Welcome

Welcome to Dashing Hamsters. I created this website back in 2005, initially to have a place to share my love of hamsters. Throughout the years I have come across a lot of information that just often doesn't match up. Care standards and information are outdated, and these little creatures are misunderstood by many. So I decided to make this website as more than just a hamster lover's website, but a hamster website for modern owners who are looking for up to date advice on how to care for and understand their beloved hamsters. On DH you can learn about hamsters, see some cute pictures and read through a hamster filled blog.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Diabetes in Hamsters

Introduction
Diabetes is a condition where the pancreas (a gland organ) cannot produce enough of the hormone, insulin, to deal with the glucose (a type of sugar) in the body. When starch-rich foods are digested they break down into glucose which then enters the bloodstream. The glucose then travels through the bloodstream until the insulin can help move it into the body’s cells. Glucose is one of the main sources of energy for cells in the body. When insulin cannot be made or the body develops insulin resistance then the glucose builds up in the blood stream and the body is starved of this energy. There are two types of diabetes which will be discussed later on. This article has been put together with the intention of informing hamster owners about diabetes in hamsters, its symptoms, its treatments and for people to get a general understanding about what this all means.

What Species are at Risk?

Of the five species of hamsters that are kept as pets, only some of them are prone to diabetes. For example Syrian hamsters, Roborovski Dwarf hamsters and in some parts of the world, Winter White Dwarf hamsters are not prone to diabetes. This does not mean that they are immune but that it is unlikely that they will get diabetes. Russian Campbell Dwarf hamsters, Chinese hamsters, some lines of Winter White Dwarf Hamsters and Hybrid (Russian Campbell and Winter White) hamsters are all at a higher risk for diabetes.

Type1

Type1 diabetes is where the pancreas can no longer produce insulin. This means that the glucose in the blood will build up and the hamster’s body will begin to take fat and muscle tissue to use for energy. This will cause the hamster to lose weight making them appear thin and frail. Type1 diabetes is also known as early onset or juvenile diabetes as it seems to be diagnosed at about 3 to 4 months of age.

Type2

Type2 diabetes is often actually insulin resistance (body becomes resistant to the effects of insulin). Usually a change in diet can help to reverse this. Type2 diabetes is often associated with being overweight and not having a properly balanced diet. Managing the hamster’s weight and diet can help in treatment with type2 diabetes. If it is left untreated then it can develop into full-blown diabetes and will need to be properly managed. Type2 diabetes is also known as late onset diabetes as it often is diagnosed later in the hamster’s life. Type2 diabetes also seems to be more common than type1 diabetes.

Ketones and Ketoacidosis

This is typically only seen in type1 diabetes when the glucose cannot be brought to the cells, due to lack of insulin and then the body breaks down fat instead. When fat is broken down chemicals called ketones are produced by the body and are found in the blood and urine. In excess, ketones make the blood more acidic which is called ketoacidosis, or diabetic ketoacidosis when it is caused by diabetes. Ketoacidosis is very dangerous and a vet must be seen right away. Ketones can be monitored using urine test strips such as Bayers Keto Diastix test strips or Ketostix test stripes.

Symptoms

Ravenous appetite: Without insulin the glucose cannot get into the cells and so the body thinks it is being starved. In an attempt to feed the starving cells the hamster will increase its appetite and eat larger quantities of food.
Weight loss: Since the body cannot get any energy from the glucose, the body then takes fat and muscle for energy and the hamster begins to lose weight. So even though they’re eating more, none of the energy is being given to their body so they lose weight. This is mainly associated with type1 diabetes.
Excessive drinking: All of this glucose in the bloodstream is now building up due to the lack of insulin; and the kidneys, which are supposed to attempt to keep the body from loosing glucose, will become overwhelmed allowing the excess glucose to filter out through the urine. In order for the glucose to be excreted properly it needs a certain amount of liquid and so water is taken from the body. The hamster then attempts to make up for this lost water and drinks large amounts of water.
Frequent urination: Since the hamster needs to remove the excess glucose in the urine they will also urinate more to do so.
Sweet smelling urine: Since there is excess sugars in the urine, it tends to smell sweet and sometimes attracts ants.
Hyperactivity or Lethargy: Diabetic hamsters may also switch from being jittery and hyperactive to lethargic based on how their body is currently trying to handle the diabetes.

