Uterine Problems in Hamsters: Signs, Symptoms, Treatment and Outlook
A warm and fuzzy welcome to everyone reading. This article is designed to inform and educate you about the possible problems, symptoms and treatments regarding uterine conditions in hamsters. Let's start off by saying that only a female hamster can have a uterine problem as males do not have a uterus.
Is My Hamster Male or Female?
You can tell if your hamster is female by looking underneath them: A female will have little genitalia and no protruding bulges around the back, and you will also be able to see their teats if the fur up the belly is brushed back. In most cases, female hamsters are a little less cuddly and much more active than males. When it comes to hamsters with long hair, females don't grow a long, thick skirt.
Problems with the uterus can happen to any female hamster of any age but are particularly common in females who have had babies or females over 18 months old. The only way to entirely prevent a uterine problem would be to spay a young hamster; however, this is not recommended and is extremely risky.
How to Help Prevent Uterine Problems
- Don't breed from your hamster at all. If you choose to do so, make sure they have no more than 2 litters and are 4–6 months old when breeding.
- Keep your hamster's cage clean.
- Inspect your hamster daily for signs of illness or trauma.
- Know your hamster's age.
- Buy a male hamster.
What Are the Causes?
There can be many causes of uterine problems in hamsters, and some of the symptoms may relate to other ailments such as wet tail, urinary tract infection, injury, or a harmless explanation such as dirty environment or sitting in urine. Hamsters of any species can have a uterine problem.
Hamsters most at risk of uterine problems are:
- Only female un-spayed hamsters can have uterine problems.
- Hamsters that have had babies are at an increased risk.
- Hamsters that have had multiple litters or babies at a very young age/ babies over 8 months old.
- Older hamsters—18 months+.
- Hamsters who experienced complications during births e.g. baby stuck inside, unable to fully shed, internal damage, etc.
- Those with a family history of the problem. This may be impossible to know unless you are the breeder.
- Those who had a prior infection/injury.
- Hamsters with internal tumours.
What Are the Types of Uterine Problems?
A uterine problem is something that affects only female hamsters as males do not have a uterus (womb). Problems can range from infection to tumours and everything in between.
- Tumours: Fairly common in older females especially with ones that have had babies. You may notice a swollen belly, a lump in the abdomen or your hamster continuously bleeding/producing a horrible smelly discharge. However, your hamster may have a flat stomach as it would take a fairly large tumour to produce swelling in the stomach or a protruding bulge. The only way to treat this is to remove the uterus entirely which is often not possible and many vets will not perform, especially if the hamster is over 6 months old.
- Infection: Another common cause in hamsters of all ages, but especially so when older. Symptoms are a smelly, gooey and unpleasant discharge that may be brown or yellow and blood may also be present. Your hamster may seem lethargic with a ruffled coat and generally unwell. Antibiotics are used to treat infections usually with good results, however, uterine infections may reoccur unless the hamster is spayed (uterus removed) spaying hamsters is rare, many vets will not perform it and most hamsters do not survive the surgery. With proper treatment the outlook for this is very good.
- Trauma: Injury to the hamster such as falling from a height onto an object, fighting, difficult birth or other injury may result in bleeding from the hamsters genitalia. Please seek a vets attention as this is not a very common reason unless the hamster has recently given birth.
- Birthing Problems: Can be common as we do not know how many babies a hamster is carrying, nor how well she is doing to deliver them. Hamsters that are under 4 months old or older than 8 months old are most likely to have problems birthing such as stillborns, babies stuck inside, tearing or damage during birth, uterus unable to completely shed, etc. This problem can be entirely eliminated by not breeding your hamster, if you still choose to breed try to keep a maximum of 1-2 litters in their lifetime a good period of time apart. If you suspect birthing trauma, take your hamster immediately to the vet.
- Fluid Retention: In some cases when a hamster gets old they can build a lot of fluid in their abdomen which can lead to heart failure. You can normally see fluid due to a large bulge in your hamster's belly, swollen belly or gradual weight gain and heavy discharge. This is a less common problem than birthing trauma, tumours or infection. For a problem like this, it can be treated with improved diet and exercise, however, it is often untreatable.
What Are the Symptoms?
The symptoms can vary greatly between hamsters and have a variety of causes from infections to tumours and everything in between. Remember: some symptoms can be caused by other ailments, not just uterine issues so please make sure you take your furry friend to a vet.
