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Wet Tail in Hamsters

Wet tail in hamsters is very commonly seen in general veterinary practice. All the species of hamster are susceptible to it and unfortunately it carries a very high mortality rate.

Wet tail (proliferative ileitis/ transmissible ileal hyperplasia) causes severe diarrhoea in hamsters. This is probably the most common disease seen in the Golden hamster. It is usually a short disease lasting 3 to 5 days but can last longer. Death may occur in as little as 24 hours after the onset of signs. Owners will notice that the tail end and sometimes the abdomen of the hamster is wet, soiled and smelly due to a watery diarrhoea. The hamster may become very lethargic and irritable. There may be signs of abdominal pain, e.g. vocalization when handled and a hunched up appearance. Often the hamster will stop eating which leads to rapid weight loss. Left untreated the hamster is most likely to die and unfortunately even with the best veterinary attention many animals will be lost.

Wet tail is thought to be caused by E. coli perhaps in conjunction with Campylobacter, both of which have been isolated from affected hamsters. It may be that stress or another problem such as a viral or parasitic infection facilitates the onset of the disease. Due to the nature of this disease practice good hygiene when handling a hamster with wet tail . Always wash your hands immediately after handling affected hamsters and keep food bowls etc entirely separate from those of healthy animals; care for sick animals after you have seen to the healthy ones to reduce the spread of disease. The disease is easily spread between hamsters by direct contact, so always isolate affected individuals. Weaned babies up to 8 weeks of age seem to be most affected by this disease.

If you suspect your hamster has this disease please consult your vet promptly. Take food away from the cage so that the gut can rest for 24 hours. Keep your hamster warm. Aim to clean the cage every 3 days or so as a balance between hygiene and the reduction of stress. Your vet will probably treat your hamster with antibiotics such as neomycin, enrofloxacin or metronidazole, usually given as drops or in the drinking water. (The drinking water route will cause the least stress to your hamster). Sometimes oral, subcutaneous or intraperitoneal fluids may be given to counter the effects of dehydration. Also corticosteroids and multivitamins may be given to support the recovering hamster. Unfortunately treatment is not always successful and the hamster succumbs to the disease.

Aim to prevent this disease by practicing good hygiene and keeping your hamster content and non-stressed. Allow a new hamster a week or so in its new environment before you handle it too much. Take extra care with recently weaned animals. There may be some genetic factors involved in the susceptibility of hamsters to wet tail so do not breed from recovered individuals.

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