I saw a very unusual hamster recently.
Hammy had been showing three main signs of illness. Firstly, she was drinking a lot. Hammy used to drink one-third of a bottle every day, but more recently, the water bottle had been drained empty by the time her owner returned from college in the evening. Secondly, Hammy’s abdomen seemed to have become very swollen. The third sign of illness was probably the most worrying. Hammy had stopped eating, and was rapidly losing weight. The bones of her skeleton could be felt if you patted her back. Hammy’s owner was keen to do everything possible for her, so she was admitted to our clinic for investigations, just as a dog or a cat would be in the same circumstances.
Hammy was sedated, and a series of x-ray pictures was taken. Now, I am sure that it is not easy for most folk to see what is happening in these x-rays, but let me show you.
First, do you see how her abdomen looks almost spherical. Both in the top view (taken with Hammy lying on her side) and in the lower view (when she was lying on her back), you can see that she does not have the normal tapered, oval shape of a hamster.
Secondly, you may also notice that it is not easy to see much detail inside the spherical abdomen. It all looks a bit murky, with a lot of white/greyness, and some black blotchy bits. Normally you should be able to see distinct shapes, and a vet is able to point out specific structures, such as the stomach, the kidneys or whatever. The murkiness told me that there was lots of fluid in her abdomen, and this was “greying out” everything else.
So what could be causing the fluid? If Hammy had been a human, she would have gone on to have ultrasound examinations, blood tests, and perhaps MRI scans. These would be possible, but they would definitely be beyond a typical hamster budget. Instead, we decided to go straight to the root of the problem – an exploratory operation to find out what was wrong inside her.
So little Hammy was anaesthetised and prepared for surgery, just like any other patient.
When I opened up her abdomen, fluid gushed out (sorry, squeamish blog-readers) , and I could immediately see the cause of the problem.
She had a large (for a hamster) tumour on one of the lobes of her liver. I was able to dissect out the affected lobe, and you can see it there, on the right. I closed Hammy’s abdomen, and she made an excellent smooth recovery, even tucking into her supper on the same evening.
I sent off a sample to the laboratory for analysis, and five days later, the laboratory report arrived. It was good news. The tumour had been a benign mass, called a “biliary adenoma”. This was unlikely to spread or to recur. Hammy came in for her final check that same day, and I was delighted with her progress. Her wound was healing perfectly, she was eating well and her thirst had returned to normal. Hammy had been cured, and she could now return to her typical hamster life.