Smaller pets, like hamsters, are sometimes overlooked by vets in favor of larger pets, like dogs and cats. This means that some aspects of a hamster’s anatomy aren’t common knowledge – like the scent glands.
Did you know that your hamster has scent glands? Many owners don’t, and might only notice the scent glands when there’s a problem.
Many other animals have scent glands, and those glands have the potential to become blocked and infected.
So, what should you know about your hamster’s scent glands? What are the signs of an infected scent gland, and how can you clean it? When should you take your hamster to see a vet?
Let’s find out.
What Are Hamster Scent Glands?
A hamster’s scent glands release pheromones, which they use to communicate with other hamsters. We humans might notice this scent as a musky, strong odor, which can be mistakenly attributed to the smell of a hamster’s cage.
Where the scent glands are on your hamster will depend on the species. For example, Syrian hamsters have bilateral glands on their flanks, whereas some dwarf hamster scent glands are on their lower abdomen.
The glands can vary in appearance, too. They range from protuberant and sometimes hairless, to flat, greasy, and pigmented. The glands can also vary between individual hamsters, and this can depend on their coloring and species. From time to time, these glands may appear wet and even oozing, which can worry some inexperienced hamster owners.
Male hamsters tend to have more obvious scent glands than females and will lick and scratch at their glands if they’re irritated. This can be a sign that there’s something wrong with the gland.
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Signs of Infected Hamster Scent Glands
Noticing a hamster’s scent gland for the first time can cause some owners to worry, thinking that the gland is a tumor or infection of some sort. It’s important to know what a normal scent gland looks like first.
It’s not unusual for the scent gland to look bald, flat, and greasy after the hamster licks it, and a musky scent isn’t unusual, either. In fact, the musky smell is a fairly normal stage of hamster maturity.
However, especially in dwarf hamsters, there can be an infection or tumorous growths around the scent gland, so be sure that you know what your hamster’s scent gland looks like. If you suspect there’s any serious change in your hamster’s scent glands, or you suspect a tumor, take your hamster to a vet.
How can you know if your hamster’s scent glands are infected? The number one symptom is localized redness and inflammation, as well as your hamster being in pain. Keep an eye out for these signs:
- An inflamed, swollen scent gland
- Persistent scratching, biting, or licking at the gland from your hamster
- Your hamster seems reluctant to move and hunches over (a symptom of pain)
- Your hamster begins to act differently, possibly becoming more aggressive, biting more frequently, and does not want to be picked up (again a symptom of pain)
- Bleeding from the scent gland
- Ulceration or pus
If you notice these symptoms, you should take your hamster to the vet. A serious infection may need proper veterinary treatment.
For more pictures for locating scent glands, I suggest you read this forum post
Cleaning a Hamster’s Scent Glands
Hamsters are very clean animals, and will usually keep their scent glands clean by themselves. However, if you notice your hamster starts smelling too strongly, or seems to be scratching at the site, you might need to give your hamster a little help. Fortunately, cleaning a hamster’s scent gland (especially a tame hamster) is not as difficult as you might imagine.
Start by making sure that you know exactly where your hamster’s scent gland is, and that you know what it usually looks like. You’ll need Q-Tips, or cotton swabs, and a small bowl of warm to lukewarm water.
Hold your hamster securely, and gently rub at the scent gland with a wet cotton swab. If your hamster’s scent gland is very dirty and possibly crusted, you may need to use a solution made especially for hamsters, or else patiently scrub at the scent gland until it’s clean.
Keeping your hamster’s cage clean goes a long way to preventing infection in the scent glands. Dwarf male hamsters rub their ventral scent glands on their cage and around their surroundings as a way of marking their territory. So, if the cage is dirty, your hamster has more chance of getting an infection.
When to See a Vet
If you notice any changes to your hamster’s scent gland, you should take them to a vet. It’s not uncommon for tumors to grow around the scent gland area, especially if your hamster is old, sick, or prone to infections.
Changes in your hamster’s behavior are also signs that something is wrong. As mentioned earlier, reluctance to move, not wanting to be picked up, or newfound aggressiveness can all be symptoms that your hamster is in pain.
Blood or pus oozing from a hamster’s scent gland is another clear sign that something is wrong. If you notice these signs, it’s too late to start cleaning your hamster’s scent glands. An infection could have already set in, and your best bet is to visit the vet, at the very least to rule out more serious causes.
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The Bottom Line
Let’s be honest. Cleaning a hamster’s scent glands probably isn’t the glamorous life you imagined with your furry pet. However, clean and healthy scent glands are a crucial part of a hamster’s health and well-being.
More often than not, you won’t need to maintain your hamster’s scent glands at all. Hamsters keep themselves – and their scent glands – very clean. A quick once-over every now and then is all you need to do to ensure your hamster’s scent glands are clean and working properly.
Even if you never need to clean your hamster’s scent glands, knowing how to do the procedure yourself is an important part of owning a pet hamster.
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