All about Chinese hamsters. All in one place.
Chinese Hamster Library
All about Chinese hamsters. All in one place.
Diabetes arose spontaneously in captive Chinese hamster populations in 1954 following inbreeding over several generations. The tendency was probably present in the wild; it may have helped improve survival, for example during periods of famine or adverse temperature. Diabetes itself, however, has not been found in wild Chinese hamsters.
Type 1 or Type 2?
Originally they were thought to be a model for Type 1 diabetes because the early severe diabetics required insulin to survive. Subsequent research has identified that diabetes in the Chinese hamster does not arise from autoimmune destruction of the islet cells which are responsible for insulin production.
Chinese hamsters have since been considered to be an animal model for non-obese Type 2 diabetes. Diabetic and pre-diabetic hamsters are noted to be resistant to insulin. Before the onset of raised blood sugar there is an increase in insulin production to counteract this insulin resistance. Then insulin production falls, possibly because the islet cells are ‘overworked’ or possibly because of the underlying metabolic problem.
Cause of Diabetes
Diabetes in the Chinese hamster is genetically inherited. The number and nature of the gene mutations which cause it are unknown. Reassuringly, it tends to remain in a milder form or even disappear in a breeding population if not specifically selected for.
In the scientific research, there are dietary factors that worsen the development of diabetes in genetically prone Chinese hamsters. This does not affect genetically normal Chinese hamsters. The factors were a high percentage of fat in the diet and unrestricted access to unlimited food. The exact nature of how these dietary factors exacerbate diabetes are unclear. There is no association between obesity and diabetes in the Chinese hamster.
Symptoms of Diabetes
Urinating more often and larger amounts
Sudden change in weight
Sudden change in activity level
Irritability, or unusual biting
‘Squinty’ eyes when awake
Urine smelling of nail polish remover
Testing for Diabetes
If you think your hamster may have diabetes: test, don’t guess.
Never treat a hamster for diabetes without confirming the diagnosis through testing and seeking veterinary advice. This includes treatment with diet changes or herbal treatments.
Blood glucose levels in diabetic Chinese hamsters vary greatly (normal hamsters 5.7-6.4 mmol/l; diabetic hamsters 11.1-33.3 mmol/l). Unlike in humans, blood glucose measurements are not used routinely in hamsters outside of research environments. Urine glucose tests are preferable to keep distress to the animal minimal.
How do you check a hamster’s urine for diabtetes?
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.
Buy Diastix (or Keto-Diastix) from a pharmacy or Amazon. Diastix test for just urine glucoes and have one testing box per strip; Keto-Diastix have two testing boxes per strip because they test for both urine ketones and glucose.
Read instructions for how long to wait before reading the strip to prevent false readings, usually 30-60 seconds.
Put your hamster in a clean container without bedding 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.
Dip the test strip into fresh urine and compare the results to the chart on bottle at the correct time.
When should you check your Chinese hamster for diabetes?
Your Chinese hamster is showing possible symptoms of diabetes
You are planning to breed your Chinese hamsters
Your Chinese hamster is being sold or rehomed
What do the results mean?
The test strips give readings on a scale of 0, trace, 1+, 2+, 3+ and 4+. 0 means the test is negative. Trace or + means the test is positive. The more +, the higher the amount.
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 the test strip 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 severe 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.
Complications of Diabetes
Chinese hamsters with diabetes can develop many different complications. These are similar to, but not identical to, the complications found in humans with diabetes.
Complications include damage to the eyes (retinopathy), kidneys (nephropathy), nerves (neuropathy) and joints. Chinese hamsters with diabetes have abnormal immune responses, delayed wound healing and blood vessel disorders (atherosclerosis). Diabetic Chinese hamsters have reduced fertility as well as increased pregnancy loss and foetal malformation.
Mildly diabetic Chinese hamsters have a lifespan of 2-3 years. Hamsters who are younger at diagnosis usually have more severe diabetes. Their lifespan is 1-2 years old.