Wet tail is often fatal, so you must take action once you notice the signs and symptoms. Owners need to know how to assist a hamster with wet tail to increase its chances of survival.
Some hamsters recover from wet tail after a course of vet-prescribed antibiotics.
If your hamster sees a vet within 24 hours, it may start to improve within 7 days. Unfortunately, wet tail is fatal for about 90% of hamsters, killing them within 2-3 days.
You mustn’t administer a wet tail treatment without consulting a vet, as this is a very difficult medical condition to cure without antibiotics.
What Is Wet Tail in Hamsters?
According to Patton Veterinary Hospital, wet tail is characterized by watery diarrhea in hamsters.
Also known by its scientific name, Proliferative ileitis, wet tail is a descriptive name because it causes the base of the tail to become constantly wet and smelly due to loose, watery stools.
However, don’t confuse wet tail and diarrhea, as they aren’t the same. Wet tail is a bacterial infection that causes watery stools, while various things, such as a high-water diet, cause diarrhea.
Wet tail most commonly affects hamsters aged between 3 and 6 months old. Wet tail’s also an issue for elderly hamsters who can’t clean themselves properly.
However, it affects hamsters of all ages. Syrian hamsters are also most prone to the disease, many of which develop wet tail in the pet stores they’re kept in.
The cause of wet tail is unknown, but experts believe it results from an overgrowth of various intestinal bacteria, such as Lawsonia intracellularis and Campylobacter.
This bacteria overgrowth is caused by the following:
- Inflammations of the GI tract
- Stress, for example, bright lights, loud noises, enclosure changes, and over-handling
- Unsanitary living conditions
- An unhealthy diet
- Recent transportation from one home to the other
- Other diseases that cause diarrhea to occur, for example, conditions requiring antibiotics to treat
Wet tail is easy to pass on to other hamsters through the bacteria in diarrhea. However, because stress is the leading cause, transmission is uncommon in later life as hamsters are solitary animals once they reach 28 days old.
Symptoms of Wet Tail in Hamsters
The following symptoms are the most common in hamsters with wet tail:
The most noticeable sign of wet tail is loose, watery diarrhea caused by the gut’s bacteria growing too quickly and rapidly breaking down food.
The hamster’s body rejects the food, causing its feces to become abnormally wet and smelly. This will leave your hamster’s tail end looking noticeably dirty.
Healthy hamster stools should be long and firm. While not easy to spot, the American Journal of Pathology found that hamsters develop colon inflammation. This condition is known as leal hyperplasia and causes significant discomfort.
Diarrhea makes a hamster’s colon sore and affects the skin around the anus and tail.
Because your hamster’s tail remains wet, painful sores and irritation occur, causing your hamster to scratch and nibble at the area for relief.
Staining is also likely to occur while your hamster has wet tail. Once the condition’s treated, it will eventually go away and return to its normal appearance.
The body loses nutrients during diarrhea because partially digested food is ejected before utilizing the essential vitamins and minerals.
Wet tail causes repetitive diarrhea, which means the body receives no nutrition and eventually starves, even if the hamster retains its appetite.
However, in many cases, hamsters with wet tail lose their appetite and rapidly lose weight.
Hamsters with wet tail experience low energy and stop moving as often as they usually do. Lethargic hamsters will spend more time sleeping and won’t come out when they’re supposed to be active at night.
Even hamsters that come out to eat and drink will appear different. For example, once-friendly hamsters may become aggressive and bite their owners as a defense.
In comparison, hamsters that don’t enjoy being picked up won’t have the energy to resist.
Hamsters with wet tail sometimes walk with a hunched back and appear more bent over than usual.
This is coupled with discomfort from where the non-stop diarrhea’s taking its toll on the hamster’s health and well-being. Your hamster may waddle when it walks and appear uneasy on its feet.
Can Hamsters Die from Wet Tail?
Wet tail is a disease and kills most hamsters within 24-72 hours, depending on the severity.
Hamsters are only small, and the sudden depletion of nutrients has a detrimental effect on the body. These nutrients can’t be replaced until diarrhea has completely cleared up.
It also depletes the body of essential fluids, which is a problem as hamsters don’t drink often.
When you can get treatment for your hamster’s wet tail within 24 hours, the chance of survival increases.
Wet tail affects hamsters quickly and suddenly, leaving owners with few options. The average hamster’s wet tail survival rate is estimated to be only 10%.
How To Treat Hamsters With Wet Tail
Wet tail won’t get better on its own.
