Tumors are masses of cancer cells. These can be benign (meaning the tumor will not spread) or malignant (if it does spread), and are a common health problem in hamsters, especially as they age. If left untreated, they can become enlarged and make the animal seriously ill. If the vet has diagnosed your hamster with a tumor, you should start treatment immediately. The sooner you do it, the more likely it will improve.
Part 1 of 3: Considering Treatment Options with the Veterinarian
Step 1. Talk to your vet about surgical treatment
Once your hamster has been diagnosed with a tumor, you will need to consult with him on how to treat it. For external tumors (those found on the skin), the best treatment option will be surgery. However, in the case of internal ones (those that are inside the body), the surgery will be more difficult, due to the small size of the animal and its tiny organs.
- Your vet can help you determine if surgery will be a good treatment for your pet.
- If you have a female hamster with breast cancer, your vet may recommend other surgical procedures in addition to removing the tumor. He may recommend removal of the reproductive organs (sterilization) or the affected mammary gland (mastectomy) to prevent the cancer from coming back.
Step 2. Talk about the risks of surgery
This is usually the best treatment option, but it does carry some risks. For example, since hamsters are very small, they can get into shock during the procedure. Shock occurs when vital organs (such as the heart) do not receive enough blood to function properly. In addition, internal tumors are very difficult to remove by surgery, as they are usually very large when discovered.
- If you consider the costs of anesthesia and any medications needed before or after surgery, this option can be very expensive.
- When talking to your vet, you should bring up any concerns you may have about having your pet operated on.
Step 3. Ask about other cancer treatment strategies
Sometimes the hamster tumor cannot be completely removed by surgery. It could be too large or located in an area that would make surgery difficult. In these cases, there are other treatment strategies that may work, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Chemotherapy consists of the use of drugs that kill cancer cells by disrupting their cell cycle (cell division and replication). Radiation therapy uses a focused beam of radiation to kill cancer cells.
- Your vet may recommend chemotherapy or radiation therapy for your hamster. However, you should keep in mind that, since these animals are very small, they generally will not be able to withstand these therapies.
- If you are concerned that these are more harmful than beneficial, you could choose to let your pet live with the tumor or have it euthanized. Make the decision based on whether you will have a good quality of life with the tumor.
- If he can continue to do his favorite activities despite the condition (such as running on his wheel or in his cage, eating and drinking), it may be appropriate for you to let him live with it. However, if you can no longer perform these activities, euthanasia is likely to be the most humane.
Part 2 of 3: Treating the tumor with surgery
Step 1. Give him food and water
Unlike other larger pets, hamsters can have free access to food and water until the day of surgery. In the previous days, you should continue giving him the usual food and plenty of fresh water. On the day of the procedure, you should prepare a container with the usual amount of food that he consumes and take it with you to the vet, along with his drinker.
Step 2. Have the vet perform the surgery
Due to the small size of the animal, the veterinary team will take much more care in supervising the hamster during surgery. After anesthetizing you, they will monitor your body temperature, breathing rate, and heart rate. You will also be given fluids to keep you well hydrated during surgery.
- The vet will make an incision and carefully remove the tumor.
- After the surgery, the veterinarian or a member of his team will call you to inform you of the result of the surgery and the status of your pet. They will also tell you when you can pick it up.
Step 3. Pick up your pet
When you do, your vet will give you directions to care for her at home. You will need to follow them carefully to help the hamster recover after surgery. Before going home, you should ask your vet any questions you have about home care, such as the following:
- How long will it take to recover?
- What do I do if he looks sick?
- Will you need medication?
Part 3 of 3: Caring for Your Hamster After Surgery
Step 1. Check the incision area
You will have to do it every day. It is normal for you to look a little red for 1 to 2 days after surgery. However, if it looks swollen or has a yellow or green discharge, it could be infected. Take your hamster back to the vet if the incision area doesn't look normal.
- If it is infected, the vet will prescribe an antibiotic, which will come in liquid form. You will have to place the prescribed amount in a small syringe (without the needle), open the animal's mouth and slowly introduce the contents of the same.
- To keep him from chewing on the incision, your vet may give you a small plastic collar (Elizabethan collar) that you can place around his neck. Your hamster will need to wear the collar for a minimum of a few days after surgery.
Step 2. Watch for signs of pain
Your pet will likely be in some pain after surgery. However, it will try to hide these signs, because it is a prey animal. He may try to hide his ailments, so pay extra attention to any signs of discomfort. Among these we have the following:
- less activity and unkempt coat;
- decreased appetite and grinding pain;
- hunched posture and do not leave your resting area.
- Call the vet if your pet is in pain. He may prescribe liquid pain medicine.
Step 3. Watch how much he eats
Your pet may feel a bit groggy right after surgery, so he may not want to eat a lot at home. You will have to give him his usual amount of food and determine how much he eats. If you still don't return to your normal eating routine after a few days, you could be sick or in pain.
If he's not eating normally, your vet might recommend a product called Oxbow Critical Care. This is usually given to herbivores (plant-eating animals) such as guinea pigs, but it could cause your hamster to eat again
Step 4. Go to check-ups with the vet
Even if your hamster has an easy recovery after surgery, your vet will want to see him at least for one follow-up appointment. During this visit, he will check the incision area and make sure the animal looks generally healthy. You may also want to see it at intervals of a few months to check it for new tumors.
- He will tell you how often you should bring him to his evaluation.
- If it has developed other tumors, you and your vet will need to discuss treatment options again.
- Early diagnosis will be vital to ensure successful treatment of tumors in these animals. The sooner they are diagnosed, the easier the treatment will be.
- You may not have to treat her tumor at all. If it cannot be removed easily, but it is not causing discomfort or illness, it may be best to stop it.
- Malignant tumors can spread to other parts of the body, making them difficult to treat.
- The decision to euthanize your pet will always be a difficult decision. However, if you suffer and have a poor quality of life due to the tumor, this is probably the best option.