- Bleeding around the genitals, often bright or dark red blood.
- A horrible metallic or discharge smell - may be described as used period pads.
- Thick or gooey discharge - yellow or brown.
- Ruffled coat.
- Waddling or difficulty walking.
- Increased sleeping.
- Loss of appetite.
- A swollen belly or lump in the stomach.
The only way to fully determine the cause and if it is a problem with the uterus is to take your friend to the vets for a check-up. In older hamsters, the vet is unlikely to perform a spay, cut the animal open to see or run any scans so a course of antibiotics is usually prescribed.
What Can I Do If My Hamster Is Sick?
The first thing you should do is assess the problem.
- Is the hamster eating and drinking and seems bright and alert?
- Is your hamster bleeding or producing discharge?
- Does your hamster have a metallic or bloodied smell?
- Is the coat sleek and shiny, or coarse and ruffled?
- Are the eyes and nose clear and bright?
- How old is the hamster?
You will need to explain the issue clearly to your vet. Sometimes the problem could be your hamster has simply sat in her toilet corner or is soiling her nest. In which case if the hamster is bright, alert, eating and drinking and does not seem uncomfortable you could try cleaning your hamster with a baby wipe or warm tissue and replacing all bedding. If the problem hasn't resolved in 24 hours, you should call the vet.
When to Seek Immediate Veterinary Help
If your hamster is bleeding, seems lethargic or unwell, has a ruffled coat or is not eating/drinking, immediate medical attention is required. Most of the time, it's a treatable infection but sometimes it is not so prepare yourself just in case.
At the end of the day, it is entirely up to you what you choose to do when it comes to treatment options. If your hamster is very old it may be kinder to put her to sleep, if she is hunched, elderly and seems very week it may be kinder not to disturb her. A dying hamster will typically be hunched, their eyes may be closed, they will waddle or rock and find it difficult to walk straight and be very weak, if this is the case it is your choice whether to put her down or allow her to die naturally.
Other Possible Causes of Uterine Symptoms
Sometimes there are other causes to diseases. If you see some of the symptoms above it may not be a uterine problem after all.
- Wet Tail: An extremely serious health condition that is most common in hamsters under 12 weeks but can happen to a hamster of any age. If your hamster has wet tail you will know it. The smell produced by the watery diarrhoea is FOUL. A dirty bottom—brown or black—a protruding bottom, raw around the genitals, ruffled coat, weakness of limbs, lethargy, not eating or drinking, rapid weight loss, difficulty moving and dehydration are all symptoms of wet tail. The outlook is not very good unless your hamster is taken IMMEDIATELY to a vet for antibiotic treatment, your hamster will most certainly die very quickly without treatment.
- UTI (Urinary Tract Infection): Common in males and females, but especially so in older female hamsters. The symptoms are frequent urination, squeaking when going to the toilet, smelly urine, blood in the urine, dirty genitalia yellow, brown or very wet. Excessive drinking, sleeping, ruffled coat are also symptoms. The good news is this is very treatable with a good outlook if the hamster has been given antibiotics. Most hamsters can recover within a few days-2 weeks. Recurrence may happen. If untreated it can eventually lead to kidney infections, bladder or kidney stones, pneumonia or the infection getting worse.
- Injury: Biting, scratching, cutting themselves, etc can lead to bleeding or a raw area around the genitals. This could be caused by fighting, mites, worms, allergies, dirty environment, dangerous environment/sharp edges.
- Sitting in Their Dirt: Very common, your hamster is likely clean and remains clean until sitting in their nest or sitting on the toilet. If your hamster is soiling in their nest and sleeping in it or spending time on their dirty toilet it can lead to the fur becoming damp, smelly and unpleasant. Clean your hamster out more often and gently wipe clean with a baby wipe or wet tissue.
The outlook can be very good for infections, injuries or labour. You should always take your pet to a registered, professional small animal vet or an exotic pets vet as hamsters can be classed exotic.
Please be aware that due to their size it can be very difficult to treat a hamster. Antibiotics are nearly always the choice and in younger healthy hamsters some surgeries may be performed, however these can be very risky. The outlook is not so good when it comes to internal tumours, continuous infection, fluid retention or for hamsters that are older (18 months+)
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.