Hamster with a Head Tilt

Vestibular disease

head tilt

A hamster with Vestibular disease and head tilt.

The vestibular system contributes to balance and sense of spatial orientation together with the cochlea, a part of the auditory system; it constitutes the labyrinth of the inner ear. Disease of the vestibular system can take different forms but nearly always induces instability. Common signs of vestibular syndrome in a hamster may include falling over (loss of balance) stumbling, a head tilt, rotation of the head with one ear held lower than the other. Vestibular disease may be caused by a trauma, or tumors of the ear canal. This can affect the head and neck of the hamster in which the head may be held or tilted to one side. This is not a genetic disorder but one that is caused by an illness, inner ear infections are  the most common causes.
A head tilt is a sign of inner ear (Vestibular) disease. The animal will have the inability to co-ordinate voluntary muscular movements. Changes in head and neck positions are relayed through the inner ear and this affects the nerves to the brain. Infection can enter through the external ear or through the blood stream. Tumors and trauma are another cause of vestibular disease as tumors of the ear canal can lead to bleeding from the ear leading to infections.
The animal does not usually show any other signs of weakness in any other part of the body. The affected animal will lean, tip, fall, or roll toward the side of the lesion and usually moves around in circles. This circling should not be confused with the genetic neurological disorder of circling. (See videos below) In severe cases this can make it difficult for the hamster to locate his food and water, always make sure they are easily accessible to him. In this case it may advisable to keep the hamster in a cage with one ground floor as the animal may find it difficult to negotiate ladders, tubes, or ramps.
Inner ear infections can be treated by a veterinarian with antibiotics and supportive care therapy from you. The prognosis is good and the vast majority will recover most of their normal head position and lead normal lives. 

inner ear infection

An elderly female with an inner ear infection

Inner ear infection

In this video the elderly female hamster has an inner ear infection and has lost all sense of balance and is unable to stand up at all. It is usually caused by a virus, but it can also arise from a bacterial infection, or following an upper respiratory tract infection. As part of the treatment she was given an Anti-inflammatory injection to relive the inflammation and pain. She was then put on a course of oral Baytril for one week and she made a complete recovery.


Hamsters that have suffered a stroke can show symptoms very similar to vestibular disease. Strokes are blood clots in the brain that block of the blood supply. This can cause anything from temporary balance and movement loss to limb paralysis, and if severe, even death. Most often this affects the elderly hamster. The hamster may appear un-coordinated with an unsteady gait and semi-paralysis on one side of the body that can result in a head tilt with the inability to walk straight. Within the course of a couple of weeks a hamster that has had a stroke may show some sign of improvement in their co-ordination but some of the head tilt may remain.


An old male hamster that's had a stroke

A hamster with a neurological disorder that should not to be confused with Vestibular disease Circling

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