Getting a hamster through wet tail
As I mentioned in a previous post, my little Sergei had been feeling somewhat under the weather due to his tyrant of an brother. I called our then vet that Friday for some advice, but having spent the day watching him, I decided on Saturday morning that he should see a vet as something was obviously wrong.
I carefully put my grumpy little man into the pet carrier we have for just these sorts of emergencies, and we headed off on the 20min run to Colwyn Bay to see our vet at Prospect House. I hadn’t had any cause to deal with the vet since we moved other then to get Izzy’s prescription diet, but I have to say at that point, I was very impressed.
It was an open clinic, but we didn’t have to wait long. We walked into the consultation room, praying it was just stress and nothing more serious, although by now, in my heart of hearts I knew better. We talked to the vet, explained his situation and then I said the words that I had forced myself to accept.
“I think it is wet tail” I told her quickly, hoping to get it out before I could worry too much about the implications of what that statement might mean for my tiny friend. She picked him up, causing some language I didn’t know three month old hamsters knew, and looked him over gently.
“I think your diagnosis is pretty much spot on” she replied, gently putting Sergei back to bed. “I’ll just be a minute, I will get him some antibiotics”.
Wet Tail is very serious, and quite often fatal. It is a myth that it only effects the larger, Syrian hamsters – it can effect any hamster, rabbit, chinchilla or several other species. Time is crucial with this illness and the sooner you can get your pal to the vet to get on treatment the better his/her chances are. You can get “over the counter” remedies too, but I personally would advise that you get them to the vets as they can confirm the diagnosis at the same time.
Sergei tried to tuck himself back into bed, grumbling and swearing – but I forgave him, the poor little guy really was sick and probably in a fair amount of pain, so I let him off his bad language, I know how miserable I feel when I have a bad stomach, and I am considerably bigger then him.
She injected him with his first dose, and then told me how to administer the rest over the next 5 days, and what I could do for him. Basically, keep him warm, keep him quiet, and keep him hydrated – syringing the water down his throat if I had to.
Then came the phrase, oh so gently, that I had been trying to ignore even though past experience has taught me harshly of the truth of them – “Of course, I have to tell you that Wet Tail is very serious, and can prove fatal even if they are medicated”
I got him up for his dose the following morning and he looked so ill (he didn’t really look ill before other then the matted area on his tail). I needed him to keep fighting this with me, I needed him to hold on and weather the storm till the antibiotics could start to kill off this bug before it killed him.
To be honest with you dear reader, it wasn’t looking good for him right then, and despite the short time we had been together, the thought of loosing him had me a complete mess.
“Wet tail” – the words that breed fear in any hamster owners heart, that was how the story started… well I am pleased to be able to tell you dear readers, that isn’t how the story ended for Sergei!
It was a rough few weeks, for all concerned, but Sergei survived and got back to himself. After that vet trip, I moved him into our room in the small carry box that I had used to take him over to Prospect House.
I was armed with my syringe and antibiotics, a pair of John’s thin leather driving gloves (I can not stress how important that precaution turned out to be), a quivering heart and the resolve that I was not going to let my baby boy die.
The first day, I didn’t need to do anything more then keep him warm, which meant running up stairs every three hours to refill the large, old fashioned, stone hot water bottle that I had on the shelf by the bed, right next to his box. The dose the vet gave him by injection was enough.
He hadn’t looked that ill when we took him to the vet, his back end looked greasy and wet, but he seemed pretty chipper still – but not long after she gave him the injection, he became listless, and started to look as ill as he actually was. During that first night I slept badly, conscience of every slight sound he made, coaxing him to hold on, silently telling him over and over that we would get him through this if he just trust me.
Some people might think this crazy, I mean he was “only” a hamster after all, right? Wrong! No animal is ever an “only” – just because he was small, and relatively inexpensive – didn’t make him disposable, I had taken him on, and with him the responsibility to do everything in my power to give him a long and happy life.
The following day, I woke, heart heavy, not sure what the dawn would have brought – had he slipped away from me while I slept fitfully? I slipped on the driving gloves, prepared the syringe with his dose carefully, and then tenderly lifted down the box from the shelf. There was a faint shuffle of movement, followed by the pained/pissed squeak that I was to become so familiar with over the coming weeks. I never knew that a three month old knew such language till Sergei started fighting the bacteria that was so intent on killing him.
Holding him as firmly as I dare, I gently coaxed the end of the syringe into his mouth, ignoring the pitiful way he was struggling in my grasp, trying to get it done as fast as I could so I could return him to his bed, painfully aware that even the stress of me medicating him might prove too much for his little body. To my relief, he took his dose fairly easily and praising him I slipped him into my pocket so I could change his bedding before putting him back to bed.
