Wet Tail - Proliferative Ileitis

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What is Wet Tail?

Wet Tail is a disease caused by several different types of bacteria, the two most common ones are Lawsonia Intracellularis and E. Coli. As far as it has been researched, only Syrian hamsters can suffer from this disease although dwarf hamsters can still suffer from diarrhoea.

Hamsters always have the bacteria in their systems and each hamster has a different level of the bacteria, this means that Syrian hamsters of any age can be susceptible to Wet Tail.

Wet Tail is thought to be triggered by stress so although all Syrian hamsters can get Wet Tail, it is predominantly seen in younger hamsters. The stress of being separated from mum, transported to the pet shop, poked and prodded at the pet shop, transported from pet shop and put in a strange cage and then poked and prodded some more. This is why hamsters often get Wet Tail within their first week at a new home.


  • Lethargy - Your hamster may not come out of bed and seem to be sleeping a lot although it's hard to judge if you have a new hamster and are not used to its sleeping pattern yet. If the hamsters do come out of bed, they may look hunched up and have their ears crinkled up rather than 'up' as they ought to be.

  • Diarrhoea - This is what makes the hamster look like it has a 'wet tail'. The fur around the tail and the anus becomes very wet. If left, the hamster can get sores around the anus where the diarrhoea is leaving welts in the skin, making it very inflamed and sore.

  • Discomfort - This is often one of the more commonly noticeable signs that a hamster has Wet Tail. They wander about the cage slowly, their walk is hunched and the hamster stays in a hunched up position. They often fall asleep in the middle of the cage when they run out of energy. The hamster may be listless and distracted. The discomfort the hamster feels often makes them jumpy and nippy because they don't understand why they are hurting so much and they get startled more easily.

  • Dehydration - This is what kills. Not always the effects of Wet Tail itself but because the hamsters don't have strength to move, they don't get to drink and then they die from dehydration. The hamsters also lose a lot of fluid through having diarrhoea.

  • Starvation - Like with dehydration, the hamsters don't have any energy to get up and go eat, or even energy to eat their food.

  • Blood & Prolapse - Wet Tail affects the intestines of the hamster, causing severe diarrhoea. Because the hamster is constantly straining, blood can sometimes be seen in the diarrhoea. In the later stages, your hamster may strain so much it causes a rectal prolapse, when this happens you will see the hamster's intestines forced out through the anus.

  • Organ Failure - Although this won't always produce obvious symptoms, Wet Tail can cause damage to the gut (from the diarrhoea) and to the kidneys (from the dehydration).


If you suspect that your hamster has Wet Tail... you must take it to a vet. Home treatment is not an option because the hamster will need antibiotics and an anti-diarrhoea medication.

The vet will check the hamster over and assuming it is Wet Tail, they will give you a medication to put in the hamsters water and possibly give the hamster an injecion.

To prevent starvation and dehydration, it is up to you to feed the hamster and offer it water. It is best to purchase a small (1ml) syringe to offer small amounts of food and water to your hamster.


The best way to make sure your hamster can eat is to make sure the cage is as simple as possible, just one level with no wheel or toys, plenty of bedding and place both a bowl of food and their drink bottle near to the hamsters bed. Because the hamster will find it difficult to eat its usual hamster mix, it is a good idea to feed the hamster baby food from the syringe.

Make sure you buy the (smooth) baby food that does not contain garlic and preferably not onion. In my experience, after feeding a hamster sweet baby food, they will refuse their mix later on in life so the best kinds of baby food to feed are flavours such as 'vegetables with rice and chicken' and 'cauliflower cheese'. Foods with chicken in are best as they are a good source of protein.

They best way to administer the medication given by a vet is to mix a drop or two in with the baby food and feed in to the hamster via syringe. At first the hamster will object as they won't have ever used a syringe before but once they learn to associate the syringe with baby food, you will never have a problem again!

To start with, try offering the hamster .5 mls of baby food & 1 drop of medication. and carry on feeding the hamster as much as it will eat (without medication after first drop). The more you can get your hamster to eat the better.

Ideally, the hamster should be offered water from the syringe hourly if not more often to stop the hamster from becoming dehydrated. There should also be a bottle or bowl of water for the hamster to use if it wants to.

