tpvets_logo.jpg (2726 bytes)TOA PAYOH VETS

Date:   27 July, 2009
Focus: Small animals - dogs, cats, hamsters & rabbits

Toa Payoh Vets Clinical Research
Making veterinary surgery alive
to a veterinary student studying in Australia
using real case studies and pictures

The Old Hamster is a Tough Cookie
Dr Sing Kong Yuen, BVMS (Glasgow), MRCVS
July 25, 2009

Dwarf Hamster. Hardened ear bite abscesses. Toa Payoh Vets Haggard-looking and old while waiting for his 2nd ear surgery. Pus oozed out from both ears like a burst dam. Back quarters hairless. "This hamster ought to be put to sleep," my assistant Mr Aung said, as a strong stench of decaying flesh fouled the air of the operating room. But is euthanasia the only option for this suffering oldie? I know Mr Aung did not believe that this hamster would survive the long ear surgery needed. The hamster had two ears with pus of the decaying bacteria spilling out of his ears. Yellowish, liquid fluid. This was a hopeless case. The hamster would never survive anaesthesia and that would be the reasonable opinion of the veterinarian. Yet, I felt that this hamster had that zeal for living - something I cannot describe. He had what we would call a positive attitude towards life if there is such a trait in the animal kingdom. 

"Your wife will not be very happy with you if you suggest euthansia," I said. "Every life is precious to her. It will be bad 'karma' for you if you propose death for this hamster." Mrs Aung would never kill any creature. "Let the mosquitoes bite me if they wish to," she once told me when I asked how about the government's "kill all mosquito" campaign against dengue fever. Last month, she trapped a big rat hiding in my office, put it in a cage, held it by the tail and released it in a field some distance away. Another time, I saw her picking up a fat bed bug loitering in a mattress in a room she had managed for rental to some Myanmar sailors whom she claimed were the carrier. I do have a picture of this bug she saved but not the big white rat from the restaurant behind my surgery, caught and released by Mrs Aung.

"This old hamster can be cured," I was preaching to the skeptical assistant. My other assistant, Mr Saw did not comment . "If his two large ear canal tumours can be removed, his backside alopecia would go away. He would not longer be stressed by having to scratch his ears all the time. With no stress, his backside hair will grow back."


Well you may ask, "What has the backside hair loss to do with ear infections and irritation?". They are on different ends of the hamster's body. My hypothesis is that there is a nerve connection from the ears to the backside. When the ear canals are inflamed, the nerve sends sensory impulses to the side of the body and to the backside, resulting in itchiness.

In the dog, this can be quite obvious. Many dog owners look for skin infections in the flank of the dog with ear infections, thinking that the dog bites the flank or uses the hind legs to scratch the flank because there is skin infection in this location. If the vet cures the ear problem, this flank itchiness disappears in almost all my cases treated.

OK, I agree that no dog ever had backside hair loss due to the ear infections and itchiness. In the dog, the cause is usually an infection of the anal sacs. The dog bites his backside and his anal area, resulting in alopecia and hyperpigmentation and inflammation. However, in this hamster, I doubt he has had anal sacculitis. It is just possible that his chronic ear infections lead to hair loss of his back quarters. Not everything in the dog can be attributed to another species and in this hamster, my hypothesis is that the chronic ear irritation cause him to bite his backside in an attempt to relieve the continual pain in his ears.

The only way to prove my hypothesis is to cure this hamster, not to euthanase it. Mr Aung did not know that I had deep-froze the large ear tumour and given anti-inflammatory and antibiotics for the past 4 days. The ear tumour which had abscess had softened considerably and pus of the most foul smell was oozing out from the ear canal now.

In the traditional veterinary thinking, this hamster would be considered inoperable. Why prolong his suffering. Put him to sleep and out of pain. Yet, this was not what the young lady owner wanted. It was logical for the vet.

I looked at Mr Aung waiting for his reply to my reference to bad karma if he suggested euthanasia. According to his wife, a person suffers in his life because he had done something wrong in the previous life. Therefore he had bad kharma. So, if the person who does something bad in his present life, he would have bad kharma when he is reincarnated. All cock and bull? Well, Mr Aung did not comment.

Now, would this haggard looking oldie die during surgery? It would take a long time to operate. At least half an hour. A minute drop of Zoletil IM was insufficient as the hamster moved. Another drop was given. 1 ml of dextrose saline with Baytril antibiotics had been given subcutaneously.

Male Dwarf Hamster. Inflamed ear tumours. Vertical Canal x 2 ears. Toa Payoh Vets"Is there a vertical ear canal in the hamster?" I tested the 3rd year veterinary student from Murdoch University present at my Surgery to assist me with some Excel software application. Daniel shook his head. Did that mean "no"? I doubted his professor had ever lectured on hamster anatomy.

I asked Mr Saw to insert the artery forceps into the vertical canal of the hamster's ear. The scalpel cut the lateral wall's skin and cartilage. Lots of bleeding. Swabbed bleeding. The small bubbles of tumour inside the vertical canal were picked off and excised. This chronic ear infection had resulted in the formation of numerous round tumours as in the dog.

"Be careful not to cut the branch of the facial nerve," I explained to the student. In such a small hamster, I could glimpse a long vein at the base of the ear. To the veterinary undergraduate, it was just blood and gore. As for the parotid salivary gland, I was careful not to cut it. Not that I could see it as in the dog. I mean, this hamster was 1000 times smaller than the Chihuahua. Maybe 100,000 times and any
Male Dwarf Hamster. Inflamed ear tumours. Vertical Canal x 2 ears. Toa Payoh Vetssalivary gland and nerve and blood vessel would be correspondingly reduced in size.

Now you know why veterinarians in general dislike hamster surgery. There is the anaesthetic risk of the hamster dying as the surgery of these two ears took such a long time, as remarked by Daniel.

Surprisingly, this hamster survived the surgery. "Is the hamster alive the next day?" Daniel asked me when he visited in the afternoon.

"Yes," I said happily. Everybody thought he would not survive the bleeding, the stress and the long surgery. But we were all mistaken. I told the young man, "The hamster looks so much better now. He is a tough cookie."


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