Be vigilant when buying a pet store hamster

I’ve received more than a few letters from readers who purchased hamsters from their local pet store, only to have their new pet sicken and die soon afterward.

Many if not all pet stores have “as-is” policies regarding hamsters and other very small pets like goldfish, because so many of them fall ill or die soon after being purchased. But you certainly don’t want to bring home a hamster that’s already sick – not only are you stuck with trying to make it well, but the illness can quickly spread among your other hamsters.

When purchasing a new hamster, look for these telltale signs of illness or injury:

  • – Wet tail (indicates diarrhea, a clear symptom of illness or worms)
  • – Lethargic, with dull eyes
  • – Huddles in one corner for a long time, doesn’t respond quickly to being picked up or petted
  • – Runny nose and watery eyes
  • – Rough, matted or patchy fur
  • – Bites or scratches from other hamsters

If you notice any of these signs, don’t buy that hamster, and notify store management so that they can isolate the sick hamsters from the healthy ones.

I also recommend that anyone wanting to keep a hamster collect as much information on caring for these small pets as possible. A smaller pet is not necessarily an easier pet to keep – he depends entirely upon you for his health and welfare.

Originally published June 23, 2008