Any hamster owner is worried their hammy might get sick. The two main worries are diabetes, and wet tail, and today we’re discussing diabetes in hamsters.
How to know if your hammy has diabetes, how to care for a diabetic hamster, symptoms to look out for, and which hamsters are most vulnerable. Let’s get into it.
What is diabetes in hamsters ?
Diabetes (in a simplified version) is an illness that keeps the blood sugar very high. Usually the pancreas deals with this, and it must produce insulin.
Insulin is needed to regulate how well the body manages its sugar levels. Sometimes the body becomes immune to insulin, or it produces too little insulin. This is where insulin shots come in.
In very broad terms, and simplified, this is what diabetes is.
When it comes to hamsters, this is a dangerous illness to have since they are so very small, and caring for them isn’t as easy as with a human. They might require insulin shots too, and will need regular testing in order to monitor their levels.
Your best option is to seek out a veterinarian who will be able to diagnose your hamster properly.
Do not diagnose or treat your hamster’s condition without consulting with a medical professional beforehand.
Now let’s talk a bit about what your can do to prevent diabetes in your little friend, and which hammies are at risk.
Preventing your hamster from developing diabetes
No hamster is born directly diabetic. True, a hammy can have the genetic makeup that makes diabetes easier to happen. But born diabetic, no.
This means diabetes can be prevented, for the most part. A hamster can still get this illness even if you do prevent it as best you can, if it’s one of the breeds at risk.
Still, you can rest assured that by trying to prevent it you’ve delayed the onset. Now let’s see which hammies are at risk, and why that is.
Genetic predisposition – some hamster breeds are vulnerable
If you’ve got a Dwarf hammy, then it’s very possible you’re going to have a diabetic hamster later on. Not all Dwarf hamsters will develop diabetes.
But all Dwarf hamsters can develop it, they have the genetic makeup that makes it easier.
As for Syrians, they don’t have this predisposition. They can develop diabetes too, but not as easily as the Dwarf types. For Syrians there needs to be a very high carb, high fat diet and very little exercise for diabetes to set in.
Syrians have the misfortune of getting wet-tail easier, so if you’ve got a Syrian like me, you should check out this article on wet-tail and how to help your hammy.
If you’re not very sure which hamster breed you’ve got, here’s a guide on figuring that out.
Your hamster’s diet and exercise can make things worse
Aside from the breed, which makes your hamster prone to either diabetes of wet-tail, there is also the influence of food and exercise.
Exercise will help your diabetic hamster burn off the excess fat that likely developed, and use up the blood sugar. This will make the impact of diabetes on your hamster’s live lower, and his life easier.
Never keep him there more than 30 minutes at a time, though, since he will need water and a bathroom break. If your hamster’s already diabetic, he will pee every 15-20 minutes, so keep him in the ball much less.
Alright, now onto the food. This is a major player in your hamster’s condition.
A diabetic (or diabetes-prone) hamster eating high carb, high fat foods will have a terrible time. This means most fruits are of limits for diabetic hamsters, and even the Dwarf types that aren’t diabetic yet.
You can find out more about the fruits that are safe for hamsters to eat here. Of that list, berries/forest fruits, apples, pears, are the safest bet for a Dwarf. Always in very small pieces (half an inch/ 1 cm), and only rarely (once per week or less often).
A word on sugar and carb in your hammy’s diet
Do not remove sugar completely from the hamster’s diet. That will send your hammy into a hypoglycemic shock, and be another problem of its own. Instead, only allow a small amount of sugars.
This means that you need to check out the label on your hamster’s food mix. If it’s got any kind of sugars – cane sugar, maple syrup, corn syrup, agave, honey, fructose, dextrose, those pieces need to be picked out of your hammy’s feed.
The problem is not with just sugar. Yes, sugar and overly sweet foods will make your hamster’s diabetes worse. But, the problem is bigger than this.
You see, when the hamster eats, his body breaks down all the food into sugars. Sugary foods produce more sugars, and high-carb foods produce more sugars as well. This is by comparison with protein meats, or veggies.
So keeping chocolate away from your hamster is good, but giving him a slice of italian bread is just as bad. A bit exaggerated, but you get the idea.
High-carb foods like bread, pasta, rice, maize, corn, are all foods that should be kept away from your hamster since they will produce almost the same effect as giving your hamster a slice of sweet, sticky banana.
It might sound like your hamster’s got nothing left to eat, but he does. Check out this handy guide on what is safe and unsafe for hamsters to eat, and you’ll see the foods that are still on the list, even for diabetic hamsters.
Signs of diabetes in your little hamster
Alright, now that you know what you can do to prevent your hamster from getting diabetes, let’s see the symptoms of diabetes in hamsters.
There are several signs, and please remember that you can’t take into account just one sign or another. Diagnosis is really more complex than this, and some symptoms may not even show up, even if the hamster is diabetic.
Again, the best bet is to get your hamster friend to a veterinarian who will diagnose him correctly. A vet that can help you is going to be an ”exotics” vet. They have experience with rodents, reptiles, and birds in general.
Onto the symptoms of diabetes in hamsters:
A hamster with diabetes will urinate much more often than a hamster without diabetes. This means as often as every 15 minutes, for example.
