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Facts about Wet Tail

Author: Lorraine Hill

From Issue 31 Oct 1999

There has been much concern and rumours lately regarding Wet Tail following the recent outbreak that David Baglin has experienced. There are also many myths regarding Wet Tail and so I thought it might be useful to try and clarify a few points about the disease for members.

First of all many of the early hamster books state that one of the causes of Wet Tail is dirty cages or poor hygiene - this is not the case. Wet Tail is a stress-related illness and the disease is triggered by stress. Often the cause of stress may not be easily identified, if at all and so an outbreak can often occur for no obvious reason.

The most stressful time in any hamster's life is when it first leaves its mother then moves to a pet shop and then moves onto a new home. In the space of 2 or 3 weeks a hamster has been subjected to removal from its mother and change of owner and home twice. The stress that this subjects the hamster to can then produce Wet Tail which is why it occurs commonly in young hamsters. A minor illness can also trigger stress which can then lead to Wet Tail.

Once a hamster is infected with Wet Tail it takes 7 days for the symptoms to appear and so a hamster can already be "infected" with Wet Tail but show no symptoms until 7 days later. Given that any change in environment is stressful to a hamster and therefore increases the chances of falling ill with Wet Tail it is sensible to isolate/quarantine any new hamster for at least 7 days.

In the case of an outbreak in a hamstery, given that symptoms take 7 days to appear, once all cases of Wet Tail have been resolved within the hamstery, if no new instances occur over the following 7 day period then the hamstery is clear from infection. Once this has been achieved obviously normal life can continue and there is no reason why the owner should not attend and exhibit at shows. David has now resolved the infection within his hamstery and been free from infection for longer than the 7 day period. He has also provided veterinary confirmation of this and so is now welcome to exhibit at HOEHC shows.

Wet Tail itself is not hereditary but it is thought that susceptibility to it is. Different hamsters can all be subjected to the same amount of stress but not all will develop Wet Tail. Some hamsters therefore have a lower tolerance to stress than others and this lower tolerance is thought to be passed onto offspring. Therefore any hamster that has suffered from Wet Tail and recovered should not be bred from. Wet Tail is treated with antibiotics and many vets have found that rather than dying from the actual infection most hamsters die from the dehydration that follows the severe diarrhoea. Therefore rehydration treatment along with the antibiotics greatly increases the chances of survival when treating Wet Tail. Vets have differing thoughts on whether cage cleaning should be increased or decreased when treating hamsters with Wet Tail. Regular cleaning obviously removes all infected droppings from the cage but adds to the stress of the hamster. Ceasing cage cleaning obviously subjects the hamster to the least amount of stress but leaves the infected droppings within the cage, which may not help towards curing the problem. It is a catch-22 situation and so neither solution is better than the other. Probably the most sensible solution would be to cease cage cleaning but if possible just remove droppings regularly. However, given that the droppings are usually smeared over bedding, cage and wood-shavings this is not easy to do with any degree of thoroughness.

It is also worth noting that from information I have gathered in the past that although Dwarf Hamsters can suffer from extreme diarrhoea they do not suffer from Wet Tail. Unfortunately many vets will take one look at extreme diarrhoea and diagnose "Wet Tail" on observation alone. Therefore some vets have diagnosed dwarf hamsters to be suffering from Wet Tail on this basis.

Treatment for Wet Tail and the extreme diarrhoea that can be suffered by dwarf hamsters is the same and so the inaccurate diagnosis does not affect treatment. However, in cases with dwarfs suffering extreme diarrhoea where tests have been carried out by a vet, the extreme diarrhoea in Dwarfs was not found to be the same as Wet Tail suffered by Syrians. The fact that David had no cases of "Wet Tail" in his dwarf hamsters helps to confirm the fact that dwarf hamsters do not suffer from Wet Tail.

Finally, in the unfortunate case of a hamster dying from Wet Tail the cage should be thoroughly disinfected and as a precaution should not be used for any new hamster for 7 days.

I know many members have nothing but sympathy for David and I for one wish him every success in recovering his hamstery from this experience. I am saddened though that it has come to my attention that misinformation and rumours are circulating. In many cases I am sure that ignorance of the facts have been the basis for many concerns and therefore hope that this article will help to rectify this. David has had an very unfortunate experience and has always acted on his vet's advice. I am sure the last few months have been very stressful to him and he does not need any further stress that the spread of misinformation and rumours brings.