All species of hamsters are subject to internal parasites, no matter how clean their environment. Tapeworms are one of the most common. Hamsters tend to get the dwarf tapeworm (Rodentopelis nana) rather than the six-inch kind that dogs and cats usually get.
Hamsters can carry a few dwarf tapeworms in their intestines without any ill effect. However, once the dwarf tapeworm population explodes, the hamster is serious trouble. The tapeworms will steal all of the digested nutrients that the hamster’s body has worked so hard to digest.
The human owner or any other pets in the household may also catch tapeworms from the hamster’s feces. Babies and some pets like dogs put anything into their mouths, especially the feces of other animals. Be sure to wash your hands when handling a hamster suspected of being ill and always after cleaning the cage.
The usual symptoms of tapeworm infestation in hamsters are sudden weight loss, fur that has turned dull and is no longer glossy and diarrhea on the tail. But the most alarming symptom is finding small pieces of what looks like small bits of cooked rice in the hamster’s feces or stuck in the hair around the hamster’s anus.
These white bits are sacks full of eggs. When the adult tapeworm lodges in the hamster, it holds on to the intestinal wall and every now and then sheds a tiny egg-filled segment to pass out of the host and go into the brave new world.
There are several ways that the poor hamster could have been infected by tapeworm. The most usual cause is by eating the feces of infected hamsters or even food that has a few pellets mixed in. Hamsters normally eat some of their feces in order to digest certain vitamins that can’t be digested well the first time around. Guinea pigs and rabbits also practice this behavior.
Tapeworms can also be passed by fleas. Flea larvae eat the tapeworm eggs and then they are infected. But this process usually happens to dogs and cats more than with hamsters. Hamsters do like the occasional insect treat and have been known to crunch on beetles, which can also be infested with dwarf tapeworms.
According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, tapeworms in hamsters are treated in the same way as tapeworms in gerbils. So how are tapeworms treated in gerbils? First off, it’s best to bring a fresh fecal sample in to the vet for positive diagnosis that the dwarf tapeworm is the worm in question. Hamsters (and gerbils) also get pinworms, which can look identical to dwarf tapeworms until you get them under a powerful microscope.
The hamster is then given a mixture of niclosamide in the feed. The dosage is 10 milligrams per 100 milligrams that the hamster weighs. Feed for one week, do not feed for a week and then feed for another full week. Other medications that have been known to work include thiabendazole mixed in the feed or praziquantel.
Hamsterific. “Quick Refernce Hamster Illness Guide.” ttp://www.hamsterific.com/IllnessGuide.cfm#top
Merck Veterinary Manual. “Hamsters: Gastrointestinal Diseases.” http://www.merckvetmanual.com/mvm/index.jsp?cfile=htm/bc/171514.htm
PetMD. “Tapeworms in Hamsters.” http://www.petmd.com/exotic/conditions/digestive/c_ex_hm_tapeworms
HubPages. “Why Guinea Pigs Eat Poo.” Rena Sherwood. http://hubpages.com/hub/Why_Guinea_Pigs_Eat_Poo