Wet Tail Disease in Hamsters

Wet tail is one of the most common diseases seen in hamsters, yet it can’t be taken lightly. It is a serious and potentially lethal condition.

There are ways to treat and ultimately cure the disease. The main key to recovery is detecting wet tail early and getting veterinary assistance as soon as possible.

Wet Tail Disease in Hamsters

Learning about wet tail will inform you and boost confidence in your ability to keep your hammy healthy and happy. In this article, we’ll cover what wet tail is, how to recognize the symptoms in your hamster, what causes the disease, how to treat it and ways to reduce your pet’s risk of contracting it.

What Is Wet Tail?

Also known as proliferative ileitis or regional enteritis, wet tail is a disease that causes dangerous dehydration in hamsters. It occurs when excessively watery diarrhea plagues the hamster, not allowing it to retain any fluids.

Wet tail is most commonly seen in 3- to 6-week-old hamsters, right around the time they are weaned. Long-haired teddy bears are the hamster species most likely to contract the disease, while Roborovski dwarf hamsters are least likely.

While certain hamsters are more likely to get wet tail, all hamsters have some risk of contracting it.

Wet tail disease is very contagious. Once one hamster has it, any other hamster in the same cage has a high probability of contracting it, too.

What Are the Symptoms of Wet Tail Disease?

Hamsters with wet tail will show obvious symptoms. Signs of illness you may notice in your hamster include:

  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Wet, dirty tail
  • Soiled anal area
  • Blood in fecal matter or around the anus
  • Swollen stomach
  • Disheveled appearance
  • Dull or sunken eyes
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Hunched posture
  • Discomfort (writhing, cowering)
  • Protruding rectum
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Some of these are general signs of illness, but the bolded symptoms are specific to conditions like wet tail that cause potentially lethal dehydration.

What to Do if Your Hamster Has Wet Tail

If you notice signs of wet tail in your hamster, you must respond quickly. Wet tail can kill hamsters in as little as 48 hours. Do not try to treat wet tail with DIY treatments. Seek immediate veterinary care.

Keep your hamster as hydrated as possible as you get veterinary assistance. If your pet won’t drink water on its own, try giving it a drink from a water dropper.

How to Treat Wet Tail in Hamsters

There are several treatments you should expect to see your veterinarian prescribe. There are also several actions you can take at home to help your pet recover.


Your veterinarian will most likely prescribe hamster-safe antibiotics. As with all antibiotics, it is extremely important that your hamster takes all of the doses as directed, from start to finish, even if it seems like your pet has fully recovered from the disease before all the medicine is used up.

Warning: Never self-prescribe antibiotics to your pet hamster. Many antibiotics that are safe for humans are lethal to hamsters. Please follow your veterinarian’s guidance.

Subcutaneous Fluids

Depending on how dehydrated the hamster is, your vet may help it retain more fluids. Subcutaneous fluids are pockets of water (with electrolytes and other good stuff for your hamster) that are placed under the animal’s skin. They gradually dissolve into the hamster’s body and help it rehydrate.

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Sanitize and Isolate

Sanitize the entire cage and all its components (water bottles, food dishes, enrichment toys, etc.), replace cage bedding and throw out any food remaining in the food dish.

If your sick pet is caged with other hamsters, separate them so the disease doesn’t spread.

Extra Care at Home

Along with following all of your veterinarian’s directions, keep a close watch on your hamster and make sure it’s improving.

  • You may have to feed your hamster special food using a syringe if it isn’t eating on its own (consult with your vet).
  • Keep your hamster hydrated by giving it constant access to fresh, clean water in its water bottle. If it isn’t drinking on its own, use a water dropper.
  • Keep the cage appropriately warm. Dehydration can cause hypothermia, so your hamster will be more comfortable in a slightly warmer environment.

If your hamster doesn’t show marked improvement within a day or two, you may need to further consult with your veterinarian.

What Causes Wet Tail in Hamsters?

Wet tail is most associated with elevated stress levels. When a hamster experiences high-stress situations, its stomach bacteria (campylobacter jejuni) overpopulates in its gut, leading to watery stool and other digestive issues.

Dietary Changes

Weaning babies will often contract wet tail because of the drastic dietary changes they experience when they are no longer relying on their mother’s milk as a food source.

Adult hamsters are also at risk of wet tail when they eat too many unsafe or unhealthy foods. While a diet of various foods provides the spectrum of nutrients a hamster needs, their main dietary source must be their food mix. Too many fresh fruits or vegetables, or too many unhealthy foods, can lead to dietary distress.

Moving to a New Home

It is very stressful for a hamster to be moved from one home to the next. Its cage environment completely changes, along with the smells and sounds around it. Plus, when baby hamsters leave the pet store, they are often separating from their mothers for the first time.

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Unsanitary Conditions and Crowding

Living among fecal matter or old, rotting food can cause all kinds of illness in hamsters. It surely causes high stress levels when a hamster doesn’t feel clean or safe.

If a hamster doesn’t have enough of its own personal space, the crowding in its cage can also lead to maintained elevated levels of stress.

Other Causes of Elevated Stress

High stress in hamsters can also be caused by:

  • Overhandling
  • Extreme, rapid temperature changes
  • A noisy environment
  • Side effects of medication
  • Lack of sleep

Many of these are environmental conditions that you, as a pet owner, have control over. 

How to Prevent Wet Tail Disease

It’s not possible to completely prevent wet tail, but you can significantly reduce your hamster’s risk of contracting it.

Ease Transition to a New Home

Consider giving your new hamster wet tail drops as a preventative treatment for transitioning to a new home.

Keep new hamsters isolated until a vet has given them a checkup. This will prevent any other existing hamsters from potentially contracting wet tail.

Don’t handle hamsters any more than necessary until they’re used to their new living environment.

Maintain Hygienic Living Conditions

Spot clean your hamster’s cage daily. Give it a deep clean once a week, changing out the cage bedding and sanitizing water bottles and food dishes.

Wash your hands before and after handling hamsters.

Provide a Healthy Diet

Only feed your hamsters food that is safe for them to eat. Feed your hamster its staple food mix, incorporating limited amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Reduce Stress

The overarching theme to keeping your hamster free from wet tail is reducing its stress levels. Respecting your hamster’s environmental, dietary and behavioral needs will increase your hamster’s chances of living a healthy and illness-free life!