I have two hamsters that seem to be in good health and are about six and a half months old. Should I take them to the vet for check-ups and, if so, how frequently? They tend to fight fairly often and though I examine them to make sure I don’t see any injuries, does this change how often I need to bring them to a vet?
An annual exam by a qualified veterinarian is always a good idea for several reasons. Perhaps the most important aspect of a yearly exam is a comprehensive review of your pet hamsters’ care (“husbandry”). Your vet can give you many recommendations to improve your hamsters’ living environment, which will dramatically improve the overall health of your pets. During a typical office visit, I usually find one or more areas that need improvement to optimize health. For example, is the ground cover (substrate) you are using is a good choice? The key to a good substrate is keeping the cage clean since ammonia from the urine will lead to disease. Aromatic litters such as cedar and redwood and those with chlorophyll should be avoided. My preference is recycled newspaper litters which are more absorbent and less irritating to the pet. Additionally, hamsters should never be kept in a cage together. Hamsters are not social animals and, as you have experienced, they will generally fight.
At the annual exam you should also discuss your hamsters’ diet with your vet. Most people also do not realize that a pelleted diet is typically superior to the seed, nuts and fruit mixes that are sold and touted as “premium.” A pelleted diet is preferable because all of the necessary nutrition is blended into a pellet that the pet cannot pick through. You wouldn’t expect a small child to select healthy food out of a bowl of food that had candy mixed in it. Similarly, a pet will typically choose high fat and high sugar items before the healthy choices. If there is an abundance of food offered, the healthy items may never be consumed.
During a yearly exam, your vet will also ask questions and perform a physical exam which may lead to early discovery of medical concerns that you may not have noticed. This is very important because often by the time a sick hamster is brought to the vet it has a very advanced illness and the chance of cure is much lower. However, early detection and treatment can save your pet’s life.
Hamsters generally only live for 2-3 years. Therefore, each year of life they age roughly 20 human years. Many vets are now recommending exams at least twice a year for this reason. A lot can happen in 20 human years!
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Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals. Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228. More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.
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