You must act as soon as you notice signs of diarrhea to give your hamster a chance of survival. If you leave the condition to get better, your hamster will likely die within days.
Therefore, follow these steps to treat your hamster’s wet tail:
Don’t delay in getting your hamster straight to the vet. Your hamster will likely need antibiotics to clear up the bacteria overgrowth and any underlying health issues.
Your hamster may also have diarrhea and not wet tail. The two conditions aren’t quite the same and require different treatments. For example, diarrhea isn’t always bacterial and is commonly caused by too many watery fruits and vegetables. Therefore, your vet will administer the correct antibiotics.
Your vet may also need to administer fluids to treat dehydration. Your hamster may also need a specially formulated diet to replenish its missing nutrients. Vegetable baby food or critical care food are common choices.
Stress causes the wet tail-causing bacteria to increase too quickly. Therefore, a comfortable environment is the best way to stave off the condition.
You can do this by:
- Ensuring a quiet environment for your hamster to live in
- Providing a high-quality diet that’s rich in protein and fiber
- Turning off the lights in your hamster’s room at night
- Preventing other pets from having access to your hamster’s room
- Providing an enclosure that meets the minimum requirements of 80 x 50cm
- Giving your hamster at least 6 inches of bedding, preferably 8-10 inches at the deepest end
It’s also easy to accidentally scare hamsters, especially when bringing one home.
While this is sometimes unavoidable, be as quiet as you can when you need to be around your hamster’s cage and pick it up by scooping it up with two hands from below.
If you pick it up from above, the hamster will feel like it’s being preyed upon by a bird or larger animal.
Clean the Enclosure
Wet tail is highly contagious. Not only that, but diarrhea causes your hamster’s cage and accessories to become messy, smelly, and unpleasant for your hamster to live with.
Put your hamster in a separate quarantine cage or bathtub and give the enclosure a deep clean with soapy water and hamster-safe disinfectant.
- Throw any soiled bedding away and any substrate you think your hamster has come into contact with. Keep a small amount of clean bedding to retain your hamster’s smell.
- Throw away any soiled wooden items.
- Scrub the base and walls of the enclosure.
- Remove any hoarded food and replace it with a clean batch.
Whenever you touch your hamster or its enclosure while it has wet tail, make sure you wash your hands with an antibacterial soap to prevent transmission of the bacteria to another animal.
Watery fruits and vegetables make diarrhea worse. However, your hamster should still be encouraged to eat. You should only feed your hamster dry foods, such as a high-quality seed mix or fully formulated pellet (lab block) mix.
Your hamster’s body is unlikely to retain all the food’s nutrients, but having something is better than nothing.
Hamsters use sand to clean themselves. While you may be tempted to wash your hamster’s tail-end in water, doing so will worsen things.
Hamsters can’t regulate their body temperature well, and water strips the coat of essential oils. You can gently clean your hamster’s tail using a cotton ball or q-tip, but only if you can manage this without stressing your hamster out further.
Providing your hamster with a sand bath will encourage it to keep itself clean. The sand will also dry the fur, preventing painful sores and sepsis.
How Much Does Wet Tail Treatment Cost?
Veterinary costs vary depending on where you live, but you’ll need to pay for the following:
- Consultation fee
- Specialized diet
Because wet tail is a serious condition in hamsters and kills them so quickly, you’ll likely need to pay for all of these treatments to give your hamster the best chance of survival.
Therefore, expect to pay between $50 to $250 to treat your hamster’s wet tail.
How Long Does It Take for a Hamster To Recover From Wet Tail?
Hamsters with wet tail are commonly given a course of antibiotics lasting at least 7 days. They’ll need the full course to recover, after which you should see an improvement in their condition.
Hamsters with the most serious cases of wet tail may need to administer another course of antibiotics to clear the infection completely.
Can Hamsters Get Wet Tail More Than Once?
Hamsters can get wet tail more than once, particularly if they live in a stressful environment or the condition wasn’t fully treated the first time.
Some hamsters are more prone to catching wet tail than others, depending on their genes and upbringing. Also, hamsters living in unsanitary conditions are more likely to come into contact with harmful bacteria.
Every time you get your hamster out of its cage for free-roaming time, check its tail area for any signs of wetness or staining. This will ensure you get the condition sorted more quickly.
Wet tail won’t get better on its own. While wet tail isn’t always the cause of diarrhea, you must get it checked out by a vet to rule out this condition. The sooner a vet evaluates your hamster, the more likely it is to survive.