Viral And Bacterial Infections in Hamsters

Hamsters are susceptible to numerous infections, here are a few that you should keep an eye out for.


What is "wet tail"?

The most serious intestinal disease of hamsters is “wet tail”. The bacterium suspected of causing this disease is called Lawsonia intracellularis, which can also cause intestinal disease in swine, dogs, ferrets, primates and other animals.

This disease most often afflicts hamsters of weaning age (3-6 weeks old), but hamsters of all ages are susceptible. Since weanling hamsters and those slightly older are commonly sold in pet stores, wet tail is a fairly common disease among recently acquired hamsters.

Long-haired “teddy bear” hamsters are highly susceptible to wet tail. Signs include:

  • lethargy

  • poor appetite

  • unkempt hair coat

  • sunken, dull eyes

  • increased irritability

  • hunched posture

  • very fluid diarrhoea

  • a wet, soiled anal area and tail

  • blood from the rectum and protrusion of the rectal opening (prolapse) may be noted in particularly serious cases.

Hamsters with wet tail must be immediately examined and evaluated by your vet. Fluid replacement, oral antidiarrhoeal medication, and antibiotics will be given, along with supportive care to keep the patient warm, clean, comfortable and well nourished. Treatment is often unrewarding, and death may occur as soon as 48 hours after the onset of initial signs.

This disease is not transmissible to people.

Do hamsters suffer from bacterial disease?

Several species of the bacterium, Salmonella, can cause serious intestinal disease (salmonellosis) in hamsters under certain circumstances.

Salmonellosis is transmissible to and equally serious in people. The bacterium is usually acquired by eating food contaminated with the organism.

Pet hamsters established in homes would most likely become infected via this route. For this reason, fresh fruits and vegetables must be thoroughly washed before they are offered to hamsters.

Newly purchased pet hamsters may harbor the Salmonella organism, having acquired it from the colony into which they were born. Salmonellosis in hamsters may manifest itself as sudden illness that is often fatal or as a more long-standing disease that causes weight loss. Salmonellosis can be diagnosed on stool culture by your vet.

Antibiotic treatment of this disease may or may not be recommended by your vet, depending upon the public health implications.

Euthanasia (putting the patient to sleep) is normally recommended if treatment is not attempted.

What is lymphocytic choriomeningitis?

Lymphocytic choriomeningitis is a viral disease that causes inflammation of the membrane, or meninges, that surrounds the brain and spinal cord – this disease can be transmitted from hamsters to people.

A large number of cases in 1974 and 1975 were traced to a common infected hamster colony.

Signs of this disease in people include recurrent fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, sore throat, rash and arthritis. The natural host in the wild for the causative virus is the rodent population. Hamsters would most likely acquire their infection from this source. However, because hamsters are almost exclusively indoor pets, they are unlikely to become infected with the virus.

Hamster owners must, however, restrict contact between their pets and orphaned wild rodents that have been adopted.

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