What Is Wet Tail, And How To Save Your Hamster’s Life

If you’ve got a hamster, and you think he’s got wet tail, I can help. Even if your hammy is healthy so far, you need to know what wet tail is, since it can be fatal and you need to know how to save him.

This is a disease that can affect any hamster of any age, although some are more prone to it. I’ll cover what wet tail is, what you can do about it, and how to make sure your hamster friend never suffers through it.

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So what is wet tail ?

Wet tail is a serious, contagious disease that can affect any and all hamsters. It’s noticeable by the wet, matted aspect of your hamster’s tail (hence the name). There are other symptoms, which we’ll cover soon.

That is because wet tail is a type of diarrhea, brought on by bacteria inside the hamster’s gut. While diarrhea for humans is not very hard to treat, hamsters have an incredibly small chance of survival.

Wet tail is mostly brought on by severe stress, which triggers unwanted changes in the hamster’s intestinal flora. It is mostly found in baby hamsters who were just weaned, but there have been cases of adult or elder hamsters as well.

Something to remember: wet tail is often used as a sort of blanket term, to describe any kind of diarrhea in hamsters. Actual wet tail is hard to diagnose, since the symptoms are many and it could not be just wet tail. More on that later in the article.

Is your hammy at risk ?

Any hamster is at risk. Not to sound doomsday-ish, but this is the truth. However there are a few specific hamsters out there that are most susceptible.

Syrian hamsters, of all the hamsters, have the highest chance of developing wet tail. Seeing as they’re the most common type of hamster pet, this doesn’t sound great.

Dwarf types can still get wet tail, but in a much smaller degree and it’s kind of rare for them.

Baby Syrian hamsters, who were just weaned by their mothers – around 4 weeks of age. They are very sensitive, and the stress of weaning, and being handled to be separated into same sex groups, then transported to the pet shop, and then to your home, can be very stressful.

Older Syrian hamsters can be at risk as well, though not as much as babies. Senior hammies can’t move very well, and can’t clean themselves as well as they used to. This increases the risk of an infection, which can trigger wet tail.

That being said, wet tail can develop in adult, healthy Syrian hamsters, if certain conditions are met. That doesn’t mean that any and all Syrian hamsters will develop wet tail. But they are the ones you should keep an eye on the most.

Symptoms of wet tail in hamsters

The symptoms for wet tail are quite a few, and they can also be found in the description of other health issues for hamsters. This is one reason it’s a bit hard to diagnose wet tail in the first place.

Here are the symptoms for wet tail:

  • Wet, matted tail – very runny stool, matted to the hamster’s tail and hind end. It can extend to the hammy’s abdomen.
  • Strong smell – wet tail smells, and it’s hard to miss. Your hammy is usually very clean and only smells like fur if you smell him. But with wet tail, he might have a strong poo smell.
  • Hunched back, brought on by intestinal discomfort.
  • Slow, sluggish movements
  • Half-closed eyes, very sunken, the hamster looks tired all the time
  • Loss of appetite, possibly not drinking water either
  • Continuously bad temper – if he never bit before, he will bite now and he’s very irritated
  • Folded ears, all the time, possibly shaking
  • Hides in a corner, or worse barely moves at all.
  • Possible weight loss, with dull, ruffled fur

Wet tail is also contagious. So if you spotted your hammy with these symptoms, separate him from his cage mate immediately.

Once you do separate them, make sure that anything the sick hammy touched is thoroughly cleaned (hot water and soap), and if necessary provide with new cage accessories. Wood accessories are not easy to disinfect, unfortunately.

The bedding must be thrown away as well.

How to treat wet tail

Treating wet tail is not exactly complicated, but the small size of the hamster makes it so. Normally you’d have two options, to treat it at home, or take the hammy to a vet.

I very strongly recommend calling your dedicated vet, this is not something to waste time with.

Taking your hamster to the vet

Get your small friend into his transport cage, and get a car ride to the vet. More on how to safely transport your hamster in this article, and how to keep your hammy comfortable during the ride right here.

Once you’re there, the vet will examine the hammy, to see the condition he’s in. The veterinarian might administer extra fluids to the hammy.

He might even recommend to keep the hammy overnight, to be able to administer the fluids regularly and keep a close eye on him. If this is the case, best to trust your vet with your hamster.

Depending on how severe the case is, your veterinarian might administer some antibiotics himself. Or, he might give you some medication to give to the hamster at home.

