Have you noticed that your hamster seems to have very poor eyesight? Hamsters naturally have poor vision, so it can be challenging to determine if your hamster is going blind.
The five best ways to tell if your hamster is blind are:
- Observe your hamster for signs of clumsiness
- Get familiar with the common causes of blindness in hamsters
- See if your hamster is surprised when you pick it up
- Know normal hamster behaviors often confused with blindness
- Visit a veterinarian that works with hamsters
This article will explore different ways to tell if your hamster is blind, including what signs of blindness you should look for.
How To Tell If Your Hamster Is Blind
We’ll also discuss how to care for a blind hamster, ensuring that your blind hamster enjoys the best and most comfortable life.
Hamsters aren’t the most graceful creatures when it comes to moving around—their legs are much smaller than their large round bodies. They can fall out of their hamster wheel due to poor coordination—sometimes caused by tiredness—and stumble around uneven cage floors.
This means that some level of bumping into things and falling off ledges is expected in hamsters. Their vision isn’t good, even when it’s in perfect state.
However, an intense level of clumsiness may be a sign of blindness in hamsters. If your hamster is constantly bumping into objects in its cage or falling over while exiting tunnels, it may be blind or have below-average eyesight.
Familiarizing yourself with the common causes of blindness in hamsters will help you determine whether your hamster is blind.
Because hamsters can’t see well, actual blindness is often caused by specific conditions such as poor genetics or health issues. Some of these issues will need a vet’s attention, but other eye conditions aren’t life-threatening.
Some white, pink-eared, albino Syrian hamsters are born blind. Their eyes may be smaller than average too. If your hamster is an albino, there’s a chance it’s blind.
This California Hamster Association article clarifies the genetic defects common in Campbell’s Dwarf and Syrian hamsters. Both carry genes that are beautiful in themselves. But, when crossed, they create babies that are born without eyes.
Cambell’s Dwarf hamsters carry the Ruby-eye Mottled gene, producing beautiful colors.
When breeding two hamsters carrying the Ruby-eyed Mottled gene together, some of their babies are born eyeless and toothless, small, and white. They also have a compromised immune system. Sadly, they don’t live long.
Syrian hamsters carry the Anopthalmic gene, often called the “Roan” or “White Bellied” gene. Again these are lovely when bred carefully.
Combining two White Bellied/Roan hamsters can create babies born without eyes. In this case, the congenital disability will not kill the offspring, and they will live out relatively healthy lives as blind hamsters.
Still, such irresponsible breeding practices negatively impact the hamsters.
To avoid this situation, don’t buy from irresponsible breeders. Instead, purchase from an ethical hamster breeder. The California Hamster Association keeps a wide-ranging list of ethical United States breeders from California, Ohio, Oregon, Kentucky, Maryland, and others.
If you notice one or both of your hamster’s eyeballs seem enlarged, this is an emergency. You need to seek a vet’s help immediately.
Known as Exophthalmos or Proptosis, bulging eyeballs are common in hamsters. An eye infection or eye trauma usually causes this issue. However, it can also be caused by too much pressure or squeezing behind the head.
If you can’t identify and cure the problem quickly, the vet’s only option will be to remove the eyes.
Hamsters’ eyes produce fluid to keep their eyes from drying out. As your hamster sleeps, these fluids can build up on the edges of its eyelids and around the eyes. This build-up will dry in one solid crust that keeps the hamster from opening its eyes.
This crusty buildup is normal and can be solved by wiping the crust away with a rag dipped in warm water. You can also wash the eyes out with a mild saline solution.
All mammals can suffer from conjunctivitis. The conjunctiva is a thin, transparent membrane covering the eye under the eyelid.
This membrane can become infected by viruses or bacteria. It can also become irritated by dust or foreign matter. Dirty cages are a common cause of conjunctivitis.
Conjunctivitis symptoms include swollen, puffy eyes and heavy eye drainage. You can wash out a hamster’s eyes with a saline solution and see the vet. A vet will probably prescribe an antibacterial ointment.
As hamsters age, they can develop cataracts in one or both eyes. A cataract is usually a side-effect of aging and is a condition where the eye’s lens becomes more and more cloudy, eventually leaving the hamster blind. Cataracts are not painful.
Unfortunately, hamster cataracts are incurable. But the blindness it causes will barely affect the hamster’s quality of life.
Contact your vet for more information if you notice any of these eye conditions affecting your hamster.
While hamsters are almost always surprised when picked up from behind (when they’re facing away from you), most hamsters respond calmly when slowly and gently picked up while facing you.
Naturally, the more time you spend with your hamster, the more comfortable they’ll become spending time with you. After acquiring a hamster, it may take several days or weeks for them to become accustomed to your touch and smell.
But hamsters that have spent several months with their owners and still respond with a sudden jolt when touched or handled may be blind.
Still, hamsters are tiny rodents and naturally fear larger creatures, including humans. Understanding a hamster’s instinctual behaviors is key in telling if your hamster is blind.
Hamsters can’t see the way a human can. Some of their actions make them look like they’re blind, but in reality, they are part of normal hamster behavior.
