Wet tail disease in hamsters
Before I started researching wet tail disease in hamsters, I thought, “well, how bad can that be? So, what if their tails are a little soggy?” Well, it’s horrible. Life-threatening, actually, if not treated as soon as possible by your exotic vet.
What is wet tail disease and what are the causes?
Wet tail is a SERIOUS health condition common in Syrian hamsters under 3 months old. Although any hamster can contract the disease, our Syrian friends have a higher chance. Wet tail disease is literally a wet tail on your hamster, diarrhea being the cause. Bacteria (Campylobacter jejuni… for those of you brave enough to try to pronounce that doozy) overgrowth causes the wet tail (or diarrhea).
What causes the overgrowth?
The number one cause of wet tail disease in hamsters is stress. I can actually believe that because when I’m stressed to the max, I get physically sick, too. The same goes for our small pets. It’s stressful when young hamsters get moved around a lot (breeder, pet store, humane society (support adoption!)) to new homes! And it’s standard for them to be returned. Imagine someone making you change your living environment multiple times in a matter of weeks? I’d have issues, too.
Other stress causes? Picking your hamster up too often and dirty cages. Finally, sudden diet changes or feeding them the wrong diet such as fruits/veggies with high water content. So many things can cause stress in hamsters, just like many things can cause stress in humans.
This stress causes normal gut flora to overpopulate. In turn, that’s what causes wet tail disease.
Signs and symptoms
Obviously, a wet tail covered in diarrhea is #1. But other symptoms will be present. Your hammy will smell foul. No interest in food. Lethargy. A hunched back. Folded ears. Aggression. Really, they’re just all around down and out.
FYI, hamsters can get diarrhea without testing positive for wet tail disease. If you’re unsure what’s causing your pet’s loose stool, get to your vet. Right. Away. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Do not wait a day to see if they improve. If wet tail is untreated, your beloved pet will likely die. (And in a very short time. We’re talking about hours!)
If positive for wet tail, your hamster will be prescribed antibiotics and most likely receive intravenous fluids to rehydrate. Also, your vet will have you syringe feed your hamster to combat the loss of appetite.
Oh, and wet tail disease in hamsters is super-duper contagious. While adult hamsters live alone, remove the hamster from their playmates until they’re in the clear if you have a bunch of babies. We don’t need a bunch of wet tail hamsters infecting each other. Clean their cage and toys. Feed only dry foods if possible… we don’t want the loose stool becoming looser stool. That doesn’t help anyone. Don’t bathe them. Baths can stress the hamster even further, worsening their symptoms.
Do EVERYTHING you can to reduce stress. Talk to your exotic vet. They’re going to be your number one resource in overcoming wet tail disease in hamsters. The best chance of recovery is when treatment begins within 24 hours of experiencing symptoms. The only cure for this disease is antibiotic treatment.
So… did I mention getting to your vet? #savethehamsters!
Other possible explanations
Like with any illness, your hamster may have symptoms similar to wet tail without wet tail being present. It is important to be very clear with your vet and have the animal checked.
- UTI (urinary tract infection): This is most common in older female hamsters but can happen to any hamster of any age. Symptoms include blood in the urine, smelly urine, dirty yellow or brown stains around the genitals, ruffled coat, excessive drinking, tiredness, loss of appetite, and squeaking when going to the toilet.
- Uterine problems: Only happen in female hamsters, especially older ones that have been bred. Symptoms include: bleeding around the genitals, a smelly metallic brown or yellow discharge, a swollen or lumpy abdomen, a protrusion from the genitalia, e.g., something hanging out, and symptoms do not improve with antibiotics. Your hamster may seem bright and healthy. Possibilities are infection, obstruction, tumor, injury, or birthing problems.
- Poor diet: This can cause mushy, sticky, or runs without a strong odor or symptoms of wet tail. There may be diarrhea in the cage, and the hamster may be quiet with a loss of appetite, but it is not usually as severe. This can, however, lead to wet tail. Cut back on greens and only give them as a treat and do not feed your hamster human foods.
- Sitting in their own mess: Usually causes a staining or damp urine smell/poo stuck to the hamster that is not runny or mushy. Your hamster will likely smell and improve after being wiped with a baby wipe and the cage thoroughly cleaned out.
If you want more helpful advice on looking after your hamster, including tips on toys, accessories and accommodation, add a comment below to let us know!
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