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October 03, 2020
A HAMSTER LOSES HIS
FIGHTING SPIRIT Case study written in 2002
Dr Sing Kong Yuen, BVMS (Glasgow)
two years old, huddled in the sanctuary which was a corner at the bottom
of the stair case whereas most hamsters of his age would be active. Occasionally, he scratched himself.
He just wanted to be left alone.
"He has lost so much weight in the past few weeks," Mr Turkle said. "Seriously,
he is a light as a young hamster. He has no more energy even to groom
himself." The hamster was becoming emaciated. Yet his feed bowl was filled
to the brim with seeds including corn and pellets.
"There's a big lump near his left thigh," Mr Turkle turned the lethargic
hamster upside down to show me the small skin lump. "He used to bite
me whenever I tried to hold him, but now he does not resist."
"He is aged," Groomer Ken said. He had transported the hamster and the
owner to the clinic. "Hamsters live up to around 2.5 years and yours
is already two years old." Mr Turkle nodded his head sadly. This must be
of his old companion, a fighter who would bite whenever he handled him.
Ken continued: "He must be dying of old age and old hamsters, like old
people, do get tumours which affect their health badly. The British
researchers at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute has just found a gene
called BRAF which is mutated in 70 percent of skin cancer melanoma and
causes uncontrolled cell growth and division. Your hamster's skin lump is a
Ken read a lot and considered himself better
than some veterinarians in the knowledge of pets.
liked instant diagnosis and this big skin lump was definitely skin cancer.
Otherwise why should it grow so big in a short period of weeks? Therefore,
the hamster must be suffering from tumour and not putting on weight,
despite being given a bountiful bowl of food.
I palpated the lump. It was soft. "It could be an abscess," I said. "Was
he bitten by another hamster?"
"No, he had been living alone for the past year since he fought with the
other hamster," Mr Turkle said.
would need to put the hamster under gas anaesthesia to examine further and
lance the abscess," I advised. "However, your hamster may die as he is
already so weak and is not fit for anaesthesia. Do you want to take the
risk going back with a dead hamster?" I hope Mr Turkle would not
want to take the risk as some owners would say to friends that the
veterinarian killed the hamster.
Was the abscess the cause of weight loss? Mr Turkle said: "My hamster
had an appetite. If he eats normally, he should be putting on weight."
"The hamster used to bite me whenever I hold him," Mr Turkle
lamented, shaking his head. He was proud of this indomitable
creature. Could there be something wrong with his teeth?
Mr Turkle lifted up the hamster from his sanctuary corner and held him
with two fingers. The hamster struggled a bit as I pried open his mouth
with a pair of forceps. He did not like his mouth to be opened.
I could see only one upper front tooth when there should be two. One of
the upper tooth must have dropped off. There were two lower front teeth
which were of the normal length of about 3 mm. However, the lone upper
tooth was 10 mm long and curving inwards cutting into the lower gums.
I clipped 7 mm off the upper front tooth while the hamster tried his best
to close his mouth. After that I put him inside his cage.
Nothing happened for a minute or two. Then he went to the exercise wheel
and feebly tried to exercise. He was exhausted and left the wheel as he
could not run.
he went straight to the water bottle and drank as if he had been
deprived of water. I could see that his tongue was deep red in
colour, as if he was severely dehydrated. The normal colour of the
tongue would be pink. Hamsters don't get cracked lips when they are
dehydrated but the deep redness of the tongue was one sign of
He used to have problems drinking. But now, the overgrown upper tooth had
been cut short, he could suck water from the nipple in the water bottle,
as he used to do so. As for his skin lump, nothing would be done till he
had recovered his weight and strength.
Mr Turkle was most happy to see his hamster lively once more. "He favoured
the soft seeds," Mr Turkle now elaborated when I asked whether his
hamster could crack open the shells of the bigger melon seeds. Now
he should be able to do so.
was certainly not a case of instant diagnosis. The skin lump or abscess
might be a red herring to distract my attention from the real cause of
the problem of weight loss. I would need to review his case next week as Mr Turkle rushed into his friend's car to avoid the imminent pelting June
thunder shower. I doubted that there would be a second visit as most
Singapore hamster owners don't do it unless they need to consult the vet
In 2002, most of my hamster clients are Singapore hamster owners are young
adults and females. They do care for their hamster's poor health. The
older generation - the baby boomers who are parents in their 60s now
think that it is a waste of money getting hamsters treated when a new
hamster costs only S$8.00.
Why not euthanase the sick hamster and buy a new one instead of paying
veterinary fees which may be 10 times the price of a replacement? Such
thinking do not gel with the younger internet generation.
As the younger ones are concerned about the health of hamsters, I get more
cases and therefore, I am able to document more interesting cases for