Why Is My Hamster Limping?

Hamsters are delicate creatures, and it can be worrying to see your little friend limping. What causes hamsters to limp and what should you do about it?

If your hamster is limping, you should have it evaluated by a vet. Common causes for limping include a broken or sprained leg, old age, or long nails. Dehydration, lack of exercise, overexertion, a tumor, a stroke, or scurvy might also cause limping.

In this article, I’ll discuss the most common causes of limping in hamsters. I’ll also advise what to do if your hamster is limping.

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What Causes Limping in Hamsters?

A limp in a hamster is defined as any condition causing the hamster to not put weight on one of its legs or drag it. Limping hamsters sometimes continue to use the affected leg but walk sideways or diagonally.

Here are some common causes for limping in hamsters:

  • Broken leg
  • Dehydration
  • Stroke
  • Excessively long nails
  • Paralysis
  • Sprain
  • Lack of exercise 
  • Old age
  • Overexertion
  • Scurvy
  • Tumor

Luckily, most of these can be easily treated after a visit to the vet and proper care at home. Let’s discuss each one in more detail.

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Broken Leg

A broken leg is one of the most common reasons for hamsters to limp. Other than limping, here are some of the signs that indicate your hamster has a broken leg:

  • The leg is visibly harmed.
  • There’s an open wound with swelling around the leg.
  • Your hamster reacts with pain when you touch its leg.
  • Tiny popping sounds emanate from the leg area. This indicates that the leg has come off the joint and is rubbing against it.
  • Your hamster is lying on one side a lot.

Hamsters can break their legs in a variety of ways:

  • After being roughly handled by another pet.
  • Getting their leg stuck in the hamster wheel.
  • After a fight with another hamster.
  • After the owner accidentally drops the hamster.

If your hamster seems to have a broken leg, you should take him to the vet as soon as possible. The vet will evaluate the leg, reduce the fracture, and secure it with a bandage. Your hamster may also be given antibiotics if there’s an infection or painkillers if he seems to be in pain.

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Dehydration

When hamsters are severely dehydrated, they can become lethargic and limp when they walk.

Common causes of dehydration in hamsters include no access to water, viruses, or diabetes.

Here are some things to look out for in a hamster with suspected dehydration:

  • Lethargy
  • Drastic weight loss
  • Sunken eyes
  • Foul-smelling or dark urine
  • Swollen tongue

If you think your hamster is dehydrated, it’s important to take him to the vet promptly. Extreme dehydration can cause organ failure, which can be fatal.

To rehydrate your hamster, your vet may recommend feeding him small quantities of Pedialyte from a dropper, and feeding him small, water-rich snacks, such as watermelon.

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Stroke

Strokes are more common in older hamsters, and they can cause your hamster to limp.

In addition to limping, if your hamster has had a stroke, he may also sway back and forth, and his movements may seem uncoordinated.

The sooner a stroke is diagnosed and treated, the better the prognosis for your hamster. For this reason, it’s vital to seek veterinary help as soon as possible.

Many hamsters will recover from a stroke within a few weeks, and the limping can gradually disappear. In the meantime, your hamster might need help reaching his food and water. It’s a good idea to remove his hamster wheel in case he injures himself on it.

Excessively Long Nails

Your hamster’s nails are so tiny that It’s easy to forget to trim them, but they can quickly become overgrown and cause problems.

As hamster nails grow, they curl inward or sideways and can pierce the hamster’s paw, leading to pain, sometimes an infection, and difficulty walking. 

Excessively long nails can make walking and running awkward, making it seem as if your hamster is limping.

Most hamsters trim their nails naturally by digging, grooming, and foraging, but older hamsters sometimes need their owners to help.

If you notice that your hamster’s nails are long and are folding inward and sideways, you should get them trimmed. You can ask your vet to do it, or you can gently cut the tips off with some nail clippers.

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Paralysis

If your hamster is limping, one of his legs may have become paralyzed.

Hamsters can become paralyzed due to a traumatic injury or not eating enough Vitamin E in their diets. A Vitamin E deficiency can cause muscle weakness or damage and eventually lead to paralysis.

Thankfully, Vitamin E deficiencies in hamsters can be rectified quickly if caught early, another reason why it’s essential to have your hamster evaluated by a vet at the first sign of limping.

Sprain

As incredibly active animals during their waking hours, hamsters can occasionally injure themselves and sprain one of their limbs. This can result in pain, swelling, and limping. It should be checked out by a vet as soon as possible.

Sprains commonly occur in the hamster wheel or with new toys to which the hamster is still getting accustomed.

Hamster sprains generally heal quickly with cage rest for a few days, after which the limp should disappear.

Lack of Exercise

Lack of exercise can sometimes cause temporary paralysis or limping in hamsters. Hamsters need plenty of exercise and mental stimulation during their waking hours.

If a hamster lives in an enclosure without a suitable wheel or toys to play with, it can quickly become bored, lead an inactive lifestyle, and become depressed.

A telltale sign that your hamster isn’t getting enough exercise is if he’s limping or is walking strangely.

Old Age

The lifespan of a typical Syrian hamster, which is the most common species in the US, is about two to four years, and a hamster is considered geriatric after around two years.

Senior hamsters are typically not as active as younger ones and can develop musculoskeletal problems that cause them to limp.

It’s still important to seek veterinary care for your hamster if he’s limping, even if you suspect it’s simply because he’s getting old.

