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Diabetes in Hamsters

Diabetes mellitus, more commonly known as diabetes, is a disease that occurs when your blood glucose (also called blood sugar), is too high. The high sugar levels arise due to the body not being able to break down the glucose. This could be due to a lack of insulin or insulin not working properly. Although caring for a hamster with diabetes may be challenging, it is not impossible. In fact, most cases of hamster diabetes can be controlled with diet and exercise. However, some hamsters may need to have their blood glucose levels monitored and may require insulin shots.

Like with people, diabetes in hamsters tends to be controlled by two things: genetics and obesity. If a hamster’s parents both had diabetes, they are more likely to get diabetes too. If the hamster is obese, he is also at a greater risk of getting diabetes.

Before getting started, we recommend reading our article on your hamster’s nutritional requirements to learn more about carbohydrates and fats.

What are the different types of diabetes?

There are two known types of diabetes that hamsters can get. They are similar to type 1 and type 2 diabetes in humans.

Type 1
This type of diabetes was previously referred to as juvenile-onset diabetes because it usually begins in childhood. This occurs when the immune system mistakes the body’s healthy cells for foreign invaders, thus destroying the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Because of this, the body is unable to produce insulin.

Diabetes linked to genetics in hamsters is very similar to type 1 diabetes found in humans. There is little one can do to prevent this. While diet may help control it in some way, your hamster may need to be supplemented with insulin. This is also typically diagnosed when a hamster is younger, at around 3-4 months of his life though symptoms can present as early as 18 days of age.

Type 2
Diabetes linked to obesity in hamsters is very similar to type 2 diabetes found in humans. It can be caused by a poor diet and a lack of exercise. Although obese hamsters are more at risk, there are still cases where a hamster who is perfectly normal in weight and exercises regularly can still develop diabetes later on in life.Those with type 2 diabetes have insulin resistance. Though the body still produces insulin, it is not able to use it effectively. This type of diabetes typically develops later on in life, and is typically associated with lifestyle, inactivity, and diet.

Which hamsters are prone to diabetes?

All hamster species can get diabetes. However, some species of hamsters may be more prone to diabetes than others. These species in particular are the Campbell Dwarf Hamster, Chinese Dwarf Hamster, and Hybrid Hamster. Syrian Hamsters, Roborovski Hamsters, and certified purebred Winter White Hamsters are not usually prone to diabetes.

Take note that just because a certain species of hamster is prone to diabetes, it does not mean that they automatically have diabetes. The same goes for those species who are not prone. Just because they are less likely to get it, does not mean they cannot get it.

Chinese Hamsters

Chinese hamsters can get diabetes at any age, however, symptoms can start showing as early as 18 days of age. According to Miedel, diabetes mellitus in Chinese hamsters appears to be transmitted as a recessive factor. It has been shown that if both parents of the Chinese hamsters are ketotic, their offspring has a 100% chance of becoming diabetic.

Some symptoms you may notice at first are excessive urination and excessive thirst. When the disease first starts to present itself, it’s possible the Chinese hamster might have some initial weight gain and become lethargic. There are also cases of Chinese hamsters developing blindness, conjunctivitis, and alopecia.

Diabetic Chinese hamsters tend to eat more than their non-diabetic counterparts and restricting their diet to a normal amount rather than giving them an increased amount of food can reduce the severity of diabetes. Female Chinese hamsters may also become infertile. In the small chance of pregnancy, they have higher rates of abortions or stillborn pups.

Giving them a low-fat diet of 4% can also reduce symptoms of diabetes. Vectis Hamstery, a Chinese Hamster-focused Hamstery, advises caretakers to not completely eliminate carbohydrates from their diet and instead to avoid feeding them simple carbs such as sugar and fruit. It may also be recommended to feed diabetic hamsters a high-protein, high-fiber, low-fat diet. Your vet may also suggest the treatment of hypoglycemic drugs.

With diabetes, they also become more susceptible to mild stress of any kind, and sudden death may be triggered by stressful situations so it’s important to be gentle with your hamster.

Campbell Dwarf Hamsters and Hybrid Hamsters

Campbell Hamsters, due to their genetic makeup, are more likely to experience issues related to how they metabolize sugars and fats. They may be susceptible to certain metabolic abnormalities such as glycosuria (presence of glucose in the urine), ketonuria (ketones in the urine), and inappropriate hyperglycemia (elevated blood glucose levels). This also means that Campbell hamsters may be more likely to get diabetes.

