Tyzzer’s Disease and Your Hamster

Tyzzer’s Disease is a disease that affects many strains of rodents, including hamsters.  Most strains are unique to the species and are not transmitted from species to species (although gerbils can sometimes be infected from strains found in other rodents).

This disease is highly contagious and can be passed easily from hamster to hamster.  The disease is usually fatal and can be fatal in as little as 48 hours after symptoms appear.

Symptoms include a lack of activity, scruffy coat, diarrhea, and dehydration (although there may not be any symptoms present, and the only realization that something is wrong is the sudden death of the hamster).

If you suspect your hamster might have this disease, immediately separate him or her from any other hamsters you have and carry him or her to the veterinarian in a covered cage (to keep the disease from spreading).  If your vet thinks that your pet has Tyzzer’s Disease, he or she will prescribe antibiotics for your hamster (and the other hamsters, if you have more than one).  (The only way to be absolutely sure of a diagnosis of Tyzzer’s Disease is a vet’s examination of a dead hamster, unfortunately.)

Even though there are not any records of humans having any symptoms of Tyzzer’s Disease, tests of humans have shown that there has been an active infection that has not been noticed prior to testing.  As a precaution, you should always wash and dry hands thoroughly before and after handling your pet, even when he is well.

There are 3 things you can do to help prevent this disease:

First, make sure you keep your hamster’s living area clean.  Remove and replace all bedding at least once per week.  Do not wait until you notice an odour to change the bedding, because by then it is too dirty.  Wash and disinfect the cage once per month.  Use a bleach solution (one tablespoon of bleach to one gallon of water) in order to disinfect it.

Second, keep stress levels for your hamster low.  Do not wake him up to play.  Keep him away from loud noises and too much activity.  Do not let children mistreat or mishandle him.  Be aware of the clues from your hamster and respect his wishes to be left alone if he acts like he is not interested in being held or handled.

Finally, make sure you keep any new hamsters quarantined for at least 2 weeks before allowing them to come into contact with your current pets.  Even if a new hamster looks healthy, there might be an underlying condition that the stress of moving to a new home could expose.  Although it might be expensive to have an extra housing facility, in the long run it will be worth it.

The good news is that this disease is rare in animals that are well-cared-for and not subject to a lot of stress, so do not be too worried about your hamster catching this disease – but do be observant.