In any case, your hammy has more of a chance or surviving if you bring him to the vet. Wet tail can be treated, if spotted in its first phase (first 24 hours). After that, the chances of the hamster surviving are lower. He might still survive, but harder.

Whatever instructions your veterinarian gives you, be sure to follow them completely. Possibly schedule another check-up after a few days.

Caring for a wet-tail sick hammy at home

There are some cases when the vet is not available. Or, maybe you can’t afford a vet at the moment. This will not cure the hamster, but it will make his life much easier. A veterinarian is definitely needed for a treatment.

In this case you need to do the following:

  • Remove any fruit and veg from your hamster’s diet. ‘Wet’ food like these can worsen the diarrhea, mostly because it doesn’t provide just water.
  • Only give the hammy very dry food. This includes his usual food mix, dry oats, a very small piece of dry bread. Another option if a few grains of steamed brown rice. The dry food will settle your hamster’s insides a bit more.
  • The water your hamster gets from his bottle should not be very cold. And it should be plain, unflavored water. If he has a vitamin mix in his water, remove it for the time being.
  • If your hammy isn’t drinking – try giving him one drop of water every half hour. Hold him by the scruff of the neck (it will not hurt) and with an eye dropper place a drop of water on his lips. The hammy will then lick it, and have at least a bit of water. More than a drop at a time can drown the hammy.
  • If your hamster isn’t eating, try unflavored baby food. No onion, garlic, sugar, or any spices at all. He will need very small amounts of food, only what he can lick off the very tip of a teaspoon. Scruffing the hammy will work here as well.

Aside from all of this, make sure your keep the hamster in a comfortable temperature range. Hamsters are okay with a 20-23 C/68-75 F range.

More than that and he is in danger of overheating, which he probably already is given his infection. And lower than that can bring on a cold for the hammy.

Keep the room your sick hamster’s in very quiet and stress free. Any amount of stress or excess handling an make his condition worse.

So any and all pets, small children, loud noises, should be kept away from the hamster’s room.

Do not place the hamster in direct sunlight, instead keep him in a shielded, darker corner.

At all times, wash your hands thoroughly with antibacterial soap before, but especially after handling your sick hammy.

Chances of survival

Wet tail can be fairly hard to survive for hamsters. This is mostly because it has an incubation period(7 days), in which it’s not immediately obvious that the hamster is sick.

Once the signs of illness start to show, it becomes progressively harder to successfully treat.

There were cases where the hammy unfortunately passed away, even after being cured. This was because of the stress brought on by the illness itself, and hamsters are terrible stress managers.

However, if you spot your hamster’s problem within 24 hours of it surfacing, his survival chances are higher. This means that you should be watching your hamster closely, and handling it every few hours.

For older hammies, the chances are lower than for babies, This is because their immune system is already breaking down, as opposed to forming (like in babies).

So, if your elder hammy is stricken with wet tail, do your best to treat him. But if worse comes to worst, be prepared for his passing.

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How hamsters develop wet tail in the first place

The way wet tail develops is thought to be because of stress. This is the biggest culprit known so far, although there are other we’ll cover here as well.

Stress brings a host of psychosomatic reactions from the hamster, including severe changes to the bacteria in his gut. That can trigger wet-tail.

In some other cases, a very stressed hamster  will develop a very weak immune system, which won’t be able to battle the infection brought on by a stray bacteria. Which in turn may lead to wet tail.

Stress in hamsters

A stressed hamster will show any signs of illness. Hamsters are very sensitive creatures, and can be stressed easily. A few factors for hamster stress include:

Overcrowded cage – the size of the cage matters so much (more on that here), and keeping hamsters together in an appropriate sized cage.

The right sized cage is a minimum of 24 x 12 inches, and about 12 inches tall. That’s 61 x 30.5 cm, and about 30.5 cm tall. That’s for a Syrian hammy, and the minimum for keeping 2 Dwarf types.

Not all hamsters can live together though, and some will fight to the death. Crucial info on that can be found here.

Improper handling – hamsters don’t react well to being woken up, constantly being handled, being held wrong, meeting too many strangers at a time, unsafe play time and so on. Especially the babies, under 12 weeks of age.

Be very careful when handling your hamster, and never let a child or pet interact unsupervised. A very curious cat, or a grabby toddler won’t bode well for your hamster.

Hamsters require so much attention and gentleness, they are not well suited to families with small children or lots of pets. More on that here.

You can find out more on how to show your hamster affection the right way, without annoying him in this article. And you can find out more about how to tame your hamster without stressing him out here.

