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Dealing with Wet Tail

The Importance Of Containing Infectious Germs - My Personal Experiences

Author: David Baglin

From Issue 31 Oct 1999

When a contagious disease is introduced into a large hamstery you never know when and where it will strike next. With a disease like wet tail (Proliferative Ileitis, Hamster Enteritis) this is a contact disease and will be spread through contaminated food and bedding reaching healthy animals or even contaminated clothing or hands.

When I had wet tail in the form of non-haemolytic E.Coli in my hamstery, it was spreading to Syrian hamsters all around the room at a fairly slow speed and choosing individual animals randomly. At the start of the outbreak I had around 180 cages on my shelving which were placed closely side by side. Most animals were housed in wire bar type cages with plastic bases and some in plastic tanks (nearest to the small ventilation window). The high density of cages meant that most were touching and bedding would poke through into neighbouring cages and often get stolen!

After diagnosis of this condition (it took nearly two weeks for the lab report to come through) I had lost about thirty or so hamsters thus making some space on the shelving. Even after obtaining antibiotics many did not respond and many animals were just found dead having shown no symptoms at all.

As I did not know what I was dealing with for the first month after losing the initial hamster I decided that a clean out regime would be too risky and would be the likely cause of a worse and faster spread of infection. By now the cages were length ways along the shelving and approximately three inches apart. No longer touching at all. What I could not understand was how hamsters in tanks were catching wet tail when they had had no contact with animals in open barred cages. My vet was also mystified.

190 cages take up a lot of space. They fill a room 7' by 12', shelved floor to ceiling around all four walls with a 4' aisle in the middle to walk up and down. If I had moved infected animals from their place on the shelving to anywhere else in the room, shavings and bedding could have fallen into healthy animals' cages. I WAS NOT PREPARED TO DO THIS AND RISK INFECTING SEEMINGLY HEALTHY ANIMALS JUST BECAUSE THE CAGES HAD MORE DROPPINGS IN THAN USUAL. The incubation period being 3 to 7 days meant that I had no idea who could have it and who may not.

After 7 weeks I cleaned all the remaining cages out. (In the meantime I was soaking and scrubbing all the dead hamsters' cages and storing them in my shed which was exhausting as it took until 1 and 2 in the morning sometimes then I had work the next day). I maintained a scrupulous regime of dettox-ing my hands and equipment plus each empty cage between every hamster. A week after this I lost a large quantity of hamsters. Germs had still been transmitted and spread no matter how careful I was.

After this I decided to only go into the hamster room twice a week to fill up bottles and drop dry food in through the bars of each cage. I continued to do this for six weeks again and still during that period I continued to lose hamsters. I had another antibiotic by now which was more effective than the previous but only saved one in three hamsters that showed symptoms.

I was hardly touching any cages and STILL THEY WERE DYING. There was no way I was going to lose another big batch like after the last clean out. By not having contact with the animals or their cages the spread of infection was being reduced slowly. Eventually after the last two were found dead in their cages on the 19th of May the wet tail just stopped. My vet told me I had done the right thing by not cleaning the cages out. The less contact the less chance of spread of infection. Yes they were a bit smelly and yes there were many droppings in the cages but hamsters being territorial and relying heavily on their sense of smell they were not upset by having to live in their own scent for a few weeks longer.

I waited a week and had no problems. I then cleaned half of the cages around the 29th of May and waited a further week. I then cleaned out the remainder of the cages. Still no more cases of wet tail. Please remember. If you do have wet tail in your hamsters:

  1. Seek veterinary advice immediately.
  2. Isolate sick hamsters, keeping them warm and replacing lost fluids by giving a salt and sugar (electrolyte) solution mixed with water (this can be bought in chemists or prescribed by a vet).
  3. Feed and clean out etc healthy hamsters before ill ones
  4. Change and wash clothing after handling ill hamsters.
  5. Wash hands with an antibacterial soap or hand wash, normal soap is not effective enough to kill all the germs.

I have been able to continue my usual hygiene regime since June, of cleaning my cages out every 21 days or so. I have bred litters of babies too in my bedroom from my isolated breeding lines since then which are cleaned out every few days. Aren't they messy!! Now that things are back to normal I can breathe a sigh of relief and not have my nose hairs singed with ammonia!!