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Wet Tail in Hamsters: Symptoms, Treatment, and Outlook

Introduction

A warm and fuzzy welcome to everybody reading. This hub is designed to inform and educate as well as help hamster owners out there about wet tail.

What is wet tail? - Wet tail is an extremely serious health condition that is especially common in Syrian hamsters under 12 weeks old. A hamster of any species and age can get wet tail which causes a foul-smelling watery diarrhoea, severe dehydration, discomfort and death.

It is important to know that wet tail can only be treated with antibiotics prescribed from your vet, if you suspect wet tail please take your furry friend to the vets immediately for examination. Wet tail is one of the most fatal illnesses a hamster can get.

What Causes Wet Tail?

There are a number of causes of wet tail that have been identified. It is important to know what has caused it to prevent future outbreaks. You should also be aware that wet tail is contagious to other hamsters and in some rarer cases can cause stomach upsets in humans as well so it is very important to wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling a sick pet and to quarantine them from other animals until all symptoms have disappeared.

  • Stress. The most common cause is stress in younger hamsters that have been parted from their mothers or have been moved to a new home recently, especially so in hamsters that have come from a litter, released to homes too young or have suffered other traumas e.g. handling too soon, animal attacks, noisy living environment. The latter issues are common causes in older hamsters as well as young.
  • Bacterial issues in the stomach. Wet tail is caused by a bacterial overgrowth in the stomach, just like a stomach bug in humans. The bacteria that live naturally in their gut may overgrow causing unpleasant symptoms and a foul odour.
  • Dirty living environment. In some cases if the hamster has been living in squalor for a period of time it can cause bacteria to build up in their system and result in wet tail.
  • Medicinal issues. Sometimes antibiotics can cause an upset stomach which can lead to wet tail. This is obviously the least common cause as most hamsters never require antibiotics treatments.

A beautiful and healthy Syrian hamster
A beautiful and healthy Syrian hamster

Who is at risk?

Any hamster of any age, gender or species can be at risk of wet tail.

FACTS:

  • Wet tail is much less common in Roborovski dwarf hamsters.
  • Wet tail is most common in Syrian hamsters under 12 weeks of age.
  • Wet tail can be a common problem for elderly hamsters, especially if they can't clean themselves properly.
  • A dirty cage is not the primary cause of wet tail.
  • It can only be treated with antibiotics from your vet.
  • Other health problems may contribute to wet tail.
  • It is highly contagious, especially to other hamsters.

Hamster is showing symptoms of a dirty bottom, diarrhoea and a ruffled coat all consistent with wet tail.
Hamster is showing symptoms of a dirty bottom, diarrhoea and a ruffled coat all consistent with wet tail.

Symptoms

It is important to familiarise yourself with all wet tail symptoms so if your hamster begins to show signs you can get them treated as soon as possible. You must not wait to see if they are better tomorrow or if it's really wet tail, your hamster will be smelly and suffering and may even die before you get them to the vets. Immediate treatment is necessary for recovery.

  • Watery diarrhoea, may be spread throughout the cage or in puddles around the toilet corner.
  • A dirty bottom, hamsters with wet tail have a dirty, smelly bottom which may be brown, black or very sticky.
  • A foul odour. Wet tail smells. BAD. If your hamster is smelling strongly or much worse than usual you should seek help immediately.
  • Loss of appetite and not drinking. Not drinking will lead to dehydration, it is important to get a clean syringe from your vets or a dropper and give your hamster water often throughout their treatment. Dehydration can cause them to die very quickly.
  • Lethargy, sleeping more, weakness of limbs, loss of activity and physical strength.
  • Ruffled or dirty coat - sign of general illness.
  • Hamster is hunched over, waddling, unable to walk properly.
  • Symptoms of infection or stress may be present such as runny or dirty nose, watery or sticky eyes, discharge from ears or genitals.

If you notice any of these symptoms please take your pet to a small animals vet or an exotic vet immediately. If untreated, wet tail kills.

A Syrian Hamster in foul condition suffering from wet tail.
A Syrian Hamster in foul condition suffering from wet tail.

Treatment

The ONLY way to cure wet tail is to take your hamster to the vets for antibiotics and sometimes even a course or hydration (the vet may use a syringe or dropper to force feed your hamster water) there is no diet to cure it, no natural remedies, no home remedies and they don't get better alone. If untreated, your hamster will die. Wet tail is extremely serious and can kill them within hours.

Once your pet has seen a vet make sure you keep a close eye on them in a clean cage. Quarantine your animal from any other pet, don't allow your clothing to come into contact with the infected animal, always change clothes, wash up thoroughly and even wear gloves when handling or feeding the pet to prevent contamination. Your hamster should be somewhere warm, quiet and comfortable and not in direct sunlight, against a radiator or around other animals. If your hamster has a cage mate, separate them and make sure you keep a close eye out for symptoms in the other one, your vet may also prescribe them antibiotics to prevent infection or just in case they show signs.

Make sure you clean the cage thoroughly before putting your pet back in, boiling water will kill the germs as will cage cleaner with antibacterial elements. Replace all of the bedding and wipe down the bars or tank sides. Thoroughly wash food and water dishes each time you feed your hamster. Make sure clean water is always available.

Monitor your pet. Make sure you monitor their behaviour, check on them frequently, never miss a dose of antibiotics and to be safe, use the syringe or dropper to give your pet water. This is essential for hydration, especially if you're unsure whether your pet is drinking or not.

Probiotics. These are great for urinary tract or uterine infections, ask your vet before giving them. Probiotic natural yoghurt is a great way to help your hamster's stomach filter out any dirt and keep the balance even after symptoms have stopped.

Severe wet tail
Severe wet tail

Other Possible Explanations

Like with any illness, your hamster may have symptoms similar to wet tail without wet tail being present. It is important to be very clear with your vet and have the animal checked.

UTI (urinary tract infection) - This is most common in older female hamsters but can happen to any hamster of any age. The symptoms include: blood in the urine, smelly urine, dirty yellow or brown stains around the genitals, ruffled coat, excessive drinking, tiredness, loss of appetite, squeaking when going to the toilet.

Uterine Problems: Only happen in female hamsters especially older ones that have been bred from. Symptoms include: bleeding around the genitals, a smelly metallic brown or yellow discharge, a swollen or lumpy abdomen, protrusion from the genitalia e.g. something hanging out, symptoms do not improve with antibiotics. Your hamster may seem bright and healthy. Possibilities are infection, obstruction, tumour, injury or birthing problems.

Poor diet: This can cause mushy, sticky or the runs without a strong odour or symptoms of wet tail. There may be diarrhoea in the cage, the hamster may be quiet with a loss of appetite but it is not usually as severe. This can, however, lead to wet tail. Cut back on greens and only give them as a treat and do not feed your hamster human foods.

Sitting in their own mess: Usually causes a staining or damp urine smell/poo stuck to the hamster that is not runny or mushy. Your hamster will likely smell and improve after being wiped with a baby wipe and the cage thoroughly cleaned out.

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Outlook.

The outlook for wet tail is not usually a positive one, especially in very young, very old or very sick hamsters that have gone untreated. Remember to get your pet immediately to the vets if you suspect wet tail or another health condition as deaths can be prevented and illnesses CAN be treated. With proper care there is no reason why your friend cannot make a full recovery in time.

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