Date:   18 August, 2012  

Focus: Small animals - dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs & rabbits.

Hamster anaesthesia & surgery at Toa Payoh Vets Dr Sing Kong Yuen, BVMS (Glasgow), MRCVS
First written: 30 November, 2008
Update: 18 August, 2012
Be Kind To Pets
Veterinary Education
Project 2010-0129

Case 1 - Dwarf Hamster. Ineffective medicine for hamster's chest swelling?

"Did Vet 1 say that the hamster's swelling or tumour will disappear after eating the drops of oil put inside its food or water?" the lady in her 30s showed me a small brown bottle of oil and a tube of eye ointment given by Vet 1.

The bottle had some medication for rodents and a heading in bold letters saying "Neoplasia, mammary tumours and tissue indurations". The label advised 5 drops should be given to the hamster per day for "several weeks until symptoms are seen to ease off".

"No," she shook her head. "My brother thinks that such medication is ineffective. I did not comment further.

"My advice is to anaesthesize the hamster and check out the swelling," I said. The swelling in the chest was firm. The hamster squeaked loudly the first time I palpated it and did not mind at later palpations. It felt tense like a balloon. Could it be a haematoma full of blood or a tumour?

As the hamster is easily stressed, I did not restrain it further. The owner had consulted me yesterday about this swelling after visiting Vet 1 and seeing no improvement in the swelling after a few days. She had consulted family members before deciding on anaesthesia and surgery for the hamster's chest swelling. 

"Will my hamster die under anaesthesia?" she asked.
"No vet can guarantee that a hamster will be risk free under anaesthesia. I do have hamsters dying during anaesthesia. However, healthy and active hamsters seldom die."

When the vet thinks that the case is high risk for general anaesthesia, the patient dies. When the patient looks like a poor bet, he survives. So, I stop making predictions.

There is so much ill will when the hamster dies on the operating table. Sometimes, it is better to ask the owner to look for another vet if anaesthesia and surgery is required rather than prescribing some medication.

Many owners want instant cures and conservative treatment may take a long time. What Singapore pet  owner wants is an instant cure. No excuses.

In this case, the dwarf hamster had an additional problem - a stye on its upper eyelid of the left eye. Eye ointment might be effective in this case if given time. However, the hamster rubbed its eye daily and eye tears and hair loss become evident. As this eye abscess had "pointed" by the time I was consulted, I was fortunate. Incision and drainage of the stye and the haematoma resolved this hamster's problems. If the eye abscess had not "ripened", the owner would have to wait a few days.

In conclusion, the vet is judged by performance. Confidence in the vet vaporises if the case is not satisfactorily treated. It is better to ask the owner to seek another veterinarian if the vet does not want to risk deaths on the operating table. A diversity of services sustains the profitability of the practice. The interest of the patient may conflict with economics of the practice many times and this is the veterinary dilemma of private practice.   

Case 2 - Syrian Hamster. Is treatment necessary for the hamster's chest swelling?    

"A Syrian hamster costs $18.00 but the veterinary treatment definitely costs much more," the young lady told me that her mother was not in favour of getting the hamster to the veterinarian.

The hamster did not seem to be bothered with the large chest swelling. I palpated it. There was no painful squeaks. It was much firmer than the haematoma. The hamster was 1.5 years old and therefore a tumour was possible. The swelling was not reddish unlike the above case and therefore a haematoma with blood accumulating inside was unlikely.

I could insert a needle into the swelling to aspirate the fluid. However, hamsters move around and their front paws swipe and sweep away any obstacles. The owner may get upset with all these manipulations causing stress to the hamster. Stress of handling and restraint may just kill him in front of the owner.

The treatment was incision and drainage under general anaesthesia. This Syrian hamster is at least 8 times bigger than the dwarf. After sedation and anaesthesia, I incised the chest swelling with a scalpel. Greenish yellow pus oozed out. The operating room had a strong foul decaying smell. At least 2 ml of malodorous pus was squeezed out from the chest muscles.

No stitching was done so as to get the residual pus to drain out. This hamster was fortunate to have a lady owner who got him treated in time. The decay in his chest muscle due to necrotic bacteria would have killed him if his immune system could not battle the invading bacteria. How did he get his infection? I don't know.
He was alive and would live to the end of his life as his toxic pus had been drained.

