Wet Tail in hamsters: Your questions answered.
Wet tail is a serious intestinal disease that affects young hamsters, most commonly aged between 3-8 weeks. If not treated immediately it can cause death within 24 hours after symptoms first appear. Current understanding is that the main factors that predispose a hamster to wet tail are stress (eg. weaning), dietary change and over crowding. The disease is highly contagious and infected hamsters should be promptly isolated from healthy hamsters. Spread is via faecal-oral transmission, any healthy hamster that comes into contact with the faeces of an infected animal is at risk.
It takes 7 days after infection for the signs of Wet Tail to appear. It is easily mistaken for diarrhoea, but there are a number of other symptoms that characterise Wet Tail, apart from a wet, dirty area around the anus and tail.
These other symptoms include
- Unpleasant smell
- Pale droppings
- Loss of appetite
- Walking with a hunched posture
- Un-groomed appearance
- Blood in stools
What to do if you suspect your hamster has Wet Tail
If you suspect your hamster has wet-tail, take it to your local vet without delay. Even with immediate veterinary attention Wet Tail will still prove fatal to a large number of hamsters, sometimes in as little as 48 hours from the onset of symptoms. Over the counter products will be inadequate in the vast majority of cases and it is likely that the infection will already be well advanced by the time you notice your hamster has the symptoms of Wet Tail.
Treatment will consist of antibiotics, anti-diarrhoeal medications and rehydration. Rehydration may be via oral fluids or fluids injected subcutaneously (under the skin). The hamster’s cage must be thoroughly disinfected to prevent re-infection, and the hamster should be kept warm and dry.
Whilst absolute prevention is impossible, there are many steps you can take to reduce the risk to your hamster. Before purchasing a new hamster observe the hygiene methods used by the breeder or pet shop as closely as possible. Hamsters that have been kept in unclean conditions are at greater risk. You should also take care when choosing the hamster itself – if any others in the cage appear to have Wet Tail you should choose a hamster from a different cage. Be sure to choose a hamster that is lively and in good condition. Ask what food the hamster is used to having and purchase some to take home; any changes you wish to make to the hamster’s diet can be made more safely after the hamster has adjusted to its new environment. Once you have your new hamster at home try to stress him as little as possible and avoid excessive handling during the first few days. Good cage hygiene is also very important, aim to thoroughly disinfect the cage at least once a week and remove droppings daily.