How many of you knew that hamsters have scent glands?
Hamster scent glands are used by the male hamsters to mark their territory (by rubbing against the item to be marked) while female scent glands are associated with their estrous cycle. The location and appearance of the glands varies by gender and species of hamster. These scent glands, also known as ‘flank glands’ or ‘hip spots’ are more prominent in male hamsters. In Syrian hamsters, the scent glands are bilaterally located on the flanks, while the domestic dwarf species of hamsters have single scent glands located on the ventral midline near the umbilicus (read: ‘the middle of the tummy near the belly button’).
The appearance of the glands varies as well: the Syrian hamsters have flat scent glands which may be pigmented and frequently appear wet or greasy looking, with some longer hairs growing over them. The dwarf hamsters have scent glands which protrude out and are sometimes hairless; you may see a greasy or waxy appearing secretion from these glands. The female hamsters’ scent glands are less obvious; still, none of the scent glands can be described as attractive (to non-hamsters, anyway), nor is the scent itself attractive (to non-hamsters). The strength of the odor normally ranges from unnoticeable to a strong, musky scent. Typically, healthy scent glands just need to be checked once or twice a week to ensure there are no problems.
Hamsters may normally lick the scent gland until the entire area is wet, or they may scratch and rub the gland as if the gland is irritated, leading owners to believe there is something amiss. The normally protuberant glands of dwarf hamsters are frequently mistaken for tumors.
Scent glands can occasionally become infected and/or develop tumors (usually malignant) so it is important that owners know what these glands are and what they normally look like in their particular pet. An increase in size, unusual discharge, crusting, ulceration, bleeding or inflammation of the scent glands necessitates a trip to the exotics veterinarian for evaluation. If the gland does become inflamed or infected, the veterinarian may prescribe topical therapy. Senior hamsters can also develop cancers of the scent glands, and male hamsters that are housed together may bite the scent glands of the other male hamsters and cause severe wounds.
Other indications that there may be something wrong would be a change in the temperament of the hamster (unusual aggression or nipping), a hunched posture and/or reluctance to move – these can all be signs of pain in a hamster.
The Humane Society of Greater Dayton and Robyn’s Nest Rescue often have adoptable hamsters. You may go to their websites to see what adoptable small pets they have, but it is never a bad idea to call and see if a hamster or other small pet has arrived at the shelter in the last day or two and simply has not been posted to the website yet.
To receive email notifications when my new articles post to the Dayton Small Pets Examiner page, please use the "Subscribe to Email" link (under the headline, above), or follow me on Twitter to receive notification of all of my articles. If you have questions, comments or suggestions please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for the timeliest response.