Side Affects

If left untreated or in severe cases of diabetes hamsters can have heart problems, kidney failure, cataracts, or blindness. Some further side effects of diabetes can include excessive growth of nails, Ketoacidosis, bladder infections, dehydration, and injury of the bladder from falls due to an overfull bladder.

Testing

Testing your hamster can be done by a veterinarian or it can even be done by yourself. Since hamsters are so small it isn’t best to be constantly testing their blood in order to find out their glucose and ketones level. Instead their urine can be tested using urine test strips found online or at your local pharmacy. A common brand is Bayer’s Keto-Diastix which has tests for both glucose and ketone levels. Keep in mind that Bayer’s also has tests called ‘Ketostix’ which only tests for Ketones and ‘Diastix’ which only tests the glucose levels. Testing on diabetes-prone species should be done at least once a month. For hamsters that actually have diabetes the amount of times tested seems to vary from person to person. Some say that they should be tested weekly while others say daily. How often your hamster should be tested may depend on the individual hamster.

In order to test your hamster you will need an empty container of some sort, something that will not soak up the urine. Place your hamster in this container and wait for them to urinate. If they do have diabetes you probably won’t need to wait long. If it seems to be taking too long (say 15-20 minutes) then you should probably remove them and try again later. Once they do urinate dip the test strip through the urine and compare the results as directed on the box. Getting them into this container just after they have woken up can help to speed up the process.


Diet & Nutrition

It is widely known that diet is important in one’s health but it is especially crucial for a diabetic hamster. If your hamster has diabetes then their diet will need to be more strict than the average hamster’s in order to help control their diabetes. It can seem like a lot to do at first but once you figure it out, it is not such a big deal. The big thing to remember that when it comes to diet is that not everything is set in stone or agreed upon. What might work for one hamster may not work for others, so you need to find what is right for your hamster. It is also important to remember that balance in the diet is still crucial when it comes to diet. Limiting sugary foods is different than eliminating sugary foods for example. The body still needs some sugars after all. Written and explained below is the generally agreed upon diet for a diabetic hamster.

First you will need to look at your staple diet. Whether you use a seed mix or lab blocks you need to check the ingredients for things such as fruits, corn, other corn ingredients, and added sugars (honey, sucrose, fructose, molasses, corn syrup, etc.). Any foods that have added sugars or have high amounts of any of the other ingredients should be avoided. Seed mixes are easier to deal with because certain ingredients such as corn kernels can be picked out. However picking out too many of the foods from the mix can cause the mix to be thrown off balance and the nutritional value of the food altered. Therefore you ideally want a mix that does not need anything picked out. At this point no such mix exists. The best mix that I have come across so for though is Supreme Pet Foods Hazel Hamster Food (called Harry Hamster in some countries). It has no added sugars, few ingredients that need to be picked out and is an overall good mix.


Now you need to look into limiting sugary foods from their diet. This means that certain foods should not be fed to your hamster. Typically foods such as fruits, corn, and store bought hamster treats are mostly avoided due to the high sugar levels found in them. By limiting the sugars in the food you are putting less stress on the body.


Besides foods that are high in sugar being cut down, any foods that are high in simple carbohydrates should also be limited. When consumed, carbohydrates break down into glucose which is the sugar that insulin helps move into the body’s cells. Foods such as pasta, rice, wheat products, etc. are all high in simple carbohydrates. They still need some carbs in their diet so do not go into eliminating every carb. Filling in simple carbs with complex carbs is a good idea with foods such as broccoli or kale.


Now you must do your best to figure out if your hamster has type1 or type2 diabetes. This isn’t always possible. But time of onset and the weight of the hamster prior to treatment can be indicators. It is believed that type1 diabetes will occur earlier in the hamsters life and that due to the way the disease works, the hamster will be underweight despite overeating. Type2 diabetes is usually linked with a later onset and obesity. Hamsters with type2 diabetes should be fed a low fat diet in order to help control the diabetes. This means cutting back on fattening foods such as peanuts and pumpkin seeds. This does not mean that fat should be cut entirely. Also under no circumstances should sunflower seeds be cut from the diet. Sunflower seeds are incredibly healthy, for more information on the benefits of sunflower seeds please check out this link:
Sunflower Seeds: Re-examined. Hamsters with type1 diabetes should not be fed low fat diets.

