Wet Tail in Syrian Hamsters
By Rebekah Brittain
Back to Newsletter Page
How does a Hamster get Wet-Tail?
Wet-tail, also know as Proliferative Ileitis, is a stress related bacterial disease which is very contagious. It occurs in small animals such as Syrian hamsters.  (Dwarf hamsters do not get wet tail but the can suffer from diahrroea.)  It is usually contracted when your pet is stressed, usually when you first get the pet. The hamster you get could already have Wet-tail, yet not all the symptoms are noticeable. Once a hamster gets Wet-tail, they should never be bred, as it could cause more stress, and the Wet-tail could be inherited by the offspring.

How does an animal get Wet-Tail?

Many stress related things can cause a hamster to get Wet-tail. They can easily become stressed from being handled too much (after just getting your hamster), being away from mother/siblings, change in diet, improper/inadequate cage cleaning, often, etc. There are many other reasons that hamsters can get Wet-tail.

A new, young hamster is most likely to contract Wet-tail, simply because they are young, and stressed at being put in a new, unfamiliar environment. Along with younger baby hamsters, long haired hamsters are also more likely to get the Wet-tail disease.

Other Bacteria that often play a role in Wet-Tail:

E. Coli
Campylobacter species
Cryptosporidium species
Chlamydia species

What are the Symptoms?
Wet-tail symptoms are not very noticeable for the first few days. It will usually take about 7 days for the symptoms to begin showing.

What to look for:
Watery diarrhea, foul smell
Wet, dirty tail area
Pet not grooming itself
Not eating/drinking
Looking dehydrated and lethargic
Walking with a hunched up back
Constantly sleeping
* Some more serious cases result in rectal prolapse

Without veterinary treatment, a hamster will usually die within 24 to 48 hours after the symptoms are noticed.

How do I treat my Hamster?
If you notice that your hamster has Wet-tail, you should take it to the vet immediately for a medical diagnosis and help. Some pet stores sell Dri-Tail Drops that you can buy to treat your pet. However it is common that the drops do not help, and sometimes even worsen the Wet-tail.  A visit to a vet is the only responsible treatment.

If your hamster gets Wet-tail, you should soak the cage and accessories in a bathtub mixed with bleach and water. Then let the cage air dry and wash it again with dishwashing liquid. After this, your pet should be isolated. You need to clean the cage and accessories every 2-3 days to keep your hamster's home clean. You also need to keep your hamster hydrated with fluids. Recommended is Pedialyte mixed with water.  Also, when holding your sick hamster, you should wash your hands afterwards, as the bacteria can get spread to other pets. If you have taken your hamster to the vet, be sure to give them their medicine as prescribed.  (If you are given any, you most likely will be.) It is also best to use the medicine until the bottle is empty.

Since Wet-tail is stress related, it is best to make your new hamster completely at home. Before you purchase your pet, its new home should already be prepared. It is best to isolate your hamster for a week or two to make sure there is nothing wrong. Also, give your hamster a few days to get used to its new environment before handling it. If you have other animals, don't let them around your new hamster, as it could become scared and nervous.

If you find out that your pet has Wet-tail, you should either return the hamster, or take it to the vet. If you got your hamster from a store and you decide to return it, it is wise to get your money back and go somewhere else, rather than getting another animal from their stock.  Most stores keep their animals together, so the others could also have Wet-tail.