This is why for Campbell hamsters (and hybrid hamsters!), diets that have high amounts of added sugars, fruits, and unnecessary carbohydrates are often discouraged. While the occasional treat is not going to cause diabetes, regularly feeding a hamster who is diabetes-prone excess sugars can have a negative impact on their blood sugar levels.

Signs Your Hamster Has Diabetes

  1. Your hamster has an increase in appetite
  2. Your hamster is constantly thirsty
  3. Your hamster has been peeing excessively (about once every 20-30 mins)
  4. Your hamster is very hyper or very lethargic
  5. Your hamster has a sudden dramatic change in weight
  6. Your hamster has a hunched posture
  7. Your hamster is squinting even when they’re fully awake
  8. Your hamster is irritated or is biting even when they normally don’t

I think my hamster has diabetes

If you think your hamster has diabetes, it is advised that you seek out a vet immediately so they can provide a plan for your hamster. You can also buy Keto-Diastix which can test for both urine ketones and glucose. Once purchased, remember to read all the instructions.

To do the testing, you’re going to need a clean and clear area with no bedding, such as a travel cage or a small box. Leave your hamster with some water and wait for them to urinate. If they do not urinate within 20 minutes, it is unlikely that your hamster has diabetes. If they do urinate, dip the strip into the urine and wait for the results.

Remember using these strips isn’t a final diagnosis. Please still see your vet to confirm if your hamster has diabetes and to find a proper treatment plan for them.

  1. Negative Glucose, Negative Ketones - Your hamster likely does not have diabetes.
  2. Negative Glucose, Positive Ketones - Your hamster likely does not have diabetes. Raised ketones may occur due to them not eating.
  3. Positive Glucose, Negative Ketones - Your hamster likely has diabetes. Go see a veterinarian as soon as you can.
  4. Positive Glucose, Positive Ketones - Your hamster likely has severe diabetes. Go see a veterinarian right away.

Will fruit make my hamster diabetic? Can I give my diabetic hamster fruit?

As discussed previously, there are two types of diabetes. One that is more likely to be triggered by genetics and is highly unavoidable, and the other that is more likely to be caused by poor exercise and obesity. Take note that hamsters do not normally overeat, and the weight gain is most likely caused by the kinds of food and quality of food given to them.

In our article covering carbohydrates, we’ve discussed the different types of sugars and carbs and how they are an essential part of a hamster’s diet. Because of this, we can see that sugar does not directly cause a diabetes-prone hamster to have diabetes, and therefore fruit will not directly cause a diabetes-prone hamster to have diabetes either.

In fact, fruit actually provides many benefits to a hamster’s health. They are high in fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients. They also help reduce the risk of many conditions such as high blood pressure and obesity. Besides this, most fresh fruits have a low glycemic index (a higher glycemic index is what raises blood sugar levels). For diabetes, the best fruits are high in fiber, low in sugar, and low in fat. Some of these fruits are apples, guava, papaya, and melons.

Some fruits are even very beneficial for hamsters with diabetes. One of these fruits is the passion fruit. Passion fruit extract significantly controlled the blood glucose levels of diabetic rats. In hamsters that were fed a high-fat diet, passion fruit had a positive impact on reducing cholesterol levels.

Another fruit with positive effects on diabetic hamsters is the cornelian cherry. There was a significant decrease in glucose levels for pre-diabetic rats given cornelian cherries. Supplementing hamsters with cornelian cherry fruit also appears to have metabolic effects such as weight loss and the regulation of blood glucose levels. Cornelian cherries are believed to help prevent diabetic symptoms when regularly consumed by young animals.

Fruit, when given in moderation is fine for any hamster (even those that are prone to or have diabetes) and will never cause diabetes in a single instance. It is much more important that the hamster is being regularly fed a healthy diet.

My hamster has diabetes. What do I do?

Having a hamster with diabetes is not the end of the world, and hamsters can still live good and happy lives if their diabetes is controlled. The best thing to do is to seek out a vet and have a proper diet plan in place to assure them that diabetes is maintained.

A high-protein, high-fiber, low-fat diet is usually recommended for hamsters with diabetes. Fenugreek has also been shown to help hamsters with hyperglycemia by slowing the body’s absorption of carbohydrates and sugars. Hamsters with diabetes will most likely need more water, so make sure that their water source is always filled. Exercise is also important for diabetic hamsters, so do not remove their wheel.

It is important to do your research when it comes to caring for a hamster with diabetes, and just like diabetic humans, diabetic hamsters need to make lifestyle changes in order to live a good life.


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