Hamsters are highly susceptible to illnesses, and severe cases can kill a hamster within hours or even minutes.
This means as a hamster owner you need to always be on the lookout to spot when your little friend is sick and get them immediate veterinary help.
One of the illnesses that affect hamsters is pyometra, a uterine infection. Below we will highlight everything you need to know about pyometra in hamsters, which includes the causes, symptoms, types, and treatment options.
What is pyometra in hamsters?
Pyometra in hamsters is a life-threatening uterine infection that affects female hamsters and is characterized by an accumulation and/or discharge of pus or blood from the uterus. It is common among older female hamsters and can arise when the uterine secretions during the hamster’s estrus cycle provide a breeding environment for bacteria.
Pyometra can also be caused by hormonal and structural changes in the uterine line leading to infections. Stump pyometra occurs when a uterine tissue left inside the uterus after spay surgery causes an infection. Pyometra often occurs after mating, a successful pregnancy, or a phantom pregnancy.
While it’s common among older female hamsters, the condition can also affect younger female hamsters that have never mated before.
Types of pyometra in hamsters
There are two types of pyometra in hamsters namely open and closed pyometra. Open pyometra is easy to spot due to the discharge of blood or pus through the vulva while closed pyometra might go unnoticed until the later stages, which makes it more life-threatening.
1. Open pyometra
Open pyometra in hamsters is characterized by the discharge of blood or foul-smelling pus from the vulva. This type of pyometra is easy to spot and manage because the infection can be easily drained from the hamster’s body through the vulva.
Sometimes the condition can be confused with a bladder problem when the discharge is flushed out along with the urine. You should also take note that hamsters do not menstruate or have periods hence any bloody discharge from the vaginal area is a cause for concern.
2. Closed pyometra
In a closed pyometra, there’s no outlet for the discharge because the cervix is closed and the pus and/or blood accumulate inside the uterus. As a result, the hamster will display abdominal swelling or bulging after several days. Closed pyometra is more serious because it rarely gets detected until the later stages.
Late detection could also mean bacteria and toxins have already spread through the uterine walls causing blood poisoning (sepsis). Due to the build-up of pus or blood, the uterus may rupture releasing pus into the abdomen causing peritonitis.
You should seek immediate veterinary assistance if you notice your hamster’s abdomen is swollen and seems lethargic as it could be a case of closed pyometra.
Point to note: While a distended or swollen abdomen could mean a hamster has closed pyometra, other health conditions may cause the abdomen to become distended. Such conditions include ascites, abscesses, fecal impaction, tumors, cysts, and ovarian cancer.
Symptoms of pyometra in hamsters
Symptoms of pyometra in hamsters vary depending on whether the infection is open or closed. A notable symptom of open pyometra is vulva discharge (pus or blood) while closed pyometra is characterized by a distended abdomen. Common symptoms of both types of pyometra include:
- Loss of appetite
- Increased drinking
- Increased urination
- Hunched posture
- Neglect of appearance (severe cases)
- Irritability (severe cases)
Causes of pyometra in hamsters
Pyometra in hamsters can be caused by bacteria such as Escherichia coli and streptococcus, a virus such as lymphocytic choriomeningitis, or by hormonal & structural changes in the uterine line leading to infections. A form of pyometra called stump pyometra occurs when uterine tissue left inside the uterus after spay surgery causes an infection.
While progesterone has a role to play in causing pyometra in dogs, the role of this hormone in causing the same infection in hamsters remains unknown.
How to treat pyometra in hamsters
There are a few options when it comes to treatments for pyometra in hamsters, including surgical procedures and using antibiotics. The option to go with will depend on factors such as the age of the hamster, their health condition, the risks involved, and the level of cost.
1. Surgical procedure
Surgical procedure is one of the most effective treatments for pyometra in hamsters. However, it carries a lot of risks due to the hamster’s relatively small size and even more in older or unwell hamsters.
