A. Firstly, a hamster is highly unlikely to get fleas. Hamsters do tend to spend a lot of time grooming. Sometimes the grooming may look excessive and be interpreted as itching or scratching.
If there is no physical evidence of skin disease, for example hair loss, rashes, flaky skin, swollen extremities and ulceration or bleeding, there may in fact be nothing wrong. If hamsters do have fleas, they are incidental hosts just like people can be. Hamsters can suffer from various skin disorders that can cause scratching, the symptoms of which are noted above.
These disorders are most notably allergies, dermatophytosis (fungal infection of the skin), mites, skin cancer and even stress. It is important that these conditions leading to clinical signs are not self-diagnosed. They are best treated by a veterinarian as some of the treatments may be dangerous to the hamster.
Dr Jurie Grobler, Eastleigh
Q. I have a one-year-old cockatiel. He eats a cockatiel mix and a small quantity of fresh fruit and vegetables in the cage every day. He also has a mineral block and cuttlefish. He seems to scratch a lot – could this be mites or fleas?
A. Yes, it is possible for your bird to get fleas or mites, although mites are more common. You can contact your vet in this regard and also get hold of a suitable insect repellent.
The scratching problem could also be related to his diet. If your cockatiel is on a seed diet, it is likely that he will have a vitamin A shortage, which causes dry skin and could be irritating him. Try to put him on a balanced diet, which includes not only fresh fruit and vegetables, but also a good quality pellet. That should also improve his condition and the mineral block and cuttlefish will not even be necessary.
Dr Deon de Beer, avian veterinarian