*10 a.m - 5 p.m (Mon - Sun,
except Sat). Dr Sing Kong Yuen. By Appointment Only.
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Anaesthesia and Surgery
|Case recorded: Sep 25, 2001
Update: Sep 16, 2008
Dr Sing Kong Yuen, BVMS (Glasgow), MRCVS
The internet diagnosis of a hamster abscess
"Doc, my hamster has an abscess," said a confident Mrs Coop, pointing to a 5-cm
soft fluctuating diameter swelling under the chest, nearer to the stomach area of her
small animal, almost half the size of a ping pong ball. "I want the pus removed as it
would be toxic to the hamster."
The swelling was not painful to the hamster but it was growing. He was active and eating.
The hamster was said to be a Syrian hamster. He looked more like a small mouse to me.
Singapore pet shop proprietors have been actively promoting these Syrian hamsters in
"How do you know he has an abscess?" I asked. "The swelling may be a
haematoma, a collection of blood from bleeding under the skin."
"I read much about hamster abscesses while surfing the internet," said Mrs Coop
confidently. "Vets can lance the abscess and remove all the bad smelly yellow stuff
formed by a mixture of millions of macrophages (a type of white blood cells) engulfing
bacteria in tissue fluid".
This was a sophisticated first-time client who just walked into the clinic. Well informed
through research, thanks to the internet. A high probability of a correct diagnosis
of hamster abscess. Abscesses was a common condition in Singapore's
Golden/Syrian hamsters kept together in this period.
The hamster had bright black eyes and
though he was losing weight, he was alive and active, a fireball trying to escape all the
time and much loved by Mrs Coop.
"Do you know that the hamster you love very much may not survive the risk of
anaesthesia or surgery?" I asked. The swelling was large. If the swelling was further back behind the stomach area,
you would think that the hamster was pregnant. But this was a soft swelling under the skin
between the chest and the abdomen.
Despite the notification of risks, the Owner of a pet which dies under such circumstances
may spread the word by mouth to friends that "the vet killed my hamster".
It would be better not to operate.
Would Mrs Coop do such a thing? I would not know as we were "strangers" introduced
by the electronic web.
Sometimes looks and body language of a pet owner could tell whether to accept or reject this
case. It would be easier to pass such challenging high-risk anaesthetic cases to other veterinarians who don't
worry so much about risks to the professional reputation.
All practising veterinarians will encounter at least one case of death from
anaesthesia or post surgery as they operate on more animals, no matter how
careful they are. The statistics are against a 100% survival rate as
animal physiology and health vary greatly in sick animals.
Should Mrs Coop sign a anaesthesia and surgery form saying that she was aware of the risks involved?
"I understand that my hamster may be dead after anaesthesia or during anaesthesia or
after surgery," Mrs Coop said stoically as if reading my thoughts.
The hamster survived the gas anaesthesia. I incised the skin
swelling on the belly. A copious amount of sticky and thick yellow pus drained out. More than
1.5 ml of pus. No strong smell at all.
The hamster staggered and was observed for the next hour before he went home. Would
survive the next forty-eight hours? It would be difficult to prevent it from licking
the incised wound and getting poisoned by the pus.
It was not possible to put an Elizabeth collar round his neck to prevent him cleaning the wound as
he would take the restraint out immediately. Should the incision be stitched
up? If it was stitched up, the remaining pus might not be able to drain out.
In any case, hamsters do bite away the stitches most times. I
did not stitch up the skin wound.
Would this hamster survive the next 48 hours? It was a high risk surgical procedure in
very small animals like dwarf hamsters. They get easily stressed and then
might go into shock easily. This is unlike the dog or cat whereby the
lancing of a 2-cm abscess in the belly would not cause me or any vet sleepless
The vet must communicate personally to the hamster owner the risks involved
to prevent any misunderstanding. In this case, the hamster survived and went
NOTES ON THE GOLDEN/SYRIAN HAMSTER
Some info is given below:
Order: Rodentia. Family: Cricetidae. Genus: Mesocricetus.
Common names: Golden or Syrian hamster.
Adult: 6-8" in length. 110-140 gm. Tail-less, smooth short hair, reddish gold with
greyish white ventral portion but can have other colours from albino to dark brown.
Has cheek pouches. Adult weight. Male:85-140gm. Female:95-120gm.
Puberty: Male:6-8 weeks (90gm). Female: 6-8 weeks (90-100gm). Estrus cycle: 4 days.
Gestation: 15-18 days. Litter size: 4-12 pups. Weaning: 21 days (35-40gm). Optimum
breeding life: 14 months.
Dentition: I(1/1), C(0/0), PM(0/0), M(3/3) = 16 teeth. Incisors (I) present at birth, grow
continuously. Molars (M) present at birth, do not grow continuously.
Ears open 4-5 days, Eyes open 15 days. Eat solid food 7-10 days. Weaned 21-28 days.
span: Average 2 years. Maximum 3 years. Chromosome number (diploid) 44.
Water: 30 ml/day. Food 10-15 g/day (adult). Rectal temperature 36.2-37.5 deg C, Heart
rate: 280-412/min. Respiratory frequency 74 (33-122).
Most common illnesses: Enteritis or wet tail (erythromycin 20mg/kg recommended by author),
pneumonia, neoplasia, amyloidosis (aged hamster, over 18 months. Can wipe out 85% of
group), polycystic disease. Most common malignant tumours are lymphosarcoma (including
solid tumours and warts), reticulum cell sarcomas in lymph nodes, carcinomas intestines and
adrenals. Most common benign tumours are gastrointestinal polyps, adenomas of
External parasites. Ear mites (Notoedres sp.), Demodex aurata more pathogenic, Demodex
Anaesthesia, chemical restraint: Ketamine HCL 40-150mg/kg IM, 100-200mg/kg IP.
Xylazine with ketamine 10mg/kg/IM improves degree of relaxation. Pentobarbiturate
(90mg/ml) 90mg/kg IP, 30mg/kg IV.
In the laboratory, it is best to separate hamsters after 50 days old. Useful
TREND OF KEEPING DWARF HAMSTERS IN SINGAPORE FROM 2006
2008, the Golden/Syrian hamster is almost extinct in the various pet
shops as Singaporeans buy the much smaller dwarf hamsters from the
Some dwarf hamsters develop tumours as they grow older. Many
Singapore hamster owners see the vet when the tumours are really
gigantic and the anaesthetic risks are so much higher.
TIPS: BE KIND TO HAMSTERS
It is always easier and cheaper to remove
small tumours in the
hamster, dogs, cats, rabbits and any pets you have. A heavy
and a very painful burden to carry every day.
Blood just can't stop flowing