Protein in a diabetic hamsters diet seems to be one of the most debated aspect of the diet. Some say that the diets should contain a little more protein saying that getting protein for energy is better than using glucose for energy when it comes to diabetes. However it can cause some problems with the kidneys if you over do it. Some good foods for protein include plain cooked chicken/turkey, tofu, plain yogurt, lentils, meal worms, crickets and boiled/scrambled eggs among others. It seems best that you only add extra protein to younger hamsters that are otherwise healthy. Older hamsters or hamsters suffering from other health issues should have the protein left as is, the reason being is that these amounts of protein can put a strain on an ill hamster. It should be noted that protein needs to break down fat, which can lead to an increase in ketones if you increase the protein. Those that do not agree with increasing protein instead suggest increasing complex carbohydrates.


Fibre is also important in the diet as it helps to slow the absorption of sugars, which can slow the body’s need for insulin. Some good fibre rich foods include broccoli, cauliflower, lentils, kale, and oatmeal (plain or cooked with soy milk/water).


For more information about foods that are safe for diabetic hamsters please check out this thread:
Hamster Food List.

Treatment

Diabetes cannot be cured unfortunately. Once a hamster has diabetes, they have it for life. There are some treatments available though. Diet is not the only way possible to treat diabetes.

Diet:
A controlled diet is very important part of treatment when it comes to diabetes. Be sure to read above for details on diet.

Treating with Fenugreek Seeds:
Fenugreek seeds have a special effect that helps to lower blood sugar levels. When a hamster has too much sugar in the blood this is called hyperglycemia, meanwhile having low blood sugar is referred to as hypoglycemia. Fenugreek seeds have hypoglycemic effects, meaning that they are great for a diabetic hamster. Details about how to treat a diabetic hamster with Fenugreek seeds are mentioned in this topic: Treating Diabetic Hamsters with Fenugreek

Treating with Glipizide:
Glipizide is a medication used for human diabetics. It should really only be used under the guidance of a veterinarian in order to ensure that the proper dosage is used. For more information about how to treat a diabetic hamster with Glipizide, please check out this topic: Treating Diabetic Hamsters with Glipizide.

Dehydration:
It is also important to remember that it is easy for diabetics to become dehydrated, especially when they are not being treated for the diabetes. Since so much water is taken from the body to ensure that the excess sugar leaves the body, the hamster is not left with enough water for other bodily needs. To test if your hamster is dehydrated you can lightly pinch the extra skin in between their shoulders. It should snap right back if the hamster is hydrated. If it goes down slowly then the hamster is dehydrated. The best way to rehydrate a hamster is with a 50/50 solution of Pedialyte and water. Another option is to use a 50/50 solution with water and a rehydration drink such as Powerade.
It is often mentioned by some that such methods to rehydrate the hamster is not safe for diabetics seeing as these products are high in levels of dextrose and fructose (types of sugars). I was also curious about this so I asked missPixy from Hamster Hideout about it myself and she kindly replied:

I also had this issue! but keep in mind that the sugars themselves
aren't necessarily a bad thing~~ we all need some sugars in our diet.
that's my biggest problem with diet-only methods of treating diabetes.
diabetes is a dysfunctional pancreas. it's not that the foods are bad.
it's that the pancreas isn't processing the glucose anymore and just
dumps it into the bloodstream.

Using diet is a way of minimizing sugars so putting less stress on

the body... but the problem is then it's easier for malnutrition to
happen because foods are being withheld. it's also very hard to
manage diabetes with diet only because other issues cause rises
and falls in the blood sugar level: amount of exercise, stress, etc.

Also, by withholding all sugars it's possible to cause "hypoglycemia"

where the body isn't getting enough sugars, and goes into shock.
this also happens to people when they are taking too much diabetes
meds and their diet is wrong.

So long story short, the dehydration means the body is most likely

low in sugars. so the pedialyte 50/50 or gatorade or home
rehydration therapies won't cause a problem, and should in fact
alleviate it temporarily.


Special Care Concerns

There are some other considerations that must be made for diabetic hamsters. These care concerns are mentioned in a German Diabetic Blog (written by thefeldhamster among several others here: Diabetes Hamster. With permission from thefeldhamster I translated this section of the blog.

