Vet care is improving and hamsters are increasingly being offered, and surviving, surgery.
Read on to learn the principles of caring for a hamster after surgery. From abscess drainage to ovariohysterectomy (spay), each type of surgery will have its own care challenges.
You can find a checklist for hamsters having surgery in this blog post.
Before the Surgery
Hamsters can eat and drink as normal before the surgery. There’s no need to take away their food or water as you would with a dog. Check with your vet if you should give prescribed medications on the morning of the operation.
Generally you take the hamster to the vet on the morning of the surgery in a secure carrier. For more information about transporting hamsters, look at this blog post.
Sometimes the hamster may need to stay in overnight before the surgery. Therefore they will need a small travel cage. Check with your vet surgery what they require.
When you drop your hamster off, you may see a vet or a vet nurse. If you haven’t already done so, you will need to sign a consent form for the operation. The form may include a section to authorise unlicenced medication use for me to sign. Many medications used on hamsters are used ‘off license’.
You’ll need to find out the process for checking on your hamster after the surgery and arranging collection. What time should you telephone to check how the hamster is?
The time between dropping the hamster off for their operation and collection seems to take forever. Use this time to set up a ‘hospital cage’.
Setting Up a Hospital Cage
After surgery your hamster will be a little wobbly due to the effects of the anaesthetic and painkillers. Using a hospital cage instead of their normal cage helps keep them safe. A tank cage is ideal because it removes any temptation to climb the bars as well as keeping out draughts. The wide access at the top allows monitoring without too much disturbance. Use a smaller size cage than usual as a hospital cage so the hamster feels safe and doesn’t have too far to walk for food or drink.
Keep the cage furnishing simple and use a soft substrate on the floor so it doesn’t aggravate the stitches. For example, you could use Carefresh or Kaytee Clean and Cozy. Usually hamsters don’t have a wheel to run in until after their post-op check because this allows the wound time to heal properly. Your hamster can fall off shelves or climbing toys or damage their wound on them.
As well as the usual hamster mix and water bottle, you can give your recovering hamster a shallow bowl of water and/or some cucumber for moisture. If the hamster is very unsteady or drowsy avoid using a water bowl to prevent accidents with the hamster falling or lying in it.
Hamsters can get quite cold during surgery, so I place a heat source on the outside of one corner of the cage for the first evening, either a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel or a Snugglesafe. Never put a heat source under an unconscious hamster or one who cannot move away from it as overheating is dangerous. Always ensure there is a cooler part of the cage that the hamster could move to if they get too warm. Hamsters tend to recover very fast after surgery and special measures such as water bowls, cucumber and additional heat are usually not needed beyond the first 12-24 hours.
Immediately after the Surgery
Hamsters usually can be collected later the same day. They have to be monitored for a while by the vets and vet nurses to check they have recovered from the anaesthetic and there are no immediate problems. When you collect your hamster, you will be told any specific instruction or medications that are needed. Ongoing antibiotics or painkillers may be required. I make sure that I know when the first dose is due; often the hamsters have received enough of the medications while under anaesthetic and need no more until the next day.
When you get the hamster home from the vet, put them into the hospital cage you have prepared. Make sure the cage is in a quiet location, but one you can check on easily. I like to put a towel over part of the cage to make one area even darker and quieter.
Hamsters are usually sleepy for the evening after they have had an anaesthetic and surgery. I would recommend not handling them unless there is a problem, just keep them warm and quiet. They can be quieter for up to 24 hours after surgery, but I’ve found they usually bounce back by the following evening and the challenge then is stopping them from swinging on the cage roof!
They should be fed a normal diet. Sometimes I use baby food or wet cat/dog food in small amounts to either hide medications in or tempt them to eat. Don’t feed too much of this as it can cause upset stomachs. You should monitor the hamster to check they are eating and are peeing and pooing as normal. If they aren’t eating, peeing or pooing then contact your vet.
You need to check the wound at least once a day. It’s useful to check it when you bring the hamster home so you’ll be able to tell if there are any changes.
Things to watch for are bleeding, swelling, redness, pus, discharge or the wound coming apart. If these happen then call your vet.
Sometimes hamsters can lick or chew at their stitches, although this hasn’t been a problem I’ve seen often. Preventing this depends on the location of the wound. Some vets have made little Elizabethan/buster collars, others have used bandaging around the hamster’s body to protect the stitches and/or prevent the hamster being able to bend to chew them.
If you have to use anti-chew measures, take extra care to help the hamster remain clean and ensure they can access food and water.
Your vet may arrange a post-op check 3-7 days after their operation. This is to make sure there have been no problems, that your hamster is recovering well and to check the wound. At this check-up you can ask when they can move back into their normal cage, and when they can get their wheel back!
If you have any questions I haven’t answered then please contact me in the comments section.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2016. It has been checked for accuracy and updated for clarity in May 2019.