Does your hamster have a wet and dirty tail? Is the area around their anus soiled? It is likely that your furry friend has Proliferative Ileitis, commonly known as wet tail. It is most common in hamsters that are three to six weeks old, but every hamster can be susceptible. Although it can strike any hamster, the long-haired Teddy Bear hamsters do seem to be plagued by the illness the most.
Wet tail is not a life sentence for a hamster. In this guide we will outline everything you need to know about wet tail, from the cause and symptoms, to treatment and prevention.
What Can Cause Wet Tail?
Wet tail is essentially watery diarrhoea which causes severe dehydration and discomfort it hamsters. It can be fatal if left untreated and is one of the leading deaths of hamsters. Wet tail is caused by faecal to oral contact with deadly bacteria and the following are some of the leading causes:
A Dirty Living Environment
Hamster’s cages should be spot cleaned daily and deep cleaned once a week. This means removing the old bedding and sawdust, as well as cleaning the water bottle and feed bowl. Hamsters that are not cleaned out regularly and live in squalor can get wet tail. Being surrounded by old feed and faeces means bacteria can build up in the cage and result in your hamster contracting wet tail.
Hamsters love receiving treats such as greens and fruit. However, these should be limited. A diet containing too many treats can lead to diarrhoea and escalate to wet tail rapidly is left in unsanitary conditions.
Before feeding you hamster any fruit or vegetable, check that they are safe. Some perfectly harmless options for humans can kill hamsters.
Just like humans get stomach bugs, hamsters can too. Wet tail is can be caused by a rapid growth of bacteria in the stomach, resulting in diarrhoea and a foul odour.
Young hamsters who have been parted from their mothers, have been moved to a new home, have been handled too soon or live in a noisy environment can easily suffer with stress. Any trauma of this kind can lead to wet tail as the hamster deteriorates and its immune system doesn’t work correctly.
Issues with Medication
Hamsters rarely require antibiotics. However, if and when they do, the medication can cause an upset stomach, leading to wet tail. It is very similar to a human having a side effect from any medication. However, this is the rarest cause of wet tail as hamsters do not often get prescribed antibiotics.
Symptoms of Wet Tail
It is important to be able to distinguish if your hamster is poorly, so clueing yourself up on the symptoms of wet tail. The most obvious signs are diarrhoea and wetness around the anus and tail. But you may also notice the following:
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive watery diarrhoea
- Dull eyes
- Hunched posture
- Writhing in discomfort
- Swollen abdomen
- Anal prolapse from straining
- Blood in the stool or around the anus
Which Hamsters are Most at Risk?
Hamsters of any breed and age can contract wet tail. However, there are certain criteria that can mean that there is a greater or lesser chance of having the illness. Teddy Bear hamsters are most at risk due to their long fur, as are Syrian hamsters under the age of 12 weeks. Elderly hamsters are also a high-risk group in any breed as they often cannot clean themselves thoroughly due to their age. Roborovski dwarf hamsters are the least likely to ever suffer with wet tail.
How Can Wet Tail Be Treated?
The only cure for wet tail is antibiotic treatment available from your vet. Even if you notice the smallest sign of wet tail, ring your vets and make an appointment immediately. Wet tail can cause hamsters to die within 48 hours of the first symptoms showing.
Your vet will prescribe your hamster with antibiotics and anti-diarrhoea medication. Depending on how dehydrated your hamster is your vet may provide intravenous liquids. Otherwise your hamster will be allowed as much water through a normal bottle.
On your return home, you should isolate your hamster from any others as wet tail is extremely contagious. Make sure you clean their cage regularly to prevent reinfection and keep them warm, clean and nourished.
Can I Prevent Wet Tail?
Unfortunately, wet tail is one of those diseases that can occur regardless of how well you look after your hamster. It is just luck of the drawer. However, there are steps you can take to avoid it as much as possible, these include:
- Keep hamsters apart, including new arrivals, until a vet has given them a thorough health check
- Disinfect your hamster’s cage weekly and spot clean daily
- Make sure new hamsters are kept calm and stress-free when they arrive home
- Limit handling with new hamsters
- When you are purchasing a hamster examine the cleanliness of their cage and whether any of the hamsters have wet tail