Can hamsters get mites? What are hamster mites, and how do you treat hamster mites? Find out right here!
Dogs and cats receive regular parasite prevention.
Indoor pets like hamsters, on the other hand, do not.
This is because hamsters spend most of their lives in their habitats and are not exposed to many pests and diseases once they leave the pet store or breeder.
Sometimes, however, our pocket pets do pick up parasites, leaving us with lots of questions.
Hamster mites are more common than you might think.
Luckily for you, we have some answers.
What are hamster mites?
All mammalian species can get parasites.
Many parasites are host specific, meaning they only affect certain species, but some can spread to other animals and humans.
Hamsters can get a variety of mites, including the rat mite, Notoedres muris, but the most common genus of mites is Demodex.
Demodex mites are not visible to the naked eye.
Instead, you will notice demodex mange symptoms, which we will discuss in more detail later.
Demodex mites live and feed in the hair follicles and oil glands of your hamster’s skin, and in many cases don’t cause any problems until something stresses out your hamster.
Stress can lower your hamster’s immune system, reducing their ability to fight off the parasites, which is when you will start to see symptoms.
Demodex and Notoedres muris are the more common mites, but hamsters can get other mites, including hamster ear mites and nose mites in rare cases.
What do hamster mites look like?
Most mites are invisible to the naked eye and can only be seen under a microscope.
When magnified, the Demodex mite is a tiny, cigar shaped parasite with eight legs. Low numbers of Demodex mites may be normal, but too many of these mites can cause problems.
Notoedres muris also has eight legs, but this parasite is rounder in shape.
Every mite has a unique appearance, which combined with your hamster’s symptoms, will help your veterinarian come up with an accurate diagnosis.
If you can see something crawling on your hamster, it is probably not mites.
It could be fleas or ticks, which will require a different course of treatment than mites.
Fleas and ticks can be spread to humans and other pets, so if you suspect an infection, contact your veterinarian.
Hamster mites symptoms
Your first hints that your hamster might have mites are a change in his appearance and behavior.
Hair loss is a common symptom of hamster mites, and you may notice your hamster is very itchy.
This itchiness, combined with irritation from the parasites, can lead to red skin and even secondary skin infections from your hamster’s biting and scratching.
You may also notice dry, flaky skin, and in some cases, scratched and bleeding ears, pus, and crusty build-up.
These symptoms could also be the result of another serious condition, like nutritional deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, or cancer.
Some hair loss is simply the result of excessive rubbing.
Hamsters who love to burrow or squeeze through tunnels may lose hair from contact with other materials, but it is always a good idea to check with your veterinarian to rule out more serious conditions.
How do hamsters get mites?
Hamster mites are spread by close proximity to other hamsters.
Your hamster may have brought mites home with her from the pet store, shelter, or breeder.
Some common mites, like Demodex, typically only show signs if your hamster has an underlying condition. Many hamsters have Demodex mites on their bodies but do not show signs of an infestation until something compromises their immune systems.
This puts stressed, senior, or sick hamsters at an increased risk of Demodex and other mite infestations.
You can help lower the risk of your hamsters getting mites by keeping their cages clean and reducing stress factors like too much handling, inappropriate bedding, and overcrowding.
Hamster mite diagnosis
Treating your hamster’s mites will require the help of your veterinarian.
The first thing you should do is make an appointment with your veterinarian to get your hamster looked at.
Mites could be a sign of a lowered immune system, and since the stress of a mite infestation can also lower your hamster’s immune system, your veterinarian is your hamster’s best hope for making a full recovery.
Your vet will look for a diagnosis for your hamster’s symptoms before discussing treatment options.
If your hamster’s symptoms make your vet suspect mites, they may take skin scrapings to look at under a microscope to see if they can identify any problematic parasites.
If your veterinarian suspects that your hamster’s mites are the result of an underlying condition, they may also discuss further testing options to help diagnose and treat your hamster.
Sometimes, hamsters get mites again after treatment.
This is not necessarily because the treatment didn’t work, but rather a sign of a more serious condition. Hamsters that relapse after treatment are more likely to have an underlying condition compromising their immune system, so be prepared to talk with your veterinarian about further diagnostics and next steps.
Hamster mite treatment
Once your hamster is diagnosed with mites, your veterinarian will explain the treatment options.
These options may include a topical application of a drug like selamectin, along with a special shampoo containing 1% selenium sulfide.
Hamsters are very small, so it is important to make sure you follow your veterinarian’s instructions to avoid giving them harmful dosages of medication. This is especially true when dealing with dwarf hamster mites.
Once you have treated your hamster and any hamsters that may be living with or near your hamster, you will also need to thoroughly clean and sterilize their habitats, throwing away all bedding.
This process can take several days. Use paper bedding that is easy to throw out during the treatment period to lower the risk of reinfection.
It is tempting to try and treat pocket pets at home with one of the hamster mite sprays found online, in pet stores, or recipes for home remedies.
In some cases, hamster mite sprays may be the only option for owners. After all, it can be hard to justify spending over $100 on a pet that usually costs only $10.
There are risks to relying on an anti mite spray for hamsters. Misdiagnosing a serious condition could lead to further problems, and you also want to make sure that you get the best information about how to treat your hamster.
You can always talk to your veterinarian about any over-the-counter products they may recommend in the future.
Can hamster mites spread to humans?
Some animal parasites are zoonotic, which means they can be spread to humans and other animals.
Luckily, most hamster mites are specific to hamsters and other rodents and cannot be spread to humans.
However, it is always better to be safe than sorry, so talk to your veterinarian about any possible zoonotic risks.
While very rare, your hamster could have a zoonotic condition like sarcoptic mange. Sarcoptic mange can pass from hamsters to people and other pets, and is very uncomfortable.
Handle infested hamsters with care to avoid getting any problematic hamster mites on humans in your household, and be sure to see a doctor if you start exhibiting symptoms.
Hamster mites – a summary
Hamster skin mites can make your hamster itchy and uncomfortable.
Your hamster can get mites from pet stores, breeders, shelters, or any place where they come into contact with other hamsters.
Diagnosing and treating mites is best done with the help of your veterinarian, as a vet can provide you with accurate information and safe dosages, as well as making sure there is not a more serious underlying condition.
You can help your hamster avoid mite infestations by keeping them stress free and feeding a healthy, balanced hamster diet.
For more information about common hamster diseases and parasites, talk to your veterinarian.
Resources and Further Reading
Donnelly, T. Hamsters. Merck Veterinary Manual.
Oglesbee, B. (2011). Lice and mites in pet rodents. Blackwell’s Five-Minute Veterinary Consult: Small Mammal, Second Edition.
White, S. (2011). Rabbit and rodent dermatology (Proceedings). DVM360.
Tynes, V. (1998). Drug therapy in pet rodents. Veterinary Medicine, 93
Mitchell, M. (2010). Mange in exotic small mammals. LafeberVet.