Since diabetic hamsters tend to urinate quite frequently it is advisable that they have a large toilets in their cage, preferably near their nest. They should be cleaned daily and as the disease progresses they may need to be cleaned several time a day. Hygiene in the cage is especially important with the excess sugar in the urine that can easily grow bacteria and leave the hamster prone to bladder infections.


Along with frequent cleaning of the toilet, any other pee sites should be cleaned out fairly often as well. The nest should be checked fairly often but only cleaned out if it is dirty in order to avoid stressing out the hamster. It is recommended that the hamster be toilet trained so that it is easier to control the cleaning. A hamster that is not toilet trained may urinate all around the cage meaning the the cage needs to be cleaned more often than normal which can be stressful on the hamster. It is important to try and avoid stressful situations for your hamster.


Again since diabetic hamsters urinate a lot more they will also likely pee in their wheel more often. Because of this it is recommended to use a solid plastic wheel such as a Comfort Wheel or a Wodent Wheel. If you do wish to use a wooden wheel then it is best to get something to make it water proof so that the urine cannot soak in and it can be easily washed. This sealant must also be child-friendly so that it cannot harm your hamster. In order to clean unpainted wooden wheels you can quickly scald the wheel with boiling water (just a quick wash). Along with that you can add a few drops of vinegar to help with the smell. [Also keep in mind that any kids should be sure to get help from their parents with this as you could be scalded from the hot water. It also seems like a much better idea to just paint the wheel rather than deal with this constantly]. It was also mentioned that wheels could also be sprayed with a product called ‘Bactazol’ which is basically a spray that disinfects, deodorizes, and kills insects and other ectoparasites. It is mild and considered pet-friendly. [I have not been able to find an English equivalent though, most products that I did look at were not considered to be as safe].


Drinking points should be located near the nest. Water bottles or water bowls can be used. The advantage of water bottles is that the amount of water consumed can be measured and it holds enough water for even when the hamster drinks large amounts, the hamster does not go without water. The water bottle spouts are easy to clean with tobacco pipe cleaner. If you are using a water bowl then the bowl must be small enough so that the hamster cannot go into it, where the hamster could get wet and catch a cold. It is also better to offer several small bowls throughout the cage so that the hamster never goes with out water. The amount consumed when using a bowl can be controlled by using a syringe and measuring the water prior to putting it in the bowl and then sucking up what is left the next day to measure how much was consumed. [If using a bowl I would recommend that it is somewhere away form the substrate so that the hamster cannot kick in any bedding].


It is also recommended that a hiding spot of some kind should be near any of the drinking points. Especially in the later stages when the hamster may enjoy sleeping near the water bottle.


The cage should have access to climbing roots, sand to burrow in and stones to wear down the nails as diabetic hamsters tend to have rapid nail growth. The nails should be kept trimmed and can be done by a veterinarian or by yourself with the help of someone else to hold the hamster. High levels in the cage must also be taken into consideration as falls are more dangerous for diabetic hamsters since their bladders are often full and a fall could cause great damage to the bladder.


Further the hamster should be weighed regularly and tested often to make sure that the hamster does not develop a bladder infection. Diabetes can mask symptoms of other problems such as cystitis (urinary bladder inflammation) if they are not tested regularly.


Urinary Tract Infection?

If the symptoms of excessive drinking and urinating are present but the tests are negative for diabetes than the hamster may be suffering from a Urinary Tract Infection. If this is the case then a vet should be consulted to obtain some antibiotics for the infection.

Further Reading and Resources

For further reading about diabetes in hamsters please check out these links:
Hamsterific: Diabetes in Dwarf Hamsters
Treating Diabetic Hamsters with Fenugreek (also linked above).
Treating Diabetic Hamsters with Glipizide (also linked above).
Hamster Hideout’s A-Z Guide: Diabetes
HammysWorld: Diabetes in a Hamster
Honey Hams- Diabetic Hamsters Yahoo Group
Diabetes Hamster Blog (also linked above). This Blog is written in German and so a translation tool such as Google Language Tools should be used if you do not read German. Simply copy and paste the URL enter it in ‘Translate a Web Page’ and select German >> English (or preferred language). Keep in mind that the translations aren’t perfect, but you should be able to get the idea of what is being said though.

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