Dirty hamster cage

That doesn’t mean a stray poo will freak the hamster out, but a cage that hasn’t been cleaned for more than 2 weeks is turning into a serious threat to his health. More on how often to clean a hammy’s home here, and what kind of bedding to provide to make sure he is safe.

This is because infections can occur when the hamster’s cage has stray bacteria, that can develop from an unclean cage.

And also, an unclean cage can become moldy in some places. Especially the bedding, if it’s been moist in some places, like where the water bottle drips for example.

Imagine your tiny hamster, breathing in those mold spores, wreaking havoc in his immune system. An infection will be the last thing your hammy needs, but it might just happen.

Other medications

Like in humans, hamster medications can sometimes interfere. Or, they can make it easier for some problems to appear.

If your hamster is already on a certain treatment, be sure to ask your veterinarian if he’s at risk of developing other diseases. It can happen, rarely, but it can still happen.

It’s best to know beforehand and be prepared.

Make sure your hamster stays healthy

You can make sure your hamster survives by not getting wet tail in the first place. That means your need to follow a few steps in the first place.

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Teddy here gets plenty of food, attention, and exercise.

Keep your hamster away from stressful environments

Hamsters are very susceptible to stress-related illnesses. So naturally, they must be kept away from stress factors. Here’s how to make sure your hamster has a minimal-to-none stress.

Do not house your hamster with another. I’d recommend even Dwarf types to be housed alone, since a hamster is very territorial by nature. Even if your give both hammies a cage that’s large enough for 5 hamsters, there can still be problems.

One hamster will always be more dominant, and might start bullying the submissive one. It can be hard to make out the difference between playfighting, and actual serious fighting between hamsters.

Roborovski, Campbell, and Siberian/Winter whites can be traditionally housed together, while Chinese and Syrians will try to kill other hamsters.

Conversely keep pets, small children, loud noises, and general ruckus away from the hamster’s cage or room. Hamsters are mostly nocturnal, so a rowdy house during the day will be incredibly stressful for the hamster.

Do not introduce lots of new people to your hamster at the same time. Your hammy will be overwhelmed, and needed a few days to trust you in the first place. He will freak out and hide when faced with many new people he does not know.

Try not to wake up or annoy the hamster, since it will not rest properly and he will be very irritable. This will make him even harder to handle or tame, which is completely against what you’re trying. Let the creature rest peacefully.

Keep the hammy at a comfortable temperature

hamsters need a certain temp to feel comfortable. That range is about 20-23 C/68-75 F, and your hammies will be fine.

A hamster exposed to very cold temperatures will enter a state that can be confused with hibernation. But in truth, it’s actually a case of hypothermia.

It can be fatal because the hamster hasn’t had time to fatten up and build a big and warm enough nest.

More on hamster hibernation and the risk of keeping them in too cold a room.

Always clean your hands before handling the hammy

Hamsters are very sensitive creatures, and as such your hands need to be clean before handling them. Before you touch your hamster, make sure your hands are clean.

Use an antibacterial soap, and try to find one with little to no scent. A strong scent could make your hamster either think you’ve really got coconut on your hands and try to taste it, or scare him away.

This also applies for the toys the hammy’s got in his cage as well. They too need to be disinfected and cleaned before you first place them in the cage.

The shipping, the handling, and where the toys were stored can all be health risks. Even if it’s just a bit of dust, best to be safe and clean them.

Do not feed the hamster overly watery foods

Watery foods, like cucumber, watermelon, zucchini, grapes (more about safe foods here) can trigger diarrhea in your hammy.

You might ask if water doesn’t trigger diarrhea too. Well, the water your hamster can decide how much to drink. I mean the water from the water bottle.

But the water content in the fruit or veg is not up to him, and he can be overly hydrated.

Conversely, do not give your hammy milk. The lactose content in milk is the highest (compared to cheese or yogurt), and that can trigger a bout of diarrhea too.

Make sure the water you give your hamster is safe

The water your hamster drink must be safe and clean. If your tap water isn’t safe for you, it’s not safe for him either.

So, you can either boil the water beforehand, to rid it of bacteria. Let it cool down and pour it into the hamster’s water bottle.

Or, you can use a bottled water that is labeled as safe for newborn humans, which is safe for hamsters as well. You can find out here how much water a hamster needs, and how to clean his water bottle.

A word from Teddy

I hope you found out how to save us if we ever get wet tail. I am a Syrian hammy, and I’ve been healthy so far. I hope your hamster friend is alright too.

If you want to know more about us hammies, you should check out the articles below for more info how to care for us and feed us right.

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