He sat so still, and so quiet in there I thought he had maybe died, but when I lifted him back out to put him in his bed, he looked up at me with large, watery black eyes and then swore fluently at me before pulling the fluffy bedding over his head.
And so the next few days progressed, dosing him twice a day, re-heating the water bottle every few hours and fretting over how little he had eaten/drank. Worried, I called the vets for advice, explaining the situation, and telling them that I had tried the chicken baby food but he was refusing it. The woman on the end of the phone was very sweet, and suggested that I try him on fruit squash, preferably one high in vitamin C like a well known brand of blackcurrant.
I thanked her, and hurried out to the kitchen to make up a small measure of squash, rushing upstairs to gently get him up and give it to him via the syringe. It isn’t so much the wet tail that normally proves fatal to hamsters you see, but the accompanying dehydration, something I was keen to avoid no matter how often he nipped and swore.
So in addition to the dose of antibiotics morning and night, I insisted he drink a syringe of Ribena. Once he realised how sweet it was, he didn’t really complain about it, and in fact was soon (much to my relief) happily drinking it from the little dish he had in the cage.
His fur had started to fall out, and his skin was very red and irritated, so I took him back to the vets, concerned about this new turn of events. She looked at him, though kept her distance as he was more then a little upset, and told me that as he felt better he would give himself a clean up and it would settle down. That I could try and clean him, but to be honest, it would cause more stress then it was worth.
Then, that night he seemed to take a turn for the worse, squealing and rolling over defensively before getting stuck. I got up to him several times, got him out, and gave him some Ribena to settle him back down again, before going back to bed with a sinking feeling and laying waiting to hear the next noise from him that would tell me he was at least still alive.
When we had chicken for tea one night, I took some of it upstairs and put it in his bowl, as he still wasn’t eating well, hoping against hope he would take it, he did – and the three other pieces I took up for him. The following day when I woke up, he was already up, sat at his food bowl, nomming a sunflower seed – the weight in my heart lifted, it was such a small change, but it was a change, and a positive one.
So I started to add a bit of cooked meat to his diet to help build him up – and it worked, he was soon getting up regularly, normally for a swig of Ribena and to check for sunflower seeds or chicken, but it was still a step in the right direction.
I called the vets again, still worried about the fur loss and irritation, and was told it may be he had mange – this is fairly common on sick hamsters as the mites live happily enough on the hamster all the time, not really causing any trouble, till the host gets sick…
They suggested an over the counter option to help until I could get him back to the vet. John was dropping some friends home, so I didn’t have transport, so instead I called my Dad who was coming to stay for a few days and asked him to grab some for me on the way up.
When he got here, I carefully read the instructions, which stated that it should not be used on animals under 50g’s – now I was sure that meant my little guy. Undeterred, I opened the pipette, squeezed it into an container and using the spare syringe I had for Sergei’s antibiotics, worked out how much it contained. I knew that the .4 ml it held was suitable for a 50g animal, so all that was left was to find out how heavy Serg was. I weighed him careful using the kitchen scales, he weighed in at a meagre 28g, I carefully drew up .1 ml of the mite treatment and put in over his back – preferring to under dose then over dose as he was still pretty week.
I took him to the vets a couple of days later and she greeted me with a “I thought this little guy would be dead or better by now, whats happening?” I explained what I had done to treat him, handing her the shop brought medicine.
She smiled, told me that it was exactly the stuff she would have used, that I had worked it out correctly, and to re-dose him in a fortnight. She also reassured me that his fur should start to grow back fairly quickly but to make sure he was kept clean, warm and secure.
I was floating on cloud nine, she had given him a clean bill of health from the wet tail, and seemed happy he was on the mend and I was doing the right thing for him.
I swapped the water bottle for a small electric heat pad that I ran on the lowest setting, supporting his box on a few books to prevent him being directly on the heat source, and carried on as I had been, changing his bedding daily, disinfecting his house and cage, giving him vitamins in the water, and feeding him tit-bits of cooked chicken, mince or steak.
When the fortnight was up, I got him up, re-weighed him, and was delighted to see that not only was he looking a lot better, but his fur was growing back and he had put on about 4grams since I last weighed him. Gently I re-dosed him, and decided to move him back into his actual cage, still in our room, still over the heat pad, just to give him a bit more room to move around if he wanted too.
It was about 3 days later that he first decided to use his wheel again, and I was elated, despite being woken up at 2am, as it meant he felt better. His fur was still growing back, but he was back in with his siblings now (in a separate cage of course) and was going from strength to strength! I am so glad I didn’t give up on him, or he on me… he really was my little miracle man and I loved him dearly.