Female hamsters are susceptible to pyometra, a life-threatening infection in the uterus.
Pyometra in hamsters can be treated with antibiotics to reduce symptoms. Aglepristone, an antiprogestin medication, has been successful in treating pyometra. However, surgical treatment which removes the uterus and ovaries is the only cure for pyometra since there’s no chance of reoccurrence.
What Causes Pyometra in Hamsters?
There are two types of pyometra that female hamsters can develop:
Open pyometra is often discovered in the early stages. It can be detected outside the hamster’s body when a discharge of pus or blood drains out of the uterus and vulva through its open cervix.
Some people mistake the appearance of discharge for menstruation, especially if it’s bloody. However, female hamsters don’t menstruate like other animals do.
Instead, female hamsters have an estrus cycle. According to the Society of Toxicology Pathology, the estrus cycle lasts four days and can happen several times a month. It produces a thick, white discharge instead of blood. This discharge usually only appears during one day of the four-day cycle.
The appearance of the pus that occurs from pyometra is much different in color and consistency than that of the estrus cycle discharge. The pus or blood from pyometra will also often have a foul smell.
With closed pyometra, the blood and pus can’t drain out of the uterus because the hamster’s cervix is closed. This causes the blood and pus to accumulate in the uterus, leading to swelling or bulging of the abdomen.
Since closed pyometra often goes undetected until the later stages of the illness, it’s much more serious and life-threatening than open pyometra. Detecting closed pyometra too late gives the infection time to spread, leading to sepsis.
The pressure from the accumulation of pus and blood can also cause the uterus to rupture, releasing the bacteria into the abdomen and leading to peritonitis, an inflammation of the peritoneum.
Peritonitis develops fast and can be life-threatening. Peritonitis coupled with pyometra means your hamster has a low likelihood of surviving.
Causes of Pyometra
There are only a few ways pyometra can start to develop in female hamsters, which include:
- After mating
- Following pregnancy
- After phantom pregnancy
- After spay surgery
Pyometra is usually the result of bacteria, such as Escherichia coli (E. coli) and streptococcus, or structural or hormonal changes within the uterus.
In the case of pyometra, after having your hamster spayed, this form is called stump pyometra. It results from uterine tissue being left behind after the spay, which can get infected.
Symptoms of Pyometra in Hamsters
The symptoms of pyometra can vary depending on whether it’s closed or open pyometra.
The most obvious symptom of open pyometra is the discharge of pus or blood from the vulva, and the distended abdomen is the most obvious symptom of closed pyometra.
Other symptoms that can result from both types of pyometra include:
- Increased intake of fluids
- Loss of appetite
- Increased urination
- Hunched posture
- Loss of balance
In severe cases, you may also notice that your hamster has started to neglect its appearance, isn’t grooming itself, and has become irritable.
How Fast Does Pyometra Progress?
Pyometra can develop suddenly and progress quickly. However, because your hamster may not show signs of anything wrong until pyometra has progressed, treatment options may be limited.
In the case of open pyometra, you may notice the evidence of the pus or blood early enough to get proper medical care for your hamster.
With closed pyometra, it could take time for the abdomen to become distended enough for you to notice something wrong; by then, it could be too late.
Is Pyometra Painful for Hamsters?
With both open and closed pyometra, your hamster will likely experience pain and discomfort.
However, closed pyometra is probably the most uncomfortable for hamsters to experience due to the pressure from the buildup of accumulated pus and blood.
Hamster Pyometra Treatment
Treatment options for hamsters with pyometra are available, such as antibiotics and other medications, palliative care, and surgery.
The option that’ll be best for your hamster will depend on factors like age, overall health, the severity of the pyometra, and the risks involved.
Can Pyometra Be Cured with Antibiotics?
Unfortunately, antibiotics aren’t a cure for pyometra. Typically, antibiotics are given to reduce the infection before beginning surgery. Long-term antibiotics can help the symptoms of pyometra and make your hamster more comfortable.
The downside with using antibiotics long-term is that it can destroy the good bacteria in your hamster’s gut that helps with digestion and keeps the bowels healthy.
An alternative to using antibiotics for pyometra is an antiprogestin medication, such as aglepristone. Aglepristone is a medication that blocks the effects of progesterone and helps to relax the cervix. It is often given to animals to terminate pregnancies.
According to Veterinary Quarterly, a hamster with pyometra was recommended surgery to remove the uterus, but the hamster’s owners asked for a different treatment method.
Because dogs with pyometra have been successfully treated with aglepristone, modified doses were given to the hamster over two weeks, and the hamster’s health slowly improved.
Long-term follow-up of the hamster revealed the pyometra had cleared, the estrous cycle had become normal again, and the hamster remained healthy.
Does Pyometra Always Require Surgery?
Success has been enjoyed in treating pyometra in hamsters with aglepristone, so surgery isn’t always required. However, in emergent cases, surgery is the only option.
The downside of surgery is there are a lot of risks involved. Because hamsters are so small, any surgical procedure is risky, and if the hamster is older or has poor health, those risks increase.
Surgery for pyometra in hamsters is an ovariohysterectomy, which removes the ovaries and the uterus.
How Successful Is Pyometra Surgery?
Pyometra surgery is the most successful method of treating pyometra. If you’re concerned about whether pyometra will come back after surgery, rest assured because there is no chance of reoccurrence since the ovaries and uterus are removed.
However, suppose you treat pyometra with a medication such as aglepristone. In that case, the uterus is still there, so while it may get rid of pyometra, there’s a chance the infection could return.
However, veterinarians are always wary of performing surgery on hamsters because they’re so small. Surgery is already risky enough for larger patients, but complications increase greatly when you factor in the hamster’s size.
If your hamster survives the surgery, it’ll likely make a full recovery. However, you need to be prepared that things could take a turn for the worse.
While surgery is the most effective method for curing pyometra, it’s also the most expensive.
Pyometra surgeries in hamsters can cost somewhere around $800 to $2000. The cost alone makes some people choose to forgo surgery and treat pyometra with other methods.
How Long is Recovery After Pyometra Surgery?
The recovery time from pyometra surgery is quite short. Your hamster will likely need painkillers for a few days after surgery. Antibiotics will likely be given up to a week after surgery to help ward off post-op infections.
Your hamster should be moving around and feeling well enough to return to its usual activities within a week after surgery.
If you notice that your hamster is taking longer to get back to normal, check with the vet to ensure everything is healing properly and no other complications have come up.
Palliative Management As A Last Resort
Sometimes the pyometra is too advanced to be able to do much about it, or your hamster might be too old and sick for recovery to be possible with treatment, and surgery could kill it. This is when palliative management is the best option.
Your hamster can be kept comfortable with antibiotics and painkillers for as long as it’s alive. If it seems that your hamster is in too much pain or discomfort, even with painkillers and antibiotics, you may need to consider euthanasia.
No one wants to think about their beloved pet dying, and no one especially wants to decide to have to end its life for its own good, but if it means your hamster will no longer be in pain and discomfort, it’s a smart decision.
How Long Can a Hamster Live with Pyometra?
How long a hamster can live with pyometra depends on many factors, such as age, overall health, whether it’s open or closed pyometra, how advanced the infection is, and whether the hamster is receiving medications to help treat the infection.
If the pyometra is left untreated, your hamster isn’t likely to live long and will end up in pain. With treatment to reduce the discomfort, your hamster will live for as long as its body allows.