Diabetes has been reported in all species of hamsters, but the disease has reached alarming rates in the Campbell’s dwarf hamster species (Phodopus campbelli). It is thought that diabetes began when a British hamster show breeder imported diabetic hamsters into England in the early 1990s. Diabetes became ingrained in both the English pet and show hamster populations. With the exportation of British Campbell’s to North America, diabetes has now become commonplace in the United States.
Symptoms Of Diabetes In Hamsters
“Early-onset diabetes tends to become evident in a Campbell’s hamster by 2 to 3 months of age. Late-onset is usually evident by 7 to 10 months of age,” said Jane Landis, who runs a haven for diabetic hamsters and has started the Honey Hams group to help people learn how to best treat diabetes in hamsters. “The key symptoms include excessive drinking and urination, extreme appetite, dehydration, maniacal exercising and/or extreme lethargy, difficulty maintaining body temperature, and general discomfort. When my hamsters have high glucose levels, they either exercise nonstop or lie around limply and get crabby and bitey,” she said.
Frequent urination tends to be the first symptom of diabetes that people notice. If your Campbell’s hamster is drinking more than 1/4 to 1/3 of an ounce a day, it may have diabetes. If you have multiple hamsters in the cage (and you should since they are social), multiply the water quantity by the number of hamsters. You may just notice that one Campbell’s hamster is spending more time drinking than the others.
Once you suspect a hamster is diabetic, see a veterinarian to confirm the diagnosis. Many Campbell’s hamsters with diabetes also have bladder or kidney infections, and those need to be treated also. Diabetics also tend to face more health problems during their lifetime, so develop a strong rapport with a competent vet. You may even want to bring research with you to your vet visit.
Diabetic Diet For Hamsters
A diabetic hamster needs a special diet. Focus on high-fiber foods and avoid foods high in sugar.
If you don’t know whether your Campbell’s breeding lineage is free from diabetes, consult with your veterinarian about putting it on a more diabetic-friendly diet.
“The most comforting dietary change for a diabetic hamster is adding vegetables and other high-fiber foods low in simple carbohydrates,” Landis said. “These help provide water while satisfying their awful hunger, while fiber helps keep blood-glucose levels consistent. I feed up to 50 percent of their daily volume as fresh vegetables, and keep timothy hay available for them all the time.”
“Protein is important because it also helps keep glucose levels steady,” Landis said. “I feed about 20- to 25-percent protein to diabetic Campbell’s hamsters. I limit fats to about 10 to 15 percent of the diet in young diabetics that are doing well and increase them as needed. Healthful protein-rich foods include scrambled eggs; plain, cooked chicken; tuna or other fish; some lentils and beans; unsweetened soy milk; tofu; and some kitten milk replacement formulas. Some diabetic hamsters do well with low-fat cottage cheese and unsweetened yogurt, but others are too sensitive to the sugars in dairy products.” Landis suggests offering this higher quantity of fresh foods gradually to prevent gastric upset.
Most diabetic Campbell’s hamsters have trouble with the carbohydrates in corn and fruits, Landis said. “The rest of the diabetic hamster’s diet is a good staple hamster mix with no added sugars, little or no corn and no dried fruits. A high-quality lab block is often corn-based and doesn’t work for most of my diabetic hamsters,” she added.
Testing Positive For Diabetes
If your Campbell’s hamster tests positive for diabetes, start routine testing for diabetes and make modifications to your hamster’s diet. It is an easy test that can be done at home. You will also want to potty train your Campbell’s. The increased urination tends to mold bedding and lead to an unsanitary condition. At times, cage modifications are needed because diabetic hamsters may experience weakness in their limbs. Watch for any signs of injury or illness. If you see any, get immediate medical attention because diabetic hamsters tend to have trouble fighting infections.
Excerpt from the Popular Critters Series magabook Hamsters with permission from its publisher, BowTie magazines, a division of BowTie Inc. Purchase Hamsters here.