Hamster wet tail is a deadly intestinal disease, and something all hamster owners need to know how to spot. It is also called proliferative ileitis, and is caused by the bacterial species Lawsonia intracellularis.
Wet tail typically affects young hamsters. However, hamster wet tail disease can infect hamsters of any age, and requires immediate medical treatment.
What Is Hamster Wet Tail?
Wet tail disease is an intestinal problem caused by bacteria. It is characterized by a wet, dirty tail and hindquarters. This is the result of diarrhea.
The best thing you can do for a hamster with wet tail is take them to a veterinarian. They will be able to prescribe the right antibiotics for your hamsters weight and size to treat the issue.
What Causes Wet Tail?
As we already know, wet tail is caused by the bacterial species Lawsonia intracellularis. Lawsonia intracellularis is transmitted through feces.
This particular bacteria can also infect pigs, horses, ferrets, dogs, and primates. But luckily for us, it does not appear to be transmissible to people.
Young hamsters between three to six weeks old (the weaning stage) are particularly susceptible to wet tail.
Since many of the hamsters sold in pet stores are around this age, wet tail can occur shortly after you bring your new hamster home.
How Do Hamsters Get Wet Tail?
Young hamsters can pick up the bacteria from food and water that is contaminated by feces. These feces can come from their mother or other adult hamsters in the same cage.
Adult hamsters can carry the bacteria without showing symptoms, so make sure you ask the pet store if there is any history of wet tail disease in their hamsters.
Symptoms of Wet Tail
Luckily, hamster wet tail signs are relatively easy to spot. Symptoms include;
- A wet, dirty tail
- Very liquid diarrhea
- Matted hair around hamster’s rear
- Blood in diarrhea or around the anus
- Hamster hunches over due to abdominal discomfort
- Irritable behavior
- Dull dry coat
- Dull, sunken eyes (from dehydration)
- Protruding rectum from straining
- Loss of appetite
- Sudden weight loss
Other Problems That Can Look Like Wet Tail
Of course, these symptoms aren’t exclusive to wet tail. Before you panic, there are other causes of diarrhea in hamsters, like diarrhea associated with certain antibiotics.
Hamsters can get upset stomachs if you’ve given them too much of a new food, like some fresh fruit.
Tyzzer disease is another issue caused by bacteria found in feces. It is an infection of the gastrointestinal tract, and shares a lot of wet tail symptoms.
Other infections known to affect hamsters include Salmonellosis, Escherichia coli, and protozoal infections. These can all cause diarrhea and its related problems.
There are a large number of problems that can cause similar symptoms to wet tail.
But, if your hamster is exhibiting symptoms of wet tail, play it safe and get him to the veterinarian as soon as possible for an accurate diagnosis.
How to Treat Wet Tail
Learning what to do if your hamster has wet tail is vital to save your pet’s life. If you think your hamster has wet tail, the first thing you should do is contact your veterinarian.
Wet tail is a serious, often lethal condition. So, make sure that you act fast. Your vet should understand the urgency of the situation.
Once you have arranged to bring your hamster in, place him in a dry, clean carrying cage. Try to handle him as little as possible, to prevent stressing him further until you get to the veterinarian.
If you have other hamsters, thoroughly clean and disinfect the cage to prevent the spread of wet tail disease.
Your veterinarian will most likely provide you with wet tail medicine appropriate for your hamster’s breed and size. Hamster wet tail treatment will most often include antibiotics, subcutaneous fluids, and antidiarrheal medication.
Antibiotics will kill the wet tail bacteria. Subcutaneous fluids will counter the dehydration caused by the diarrhea, along with antidiarrheal medication.
During this time, your veterinarian will try to keep your hamster warm and clean, but it is important for owners to be prepared for the worst. Even with treatment, many hamsters die within 48 hours of showing symptoms of wet tail.
The Trouble with Home Treatments
You may have heard of wet tail drops. Perhaps you saw them in the pet store or online, or you are hoping for an alternative to a visit to the veterinarian.
But, hamster wet tail home remedy solutions are rarely effective and could waste precious time.
Most wet tail drops contain an antibiotic that could help treat Lawsonia intracellularis and the diarrhea it causes. However, if your hamster has Lawsonia intracellularis, the drops may not be enough to save your hamster’s life.
In addition to antibiotics, your hamster may need supportive care, and the wet tail drops could be the wrong antibiotic for your hamster.
If your hamster is sick, don’t just buy hamster wet tail drops online. Always take your pet to the veterinarian. Trying to treat it at home or with over the counter products not approved by your veterinarian may not be effective.
The best chance of hamster wet tail recovery happens when you see your vet and act fast to save your hamster’s life.
Preventing Wet Tail
Keep your hamster’s cage clean. This will help prevent contaminated food or water, and dry bedding is healthier for hamsters than damp, soiled bedding.
Stress can weaken your hamster’s immune system, making them more susceptible to wet tail. Avoid handling young hamsters for a few days after bringing them home. This gives them time to adjust to their environment and reduces stress.
You should also avoid switching their food right away. Find out what food the pet store fed your hamster. Transition them slowly over a few days after your hamster has settled in to avoid upsetting their digestive systems.
On top of all this, it is important to isolate sick hamsters from other hamsters. Thoroughly clean and sterilize the cage. Be sure to provide clean, fresh bedding for your healthy hamsters. Keep an eye on them for symptoms of illness.
You can help prevent contagion by keeping new hamsters separate from other hamsters until you have had your hamster examined by a veterinarian or at least a week has passed without signs of illness.
Wet tail is not always preventable, but following these steps will give your hamster their best shot at avoiding it.
Hamster Wet Tail: A Summary
Hamster wet tail is a scary thing, and hopefully one you won’t have to deal with yourself. But it is the most frequently seen hamster disease, so it always pays to know the symptoms.
This means that if you do see any of the signs then you can act straight away.
Some hamsters do recover from wet tail disease. The faster you get your hamster in for treatment, the greater the chances are that he will make a full recovery.
References and Resources
- Amend, N. K. (et al) ‘Transmission of Enteritis in the Syrian Hamster’, Europe PMC (1976)
- Donnelly, T. M. ‘Hamsters’, Merck Veterinary Manual
- Harland, W. (et al) ‘A Survey of Naturally Occurring Diseases of the Syrian Hamster’, Sage Journals Laboratory Animals (1975)
- Quesenberry, K. E. ‘Routine Health Care of Hamsters’, Merck Veterinary Manual
- Foster & Smith, ‘Wet Tail (Regional Enteritis, Proliferative Ileitis) in Hamsters’
- Quesenberry, K & Donnelly, T. ‘Disorders and Diseases of Hamsters’, (2020)
- Heatley, J. & Harris, M. ‘Hamsters and Gerbils’, Manual of Exotic Pet Practice (2009)
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