Wet Tail is a contagious bacterial infection or an imbalance of the natural bacteria in the hamster's stomach or intestine. It is believed that Wet Tail may be stress related and it most often affects young hamsters around the time of weaning and moving to a new home as these can be a stressful times but can also affect older hamsters. It is also thought that Wet Tail can be caused by bad living conditions, etc which could also cause stress.
Wet Tail is a disease associated with the Syrian Hamster and is not associated with Dwarf Hamsters. Dwarf Hamsters can suffer severe diarrhoea but it is not thought that they actually suffer from 'Wet Tail'.
The main symptom of Wet Tail is diarrhoea and the diarrhoea is so severe that the hamster is wet and/or dirty not only around the anus but usually around the top of the tail as well. The diarrhoea is accompanied by a strong unpleasant smell. Droppings are pale in colour and extremely soft and may contain mucus. The hamster often walks hunched up, is weak and lethargic and may squeal in pain.
The symptoms of Wet Tail take 7 days to appear from infection and the disease is often fatal with death occurring as early as 24 hours after the appearance of the symptoms. Therefore it is vital that veterinary treatment is sought immediately if a hamster shows symptoms of Wet Tail. Although there are over-the-counter products to treat Wet Tail available in pet shops these are often not effective against severe cases of Wet Tail so should not be relied upon but should only be used if it is not possible to get the hamster to a vet immediately. Veterinary advice should still be sought at the earliest opportunity, but do ensure if you have used any over-the-counter product that you inform your vet when you visit.
Hamsters suffering from Wet Tail often die from dehydration rather than from Wet Tail itself, or they simply refuse to eat or drink. Also, because of the severe diarrhoea Wet Tail can lead to rectal prolapse where the intestine is pushed outside the body through the anus.
Veterinary treatment for Wet Tail may consist of a course of antibiotics, anti-diarrhoeal medication and help with rehydration. The hamster should be kept warm and quiet whilst undergoing treatment and be disturbed as little as possible. Wet Tail is contagious to other hamsters and so any hamster suffering from Wet Tail should be isolated from other hamsters. It is also a good idea to wash your hands thoroughly after handling a hamster suffering from Wet Tail, to avoid passing the infection back to the hamster worsening its condition and certainly before handling other hamsters (this is best kept to a minimum). It is a good idea to remove droppings from the cage at intervals and disinfect the cage with a disinfectant designed for small animal cages when cleaning the cage. Although it is important to keep stress to a minimum it may help to clean the cage of a hamster suffering from Wet Tail every 2 or 3 days.
It is important when buying a new hamster that its cage is prepared before its arrival home and the hamster is left to become familiar with its new surroundings in peace apart from feeding for a day or two to keep stress to a minimum.
Any equipment that has been used by a hamster that has suffered or died from Wet Tail should be disinfected thoroughly with a disinfectant designed for small animal cages and left to stand for a few weeks before being used by another hamster.
Susceptibility to Wet Tail is also thought to be genetically inherited and so it is best not to breed from any hamster that has suffered from Wet Tail during its life.
Always wash your hands thoroughly between handling different hamsters.