All about Chinese hamsters. All in one place.
Chinese Hamster Library
All about Chinese hamsters. All in one place.
It can arise as part of the normal oestrus cycle when uterine secretions provide a good environment for bacteria to grow. Pyometra can also occur after mating, after pregnancy or after a phantom pregnancy. It can even develop in any uterine tissue left after spay surgery (stump pyometra). It affects both females who have had litters and those who have not. Although it is more common in older females, it can affect them at any age.
It is usually caused by the bacteria normally found in the area, such as Eschericia coli. Streptococcus can cause a pyometra following a respiratory infection. Very rarely, lymphocytic coriomeningitis virus can cause pyometra. Unlike in dogs, the role of progesterone in the development of pyometra is not known in a hamster.
In an open pyometra, pus leaves the uterus/womb through the cervix or neck of the womb. This causes a discharge from the vent which is usually utterly foul smelling. There may also be bleeding. An open pyometra may be confused with a bladder problem if the discharged is flushed out during urination. There is little to no swelling of the stomach.
In a closed pyometra there is no outlet for the pus to escape. Therefore there is no discharge, but the hamster tends to become more swollen more quickly as the pus accumulates. Hamsters usually become more unwell with a closed pyometra. The uterus may rupture and release pus into the abdomen causing peritonitis.
Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms of pyometra are variable. Hamsters may show many or only a few symptoms. If you suspect your hamster may have a pyometra or is displaying any of the symptoms listed, please seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.
Some hamsters can normally have a little discharge from the vent when they are on heat. This lasts for only the one day they are on heat. Importantly, with discharge due to the oestrus cycle there is no bleeding, no swelling of the stomach and the hamster is not unwell. Hamsters do not have periods; any bleeding from the vent is abnormal and you must check it with a vet.
Symptoms of Pyometra
Swelling of the stomach
Discharge from the vent
Bleeding from the vent
Increased drinking and urinating
Irritability, or unusual biting
X-rays and ultrasounds usually need the hamster to have an anaesthetic and can be difficult to perform or interpret given the hamster’s small size.
Pyometra should be managed with the advice of your vet. Pyometra in a hamster can quickly result in death if it is not treated promptly. The following information is not intended for self-management without veterinary advice.
When deciding on a management plan with your vet it is important to consider what is appropriate and proportionate to the age and condition of the hamster, how unwell she is, the level of cost, and how invasive or risky the treatment is.
Surgery is the option that will result in definitive treatment, but is not suitable for all hamsters.It carries significant risks, particularly in older or unwell hamsters. The surgery done for a pyometra is a spay, or ovariohysterectomy, where the womb and ovaries of the hamster are removed. It is small and delicate work! This surgery can be expensive, so it is worth having a vet fund in case of such emergencies.
Spays of Syrian hamsters are more frequently successful than those performed on Chinese hamsters, but increasingly vets are operating on these smaller hamsters.
The surgical wound may be closed with dissolvable stitches or with skin glue. Painkillers are needed for several days after surgery, and antibiotic treatment continues for at least a week. Hamsters tend to recover very fast after surgery and special measures such as additional heat are usually not needed beyond the first 24 hours.
Treatment with antibiotics alone may provide temporary improvement, but it is rarely curative. The usual antibiotic is Baytril (enrofloxacin) although Septrin (co-trimoxazole) is sometimes used either alone or in combination with Baytril. Antibiotic treatment can be used for a couple of days to help a hamster get in better condition for surgical treatment.
Pyometra in an old hamster or one not suitable for surgery produces a difficult dilemma. Often older hamsters become more unwell with the infection than a younger hamster and the risks of surgery are against them.
One option is to use long-term antibiotics. This has an adverse effect on the gut bacteria which are vital to a hamster’s digestion so probiotic supplements will also be needed.
Galastop (cabergoline) has also been used for the non-surgical management of pyometra in hamsters. There is no scientific literature on its use although there is a brief mention of it in the book Hamsterlopaedia: “Some vets have found the drug Galastop to be effective.” It isn’t clear how or why Galastop works in pyometra in hamsters. It’s main side effect in other animals is nausea and. Although hamsters can’t vomit, it is important to monitor your hamster’s appetite. The medication solution should be kept in a glass bottle and should be handled with care by humans who are, or may be, pregnant. Vectis Hamstery has treated several females, both Syrian and Chinese hamsters, with Galastop alongside a course of antibiotics.
A newer approach is to use an antiprogestin, such as aglepristone. This is administered by injection and has few side effects. It requires several vet visits to complete and monitor the course. Like Galastop, aglepristone is used in addition to antibiotic therapy.
Sometimes hamsters, especially elderly hamsters, become too unwell too fast with pyometra and there is little that can be done to cure them. At this stage, they are managed with TLC (tender loving care).
If the hamster is comfortable but the curative options aren’t suitable, then antibiotics such as Baytril (enrofloxacin) can be used alongside painkillers such as Metacam (meloxicam) as a palliative measure to ease some of the symptoms from the toxins.
If she starts to suffer more discomfort, then 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.