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Hamster Has Swollen Cheek And Sores

A hamster’s swollen cheek might be from food getting stuck and an infection occurring, but there are other possible causes.

Karen Rosenthal, DVM, MS
Posted: December 10, 2015, 8:40 p.m. EST

hamster with stuffed cheeks
Via Zixii/Flickr 
Hamsters stuff their cheeks. It's what they do, and most of the time it doesn't cause a problem.

Q: My hamster is 2 years and 5 months old. His outside cheek is red and swollen, and he has some open sore or cuts on his skin. The veterinarian gave him cipro [antibiotic] but don’t know exactly what is wrong. Do you have any idea? He is acting fine though. It’s day three of cipro, and I can’t tell if it’s working yet. Will I know when? 

A: What you seem to be describing is an enlarged cheek pouch. This is common in pet hamsters. Sometimes this occurs because hamsters love to stuff these pouches full of food and if the food gets "stuck” in the pouch, they will walk around for days with enlarged pouches. Occasionally, the food causes irritation in the pouch leading to a break in the lining of the pouch and infection occurs. The cheek pouch then appears swollen and red on the outside. 

Usually, cleaning out the cheek pouch and oral antibiotics can cure this problem. 

See more hamster health questions and answers 

In some hamsters, there can be an underlying problem, such as cancer, that leads to a red and swollen cheek pouch. It may at first appear that there is an infection causing the problem but typical treatment does not improve the appearance of the pouch. 

In your hamster’s case, he may not be improving because it has only been a few days of treatment. Or he may not be improving because the bacteria causing the problem are resistant to the antibiotic. Finally, he may not be improving because there is another underlying cause to the swollen and red cheek pouch. 

The best advice is to call your veterinarian, let him or her know about the lack of progress, and then you and your vet can decide when to stop the medication and proceed along a different path of treatment.

Posted: December 10, 2015, 8:40 p.m. EST

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