When we first chose our hamster at the pet store, we were given a leaflet on the dangers of wet tail. Thought to be the most common hamster illness (and unfortunately the most fatal), its symptoms are often misdiagnosed. But what is wet tail and how do I know if my hamster has it?
What is hamster wet tail?
Hamster wet tail or “proliferative ileitis” as it is commonly known, is an intestinal disease that usually effects young hamsters. Distinguishable by excessive diarrhea that makes the tail area appear wet and dirty, it is usually triggered by stress.
Here I look at the symptoms, treatment and prevention of wet tail in hamsters.
Hamster wet tail symptoms
Proliferative ileitis is a highly contagious illness that most commonly effects Syrian hamsters and is caused by stress.
Whilst it’s the diarrhea which makes the tail area look wet and dirty (hence wet tail), there are many other wet tail symptoms that you should look out for. These include: –
- Loss of appetite
- Failure to groom
- Sunken eyes
- Abdominal pain
- Hunched Posture
In serious cases you may also notice blood in your hamster’s urine and bowel movements.
Wet tail can be contracted when hamsters come into contact with the bacteria “lawsonia intracellularis” which is found in feces. It may be incubated through contaminated food and water sources, but only becomes a threat when a hamster’s immune system is lowered.
Stress is often the main factor in this, and anything from environmental changes to illness, dietary adjustments, an unclean habitat or even travelling can have serious implications.
Can they catch it from other hamsters?
Hamsters can also catch wet tail from other cage mates, so young hamsters are particularly susceptible. Even if their furry pals are perfectly healthy, moving a baby hamster away from its everyday environment at the pet store to new surroundings, smells and noises can be overwhelming. That is why it is so important to give your new companion time to settle into their forever home before you start to handle them.
Can hamsters survive wet tail?
Wet tail can be fatal for your hamster if it is not treated within 48 hours, with most dying from dehydration. It is important to note that you cannot treat wet tail yourself with over the counter pet medicines.
What to do if your hamster has wet tail
You can treat your hamster yourself with wet tail drops available at Amazon. However, as soon as you spot the signs you should seek veterinary advice.
For the best chance of a full recovery, you should seek out veterinary help a.s.a.p., preferably within the first 24 hours. Wet tail in hamsters is considered serious enough to require emergency care.
Once diagnosed by a professional, they will provide your hamster with antibiotic drops to clear the infection and something to treat the diarrhea. They may also need to give your hamster an injection of fluids.
After that, it is your responsibility to provide the best care in order to nurse your hamster back to full health. This will include:
- Making sure that your hamster’s habitat has been thoroughly cleaned with disinfectant and their toys and accessories bleached before allowing them back in.
- Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling.
- Only feed them their regular pre-mixed food. Lay off the treats for a while and avoid additional fresh fruit and vegetables – especially those with a high water content.
- Never bathe your hamster, but if their tail looks a little icky, gentle wipe it clean with a damp cotton bud.
- Try to minimize the amount of stress your hamster may be exposed too. Place them in a familiar room that is quiet and calm until they are back to their best.
Ways to reduce the risks of wet tail
Avoiding stress is a simple way of keeping your hamster healthy, but there are other things that you should be aware of: –
- Don’t pick a hamster from a crowded cage in the pet shop. As wet tail is highly contagious, the more hamsters you have in a cage the higher the chances of it catching something. If there is a hamster you are particularly taken with, you should check its living area thoroughly and the health of its fellow fur companions, before committing.
- Don’t stress out your new hamster. Young hamsters under the age of 12 weeks are the most prone to developing wet tail, as they are moved away from their parents and into a new home. In order to help your hamster remain calm throughout this transition, try and resist the temptation to handle them too much to begin with, letting them explore on their own.
- Keep them on food they are used to. Hamster love variety and in the wild are used to eating almost anything. But even if you want to experiment with new food choices, try and introduce them to your hamster over time, rather than switching feed immediately.
- Spot clean your hamster regularly. There is no need to clean your hamster out every few days, unless of course they are under the weather. As long as you spot clean their cage every few days to prevent feces hanging around and getting in places that it shouldn’t, your hamster will be happy in its habitat.
- Remove old food and change water daily. You wouldn’t want to eat food that has been sitting around for days, so why should your hamster? Remember to remove any old or rotting food from your hamster’s cage and replace it regularly with a fresh bowl.
Wet tail is one of those illness that has such a short window in order to spot the symptoms and if not caught quickly enough can have serious implications. Therefore, if you suspect your hamster is poorly and harboring this illness then you should contact your vet immediately. And remember, recovery can be quick when diagnosed and treated correctly.