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Date:   07 September, 2008
Focus: Small animals - dogs, cats, hamsters & rabbits
*10 a.m - 5 p.m (Mon - Sun, except Sat). Dr Sing Kong Yuen. By Appointment Only.

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Allergies in Hamsters
Dr Sing Kong Yuen, BVMS (Glasgow), MRCVS
Case written: Dec 23, 2001
Case update: Sep, 7, 2008
The dwarf hamster has itchy allergic rashes again.

It was a lively one-year-old dwarf hamster of excellent appetite as judged from its shiny coat and cuddly body with a long black stripe on top of its fur coat. 

 I noticed especially its red swollen elbow joint area as it reminded me of my new born nephew who had a similar condition which was diagnosed as "allergy to cow's milk" and which meant that the infant's mother had to look for alternatives to the bovine milk. 

This hamster was grown up.  Not only were the elbow joints affected.  All its leg joints were swollen and shiny. The lower part of the body was inflamed with a reddish bald tinge, as if the hamster had licked off all the hair.  Could this be a food allergy?  Or a contact allergy to its wood litter bedding? Or both?

The swollen joints indicated a food or oral allergy.  It could be one of those auto-immune illness in which the hamster's own antibodies attacked its tissues causing the swollen joints.

Mr and Mrs Chan, newly married,  were hamster lovers. "You can be a dwarf hamster breeder and earn some money from your favourite hobby by selling good breeds of dwarf hamsters ," I said to the young couple.  Companies are retrenching or cutting down salaries and this may be a good suggestion.  Young couples have better things to do, I guess. 

"How to solve this hamster's problem without knowing the exact cause?" I asked myself.

I put it under gas anaesthesia and injected an anti-itch and antibiotic injection under the skin.  The owner was asked the owner to keep it free from wood litter bedding and dry pelleted feed. 

Nothing was heard from the owner till eight weeks later.  The hamster had the same problem.

"Did it recover after the injection?" I asked.  I had not expected it to recover as it was in bad condition. 

 Mrs Chan said, "It was back to normal several days after the injection. I fed it on vegetables and kept it away from the wood shavings for around six weeks.  After that I fed it the dry hamster pelleted feed. The rashes develop in the past few days."

It was a chubby hamster with as much feed as it can it.  It has a very thick coat. Sometimes, I wonder how it could stand the heat and humidity of equatorial Singapore? I could imagine how uncomfortable it must be to wear a thick fur coat in Singapore if there is no air conditioning. 

Was it possible that it was allergic to its sweat and this allergy was manifested at its joint area?  As it bends its joints during movement, the sweat irritates the skin of the joints, leading to inflammation and redness.  

 Will its problem be resolved if it lives in an air conditioned area?  

 It may be suffering from a disease affecting its immune system and will need anti-inflammatory injections since creams will be licked off, if applied to the itchy skin. 

Giving anti-allergic injections will resolve the problem of itchiness and inflammation for a short period of time.  

As the hamster is middle-aged, it is more likely to suffer from immune-related diseases, just like many older people and may have to rely on steroid drugs to lead a "normal" life.  The steroid drugs stop the redness and inflammation but they cannot stop them forever.  

Some ingredients in dry hamster food cause allergies in this skin hamster. Removal of dry pelleted food had solved the problem earlier. Sometimes, the solution in hamster or dog skin itchiness and allery is as simple as not feeding dry feed.

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