• Diabetes in Hamsters

    Dobby, a diabetic chinese hamsterDiabetes is a condition found in many species, including hamsters and humans. It is where the body is unable to break down sugars either because there is a lack of insulin (type 1) or the insulin does not work properly (type 2). This causes high sugar levels in the blood and urine. Diabetes is more common in dwarf hamsters than Syrians, especially in Campbell’s, ‘Russian’ hybrids and Chinese. Studies1,2 have shown that diabetes in the Chinese hamster behaves more like type 2 diabetes, whereas anecdotal reports suggest diabetes in Campbell’s behaves more like type 1. Feeding a diet low in refined sugar may help prevent hamsters developing diabetes.

    Signs and Symptoms

    · Drinking excessively
    · Urinating more often and larger amounts (urine may smell like nail polish remover)
    · Increased appetite
    · Sudden weight loss or gain
    · Sleeping more than usual or excessive exercise
    · Irritability, or unusual biting
    · ‘squinty’ eyes when awake
    · Hunched posture


    Unlike in humans, blood glucose measurements are not used routinely in hamsters outside of research environments. The normal hamster blood glucose value is <7mmol/l3. Urine glucose tests are preferable to keep distress to the animal minimal.
    To test your hamster:
    · Purchase Keto-Diastix from any pharmacy(tests for ketones and urine glucose)
    · Read instructions for more information to prevent false readings
    · Put the hamster in a clean container without bedding until s/he urinates. Ensure s/he has access to water while waiting.
    · Dip the test strip into fresh urine
    · Compare the results to the chart on Keto-Diastix bottle at the correct time

    If the hamster doesn't urinate within about 20 minutes put him/her back in the cage and try again later. Generally, a hamster with diabetes will urinate at least once in that time period. The presence of glucose in the urine suggests diabetes. Ketones and glucose indicate an unwell diabetic hamster. If you are worried that your hamster is unwell, seek advice from a vet regardless of the urine result. If the hamster has glucose or ketones in the urine, you should see a vet.

    Overview of Hamster Diabetes Management

    Diabetes should be managed with the advice of your vet and the following information is not intended for self-management without veterinary advice. All diabetic hamsters should have free access to plenty of fresh water and will need their cages cleaning out more regularly.
    Diabetes in hamsters if often managed with diet modification. Sometimes herbal supplements or medications to lower blood sugar (hypoglycaemic agents) are used. Some people have used insulin either orally or by injection, but this is very uncommon and only on the advice of an experienced small animal vet. When deciding on a management plan with your vet it is important to consider whether it is appropriate and proportionate to the age of the hamster, how unwell s/he is, level of cost, and how invasive or dangerous the treatment is.
    If a hamster has high glucose but no ketones on testing, diet modification can help. If this is not enough, hypoglycaemic agents can be used on the advice of a vet. High glucose and ketones indicates a very unwell diabetic hamster that needs urgent vet attention. Often diet changes alone are not enough. A rehydration solution is used to replace lost salts as an emergency measure (it does contain sugars so hypoglycaemic agents are often used as well). Adding salts to water should only be done when advised by a vet as it can seriously harm a hamster if used incorrectly.

    Diet Management

    A diabetic hamster diet is high in protein and fibre, but low in fat and carbohydrate4, 5.Any carbohydrates in the diet (as they should not be completely excluded) should be in their least refined form, for example oatbran, whole-grain pasta, Weetabix cereal and brown rice. There is no specific commercial mix for diabetic hamsters, but Harry Hamster Food has a low sugar content, especially when the corn is removed.
    High protein foods:
    · Dog biscuits
    · Plain tofu
    · Cooked chicken or turkey
    · Boiled, scrambled or poached egg
    · Flaxseed
    · Low-fat cheese (not processed)
    · Tuna in water, drained
    High fibre foods:
    · Timothy hay
    · Alfalfa
    · Vegetables (cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, kale)

    Remember to keep all treats and extras to hamster-sized amounts and introduce them slowly. This is especially important with moisture-rich foods, such as vegetables, which can cause diarrhoea in large amounts. All simple carbohydrates should be avoided, including fruit sugars, e.g. molasses, raisins, corn, carrots and fruit of any kind.