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Overexertion

If you’ve recently introduced a new toy to your hamster’s cage, that might the reason he’s limping.

Hamsters love new and exciting toys, but can overexert themselves by constantly playing with them. After an extended play session, your hamster will likely be very tired and may not have the energy to walk properly.

To prevent your hamster from being overexerted, you may want to limit the number of new toys you introduce.

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Scurvy

Scurvy is a disease caused by too little or no Vitamin C in the hamster’s diet. Like humans, hamsters can develop scurvy if they eat a poorly-balanced diet, and this can lead to limping. 

If you suspect that your hamster might have scurvy, it’s best to take him to the vet. In the meantime, here are some common signs of scurvy in hamsters:

  • Hopping around or limping instead of walking.
  • One or both legs seem paralyzed.
  • Hamster moves around more slowly than usual.

After diagnosing scurvy, your vet will likely suggest feeding your hamster better quality food and may prescribe a Vitamin C supplement.

Tumor

Tumors are common in hamsters. They can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Luckily, most hamster tumors are benign.

One of the symptoms of a tumor can be limping, especially if the tumor is located close to one of the limbs. The tumor may be affecting a nerve serving the leg, which won’t allow your hamster to control it properly.

Treatment for tumors typically includes removal when if it’s small enough and close to the skin, or treatment with steroids to reduce the size.

After the tumor has been removed or has shrunk, your hamster should start walking normally again.

What Should I Do if My Hamster Is Limping?

Your hamster is limping, and you’re worried about him. Is there anything you can do?

After noticing your hamster is limping, you should take it to the vet as soon as possible. While waiting to see the vet, ensure that your hamster is warm enough in its cage, and move his food and water close to him.

In the United States, there are vets with special qualifications to treat small animals. Take your hamster to one of these if possible.

Limping hamsters often find movement difficult, so removing the hamster ball and toys is a good idea to prevent further injury.

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Will My Hamster Recover From a Limp?

No hamster owner enjoys seeing their hamster limp. Is there hope your hamster will recover from it?

Hamsters often recover from a limp, especially if it’s caught early and you get your hamster treated as soon as possible. A limp is typically only permanent if there’s irreversible nerve damage, untreatable paralysis, or an inoperable tumor.

Treatment for limping includes plenty of rest, a bandage, and time. During recovery, you’ll have to take special care for your hamster. As the cause of the limp disappears (i.e., dehydration or tiredness due to overexertion), the limp usually does the same.

Your vet, however, is always the best person to advise on the exact prognosis for your hamster.

How Common Is Limping in Hamsters?

Most hamster owners become very attached to their pets, and it can be awful watching a hamster limping and possibly be in pain. But how common is limping in hamsters? 

Limping is common in hamsters because they are small, active, and delicate creatures prone to injuries. They quickly become tired or dehydrated in extreme circumstances.

You can decrease the likelihood of your hamster developing an injury or condition that causes limping by doing the following:

  • Handle your hamster gently. Hamsters are tiny and need to be handled with care. Always pick your hamster up gently, and ensure that your grip is as loose as possible. Teach kids to do the same and educate them about the fragility of hamsters so that they don’t inadvertently injure it during play.
  • Make sure your hamster eats a healthy diet. Conditions such as scurvy or a Vitamin E deficiency can easily be avoided if you feed your hamster vet-recommended food and keep snacks healthy. Fresh fruit, vegetables, and sunflower seeds make excellent hamster snacks and are packed with the vital nutrients they need.
  • Regularly inspect your hamster’s cage for hazards. To prevent your hamster from injuring himself, regularly inspect his cage for snags or sharp corners where his leg can get caught and potentially broken. Play it safe and replace broken toys as soon as you notice them.
  • Buy a high-quality hamster ball. Poor quality hamster balls can easily shatter in places and sometimes don’t latch properly, resulting in an injured or trapped limb. It’s better to safeguard your hamster’s safety by investing in a good quality ball. 
  • Don’t overwhelm your hamster with too many toys. Hamsters love discovering new toys, but if you overwhelm them with too many at once, they may become over-excited and tire themselves out too quickly, resulting in overexertion and limping. Lack of exercise can also cause limping, so you’ll want to keep a balance. Two or three toys are perfect for hamsters.
  • Regularly check your hamster for tumors. Small tumors close to the skin’s surface are easier to remove than larger and more deep-seated ones. Give your hamster the best chance of not suffering the side effects of a tumor and check for them regularly. If you find a lump, take your hamster to the vet as soon as possible.
  • Make sure your hamster’s nails aren’t too long. During play sessions with your hamster, inspect his nails to ensure they aren’t curling into his legs and injuring him. If they’re too long, gently cut them with some nail clippers, or ask your vet to do it.
Why Is My Hamster Limping
Why Is My Hamster Limping

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Conclusion

Limping in hamsters is common, and thankfully, recovery is almost always complete and quick.

Hamsters limp due to various reasons:

  • Broken, paralyzed, or sprained legs
  • Dehydration or scurvy
  • Long nails
  • Too much or too little exercise
  • Tumors, stroke, or old age

The best thing to do if you notice your hamster limping is to seek veterinary care as soon as possible.

You can prevent injuries, conditions, or illnesses causing limping by feeding your hamster a balanced diet and ensuring that his cage is safe. Handling your hamster gently, cutting long nails, and checking for tumors can also prevent limping.