By Karen Rosenthal, DVM, DABVP
I have a black teddy bear hamster that has a lump the size of a apricot pit on her belly located under her right front leg. She is active, runs on her wheel, eats her food, drinks water and loves to be held by humans. She does everything that she always has done before, and the lump does not hurt her if we touch it. She seems to be in no pain. I thought it might be a piece of a cut and peeled apple that we gave to her four days ago. I don’t have money to take her to the vet. What could this be?
Lumps can be two things — a cancer or an infection. An infection like this is usually called an abscess. An abscess is a more organized infection and usually looks like a lump. An abscess rarely resolves on its own; it needs to be treated with antibiotics or removed with surgery. Home remedies rarely help. You can try a warm compress if your hamster lets you. It is unlikely this will work, but it won’t hurt. If you cannot visit a veterinarian, this is something you can try at home.
An example of a warm compress is a washcloth that has been soaked in warm (not hot) water and has been wrung out so it is not dripping water. It is then placed against the lump for about 5 to 10 minutes at a time, if your hamster will allow you to do that. Around 10 minutes time, the compress has become the same temperature as the ambient air and is no longer useful. You can apply the warm compress as many times during the day as you and your hamster can stand.
The other category of lumps is cancers. In general, two types of cancers exist, benign and malignant. Benign cancers can be found anywhere on the body. They can cause problems if they interfere with normal function or if your hamster decides to irritate the mass and it starts to bleed. Otherwise, benign cancers may not cause any problems.
Malignant cancers are much more serious and many times lead to the death of the patient. In the early stages of both cancers, it is impossible, most times, to know which type of cancer is present — benign or malignant. You can wait to see what happens or you can visit your veterinarian.
Although you may not be able to treat an abscess, a benign cancer, or a malignant cancer at home, finding out which is present, at least gives you peace of mind so you know what to expect in the coming weeks and months for your hamster.