Hamsters make excellent pets, and their popularity has been increasing steadily, such that it has become the most popular pet in Georgia. These tiny, fuzzy creatures are fast runners; they use the size and shape of their rear feet to run backward as fast as they can run forward. It, therefore, can be a grave concern if you notice your hamster dragging his back legs.
Your hamster is dragging his back legs due to health issues that cause hind leg paralysis. Hind leg paralysis is when the hamster cannot move its rear legs. Causes of hind leg paralysis include lack of exercise, injuries, diseases, heredity genes, and nutritional deficiencies.
When your hamster cannot walk properly, it cannot exercise or live happily. Upon noticing your hamster dragging his legs, you must find out the cause and treat your pet’s legs as soon as possible. Keep reading this article to learn about the causes of hind leg paralysis in hamsters and how you can help your hamster if he has the condition.
Several factors could cause your hamster to have hind leg paralysis, such as:
Exercise is a critical part of a hamster’s daily routine, and it enjoys doing it, so lack of movement is not usual. Your hamster might stop exercising due to any of the following reasons:
- A small cage
- Lack of enrichment and accessories, such as an exercise wheel
- Old age
- Sickness and injury
If your hamster doesn’t exercise, his bones and muscles will eventually start degenerating. They’ll feel stiff and become difficult to move.
A hamster with such a condition can only move by dragging its hind legs around. In severe cases, the hamster won’t be able to move at all. The hamster might develop stress with this condition, making it vulnerable to other illnesses.
The most common injury that causes paralysis in hamsters is spinal trauma. It can occur if a hamster drops or falls from a significant height. Such a fall or hit could also cause pain in the knee joints.
A spinal injury can happen to your hamster if he uses exercise balls. He cannot smell or see where he’s going, so he might fall off raised surfaces or roll down steps.
A spinal injury can also be an issue for your quick, free-roaming hamster if you step on him.
As a result, the hamster sustains a back injury and ultimately loses the use of his hind legs.
Injuries to the leg can cause muscle or tendon strain, resulting in lameness. Another common cause of paralysis is a broken leg. Causes of broken legs in hamsters include:
- Fights with other hamsters
- Scuffles with other pets such as dogs and cats
- Getting a leg stuck in a wire wheel
- Jumping off surfaces that are too high, such as a bed, couch, or ledge
- Accidental kicking while the hamster is inside its roll-around ball
- Unintentional injury by a child
Hamsters hide the pain for self-preservation and show only subtle signs when in discomfort. Therefore, you must look closely to establish whether your hamster has a broken leg.
Pay attention to your hamster’s habits, such as eating and drinking. Does he feel or behave differently when you pick him up to play? If you suspect a broken bone, check for any visible signs, such as:
- Laying on only one side
- An open wound
- Not moving or moving slowly
- Blood around the injury
- A broken bone poking out
- Swelling around the injured bone
- Sounds from the limbs like popping or crackling
Hamsters are delicate animals, and minor accidents can cause serious injuries. Like other causes of hind leg or complete body paralysis, broken bones and spinal trauma are not easy to treat. In most cases, putting the hamster to sleep is the best option.
Hind leg paralysis might also be a sign of a stroke. Most stroke episodes result in temporary lameness, but severe stroke can cause permanent paralysis.
Before a stroke, your hamster will suddenly show signs of instability and exhaustion and possibly collapse after an activity session.
Other visible signs of a stroke include:
- Head tilt
- Falling over or swaying when walking
- Rocking back and forth while sitting
- Running in circles
Strokes usually occur in the evening when the hamster is most active. Your hamster might survive the stroke and recover in 2 to 3 weeks. However, strokes can recur.
Your hamster can suffer from hind leg paralysis due to a bacterial infection. Campylobacter is a bacteria that affects the intestines and causes campylobacteriosis. This disease, in the beginning, manifests as acute diarrhea, also known as Wet Tail, before becoming progressively severe.
Although campylobacteriosis is not necessarily life-threatening, it sometimes presents significant health problems. In case of an infection, your hamster’s immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system (PNS). This system is external to the Central Nervous System (CNS) and includes the brain and the spinal cord responsible for limb movement.
The hamster’s immune system develops antibodies against the campylobacter bacteria. Unfortunately, the antibodies also attack the nerves because the nerve cell composition mirrors the bacterial components. The result is either hind-leg or whole-body paralysis.
In most cases, hind leg paralysis due to campylobacteriosis resolves with time and treatment. Your hamster will eventually regain full functionality of his legs, but some hamsters remain with movement problems for life. In case of total body paralysis, the only option is euthanasia.
A sex-linked mutation is responsible for hind leg paralysis in male Syrian hamsters. The problem usually manifests when the hamster is between 6 and 10 months old. This genetic trait is only found in male Syrian species and passes down generations.
The primary sign of this hereditary defect is that your hamster might suddenly start dragging his hind legs. Unfortunately, this condition has no cure, and the kindest option is euthanasia.
If your hamster is overweight, it will be difficult for him to move his legs due to muscle weakness. Though your hamster is not in total paralysis, the muscles and bones degrade over time, and he will progressively struggle to move.
Obesity is most common in hamsters with high-sugar diets. Your hamster will gain excess weight if you overfeed him with fresh fruits, vegetables, and hamster treats.
