Diabetes runs in our family. My grandma and my dad also suffer with it, but it now appears that another member of our family has developed it…our hamster Oscar.
Diabetes affects both humans and hamsters and needs to be controlled and managed through access to plenty of fluids and a balanced diet. If left untreated or undiagnosed, diabetes can cause serious health problems for your hamster.
Unlike people, hamsters are unable to manage their diabetes for themselves, so it is our responsibility as owners, to take control of the diagnosis. Diabetes is not a curable disease, but with the proper care and management, your hamster can still live a fulfilling and happy life.
To find out more about diabetes in hamsters, how to spot the onset of symptoms and how to care for your hamster once diagnosed, read our blog below.
What is hamster diabetes?
In its simplest form, having diabetes means that your pancreas can’t produce enough insulin to deal with the glucose inside your body. If you eat foods that are high in starch, then your body needs to break them down into glucose, in order to enter your bloodstream.
Normally, the glucose makes its way through the bloodstream until insulin arrives to divert it into your body’s cells. If, however, your pancreas can’t produce enough insulin, the glucose starts to build up and starve your body of energy.
Just like in humans, there are two types of diabetes that your hamster could develop. Type 1 diabetes is when the pancreas can’t produce insulin, taking fat and muscle tissue instead in order to find energy. Type 2, however, is when the body becomes completely resistant to insulin.
When it comes to hamsters, both types of diabetes are dangerous illnesses to have, especially since they are such small pets which make caring for them challenging. Although most cases of diabetes within hamsters can be controlled through diet and exercise, some might require insulin shots and regular monitoring of their sugar levels.
How do I know if my hamster has diabetes?
Hamsters are not born with diabetes; it is something that they develop over time. But how do you know if your hamster has the onset of diabetes? Below we list some of the main symptoms: –
- Increased appetite – Your hamster is likely to increase their food intake as they constantly lack energy.
- Greater thirst – Diabetes cause the kidneys to allow extra glucose to filter out through your hamster’s urine. In order for glucose to exit the body it needs liquid, so will take water from other areas, causing your hamster to feel extreme thirst and increase their drinking.
- Excessive toiletry habits – As your hamster drinks more water to remove the extra glucose in their bodies, you are likely to see them urinating more. The urine itself may have a sweet aroma, as glucose is a type of sugar.
- Hyperactivity or a lack of energy – Depending on what stage your hamsters’ body is at in processing the glucose, they are likely to experience changing levels of energy.
- Loss of weight – Although your hamster may be eating more, their body is burning fat and muscle quicker, causing them to lose weight.
It is important that if you suspect that your hamster does have diabetes, you seek a diagnosis immediately. This can be done yourself, via a urine test, which can enable you to assess your hamsters sugar levels within their wee. These tests can be bought relatively cheaply online such as this one:
You should also consult with your vet, as they will be able to carry out a range of tests and can give advice on the correct diet for your hamster.
Our hamster’s diabetes got diagnosed by our local vet, whilst Oscar was being treated for another illness. Although his diabetes needs to be dietary controlled, he has developed Type 2 only and so there is no need for medical intervention. In some more serious cases, however, insulin may be required.
How to care for a hamster with diabetes
All hamsters should have access to freshwater, but a hamster with diabetes is likely to drink a lot more. Therefore, you need to make sure it is constantly topped up as well as cleaning out the cage on a more regular basis.
Diet is also extremely important, and how you manage it is vital to your hamster’s health. Although it can be hard to resist spoiling your hamster, you need to start being strict.
That said, a balanced diet is still crucial, as completely removing sugar could do more harm than good and send your hamster into hypoglycemic shock. Instead, try to limit the amount of sugar to smaller than average doses.
A hamster with diabetes will find it difficult to dissolve and convert sugar into energy. Therefore, you should read the ingredients on your current dried feed and check for any added sugars, such as molasses, sugar cane, corn syrup, or fructose. If the food does contain these sugars, then you might want to think about changing to a low sugar feed.
Store-bought hamster treats also contain high levels of sugar, so look for the sugar-free varieties or why not try making some homemade versions instead.
Treats, such as fresh fruits and even carrots can be difficult for a diabetic hamster to break down. We recommend swapping these out for a piece of celery, broccoli, or spinach. Ideally, you want to be feeding your hamster a high protein (10-15%) and high fiber diet (50%).
Although some diabetic hamsters (Oscar included) lose weight when they develop diabetes, it is important that they still partake in regular exercise such as running in a ball or a wheel. This keeps them mobile, gets the blood pumping and can delay the onset of diabetes in some hamsters.
Which breed of hamster is prone to diabetes?
Although more common in dwarf hamsters (Campbell Russian and Winter White), diabetes does not discriminate, and any hamster breed can suffer with it.
Type 1 diabetes tends to be diagnosed at around 3-4 months and is often known as early-onset or juvenile diabetes. Type 2 diabetes, however, develops later in life and can generally be controlled simply with a change in diet.
Although diabetes in Syrians is a lot less common it is not unusual. What is unusual, however, is that Type 2 diabetes is generally associated with being overweight and inactive, yet our Syrian hamster Oscar is neither – in fact he has always been frenetic and borderline thin!
How much water should my hamster drink?
I constantly hear our hamster glugging back mouthfuls of water, which is not unusual for a diabetic hamster as they are prone to dehydration.
A healthy hamster only needs 2-4 teaspoons of water a day in order to remain hydrated (depending on their size and breed), whereas a hamster suffering from diabetes will drink way more than that. This is why it is so important to ensure that their water bottles are topped up at all times.
If you suspect that your hamster is getting dehydrated, then you should pinch the skin between its shoulders. If it fails to spring back, then your hamster is not getting enough fluids and you seek veterinary advice immediately.
Check out our blog on ‘what hamsters can drink’ for more advice.
How long can a hamster with diabetes live for?
The chances of your hamster developing diabetes can increase with age. But don’t panic, because although diabetes isn’t curable it’s also not a death sentence. By paying special attention to your hamster’s diet they can live a long and happy life.
If left undiagnosed, however, or poorly managed then there is a chance that your hamster could suffer serious side effects such as heart problems, kidney failure and blindness. This is why it is so important that if you suspect that your hamster may have diabetes, that you get it tested and checked straight away.
There are a lot of myths surrounding hamster diabetes, so you always make sure that you do your research.
First of all, make sure that you get a confirmed diagnosis of diabetes and not take things for granted. A lot of the symptoms that hamsters display can also be warning signs for other types of serious illnesses.
If your hamster does have diabetes it is not something you need to be scared about, and in the main, nothing much should really change. A slight tweak in diet and regular monitoring of their fluid intake is often enough to ensure they live a happy, care-free life.