Just like other animals, hamsters require adequate vitamins for their bodies to function properly. Vitamins D and E are particularly important for bone and muscle health. Pregnant hamsters who are deficient in these two vitamins often birth pups who have weakened skeletal systems or are stillborn, without properly developed nervous systems, because the mother's body sought the vitamin from the fetus. Proper diet overcomes these vitamin deficiencies.
No Sunshine Indoors
Vitamin D is dubbed the sunshine vitamin because humans and animals produce vitamin D after being exposed to sunlight. This works well for companion animals such as cats and dogs who spend time outside. This is not the case for hamsters who live indoors. This means that vitamin D levels are particularly important to monitor for these rodents who get no exposure to natural sunlight, according to the Hammy's World website.
Vitamin D plays a critical role in bone health for hamsters. It aids in the absorption of dietary calcium and phosphorus -- both critical minerals for the proper development and maintenance of the bones supporting body weight. When vitamin D levels are insufficient, the hamster's body responds by dissolving existing bone to get the calcium and phosphorus it needs. The bones of the hip and hind legs are the largest of a hamster's skeleton and are the first casualties of this process, according to Hammy's World. It leads to hind leg paralysis, in which the bones become too weak to support the hamster's body weight.
Sources of Vitamin D
Leafy green vegetables -- which most hamsters eat enthusiastically -- are excellent natural sources of vitamin D. Cod liver oil is also high in vitamin D. Coating your hamster's food with a teaspoon of cod liver oil or other fatty fish oil is a simple and tasty way to boost his vitamin D levels. A word of caution: Don't diagnose and attempt to supplement a vitamin D deficiency without appropriate blood work performed by a veterinarian to confirm your suspicion. Too much vitamin D in a hamster's diet can cause diarrhea and weight loss, according to SmallAnimalChannel.com
Role of Vitamin E
Vitamin E deficiencies in hamsters, as with other animals, often lead to muscle paralysis, stiffness or lameness. This is because vitamin E, which is an antioxidant, works to protect the cells of the body from toxins. It also boosts the immune system. Hamsters with insufficient vitamin E are prone to anemia, which is a condition marked by a deficiency of red blood cells in the blood. Lactating hamsters with a vitamin E deficiency are also more prone to mastitis, according to the petMD website.
Diagnosing Vitamin E Deficiency
If your hamster is exhibiting symptoms of a vitamin E deficiency, blood work done by a veterinarian can possibly confirm the condition. Unfortunately, accurately estimating the amount of vitamin E in the bloodstream is tricky. Veterinary researchers are still unraveling the complexity of vitamin E, and the results of blood work focused solely on this vitamin are often inaccurate, according to petMD.
Treating Vitamin E Deficiency
Depending on the severity of the case, a veterinarian may recommend supplementing your hamster's diet with vitamin E in capsule or oil form. However, most cases of vitamin E deficiency are related to poor diet and are often resolved with dietary changes, according to petMD. Feeding vegetables such as spinach and broccoli -- both of which are high in vitamin E -- is a natural way to resolve this deficiency.
Amy M. Armstrong is a former community news journalist with more than 15 years of experience writing features and covering school districts. She has received more than 40 awards for excellence in journalism and photography. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Washington State University. Armstrong grew up on a dairy farm in western Washington and wrote agricultural news while in college.