You’ll notice your hamster is peeing more often if you actually see him. He usually goes in his corner – he has just one corner – rolls back his little tail, and just wees. He will be immobile, and look like he’s staring into space for a couple of seconds.
Another sign, if you’ve never caught your hamster peeing, is that his corner will be wet much more often. Pretty much always wet, and smelling fairly sweet and pungent. Think nail polish remover.
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The easiest and clearest way to find out if your hamster is dehydrated, is to scruff the hamster by the back of the neck.
It won’t hurt the hamster if done properly. Hold the hamster gently, but with a good enough grip that he won’t jump away. Then, right on the back of the hamster’s neck, you can use your fingers to pinch/pull at the skin a bit. Let go of the skin immediately, and you should see it sliding back into place.
If it takes more than a second to spring back, your hamster is dehydrated. The hammy’s skin has lost it’s collagen and doesn’t arrange itself back into position as fast. You might even notice the skin is slightly raised where you picked it.
The longer the skin takes to get back in place the more severe the dehydration.
Along with dehydration comes increased thirst. Ironic, but the problem is not the water intake. But the regulation of how the electrolytes are being used by the hamster’s body.
This can be noticed by your hamster drinking water much faster and often than usual. A healthy hamster consumes about 10 ml water/100 gr hamster per day. That’s 0.33 fl oz per 3.5 ounces of hamster.
You can find out more about hamsters and their water requirements here, and how to give your hamster water the right way.
That being said, a diabetic hamster will consume much more water than that, getting to even 3-4 times the amount of water. However he will be dehydrated still, since his body isn’t functioning properly.
Should your give a dehydrated diabetic hamster Pedialyte ?
This is something I’ve heard about, and did some googling to find people who have experience with this. As it happens, I did find the answer for this on thepipsqueakery.org.
You can read their full blog post here. They also have experience with giving hamsters insulin shots, so you might want to check their article for that too.
About the Pedialyte, the clear answer is no, you should no give it to a dehydrated diabetic hamster. This is because Pedialyte is a mix of water, sugar, and salt. The sugar will not help the diabetes, even if it does bring back some electrolytes.
It may seem like it’s helping, but it’s actually make things worse.
Change in appetite
Another symptom is a sudden change in your hamster’s appetite. It may be that your hamster will eat much more, or much less. It varies from hamster to hamster. But there is a clear difference between a diabetic hamster, and a healthy one.
2 teaspoons of dry food are enough for an adult Syrian hamster. Dwarf hamsters need less, 1 teaspoon. So if your hamster is going through his food, and his food stash as well, quicker than you can feed him in a day, this is something to worry about.
Dramatic weight gain or loss
As a result of a sudden change of appetite, and also dehydration, your hamster will have a very different weight. He might gain weight, or drop a lot of weight.
You can use a kitchen scale that measure in exact grams or ounces and track your hamster’s daily progress.
Place the hamster in a cup he can’t climb out of, and use that do weight him on the kitchen scale. Of course, take the weight of the cup into account.
Yellow, thick nails
Not all thick yellow nails mean your hamster’s got diabetes. But it can be a sign, and is worth noting.
Testing your hamster for diabetes
Of course, you can test your hamster’s sugar levels at home too. You can test your hamster’s glucose and ketone levels with ketone test trips.
Your veterinarian will do the same in his lab, with urine samples from your diabetic hamster.
But, if you want to monitor your hamster’s progress and see how his treatment is coming along, then you can also use these strips at home.
This particular box will last for several months, since you do not need to check the hamster’s urine daily.
Do keep in mind that these test strips are not meant just for diabetics, but can also be used by them to monitor their health.
Remember that the glucose levels aren’t always normal. They can sometimes be off, due to an infection for example. So it’s important that you consult with your veterinarian as well the first few times you use these strips, to know how to best read them.
There are manufacturer’s indications yes, but your vet is the best person to ask about this.
Treatment and care for a diabetic hamster
Part of caring for the diabetic hamster includes changing the diet and exercise routine like we’ve discussed before.
Another part is the treatment. There are treatments that can be successful, but it depends on how well the hamster responds to them, and what the veterinarian will recommend.
Treatment with fenugreek is a common way of helping hamsters with diabetes, but the dosage is harder to be exact with. Fenugreek has been used as a healing plant for centuries, and often in diabetes treatment. It’s not a definite cure, but might be an option.
Another option your vet might present you with is Glipidize tablets to mix into the hamster’s food or drink. It’s basically going to make the hamster’s pancreas produce more insulin. So shots are out of the question here.
And finally, insulin shots for a diabetic hamster are what your mind probably first wandered to. Honestly, they were my first guess too, given how humans are usually treated.
The thing about insulin shots is that they need to constantly be adjusted to how well the hamster’s responding to other treatments, the new diet, the urine needs frequent measurements and so on.
So it’s not a great idea to do this without a vet’s help, or if you’re not a vet at all. A trained professional will know how to dose the amount according to the hamster’s size and resistance to insulin.
A word from Teddy
I hope you found what you were looking for in this article. Us hammies can get sick sometimes, and we rely on you for help. Diabetic hammies can lead normal lives, but we need some treatment.
If you want to know more about us hammies, you should check out the related articles below. You’ll find out more about how to keep up happy and safe.