Wet Tail in Hamsters

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Wet Tail is every hamster owner’s worst nightmare. It is highly contagious, horribly painful for your little friend, and if left untreated will almost always be fatal. It is not all doom and gloom however, and it is very possible for your cuddly companion to make a complete recovery and go back to their playful ways with the right treatment. Because it is such a deadly and fast acting disease though you need to spot the signs early, act fast, and act right. In this article we will run through the essentials of Wet Tail in hamsters so you can keep your pets safe and happy. 

What is Wet Tail in Hamsters?

First up with the technical bit, Wet Tail, or ‘proliferative ileitis’, is a bacterial disease in a hamster’s intestine that causes it to become swollen and extremely painful. This in turn causes the diarrhea that gives the condition its name. 

What causes Wet Tail?

Although you can probably find lots of sources online naming things like bad hygiene and dirty living conditions for Wet Tail, according to The British Hamster Association the only cause of Wet Tail is stress. This is why the disease is more common among young hamsters of less than 12 weeks and older hamsters in deteriorating health as both of these situations can be very stressful for them. 

This is especially the case for young hamsters who the disease is most common in, as within the space of a couple of weeks they are weaned off their mother, separated from her and rehomed to a pet store and then to your home. It would be enough to stress anyone out!

How to tell if your hamster has Wet Tail?

There are lots of symptoms of Wet Tail and each hamster may respond differently, sometimes going up to seven days without showing any signs, but in general there are some common things to look out for in your little friend:

  • Diarrhoea, often with some dark blood mixed in
  • A very foul smell coming from them 
  • Not eating or drinking 
  • Seeming very lazy and sleeping a lot more
  • More aggressive than normal and possibly biting when handled

If you see one or more of these symptoms, particularly the diarrhoea and smell, you should assume the worst and move on as quickly as possible to treatment. 

How to treat Wet Tail?

The only way to treat Wet Tail is with antibiotics, so as stated above if you think there is even a chance your hamster may have it get them to a vet immediately. They will have the best possible chance of making it if they are treated within the first 24-48 hours of showing symptoms so don’t delay! 

Alongside the antibiotics the vet will likely give you hydration and nutritional treatment as the diarrhoea drains the poor creatures of energy. Whatever they decide to give you though that is what is best. Follow their instructions exactly and give your pet the absolute best chance of making a full recovery.

How to avoid Wet Tail?

Unfortunately, because it is brought on by stress there is no way to prevent Wet Tail entirely, but you can limit its spread as much as possible. If you have multiple hamsters make sure to separate them from any you suspect of having Wet Tail the moment you notice symptoms, and ensure they have an entirely clean-living space. 

As for the ill hamster itself it is a difficult one. You want to make sure their living space is clean as they can actually reinfect themselves to get sick again, but you don’t want to cause them any more unnecessary stress by handling them too much. In general, it is probably best to take the middle route, and keep their space as clean as possible without too much interference. Your vet should talk you through this though and let you know the best approach for your situation.

Wet tail is scary for anyone with hamsters, but if you behave responsibly and get medical help quickly, it can just be a blip in an otherwise long and happy friendship with a healthy hamster!

You might like to read more about keeping your hamster happy and Hamster Grooming.

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