Wet tail, otherwise known as proliferative ileitis, is the most common disease suffered by hamsters. It is a bacterial infection causing diarrhoea, severe dehydration and often death.
It is characterised by the hamsters ‘wet tail’ which is caused by their loose, watery stools due to the infection.
Wet tail can occur in hamsters of any age and is a health issue that all owners need to be made aware of. One of the biggest causes is unhygienic living conditions, which is why you need to clean their bedding regularly.
Survival chances remain pretty slim for the disease, so it’s important you know how to best treat or prevent the illness if you ever spot the symptoms.
What causes wet tail in hamsters?
Due to how serious an infection wet tail is, the most successful way to treat it is by preventing it from ever occurring in the first place.
It’s therefore very important to understand the various causes of the disease so that you can take pre-emptive measures with your hamster:
The main cause of wet tail is stress, and so the disease tends to affect very young hamsters more than adults. Baby hamsters who have been recently separated from their mothers or taken into a home too soon are at particular risk as the experience can sometimes be too traumatic for them.
Other causes of stress in older hamsters might be too much handling from their owner, improper caging, changes in diet or environment, and even death of a partner/cage mate.
Unclean living area
If your hamster’s cage is bordering on a pigsty, it will only cause bad bacteria to build up in their system.
As wet tail is caused by bacterial overgrowth in the stomach, it sometimes is just the equivalent of a stomach bug in humans, but with far more serious results.
Hamster Wet Tail Symptoms
The clearest and most obvious symptom of wet tail is of course… a wet tail. This will be matted with faeces and so will naturally have quite a foul smell, which may be your first indicator something is wrong. However, there are other signs of the disease to watch out for.
Other symptoms include:
- Lack of appetite
- Folded ears
- Aggressive behaviour
- Irritated behaviour, walking with an arched back
- Dull coat from lack of grooming
- Sunken eyes
- Weight loss
- Protruding rectum
As symptoms can take up to several days to appear, you may well notice one or more of the above prior to the most glaring signs.
It’s important to remember your hamster can also have diarrhoea without it being wet tail. Diarrhoea is a symptom of a wet tail, not the cause of it, and so if they are merely having loose stools with no other symptoms, they’ve likely just had too much food with high-water content.
If you’re not sure check with your veterinary professional!
Treatment for wet tail
Wet tail can become fatal for hamsters within days, and even when treated its still possible that your hamster won’t recover. It’s therefore imperative that you spot the symptoms within the first 24 – 48 hours and immediately seek the advice or help of a veterinary professional.
A vet will probably then prescribe your pet with antibiotics and if necessary inject them with fluids to alleviate the severe dehydration caused by diarrhoea. They may keep your hamster hospitalised in their surgery or allow you to take them home to administer the prescribed medication yourself.
A vet is the only person who can prescribe you with the antibiotics to cure your furry friend, so don’t be fooled into thinking you can treat the disease with home remedies.
There are many over-the-counter drugs for your pet that are advertised as ‘Wet Tail Drops’. While these may be effective in helping stop your hamster’s diarrhoea, they will be unsuccessful in treating the bacterial infection.
Survival for wet tail is very low, but it is possible that your pet will recover with prescribed medication.
What to do if your hamster has wet tail
If your hamster is suffering from wet tail, your number one priority is to take them to a vet.
However, there are a few other steps you should take to lessen symptoms and extend your hamsters life before you can get them medical care:
If you own more than one hamster, make sure you remove the one suffering from wet tail from the cage and keep them in a separate environment. This is because wet tail is a very contagious bacterial infection and can easily spread to any other hamster in the cage through secondhand contact. Everything they have come into contact with must therefore be sanitised as soon as possible!
Avoid giving them foods with high water content. Wet tail causes your hamster to lose fluids rapidly through diarrhoea, causing severe dehydration. Fruit and veg will therefore only make their stools looser and exacerbate the problem further, so try feeding them dried foods to help with this symptom.
Do not bathe to clean faeces. Probably the worst symptom of wet tail is the unsightly and smelly mess of hair and faeces on their backsides. On seeing this, you may be tempted to give your hamster a wash, however, giving them a bath at any time is detrimental to hamster’s coats and skin. Instead, use a cotton bud to gently clean the area.
Rehydrate. If your hamster appears to not be drinking then they will begin to suffer from dehydration very quickly. You can solve this by an act known as scruffing. This involves very gently holding a hamster by the extra skin on the back of their neck which results in them opening their mouths. From here you can apply measurements of water with a syringe, very slowly and in small amounts over short intervals.
How to prevent wet tail
Unfortunately, wet tail is a disease that can occur no matter how well you care for your hamster, especially if it has been brought on by stress.
However, there are certain precautions you can take to ensure you do not cause the illness yourself or exacerbate any pre-existing stress:
Limit your handling of new hamsters. Although it’s understandable you want to cuddle and play with your hamster, it’s not always the best idea if they are new to your home or especially young. Constantly handling them before they’ve settled into a new environment will likely induce stress.
Keep their cage clean and disinfect once a week. A dirty, unkempt environment can often raise a hamster’s stress as well as cause wet tail through a build-up of bad bacteria.
Observe a hamster well before purchase. When browsing for a new pet, it’s not unheard of that you may spot a hamster already suffering from symptoms of wet tail. It’s unlikely that suddenly moving them into your home is going to cure them, so make sure to observe their behaviour properly before purchase. Always buy from a reputable seller who has cared for the hamster as well as you aim to do.