Health - Older hamsters  
The heavy-eared dwarf hamster

To operate under general anaesthesia or not?  What should the vet do with the dwarf hamster who could no longer bear the heavy burden of a large ear tumour?  The young lady owner could not bear to see its quality of life deteriorate daily. 

The 2-year-old dwarf hamster was active. I could see its dry faecal droppings every few minutes. Its cheek pouches were filled with food puffing up its face. It was healthy and had a voracious appetite.

The ear tumour had grown much bigger. More than 10 mm X 4 mm. It was covered by a dark brown dead layer of cells.  I pulled on the tumour to check whether it had a stalk. Instead the dead covering of cells peeled off. It had a small short stalk. 

Now, the tumour was a raw mass of pinkish cells mixed with some pus.   It was irritating the hamster.  It kept scratching it.  Trying to get rid of it.

The young lady owner had checked out the internet for more information on how to treat this problem.  Nowadays, the internet had educated many pet owners and anybody who cared to search for information.  

What should the veterinary surgeon do to handle this case? To operate under general anaesthesia so that the hamster would not feel the pain of surgery.  And perhaps die.  If no anaesthesia, it would have a higher probability of survival but might die under the stress of handling and operating. 

What should the vet do?  If the hamster dies on the operating table, it would be too emotional for everyone.  It could  be disastrous for the reputation of the vet.  Death of a beloved pet or family member does not permit excuses. No explanation or apologies would be acceptable.  Yet, the veterinary surgeon is no God. 

This white dwarf hamster was an active ball of dynamite. It might not die under anaesthesia. Yet, nobody could  guarantee that such a small animal would be able to survive the anaesthetic or die after anaesthesia.  Obviously, no owner would give the veterinarian a second chance if the first patient had died on the operating table. 

So, what should the vet decide?  If there was no anaesthesia, would the hamster die of fright and stress during handling?  It had to be handled firmly for the tumour to be excised.  The handling and the surgery could just lead to shock and death. 

Vets don't want deaths.  The owner does not expect an active hamster to die on the operating table.  So, what should the vet do?  

One decision may be to refer to a more experienced veterinary surgeon.  To preserve a hard-earned reputation. 

The other solution was to perform a speedy operation without anaesthesia. Less than 5 seconds. Locate the base of the ear tumour, snip it away from the skin of the ear. Stop the bleeding.  This was done in this case.

The hamster was motion-less after the surgery.  It was sitting on its chest. Would it keel over and die?

It was  breathing fast. Would the tiny heart fail now?
It was not moving for the next few seconds. Was it in a state of shock?  Stressed out.  

The lady owner waited. Her mum waited. I hoped for the best.  The bleeding had stopped after I had pressed a piece of tissue against the wound. But not before baptising the hamster's head with red liquid. 

I held my breadth.  Wake up, I willed the hamster. It  got up, as if from a deep sleep. It put its paws into its mouth and started to wipe the blood off its face.  It was the most beautiful experience of life that money could not buy. 

Unexpectedly, it hopped onto the exercise wheel and did two rounds. "Take the hamster off," I asked the lady owner.

In any case, it laid down on the green wheel, totally exhausted. 

Vets would normally proceed to clean off the blood and hand a clean hamster to the owner.

This would be a mistake as the hamster would be further stressed. 

In this case, the owner took the hamster home in a taxi.  She lived quite far away. I am sure she would slowly but lovingly cleaned it up using warm water on cotton balls.

The hamster would be comforted by the smell of the owner's hands. There would be much less stress. And a much higher probability of surviving.  

This educational article is  sponsored by, "affordable homes for expatriates".  Pictures are  Last updated: 10 Oct 2004