There is a product named Pedialyte or Dioralyte(UK), this can be bought from a chemist and if you have difficulty finding it, you can ask your local vet or pharmacist and they should be able to help you find some. If you can get to any shops, glucose syrup works in the same way, just add a tiny bit to water and feed by syringe.

When feeding by syringe, remember, hamster are very small animals and only need a tiny amount of water or food at a time.

Other Treatments

Lastly. As we all know... the pet shops are in the business for the money, and often they don't actually know much about the animals they sell. This is why they sell wire wheels and fluffy bedding still although everyone knows this stuff is dangerous.

Now, these pet shops often sell products to *cure* Wet Tail, one product is simply called Dri-Tail. Do not buy products like this! they will not cure your hamster and it will not prevent Wet Tail either! They just mask the symptoms making it harder for a vet to diagnose Wet Tail or more of a shock when the hamster dies. You must see a vet to get the correct medication. See Dri-Tail and it’s effectiveness in curing and prevention of Wet Tail for more on Dri-Tail

If you manage to cure your hamster of Wet Tail, there are products such as hamster/small mammal vitamins that can be added to the water.

There is also a medication you can buy from nearly all chemists named Metatone. It is a red, sweet smelling liquid that can be added to your hamster's water either regularly, after a bout of illness or whenever your hamster seems under the weather.

Cleaning your hamster

If your hamster has diarrhoea or has done recently they are likely to be quite a mess. Do NOT attempt to bathe your hamster as the stress can trigger the illness to start again or become worse!

Have a bowl of warm water (test in on a sensitive bit of skin such as your wrist to check it is just warm to the touch), use cotton wool or cotton pads soaked in the warm water to carefully wipe the hamsters 'rear end', trying not to get the hamster too wet. If this doesn't work, instead of wiping, hold a water soaked ball of cotton wool to the hamster for a minute so the water has time to soak into the matter fur and diarrhoea, then wipe clean.

This is where it pays to tame your hamster properly!

This should be repeated only once a day and preferably in the evening when the hamster is feeling more alert, try to keep it quick so as not to stress the hamster.

The hamsters will the need thoroughly need drying with a towel/flannel/tissue until it is dry and fluffy, the hamster should NOT be left damp.

I don't advise using a hair dryer as the noise can be traumatising, it is also known that hair dryers can seriously burn hamsters and even cause heat stroke...

Once the hamster is clean and dry, apply a small amount of Vaseline (petroleum jelly) or Sudocrem (antiseptic) to the hamster where it had diarrhoea to stop the skin scalding and becoming sore and infected, it will also make the hamster more comfortable.


If you buy a hamster from a pet shop, your hamster is more likely to get Wet Tail than a hamster from a well known breeder because although well known breeders breed for health and colour, people who breed hamsters for pet shops tend to work on a schedule and have to work to produce as many hamsters as possible.

If a hamster has had Wet Tail or even mild or suspected Wet Tail... it should never be bred from as the babies will be more susceptible to getting Wet Tail and if one gets it, the whole litter is more likely to suffer.

If you have got a hamster with Wet Tail, their cage should be place in a warm dark room, somewhere that no one is going to go into except you to treat the hamster. If the hamster feels cold, it would be a good idea to place a hot water bottle against the cage near where the hamster is sleeping.

If you have more than one hamster, make sure the hamster with Wet Tail is isolated Immediately. It shouldn't be in the same room as a healthy hamster due to the risk of spreading the disease.

Wet Tail is passed on incredibly easily so between handling different hamsters, hands should be washed well and clothes should be changed, perhaps have a shirt to put over your clothes when entering the room with the diseased hamster. Don't wash the cages or any toys or water bottles that the diseased hamster had with those of your healthy hamster(s).

This also goes for if your hamster dies. If you are going to use the cage again (not a good idea generally) it must be left Minimum of two weeks and must be properly disinfected several times. All wooden toys/ladders etc and food bowls and drink bottles should be chucked away and not reused at all.


Despite hamsters surviving Wet Tail, which they often do nowadays because so many people are putting forwards their experiances and information, hamsters that survive Wet Tail rarely go on to live very long lives, some that seem completely healthy can die a few days after they seemed to be 'cured'.

Wet Tail does and often will permanently damage your hamsters internal organs, now this won't necessarily affect your hamsters lifestyle should he/she live, it will shorten the working life of those oragans and so those organs may fail... meaning death... not long after the hamster has been cured.

Article Gemma Pickering aka Moosley

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