Conclusion of the 2 cases.

Two hamsters. Two chest swellings. The hamsters were past 1 year of age. The swellings were firm and solid. The dwarf hamster's haematoma had a reddish skin but the redness could be due to the hamster scratching it.

The Syrian hamster's encapsulated abscess also looked red if you see the picture below. Anaesthesia and surgery are necessary to resolve the case to the satisfaction of the owner and probably her mother. Surprising none of the two hamsters had tumours.  

Hamster tumour keep growing. Toa Payoh VetsMedical treatment is usually ineffective in the treatment of many hamster tumours. Prescribing oil medications may be homeopathy. However, they will not work in large skin swellings which may burst and get infected (cellulitis) if not incised and drained surgically early. Some develop into gigantic tumours (image, left) or into big infected warts/tumours (as in the hamster case from Beijing, see case below.)

In this internet age, the younger owners know where to source for information. In this litigious society, it is best to refer the owner to other vets if one if not comfortable with handling of such cases. For similar reasons, I reject avian and fish cases and ask the owners to seek other vets.   

The above cases were recorded in 2008.
The case below is written on August 18, 2012
Hello Dr Sing,
Thank you for sharing priceless info regarding hamster's condition on the website. I found you on this site and I'm relieved to know that there is a possibility to address the condition.(
I'm writing from Beijing and I seek some advise regarding a growth on my hamster which I now know is called a wart. My hamster is 2+ years old and he had this wart growing on the side of his toe since January this year.

Occasionally there is pimple-like 'head' that pokes up, and I have tried to extracted it myself. We also did consulted a vet and she content is skin cells & sebum related.
The wart seemed to have steadied in size, but the pimple-like thing would come back after we extracted it.
I've attached a picture of the wart, and the size of it. Please have a look.
I would like to know if its possible to surgically have this removed safely - cut off at wart stalk?
Will there be a lot of bleeding and is it high risks?
I understand that we have to put him under gas isofluorane.
I appreciate your time and advise, and look forward to hear from you regarding this matter as I will talk to my local vet to have this administered.
I go to an international vet, but hamsters are not common patients here. So I would like to be informed and perhaps refer my local vet to your website for references as well.
Thank you in advance and I really hope to hear from you soon.

2 attachments 

Thank you for your e-mail.
Surgical excision under anaesthesia is the solution.

1. If there is a stalk attached to the skin, the vet will just cut off the stalk, apply potassium permanganate powder to control the bleeding or apply pressure bandage. 

2. If there is no stalk, there will be a big piece of skin cut off, exposing the bone, muscles, ligaments and tendons. If the wound is <5mm, it needs to be well cared for after surgery to prevent infection.

3. If there is no stalk and the tumour has invaded deep into the bones, then amputation of the 5th digit + tumour will be the solution. 6/0 stitching may be needed to close the skin wound.

4. Electro-excision, using electricity is an excellent procedure for this case. Electro- excision controls the bleeding.   

Overall, the surgery is low risk and is done in 2 seconds. The anaesthesia is the high risk in old hamsters. The bleeding in this surgery usually does not kill the hamster as the bleeding can be controlled. You may need to locate a vet who is comfortable in performing hamster surgery.

Please let me know the good news after surgery.  
Electro-GP-trichoepithelioma/20120342tn_guinea-pig-male-3years-large-ear-tumour-electrosurgery-toapayohvets-zoletil-isoflurane.jpg tpvets_logo.jpg (2726 bytes)5131 - 5141. Ulcerated ear tumour.
Electro-surgery to excise a guinea pig's trichoepithelioma using Zoletil 100 & isoflurane
tpvets_logo.jpg (2726 bytes)


To make an appointment: e-mail
tel: +65 9668-6469, 6254-3326 
Be Kind To Pets
Veterinary Education
Project 2010-0129

tpvets_logo.jpg (2726 bytes)Toa Payoh Vets
 Clinical Research

Copyright Asiahomes  
All rights reserved. Revised: August 18, 2012

Toa Payoh Vets