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Gerbils & Hamsters/Sick Syrian Hamster


Hi there,

I am afraid we're losing our beloved hamster boy Bailey.  He's only about 1 year old.  I recently noticed that he was less active than usual and seemed to eat less.  Since he's obviously nocturnal we sometimes go a few days without seeing him.  But when I cleaned out his cage he still wouldn't really become active and his ears stayed back.  He also seemed to wobble a little.

I took him to a vet and he noticed that the right side of his belly was swollen.  He didn't really have an answer and would need an x-ray.  I was torn, but it sounded like that any possible finding would probably require surgery with a questionable outcome.  That just seems too cruel to put a little thing like that through surgery!  So the only thing we're treating is possible constipation, which is probably a long shot.  We're giving him a laxtative.  I haven't really found stool, so maybe that's it.  But his belly is getting larger and he's very lethargic. I even pulled out some poop from his bottom which did seem very hard.  I can't believe I did that!  He still eats a little, and he drinks his water.  But he stays in his house the rest of the time.  He just seems overall very sick, his fur starting to look unkept.

Any ideas?  I feel so helpless, yet surgery does seem crazy, right?

Any advice would be appreciated.

Thank you,

Hi Claudia

I'm sorry to hear about Bailey.

Surgery is always a risk, especially as the hamster gets older and if their condition is poor.  It also really depends on what the vet expects to find - i.e. if they did operate would they be able to save him. If not, then there is little point putting him through that type of ordeal or you having the cost.

However, if an xray would show what is wrong, then that might be worth considering and they could gently sedate him for this.  Vets tend to use a tiny amount of gas to sedate a hamster.

Swollen abdomens can be a number of things - hamsters can have kidney problems which cause them to swell - sometimes they become huge.  

Hamsters are also very prone to developing tumors.  Often they are abdominal and sadly you don't know there is a problem until it is very serious.  When a tumor grows often there is a marked increase in water consumption.  The hamster tends to appear as though they are losing weight from their top half, but their bottom half seems to swell - sometimes they look pear shape.  As the tumor grows they can struggle to walk especially if it is putting pressure on organs or their spine.  If the tumor ruptures you notice blood and pus coming from the rear. Sadly there is nothing that can be done with this type of tumor - the only thing is to make sure the hamster isn't in any pain and has quality of life, otherwise euthansia is the best option.

Did the vet give him any drugs at all? Did he rehydrate him or give him a pain killers?

You could give him some lettuce - this can cause diarrhoea, so it is good if a hamster is a little constipated.  You could also tempt him with baby food - I usually buy the powdered variety and add a little water - this is full of nutrients, is easy to eat and digest.

If you think he might be dehydrated you could buy some oral rehydration powders and add them to water as per the instructions. I would be tempted to ask the vet for some form of pain relief for him so that even if you don't know what is wrong you will know he isn't suffering.  A safe pain relief for a hamster is Metacam - this is an anti-inflammatory and you give 1/2 a drop - this isn't and easy dose as it is small - just put it on a piece of food or carefully wipe it on his lip.

I hope this helps you.


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Sheila Adby


Syrian hamsters are my specialty, however, I have kept Campbells,Winter Whites and gerbils in the past. I can advise on most subjects associated with hamsters, including housing, bedding, feeding, handling, new borns and catching escapees. I have had some experience of various health problems with hamsters and can offer my opinion and advice on basic health issues, however I am not a qualified vet and therefore cannot recommend drugs etc. My website is


I have been keeping hamsters and other small animals for more than 12 years. My favourites are Syrian hamsters and I foster litters and 'difficult' hamsters for a rescue centre. My job is to tame hamsters ready for re-homing, which is extremely rewarding. I also enjoy looking after new litters and raising the pups. I have co-written a book on hamsters with my local vet and have a website:

Hamsters in Sickness and in Health - Sheila Adby and Dan O'Neill ISBN186163218-5 (Capall Bann Publishing)

Educated to A Level standard in the UK.

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