    Hypoglycaemic Agents

    Many diabetic hamsters are maintained with diet changes alone. Sometimes vets may think extra treatment is needed, such as fenugreek or prescription medications.
    Fenugreek is a herbal supplement available in health food shops. It has been shown to reduce blood glucose levels in humans6. It comes as seeds or as powder in a capsule. Any dose should be started at a low level and increased gradually to a maximum of 400mg, or 20 seeds per day. Many hamsters will not eat the seeds and need it made up into fenugreek tea7 which tends to make the room smell of curry!
    Glipizide8 is a prescription-only medication used for humans and cats. There has been some research showing a benefit from this type of medication in Chinese hamsters9, 10.It is important to get the dose right as it can cause dangerously low blood sugars and liver damage. There is no licensed dose for hamsters so the cat dose has to be used, taking into account the smaller size of a hamster. Hamsters usually start at one dose every other day, increased according to response on vet advice. The medication comes as a tablet which has to be crushed and diluted in a carefully measured amount of water to form the correct concentration.


    Anecdotally, diabetic Chinese hamsters can live a normal life and often reach a good age. A study1 of 79 diabetic Chinese hamsters found that most lived until 12-24 months. Campbell’s tend to deteriorate rapidly when they have developed diabetes.Dobby is doing well for the author and enjoys his medication! Younger hamsters tend to have more severe diabetes1.
    Unless a diabetic hamster has no symptoms and no glucose in the urine, s/he should not be shown. This is because a diabetic hamster needs constant access to water and without it can rapidly become very sick or fall into a diabetic coma. Diabetic hamsters should not be used for breeding as it can be passed on to the offspring11.
    There is a forum for owners of diabetic hamsters (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/HoneyHams).


    1. Gundersen K, Yerganian G, Boniface J, Lin HG, Bell F, McRae W. Diabetes in the Chinese Hamster. Diabetologia 1967;3:85-91
    2. Gerritsen GC, Dulin WE. Characterisation of diabetes in the Chinese hamster. Diabetologia 1967;3:74-84
    3. Richardson V. Diseases of domestic small animals ( 2nd edition). Blackwell Publishing, Oxford. 2003
    4. Babyboos. Do you think your hamster is diabetic? Hamster Central WIKI. Accessed 04/12/10
    5. Kiko. Diabetes in hamsters thread, Hamster Hideout Forum. Accessed 04/12/10
    6. Sharma RD, Raghuram TC, Rao NS. Effect of fenugreek seeds on blood glucose and serum lipids in type I diabetes. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1990 Apr;44(4):301-6.
    7. Yule C, in COOP bran flakes for diabetic dwarves thread, Hamster Central Forum. Accessed 04/12/10
    8. Bishop Y. The Veterinary Formulary (6th edition). Pharmaceutical Press, London. 2005
    9. Meier H, Yerganian G. Spontaneous hereditary diabetes mellitus in the Chinese hamster (Cricetulus griseus). III. Maintenance of a diabetic hamster colony with the aid of hypoglycemic therapy. Diabetes. 1961 Jan-Feb;10:19-21.
    10. Gerritsen GC, Dulin WE. Serum proteins of Chinese hamsters and response of diabetics to tolbutamide and insulin. Diabetes. 1966; 15: 331-5
    11. Meier H, Yerganian G. Spontaneous diabetes mellitus in the Chinese hamster (Cricetulus griseus). II. Findings in the offspring of diabetic parents. Diabetes. 1961 Jan-Feb;10:12-8.

    Mad About Hamsters extends warmth thanks to Vectis Hams for the use of this informative and helpful article
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Teresa's Avatar
      I need to say a huge thank you to member Vectishams for allowing the foum to use her recently written article xx
    1. souffle's Avatar
      Excellent research and a valuble aid for anyone with a diabetic hamster
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