Wet Tail in Hamsters – An Overview

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"My hamster barely has a tail!" you might be thinking. "How could it get a disease called 'wet tail'?"

Well, wet tail in hamsters may be a funny-sounding name, but it is a serious – often deadly – disease.

Signs and Symptoms

If you think to yourself that you see any of the following, then your hamster is ill:

  • My hamster is lethargic. It is not as energetic as usual
  • My hamster is not grooming himself
  • My hamster looks anorexic
  • My hamster's eyes are dull and sunken
  • My hamster is sitting in a hunked up position

If you see damp spots, matted fur, or smeared feces around the anus of your hamster, then your hamster has a problem.

First Aid

  • Using a damp cotton ball or some damp cotton swabs, wipe away the feces. This will help prevent the infection from spreading.
  • Discard the soiled cotton, and thoroughly wash your hands.
  • Remove all the fresh food from your hamster's cage, and do not give it anymore until this illness is over
  • Do not supply it with anything except a seed and grain mixture.
  • Contact your veterinarian. Schedule an appointment as soon as you can, but no later than the next day.

What to expect

  • There are several causes of wet tail in hamsters. Depending on what the veterinarian determinates, he may be able to prescribe medicine to treat it.
  • Prepare yourself, however, that your hamster may not survive.
  • Explain to children that their pet is very ill, and the doctor may not be able to help it.

Causes of Wet Tail

Wet tail in hamsters is caused by any of several types of bacteria. The first is called Lawsonican intracellularis . This bacterium looks like a tilde (~) or sometimes an elongated "c." It invades the cells in the ileum, which is the last part of the small intestine. And I do not mean it just attacks the cells. I mean these bacteria act more like viruses and actually penetrate the cells' walls.

Boehringer Ingelheim, GmbH makes a vaccine for L. intracellularis ., But, unfortunately, it is only available for swine (pigs). Ask your vet when a vaccine will be available for hamsters.

A second type of bacterium that can cause wet tail is Clostridium difficile. You may have heard this name before, because these bacteria infect humans, most often attacking those who are in hospitals or in nursing homes.

While C. difficile is normally present in the intestines, it usually makes up less than 5% of all the bacteria species there. Antibiotics kill all bacteria, but C. difficile makes spores that are not attacked by antibiotics. So if all of the bacteria in the intestine are killed, the C. difficile can grow first and outgrow all the other bacteria. (It's also worth noting that these spores can hang out on surfaces and clothing that are not sanitized by chemicals such as alcohol, by UV light, or by high heat, such as a clothes dryer.)

It is believed that C. difficile is the cause of most cases of wet tail in adult hamsters, while L. intracellularis is the culprit most of the time in juveniles.

When your pet hamster has wet tail, however, the cause is not as important as recognizing the signs and getting treatment. Let your vet figure out which bacterium is to blame.

Note that you will want to clean and sanitize the cage before returning your hamster to it.

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Source by Matthew A. Boreau

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