All about Chinese hamsters. All in one place.
Chinese Hamster Library
All about Chinese hamsters. All in one place.
This information on Chinese hamster diabetes management is not intended for use without veterinary advice.
If a hamster has positive glucose but negative ketones on testing, diet modification can help. You could also use oral medications..
Positive glucose and positive ketones indicates a very unwell diabetic hamster that needs urgent vet attention. Diet changes are unlikely to be enough. You can use a rehydration solution to replace lost salts as an emergency measure. Because it contains sugar, medications are often used as well. You should only add salts to water when advised by a vet; it can seriously harm a hamster if used incorrectly.
Care of a Diabetic Hamster
A Chinese hamster with diabetes needs constant access to fresh water. You need to check their water bottle more frequently, looking at the water level and that the spout is working. As a hamster’s diabetes progresses they may struggle to use a water bottle and need a water bowl.
A diabetic hamster will need their cage cleaning more often. This is because they pass more urine and the sugar-rich urine will attract pests like flies. Partial cage cleaning helps to maintain the hamster’s familiar scent and reduce stress.
Stress can raise blood sugar levels and make test results and symptoms worse. Therefore minimise travel with your diabetic hamster. You should not show a Chinese hamster with diabetes.
Do not breed from a diabetic hamster. Diabetes has a genetic origin in Chinese hamsters; responsible breeding aims to reduce the incidence of diabetes. In addition, diabetes affects a hamster’s ability to have pups safely.
A diabetic hamster eats more than one without diabetes, and most of the excess is lost through the urine. Chinese hamsters can, however, start to eat more before they become diabetic. The cause for this is not clear. Research papers note that restricting their diet to a normal amount rather than the increased amount can reduce the severity of diabetes. Always use your hamster’s body condition and weight to guide feeding amounts.
There is no specific commercial mix for diabetic hamsters. Harry Hamster food from Supreme has no added sugar, and has fat of only 6% from vegetable only sources.
Research shows that keeping diabetic Chinese hamsters on a diet with low fat (4% rather than 11%) reduces the severity of symptoms, as well as when the fat in the diet comes from vegetable not animal sources.
Do not completely exclude carbohydrates from the diet. They should be in their least refined state; avoid simple carbohydrates such as sugar and fruit.
Even when having dietary management, a Chinese hamster with diabetes can still have treats! Remember to keep portion sizes small (about a thumb nail size) and introduce them slowly. This is especially important with moisture-rich foods, such as vegetables, which can cause diarrhoea in large amounts.
Treats for Diabetic Hamsters
High protein foods:
Cooked chicken or turkey
Boiled, scrambled or poached egg
Flax and hemp seed
Tuna, drained (in water, not brine)
High fibre foods:
Many diabetic Chinese hamsters are maintained with diet changes alone. Sometimes extra treatment is needed. Medications, including herbal ones, should be used under vet supervision as they can have potentially fatal side effects.
Fenugreek is a herbal supplement available in health food shops. It has been shown to reduce blood glucose levels in humans. It comes as seeds or as powder in a capsule. Many hamsters will not eat the seeds and need it made up into fenugreek tea which can make the room smell of curry! The tea cannot go into a metal bowl and can be hard to measure accurately.
Glipizide is a prescription-only medication of the sulphonylurea class. There has been research showing a benefit from this type of medication in Chinese hamsters. It is important to get the dose right as it can cause dangerously low blood sugars and liver damage.
There is no licensed dose for hamsters so the cat dose has to be used, taking into account the smaller size of a hamster. In the UK the medication comes as a tablet which has to be crushed and diluted in a carefully measured amount of water to form the correct concentration. It can be administered via syringe (the most accurate and ideal way) or via the water bottle. Never replace an empty water bottle with medicated water. This can lead to the hamster suddenly drinking excess medication and suffering a low sugar level (hypoglycaemia).
Other medications have been studied in hamsters, such as metformin. This is not used as commonly as glipizide in pet hamsters. Sitagliptin has been trialled with diabetic laboratory rats who showed good response in their glucose levels and insulin resistance.
Some hamsters are treated with insulin. This requires regular injections because insulin is broken down by the gut if taken by mouth. A Chinese hamster having insulin for diabetes management is uncommon.
When deciding on a treatment plan with your vet you need to weigh up what it is appropriate and proportionate to the age of the hamster, how unwell they are, and how invasive or dangerous the treatment is.
You can follow the story of a Chinese hamster using insulin to treat diabetes here.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your hamster is just too unwell or their symptoms are impacting their quality of life. At this point you will need to consider the hard decision of euthanasia.
When you take a hamster to the vet to be put to sleep, place some familiar bedding and substrate from their cage into the carrier. You can also put a little soft tempting food in there. To minimise disturbance on the journey and in the waiting room, it is a good idea to cover the carrier with a towel or place it in a fabric bag.
Making the euthanasia decision is the toughest part of sharing your life with a hamster. Trust when they show you it is time. It is better to make that decision a day too early than a day too late. Hold dear the happy moments you have shared with your pet and remember that, as a good friend says, a decision made from love is never wrong.