All Things Big and Small

Alexandra Saura, DVM

It was a typical day at the hospital of seeing patients, fielding phone calls and treating in-hospital cases. I was scanning the scheduler when my eyes stopped over the 10:30 AM appointment:

Hammy the hamster – unable to urinate.

Being primarily a canine and feline Veterinarian, I started racking my brain for causes and treatments of every urinary disease in hamsters I could remember from vet school. As usual, my “day dreaming” was cut short by the controlled chaos of my hospital.

Before I knew it, 10:30am was here, and Hammy was there – waiting for me in the lobby. Hammy was taken into an exam room and triaged. My technician reported that Hammy had not urinated in about a day and seemed to be continuously straining to urinate, while also licking his “private areas”.

I took a deep breath. I mean, I’m a Veterinarian right? I was taught all about hamsters/ferrets/rabbits/mice/rats in a series of 3 classes back in veterinary school. The information had to be in my brain somewhere. Has it really been 5 years since school?

I refocused, and introduced myself confidently to the Owner. During Hammy’s exam, I noted tenderness in the lower part of his belly, near the bladder, making it likely that Hammy did indeed have some sort of urinary tract issue. I discussed with the owner that I needed to conduct an X-Ray to determine what was wrong with Hammy.

Hammy was very cooperative for his X-Ray, and we were able to determine that he had a large stone in his bladder, but still could not figure out why Hammy couldn’t urinate. The stone wasn’t blocking his urinary tract, just floating freely in the bladder. My best guess revolved around an obstruction in the urethra (the tube that connects the bladder out of the body). The next thing to do was to sedate Hammy and try to unblock him by passing a urinary catheter up his urethra into his bladder.

After locating the smallest urinary catheter I had in the hospital, I set myself up to unblock the little guy. I had done this many times in a cat, how different could it be? Well, it wasn’t easy and for whatever reason it wasn’t working. Now I had every technician and doctor staring at me with doubt.

I wasn’t ready to give up.

I went back to Hammy’s owner and told her what was going on. I recommended surgery to remove the bladder stone (cystotomy), then pass the urinary catheter the opposite way from the bladder through the urethra and out of the body to relive his obstruction. Hammy’s dedicated owner, a true animal lover, had to see this through, so off to surgery we went.

A fairly straightforward procedure, except for the constant reminder that I’m dealing with a hamster!

I grabbed my best technician and off we went to save Hammy. With extreme concentration, a prayer, and a steady hand, I opened up Hammy.

There it was! The cause of his obstruction!

Two glands in the belly had gotten so large with an infection (forming an abscess), which were pinching off his urethra. And yes, there was a bladder stone as well! I removed the stone from the bladder, drained the abscess from each gland and closed him back up. Hammy was on his way to a full recovery.

Just like that, I had another reminder that all animals are special, big and small.