Hamsters are at risk of a condition commonly known as lumpy jaw. This is an infectious condition that's caused by the A. bovis strain of bacteria. This bacterium is usually present in a hamster's mouth and causes no problems, but when it enters the bloodstream through a break in the skin, it can cause an infection in the jawbone. Breaks in the skin can be caused by chewing on rough or sharp objects, such as the corners of plastic housing or getting into fights with other hamsters.
Symptoms of Lumpy Jaw
Lumpy jaw tends to cause respiratory symptoms before there are any noticeable changes to your hamster's jaw. Their breathing can become strained as a result of internal inflammation in the jaw, and their skin may have a bluish tinge due to a drop in the level of oxygen their body circulates. As the inflammation progresses and the outer jaw becomes visibly swollen, your hamster will develop abscesses along the salivary glands. These abscesses will be painful and interfere with your hamster's ability to eat. AS a result, your hamster may become lethargic and withdrawn.
Diagnosing Lumpy Jaw
Lumpy jaw is straightforward to diagnose and involves a physical examination and analysis of a sample of the pus from the abscesses. Your vet will retrieve this sample using a small needle, and the sample will be used to identify the strain of bacteria present. Blood and urine samples may be taken if your vet thinks your hamster is dehydrated due to not being able to eat and drink properly.
Treating Lumpy Jaw
Lumpy jaw needs to be treated with oral antibiotics, and your vet will show you how to gently give them to your hamster. Abscesses will also need to be drained, and this procedure is typically carried out using general anaesthetic. A scalpel will be used to lance the abscesses, as draining them encourages quicker healing and protects the jawbone. After the procedure, your vet may recommend a special soft diet for your hamster while they recover, as their mouth will be sore. Their food will need to be nutrient-dense to support their recovery, and your vet will want to arrange a follow-up appointment to ensure the infection is resolved and your hamster is eating and drinking normally.
When you take your hamster home, you will need to ensure their living environment is kept very clean to reduce the risk of reinfection. They will also benefit from a calm environment while they recover.
Contact your vet clinic right away if you suspect your hamster has developed lumpy jaw.