It’s an excellent idea to visit a reputable hamster forum and look at questions about what is and isn’t normal behavior for a hamster. Let’s discuss some of these behaviors to help you determine whether your hamster is blind.
A hamster that can see just fine may act erratically when you enter a room or jump at sudden noises.
These reactions can appear random to us, which would seem like a sign of blindness. But it’s most likely that the hamster simply has a skittish personality. A hamster’s sensitive hearing can cause them to react strongly to noise.
Even with full eyesight, hamsters will walk off of tall objects or try to jump long distances that can easily hurt them. They don’t seem to understand how close or far away they are from things, so they make decisions that seem almost cartoonish.
I touched on this above, but it’s important to highlight it again. Hamsters have incredibly poor eyesight. As a result, they do things that seem to indicate blindness when they’re simply their natural limitations.
Consequently, hamsters may not see or notice a treat unless it touches their nose. They may be calm until you touch them—and then go wild. Hamsters might also totally ignore or misunderstand certain fixtures or toys in their cage.
Each hamster is unique. Take lots of time to learn your hamster’s unique routines, likes and dislikes, and personality quirks. But, of course, if you feel they’re suffering, you’ll need to contact a veterinarian and schedule an appointment.
Suppose you feel that your hamster might be blind, or you recognize the symptoms of potentially life-threatening medical conditions. In that case, you’ll want to take them to a local veterinarian that works with small animals like hamsters.
A veterinarian will be able to treat conditions like pink eye and bulging eyeballs, and they’ll also be able to confirm or deny your suspicions of blindness.
Hamsters prefer a routine and undisturbed lifestyle. They can stress very quickly. Things that seem simple, like cage cleaning, can make them anxious.
If you decide that your hamster needs a trip to the vet, absolutely take it. However, be aware that travel and the examinations done by the vet can upset your pet. You may find that they are uncomfortable leaving their cage or even turn aggressive afterward.
In this case, it’s important to use calm and gentle behavior when you interact with your hamster. Don’t take its behavior personally—it’s just a natural reaction from a small prey animal. They will usually get back to normal after a few days.
Caring for a blind hamster may be easier than you think! Because hamsters naturally have poor eyesight, blind hamsters don’t tend to exhibit too different behaviors from non-blind hamsters.
Still, you can make your hamster’s life more comfortable by following a few tips outlined below.
Having a cage that’s easier to navigate will help your hamster avoid falling and getting hurt.
If you have high platforms in your hamster’s cage, you may want to hang small-mammal hammocks in the open areas. Then, if your hamster falls, it will land on a cushioned, safe place.
It’s easier for your blind hamster to find food, water, and toys when they are always in the same places.
If you decide to buy new toys, try to choose ones that will give your hamster plenty of exercise and stimulation without too much challenge. For example, try a wheel or a ball instead of a climbing toy.
If you decide to replace its cage, try to arrange the accessories as close as possible to the way they were in the old one.
From taming your hamster to introducing new cage toys, a blind hamster will take longer to adjust to anything new. It may not realize what you’re trying to show or teach it at first. Just give it plenty of patience and love.
Hamsters can be wary of changes and new people getting near them, even when they aren’t blind.
As a prey animal, a blind hamster will instinctively react to any touch with the fear of a predator.
You can train your hamster to recognize you by ruffling your fingers around in its bedding and speaking in a calm voice. You can also use a specific scent, like a mild lotion, on your hands so your hamster can learn to immediately identify you as a friend using its sense of smell.
A blind hamster is likely to bite more for two reasons. First, it will naturally bite when it’s startled. Your hamster may bite you frequently as it’s learning to recognize you and that you are not a threat.
Second, a blind hamster is likely to bite more often to learn about its world. It may choose specific places in its cage or on the toys. Unless you are afraid it’s swallowing dangerous materials, this exploratory biting should be seen as its unique way of learning.
For a helpful visual guide on caring for a blind hamster, be sure to check out this video guide:
In the United States, you’ll find federal regulations governing the care of hamsters and guinea pigs. These laws protect their handling, enclosures, transport, and others. Michigan State University details these laws here.
If you buy a sick or poorly bred hamster that you feel has not been cared for correctly, you can check these laws and take action if necessary.
Related Hamster articles:
- How To Humanely Kill a Hamster?
- Why Is My Hamster Losing Weight?
- Can You Use Regular Sand for Hamsters?
- Why Does My Hamster Have a Lump?
- Can You Get Rabies From a Hamster Bite?
Hamster blindness isn’t that different from their normal eyesight. They can easily compensate for it with their acute hearing, smell, and touch. Still, if you’re wondering if your hamster might be blind, there are several ways to gauge their eyesight. Get to know its routines and see if it’s more skittish than usual.
My name is Everly. I am a Milwaukee-based mom of 2 and have been a proud owner of many hamsters throughout my life. Like many of us, my introduction to hamsters happened when I was very young. My family saw several hamsters come and go through the years, and I enjoyed playing with them, but I never fully appreciated them until I grew up and my own children decided to jump on the hamster bandwagon. At that point, I was determined to learn all I could about caring for these adorable pets. Read more