Wet Tail in Hamsters

"Wet tail" is one of the more common serious illnesses that can threaten your hamster. The disease gets its name from one its symptoms, persistent diarrhea, and it can be fatal if not promptly treated.

The disease is more often seen in weaning-age hamsters, about 3 to 6 weeks old, but it can affect older hamsters as well. Any breed of hamster can develop signs of wet tail but teddy bear hamsters seem to be a little more susceptible than other breeds.

The bacteria responsible is called Lawsonia intracellularis. It is thought that adult hamsters with wet tail may be infected with Clostridium difficile instead of Lawsonia. Treatment is the same regardless of bacterial cause. Determining the exact type of bacterial is not typically done since treatment is the same.

Signs of wet tail include lethargy, lack of appetite, unkempt hair coat, irritability, hunched posture and wet, soiled anal area and tail, covered with diarrhea. In severe or prolonged cases, rectal tissue may protrude or even progress to rectal prolapse (the tissue falls inward).

Immediate examination and treatment by a veterinarian is necessary to give the hamster a chance at survival. Fluids, antidiarrheal medication, antibiotics and force-feeding are crucial. Some commonly used antibiotics include tetracycline, trimethoprim sulfa and enrofloxacin. The patient is typically hospitalized in an incubator to keep warm and clean. Despite aggressive treatment, many hamsters succumb to the disease and perish within 48 hours. The disease is not transferable to other pets or humans.

If your hamster is diagnosed with wet tail, the hamster's enclosure should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected to reduce passing the bacterial infection to any other hamster that uses that enclosure.