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Dr. B.
Dr. B., Board Certified Veterinarian
Category: Vet
Satisfied Customers: 22448
Experience:  General practice veterinary surgeon with extensive experience in a wide range of species.
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Hi, Ive had my Syrian hamster phil since this time last year.

Customer Question

Hi, I've had my Syrian hamster phil since this time last year. it was estimated that he was 7 months old when i adopted him. Recently he's been noticeably slower than usual. I got him out tonight to clean his cage and when i picked him up i noticed a large bald spot between his ears on his back. while holding him i also noticed that he was incontinent of urine and had a dirty bottom which is unlike him. I've cleaned his cage and given him fresh veg, dried food and fresh water. what is the best thing that i can do for him? does he have long left?
Thanks, Morag
Submitted: 4 years ago.
Category: Vet
Expert:  Dr. B. replied 4 years ago.

Hello & welcome, I am Dr. B, a licensed veterinarian and I would like to help you with your wee one today.

Can you tell me if you are seeing any change to the skin (ie scaly skin, crusts, pustules, pimples, redness, etc) at the bald site?

Can you tell me if Phil lives on his own?

Is he scratching this area?

Have you noticed him drinking more recently?

Has he cage been getting wetter more often?

Do his stools look normal in the cage? Any diarrhea?

Any signs of weight loss or gain?

How is his appetite?

Customer: replied 4 years ago.

I cant see any change to his skin on the bald site, it just looks pale, like i'd expect it to look really
Phil does live on his own.
Recently he has been grooming much more, since ive put him back in his cage tonight he's been grooming lots, i wouldnt say he's paid any particular attention to the bald spot.
I've not noticed him drinking any more than he usually does. I replace his water daily and the amount he takes from the bottle doesnt seem to change.
he has a hampster toilet that he uses to urinate in but recently hes been urinating all over his cage so i suppose his cage had been getting wetter more often
Some of his stools appear much longer than they used to, i havnt spotted any diarrhea.
I think he has lost weight this last month.
his apppetite has decline recentky, he ouches and stores a lot but doent eat as much as he used to.

Thanks for your help

Expert:  Dr. B. replied 4 years ago.

Thank you for the further information about Phil.

As I am sure you can appreciate, issues with urination, feces, and skin can represent multiple issues arising at once or can be interrelated in our wee hamsters. As well, we do have to consider that since Phil is an older man in hamster years, that we can see organ issues and even immune suppression lead to health issues here. Furthermore, in either case both illness and advanced age can lead a hamster to slow down.

Now if you have not seen diarrhea but are seeing fecal staining of his back end, then this can often just represent that the hamster feels unwell (therefore a decline in grooming) or in older hamsters, arthritis (where getting to the back end is a struggle). Furthermore, in light of his potentially longer stools (which can often be a side effect of GI compression by something else in the abdomen), we have to consider that if he has an abdominal issue (ie tumor, chronically enlarged bladder due to a polyuric inducing disease) related to his signs as well. So, in Phil's case, the fecal issues are likely a secondary issue being induced by another issue.

Now if his bedding seems wetter more often and his urination behavior has changed, then he is likely experiencing increased urine production. When this happens, they often will go more urine, more often, and may demonstrate a lack of urinary control (both in the cage and when handled). When this happens it can be due to conditions like diabetes, kidney or liver disease, hormonal diseases and can be related to bladder infections.

Finally, the skin portion of his signs. Now the lack of changes to the skin does reduce suspicions of bacterial infection. Still if he is grooming more then he usually would and eating less (perhaps because he is spending time grooming), even if he doesn't show a focus on the bald area, I'd still be concerned that he is itchy. If he is, we do have to consider that he could have an opportunistic agent (ie fungal infection or mites) but we can also see hair loss and skin discomfort triggered by hormonal disease (ie thyroid issues) as well as kidney inflammation, and even tumors of any of the endocrine (hormonal) glands. Its worth noting that if the hair loss feels soft (as if hairs have fallen out and not been broken) and the hair loss pattern looks bilaterally symmetrical, then hormonal concerns would be an increased worry here for him.

