding.
Clipping fur: Your vet may recommend clipping the fur around your hamster’s lesions or scabs. This clipping must be done carefully to avoid the spread of infection, so discuss with your veterinarian before cutting.
Topical treatment: Topical treatments remove the spores from the fur, but not from the hair follicles. These treatments are typically used in addition to medication as part of a full treatment plan.
Oral medications: These medications are used to clear the infection from the hair follicles. Oral drugs must be administered and dosed carefully, and may include griseofulvin, itraconazole, terbinafine, or ketoconazole. Make sure to follow directions from your vet and from the product label. Never stop using any medication prescribed for your hamster without the guidance of your veterinarian.
Recovery and Management of Ringworm in Hamsters
Ringworm can take a long time to fully clear—sometimes up to several months—and it is important to follow all instructions exactly throughout the course of treatment, both to prevent worsening of the infection or spread of the infection to other animals. Frequent rechecks may be required by your veterinarian to keep track of the progress.
Be sure to wear gloves when you are handling an infected pet or their cage furnishings and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards. If you recently adopted a new hamster, keep them isolated from your existing pets for several weeks while you look for signs of disease—this may help isolate a ringworm outbreak early.
Ringworm in Hamsters FAQs
Can you get ringworm from a hamster?
Yes. Ringworm is a contagious disease which can spread between animals—and most rodents, as well as cats, dogs, and people can be affected. The reverse is also true–you can give ringworm to your hamster.
How do I know if my hamster has ringworm?
Only your veterinarian will be able to diagnose ringworm for certain. If your hamster has any changes in their skin, especially balding areas which may be red or flaky, take them to your veterinarian right away for an exam and appropriate treatment.
Featured Image: iStock.com/Kerrick
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