Last Updated on: 24th September 2023, 04:05 pm
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 condition is very difficult to cure without antibiotics and medical support.
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 3-6 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.
Experts believe wet tail results from an overgrowth of various intestinal bacteria, such as Lawsonia intracellularis and Campylobacter. This bacteria overgrowth is caused by the following:
- Inflammation of the GI tract.
- Stress due to bright lights, loud noises, enclosure changes, and over-handling.
- Unsanitary living conditions.
- Unhealthy diet.
- Recent transportation from one home to the other.
- Other diseases that cause diarrhea occur that require antibiotics.
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 usually solitary animals once they reach 28 days old.
Symptoms of Wet Tail in Hamsters
The following symptoms are 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 leaves the 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.
As the hamster’s tail remains wet, painful sores and irritation occur, causing the hamster to scratch and nibble at the area for relief.
Staining is likely to occur while your hamster has wet tail. Once the condition is treated, it’ll eventually disappear 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 usual. Lethargic hamsters will sleep more and won’t come out 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 may walk with a hunched back and appear more bent over than usual.
This is coupled with discomfort from where the non-stop diarrhea is 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 the diarrhea has cleared up.
It depletes the body of essential fluids, which is a problem as hamsters don’t drink often.
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%.
When you can get treatment for wet tail within 24 hours, the chance of survival increases.
How To Treat Hamsters With Wet Tail
Wet tail won’t get better on its own.
Act as soon as you notice signs of diarrhea to give the hamster a chance of survival. If you leave the condition to get better, the hamster will likely die within days.
Therefore, follow these steps to treat wet tail:
A hamster needs antibiotics to clear up bacterial overgrowth and 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, the vet will administer the right antibiotics.
The vet may need to administer fluids to treat dehydration. Your hamster may 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 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 quality diet that’s high in protein and fiber.
- Turning off the lights in the 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 the hamster at least 6 inches of bedding, with 8-10 inches at the deepest end.
It’s easy to scare hamsters. 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.
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.
Put your hamster in a separate quarantine cage or bathtub and give the enclosure a deep clean with soapy water and hamster-safe disinfectant. When cleaning:
- Throw any soiled bedding away and any substrate 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 the hamster or its enclosure while it has wet tail, ensure 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 seed mix or formulated pellet (lab block) mix.
The hamster’s body is unlikely to retain all the food’s nutrients but will retain some.
Hamsters use sand to clean themselves. While you may be tempted to wash the hamster’s tail-end in water, doing so will worsen the condition.
Hamsters can’t regulate their body temperature well, and water strips the coat of essential oils.
You can clean the hamster’s tail using a cotton ball or Q-tip, but only if you can manage this without stressing the hamster out further.
Providing the hamster with a sand bath will encourage it to keep itself clean. The sand will also dry the fur, preventing sepsis and painful sores.
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 these treatments to give them the best chance of survival.
Therefore, expect to pay between $50 to $250 to treat a 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 may see an improvement in their condition.
Hamsters with the most serious cases of wet tail may need another course of antibiotics.
Can Hamsters Get Wet Tail More Than Once?
Hamsters can get wet tail more than once, especially if they live in a stressful environment or the condition wasn’t cleared up the first time.
Some hamsters are more prone to wet tail than others, depending on their genes and upbringing. Also, hamsters living in unsanitary conditions are more likely to encounter harmful bacteria.
Every time you get the hamster out of its cage for free-roaming, check its tail area for wetness or staining.
Wet tail won’t get better on its own. While wet tail isn’t always the cause of diarrhea, you must get it checked by a vet. The sooner a vet evaluates your hamster, the more likely it is to survive.