In this situation, I am quite concerned that wee Phil is either being bombarded by an opportunistic skin issue preying upon an underlying issue affecting his urinary system or that his hormones/kidney health is compromised. In this case, it would be ideal to have a check up with his vet. They can appreciate the nature of his skin issue (address any suspicions of mites or fungal issues) and also palpate his abdomen for sinister lumps or bumps. As well or alternatively, you could consider submitting a urine sample to your vet for evaluation. This can be collected if you put Phil in an empty litterbox or if he is kept overnight in an cage that is free of bedding. The vet will be able to check the presence of white blood cells (a marker of infection), glucose (a marker of diabetes), and the urine's specific gravity (which can indicate kidney issues or seen alongside diabetes). Depending on the findings, the vet will be able to aid you in determining the cause for his multitude of signs and whether this is something that can be addressed and managed for Phil.

Finally, just as you have asked how long Phil has left, I must note that he is an older lad. Hamsters only live an average of 2.5 years, therefore at 19 months of age he is getting into late middle age. And with the aforementioned issues, his weight loss, and appetite decline, we have to consider that if this is to progress then it is likely he may only have weeks to months left. But if his issues are a bombardment with treatable issues, then he may have another year ahead of him.

Just in case you do not already have an exotics vet, you can check the RCVS register (LINK). As well, a lot of the vet schools (ie Edinburgh, Bristol, RVC, etc.) will either have an exotics vet on site or will have ties to one that they can refer you to (ie. Glasgow). As well, you can check here .

I hope this information is helpful.

If you need any additional information, do not hesitate to ask!

All the best,

Dr. B.


Remember that if you have any lingering questions or concerns, please reply so that we may continue our conversation. I will be happy to work with your further and do everything I can to provide you with the service you seek. Please remember to rate my answer when you are satisfied (with4-5 stars or a happy face) so that I may receive credit for my assistance. Thank you & have a great day. : )

Customer: replied 4 years ago.

thankyou for your help.
We moved house about 6 moths ago and phil didnt cope well with the move it took him a long time to settle down again. the neerest vet is aXXXXXaway, is it possible that the stress may make him decline even faster if he does have weeks to months left. what is the best thing that i can do for him at the moment?
thanks, morag

Expert:  Dr. B. replied 4 years ago.

Hi again Morag,

Stress usually won't cause them to decline in the short term (unless he had an issue like struggling to breathe) but it can effect them in the longer term. If he struggled to cope with the move, it is possible that this lead to an elevation in his body's natural steroid levels (the body's stress hormone) which would have had the side effect of immune suppression. This could put him at risk of becoming ill with infectious issues (ie mites, bladder infections, etc) that his body would have otherwise resisted.

In this case, if you are concerned about the stress of travel, then consider first submitting a urine sample. This can be tested by the vet, even without seeing the hamster, and can answer some of the questions we have about his health. Depending on the findings, you can then decide if travel is necessary and the et can guide you on what treatments would be indicated.

Otherwise, in regards XXXXX XXXXX at home, the main focus is to make sure he continues to eat well, try to stave off further weight loss, and make sure he is not becoming dehydrated.

At this stage, it'd be worth calculating his water intake to appreciate how much he is actually drinking. You can do this by measuring what you put into his bottle and then remeasuring it 24 hours later. Typically hamsters will drink 10ml per 100g body weight. If he is drinking more, then this does raise concerns about disease we were discussing above. If he not drinking enough, then you will have an idea of what more he needs to be receiving.

In regards XXXXX XXXXX him, tempting him with his normal diet is important. But if he isn't keen, then sometimes we do need to tempt them with veggie baby foods or even hand feed Supreme's Recovery diet or Oxbow’s Critical Care feed for anorexic guinea pigs. ( Both are highly nutritious herbivore feed that can be easily made into a slurry for syringe feeding. And they are much easier to use then trying to create a balanced critical care diet at home. Or if you are struggling to get ahold of these, then you can make a a gruel by crushing pellets and rehydration solution (ie pedialyte) to get nutrition into him.

So, the best things to do for wee Phil at this stage are basic supportive care measures and considering having a urine sample tested. This will help you start to rule in and rule out issues and give you a good start to determining what may be triggering his signs and what you can do to further support him.

All the best,
Dr. B.





Remember that if you have any lingering questions or concerns, please reply so that we may continue our conversation. I will be happy to work with your further and do everything I can to provide you with the service you seek. Please remember to rate my answer when you are satisfied (with4-5 stars or a happy face) so that I may receive credit for my assistance. Thank you & have a great day. : )