The procedure done for pyometra will most likely be spay or ovariohysterectomy, which involves the removal of the ovaries and the uterus. The procedure can be expensive and it’s advisable to have a vet fund.
In terms of success rates, the procedure is more successful when performed on Syrian hamsters compared to Chinese hamsters. After the procedure, the surgical wound can be closed with skin glue or dissolvable stitches.
The hamster will need painkillers for several days after surgery while antibiotic treatment has to be maintained for at least a week. Recovery from surgical procedures is usually quite fast.
It’s advisable to consult with your veterinarian to know whether a surgical procedure will be ideal. It’s best to use surgical treatments as a last resort.
2. Using antibiotics
Antibiotics can also be used to provide a temporary improvement. Unfortunately, antibiotics are rarely curative. The most commonly used antibiotics are Baytril (enrofloxacin) and Septrin (co-trimoxazole). Septrin can be used alone or in combination with Baytril. Antibiotics can also be used to help a hamster get better in preparation for a surgical procedure.
While using long-term antibiotics can help a hamster suffering from pyometra, the medication often harms the gut bacteria that play an integral role in a hamster’s digestion and bowel health. This might necessitate the use of probiotic supplements.
A better approach is to use an antiprogestin, such as aglepristone. The medication has few side effects and can be administered by injection. However, you will have to deal with several vet visits to complete the medication and for the veterinarian to monitor the hamster’s progress.
There have been reports of Galastop (cabergoline) being used as a non-surgical management alternative of pyometra in hamsters. However, there’s almost no scientific literature that supports the use of the medication to help hamsters suffering from the disease.
3. Palliative management
There are instances when there’s little that can be done to treat a hamster suffering from pyometra. This is often the case with elderly hamsters. In such cases, turning to palliative care will be the most ideal option.
If the hamster seems comfortable but no curative option seems suitable, the use of an antibiotic alongside painkillers such as Metacam (meloxicam) would be ideal for palliative management.
In case the hamster seems to be in too much pain, or discomfort and is refusing to eat & drink, you will need to consider the hard and painful decision of euthanasia.
You can read this article on the signs of a dying hamster and learn how to care for them in their final days.
FAQs about pyometra in hamsters
Let’s have a look at some of the most common questions concerning hamsters suffering from pyometra.
1. Is pyometra contagious in hamsters?
Pyometra is a contagious disease. Being a bacterial infection, pyometra can be transmitted when an infected hamster is kept in the same cage as a healthy hamster where they share food, bedding, and toys. However, if the cause is a virus, there’s no guarantee it can be transmitted to healthy hamsters because very few viral diseases are contagious.
2. How much does hamster pyometra surgery cost?
Pyometra hamster surgery cost $900-$2,100. It is a labor-intensive, delicate, and emergency procedure with very high risks involved. Not many low-income earners can afford to pay for pyometra surgery for their sick hamsters unless they get a vet fund aid.
3. Can hamster pyometra cure without a surgery
The chance of successful recovery from pyometra without surgery depends on how severe the condition is, the age of the hamster, and the health condition of the hamster. Elderly hamsters suffering from other health conditions are less likely to recover from pyometra without a surgical procedure.
Closed pyometra is also more fatal than open pyometra. The fact that symptoms manifest when the condition is at an advanced stage makes antibiotics less effective. That’s why a surgical procedure to remove the ovaries and uterus presents better survival rates.
4. What is the pyometra surgery survival rate?
Pyometra surgery survival rate for treating open pyometra range between 75% and 90% while the success rate for treating closed pyometra is anywhere between 25% and 40%. The mortality rate of hamsters suffering from pyometra is 3-4%, with the rates higher if the condition remains untreated for too long.
Pyometra in hamsters is one of the most life-threatening diseases. You should keep tabs on your hamster’s health and behavior to help spot the condition early. Spotting closed pyometra at an advanced stage means the chances of survival or full recovery will be very low. Seek immediate veterinary assistance for your pet if you suspect it could be suffering from pyometra.
This video documents a rare case of closed pyometra. Courtesy: Kong Yuen Sing.