Vitamin D is essential in the proper absorption of dietary phosphorus and calcium. If calcium levels in the blood are too low, the body bridges the gap by dissolving the existing bones as an alternative source of calcium. The most prominent bones around the legs and hips are the first casualties.
Loss of calcium also decreases muscle tone, making the muscles very weak. It will also render the muscles and bones too feeble to support your hamster’s body weight.
Suppose your hamster gets exposure to natural sunlight. He’s assured of a good and healthy dose of Vitamin D. In a cage, your hamster might lack natural sunlight, especially in states like Alaska that receive little sunshine annually. A herbivorous diet that lacks nutritional balance can also contribute to Vitamin D deficiency.
Pregnant female hamsters with a Vitamin D deficiency are highly likely to have pups that are also Vitamin D deficient. These offspring may have brittle bones and limb deformities.
Insufficient Vitamin C in your hamster’s diet will cause scurvy. Scurvy paralyzes the hamster’s hind legs in severe cases, forcing the animal to drag them around. Also, vitamin E deficiency causes muscle weakness or disorders in adult hamsters.
You can prevent vitamin deficiency by providing high-quality food consisting of limited amounts of various fresh fruits and vegetables and scientifically-formulated pellets.
Also, move your hamster’s cage to a room with natural light. Avoid direct sunlight because it will cause dehydration and heatstroke.
A hamster dragging its back legs is a sign of overall body weakness, indicating sickness but does not identify a specific ailment. Kidney disease, pneumonia, cancer, and heart disease can cause body weakness.
All these diseases affect hamsters internally. Therefore, the condition could already be in advanced stages when you notice the weakness. It’s advisable to consult a vet who specializes in small-animal medicine.
Your pet may be dragging his legs due to a variety of reasons. Hamsters are tiny, and treating them for broken limbs or back is difficult. The paralysis may also result from tendon or muscle strain or disease.
If your pet is unable or reluctant to move or appears in pain, consult a vet immediately. The cause of the paralysis might be treatable, and with treatment, your hamster might recover. In severe spinal trauma or broken bones, you might have to consider euthanasia.
Don’t delay helping your paralyzed hamster. Once you notice that his rear legs are not working, act fast to make him comfortable and maintain his quality of life.
While hind-leg paralysis can set in without warning, there are ways of protecting your hamster. These include:
Hamsters require a lot of space to explore, roam and forage. Your hamster’s cage must be big enough to allow the hamster to move about with minimal restriction. The more spacious the pen, the more your hamster will exercise, and the happier and healthier he’ll be.
The cage should measure at least 31 x 20 inches (80 x 50 centimeters). Syrian hamsters do better with more space and need a pen measuring 39 x 20 inches (100 x 50 centimeters).
To keep your hamster away from fights with other hamsters, keep every hamster in its cage. Also, always watch your hamster when outside the pen to protect him from other hostile pets.
In addition to a sizeable cage, you need to provide exercise accessories, such as:
- An exercise wheel
- Foraging and chewing toys
- Tunnels and hides
The exercise wheel should be large enough for your hamster to use without arching his back. It should be made of solid wood or plastic to eliminate the risk of wires catching your hamster’s leg.
Hamsters also benefit from regularly getting out of the cage to stretch their legs, run, and explore their surroundings. A hamster ball is an excellent accessory for such activities since it allows your hamster to traverse your house safely.
Give your hamster approximately 30 minutes out of his cage every night.
Your hamster needs a healthy diet to prevent deficiency-based hind leg paralysis. His primary food should be high-quality, scientifically-formulated pellets and seed mix.
You can also give it moderate amounts of vitamin-rich foods, but ensure the food is well-balanced to prevent nutritional deficiencies.
Foods containing Vitamin E include:
- Sunflower seeds
- Peanuts or peanut butter
- Collard greens
- Red bell pepper
Foods rich in Vitamin D include:
- Oily fish
- Cod liver oil
- Green vegetables
Spinal trauma and broken bones are among the leading causes of paralysis in hamsters. Here are some things to keep your hamster safe from such life-threatening injuries:
- Handle your hamster carefully. Sit somewhere like on a couch, bed, or floor so that the surface is not too far in case the hamster decides to jump. While you sit, hold the hamster over the couch or bed and not above the floor.
- Use a plastic or wooden wheel. Avoid using a wire wheel because it’s dangerous. While running, your hamster might stick his foot in the wires and break his leg.
- Supervise young children. Don’t let young children handle your hamster unattended. They could accidentally hurt him.
- Watch your hamster while he’s out of the cage. If you let your hamster out of the pen, don’t leave him unattended. Hamsters have poor eyesight and can jump off surfaces even when the floor is several feet down.
Hamsters are fragile and less likely to tolerate excess handling. They are also agile, fast, and can easily escape or sustain injuries if they get loose. Fortunately, hamsters are popular pets across the USA, and vets can treat them when necessary.
If your hamster is dragging his hind legs, he might be suffering from an injury or disease. It is therefore essential to seek a vet’s opinion immediately. Your hamster will receive treatment, and if the cause is not treatable, the vet will put your hamster peacefully to sleep to end his suffering.
You may like the following hamster articles:
- How Many Times Can a Hamster Get Pregnant?
- Can You Use Regular Sand for Hamsters?
- Is Calcium Sand Safe for Hamsters
- How To Tell If Your Hamster Is Blind
- Is Aquarium Sand Safe for Hamsters?
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