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Date:   22 February, 2013  
Focus: Small animals - dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs & rabbits
Anaesthesia for a Syrian Hamster with a huge cancerous skin tumour  
Dr Sing Kong Yuen, BVMS (Glasgow), MRCVS
Date:   22 February, 2013 
Be Kind To Pets
Veterinary Education
Project 2010-0129

1297. Resection of a cancerous tumour in a Syrian hamster

On Valentine's Day, Dr Daniel and I operated to remove a huge blackened skin lump of 2.5 x 1.3 x 0.5 cm from the left shoulder of the 2-year-old Syrian hamster.

The ideal way in dogs would be to resect the skin of 1 cm away from the edge of the skin tumour according to the vet book to cut off any spreading cancer cells.

A Syrian hamster's shoulder area is so small. This is not practical as the wound would be so big that the stitching of the wound will not be possible.

In this hamster, the tumour was cut off. The owner did not want it to be sent to the lab for histology. It looked much like a cancerous tumour. Toa Payoh Vets would send it for confirmation.

Histology test showed it was a malignant tumour.

Hamster skin growths need to be removed by the vet when they are small as there is the danger of spreading and insufficient skin to cut off and to stitch up after resection.

Also anaesthesia by gas to top up as the surgery and stitching took some time. How much of gas to give by mask? This is a judgment of the vet.

"Insufficient," Dr Daniel said as he stitched up the wound after I took off the mask after giving a few seconds of 5% isoflurane and the hamster moved a bit.

"Every vet can operate on any size of large skin tumours in the hamster," I told him. "The only difference is which vet can operate such that the hamster survives at the end of the operation." 5% isoflurane is very potent to a hamster. 2 or 3 seconds of smell will do to top up Zoletil sedation which was need in this type of large tumour removal surgery. The hamster had 5 drops Zoletil 50 IM but was still not fully sedated. Hence the isoflurane gas top up. This is where the judgment of the vet comes in. A second more of gas anaesthesia by mask hay just kill the hamster but will not kill a dog or cat.

Hence there is a layman's belief that hamsters die on the operating table easily and many vets prefer not to operate but give medication for tumour cases. Medication never works. Anaesthesia may kill. So, many hamster owners wait and wait till there is no choice but to operate. By that time, as in this case, the tumour is massive and not all cancerous cells can be taken out.

I warn the owner that the tumour may recur again as it was not possible to make a big cut and to have sufficient skin to stitch up. The lab report indicated the resection margin had tumour cells and so I expected the tumour to recur. It is not possible to resect 1 cm around the circumference of this hamster's skin tumour as there will be insufficient skin to stitch the wound. Hence, small tumours are best excised by your vet to save the hamster's life.

Follow up: As at 7 days after surgery, the hamster is well. It had some swelling in the skin below the shoulder. I asked the owner to rub the swelling as it would be a blood clot.  The swelling disappeared.
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