Friday, October 24, 2014

Sick Hamster

Today's advice was requested by a person from the U.S. who we'll refer to henceforth as S. S asks:

"my hamster is going absolutely nuts and she is bleeding a little from her uh private parts and idk whats wrong; i fed her and everything and she’s got water."

In female hamsters there is a lot that could be wrong here. It may be an infection of the uterus called Pyometra, a tumor located somewhere in the abdomen, Wet Tail (a common bacterial infection in rodents), or something else all together.

How old is she? How long have you had her? Do you keep her with other hamsters? Has she ever been bred? How much is she bleeding? Is she still eating normally? Is she still drinking normally?
I suggest seeking veterinary intervention if at all possible. I know it can be difficult as not all vets are up to snuff on rodent care (in fact a lot of them see only cats and dogs exclusively). You may need to call around in order to find one and there may be travel involved.

There are some antibiotics for Wet Tail available without a visit to the vet in many pet stores. You can try this, but if it is Wet Tail and it has advanced this far, it may not be enough. But it is better than nothing!

If it is Pyometra she will probably need to be spayed.

If it is a tumor, antibiotics may be given to kill off infection and thereby decrease inflammation, but if it is a tumor there is seldom anything more to be done. Some rodents, however, live near full lives even with tumors so long as you keep an eye out for infections.

For at home care you may serve her a bit (1-2 teaspoons) of Kale every-other-day to help boost her platelets to replace what she’s losing. Remember, even though a drop of blood might seem like nothing to us, to such a small creature it is quite a bit.

To help keep her digestive tract healthy (especially if you’ll be giving her antibiotics), you may offer 1/2-1 teaspoons of Greek yogurt daily until her condition improves.

If she is having difficulty eating or showing disinterest, offer her some warm oatmeal (plain or with fruit you have added — not the prepackaged kind with fruit as it has a lot of sugar). Many hamsters love this treat and will partake even if they aren’t feeling well.

If she isn’t drinking, you will need to get a small eye dropper or syringe (sans the needle, obv.) and give her water gradually, several times per day. Dehydration will kill most things before their actual illness does, so it is very important to make sure she continues drinking on her own, and if she doesn’t make the effort for her. When giving it to her you want to insert the tip in the side of her mouth and only a few droplets at a time, never from the front of her mouth.

To keep her more comfortable, offer her some sheets of clean, unscented bath tissue (toilet paper) she can tear up and make a nest out of.

Administer medicines, if you are going to, in the morning so that she will sleep through any side effects they might cause.

S responds:

"She’s gotten this on occasion tbh; it’s come and gone and no matter how much I ask my parents if I can take her to the vet, my dad refuses to pay the money because she’s such a small animal :s I could see if I can pay for it myself, but I’m not really sure.

I’ve had her for about… half a year now, maybe? She was probably a little over a year old when we got her—I got her from my local Petsmart and they can never really tell how old hamsters/rodents are. She’s the only hamster I have now, and she’s never been bred. She isn’t bleeding too much, I don’t think. Not a lot comes out but it still makes a little mess of her bedding. She’s eating (well, more like hoarding—I fill up her food bowl when it’s empty and about 2 days later she’s hoarded it away somewhere) and drinking, and she’s running on her wheel a lot.

When she was awake this morning, she was pretty nippy—more than usual. I dunno if she’s got cage aggression, but whenever I put my hand down to her level, she’d start nibbling on my fingers really hard (not enough to hurt) and kind of… glare at me? I’ve never done anything to hurt her, and she was this way before I got her a bigger cage.

She seemed extra nippy, though. So she could be uncomfortable. :(

Some hamsters are just hoarders, particularly if they come from a breeder or pet store where they had been housed with too many roommates and feel food might forever be precious and scarce to them. It’s not a problem, though do make sure to clean up thoroughly after any fresh treats just in case she’s stashed those (fruit buried in a corner will go bad quickly).

Were she not a solo pet purchased half a year ago, I would think these were possible signs of a pregnancy (hoarding, aggression, excess nesting, and bleeding) but the gestation cycle of a hamster is only about a month total, so that is clearly not the case.

If the bleeding has been a chronic thing, on and off but never of any substantial amount, it’s probably a small tumor somewhere that every now and then puts pressure on things it isn’t supposed to. Tumors commonly get minor infections and swell up. If you have a reliable pet shop nearby, you may want to go in and ask a knowledgeable staff member about any antibiotics they might have stocked for rodents (such as Wet Tail medicine) and, when symptoms arrive, give her a course just to stave off infection.

On average hamsters live 2-4 years, with dwarf breeds tending to fall on the shorter end of that spectrum (no pun intended). Just as with dogs, where a large breed might live 20 years, it’s smaller cousin will be lucky to live half of that. Bleeding in this way, sometimes, is also just a sign that your little friend is getting on in years (they make adult diapers for a reason).

In either of these two cases, I would attribute her behaviors therefor to being uncomfortable. When she is feeling this way try not to disturb or handle her too much. The pressure of being picked up may make her discomfort worse and she may react more roughly with you in an attempt to prevent you from doing that. Stronger nibbling of the fingers equates to, “hey, not today, okay?”

Instead, when she’s symptomatic try to make her as comfortable as you can. Make sure her environment is clean, offer her softer bedding to nest in, and a bit of kale to snack on, because even a drop of blood is a lot to lose for a hamster. The best thing you can do for her is just keep her happy.

If she has always been somewhat aggressive then it could just be her temperament. Rodents, like people, often have unique personalities. You may have one hamster that loves to cuddle like a kitten and another of the same litter that hates being touched at all. You can work with them with treats and gentle encouragement to be friendlier but ultimately you may find you just need to respect her boundaries.