Diabetes in hamsters is something that often worries owners of the dwarf hamster species. It’s easy to find a lot of confusing and conflicting information.
In honour of World Diabetes Day on 14th November, here is some advice on how to test your hamster for diabetes.
Top Testing Tips
Here are some frequent questions about testing a hamster for diabetes. Click on the question to read the answer!
When should I test my hamster?
If your hamster shows no signs of diabetes and you are not breeding them, then there is no need to test.
If you plan on breeding your hamster or rehoming them, then it is a good idea to test them beforehand to check they are free from diabetes.
The most common sign of diabetes in a hamster is drinking a lot more than usual. You can spot this through observing your hamster visit the water bottle often or by needing to refill it more frequently. Along with the drinking, you commonly will find a diabetic hamster passing urine more. A hamster who doesn’t usually have a wet corner may develop one. Because the urine of a hamster with diabetes is sugary, you may notice small fruit flies in the cage.
Other symptoms can be weight change (particularly weight loss), irritability, unusual biting, or even looking hunched or ‘squinty’ if they are especially unwell.
What test strips do I need?
There are many different brands and types of sticks for testing urine or for testing for glucose. Not all of them test what we need!
So, what do we need? The main thing is to check for glucose in the urine. A common brand of urine glucose testing sticks are Diastix. These have one testing box on each stick because they test one thing – glucose. This is the sort of stick that I recommend.
If you have a diabetic hamster, it can be useful to track the presence of ketones in the urine. For this you need sticks that check ketones – either alone (Ketostix) or testing both ketones and glucose (Keto-Diastix). Using ketone testing stick alone won’t help in checking whether your hamster is diabetic!
Things we don’t need to test for: protein, leucocytes, blood, pH, specific gravity, nitrites. These tests can be found either in individual test sticks or on combination sticks, for example Multistix. The combination sticks have many test boxes (one for each thing they check) and can be tricky to read if you are not familar with them.
Where do I buy test strips?
You can buy test strips from pharmacies/chemists or online, for example on Amazon.
Remember when you ask to make sure you are getting strips that test the urine not the blood. Because humans with diabetes usually test the glucose level in the blood, pharmacy staff can assume that you are wanting those strips (which require a blood sample and a machine) and not the urine testing strips.
How do I get a urine sample from my hamster?
If you are worried that your hamster is unwell, then don’t delay taking them to the vet in order to test them at home. An unwell hamster needs to see a vet.
Read instructions on the bottle of the specific sticks you buy. This will tell you how long to wait after dipping the stick in the urine before reading it. If you read the stick at the wrong time you can get a false readings. Usually the time for the glucose test is 30-60 seconds.
To get the sample, put your hamster in a clean dry container without bedding or substrate until they pass urine. If your hamster doesn’t urinate within 10 minutes then put them back in their cage so they can access water and try later. It is easiest to get a sample when the hamster has first woken up.
When I am testing a hamster, I always have a stick to hand before I get the hamster out of their cage, just in case they pee while I am handling them!
Dip the test stick into fresh urine and compare the results to the chart on bottle at the correct time.
What do the results mean?
The test strips give readings on a scale of 0 (or -), trace, +, ++, +++ and ++++. 0 means the test is negative. Trace or + means the test is positive. The more +, the higher the amount of glucose in the urine.
If your hamster’s result is positive, check the sample a second time, waiting precisely the required amount of time. It is also worth using a test stick to check the cleaning fluid you prepared the carrier with – just to be sure!
Positive glucose, negative ketones:
Your hamster has diabetes. See your vet to discuss treatment options.
Positive glucose, positive ketones:
Your hamster has diabetes and may be unwell. See your vet urgently.
Negative glucose, negative ketones:
Your hamster does not currently have diabetes. If your hamster is unwell or has symptoms, see a vet. Increased drinking and urinating can have many non-diabetes causes.
Negative glucose, positive ketones:
Your hamster does not currently have diabetes. Raised ketones can occur for different reasons, such as not eating. If your hamster is unwell or you are concerned, see a vet.
What should I do if the test indicates my hamster is diabetic?
You need to book your hamster an appointment with your vet. The vet can check the hamster is well, and advise on management.
If you want to read more about how to manage diabetes in hamsters, click here.
What should I do if the test is normal but my hamster has diabetes symptoms?
Some of the symptoms of diabetes can also be caused by other health conditions. For example, drinking and peeing more can be caused by kidney problems or even pyometra.
If your hamster has symptoms of illness then please arrange a vet visit for professional assessment and advice.
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