Spaying & Neutering Hamsters: What You Need To Know

Spaying And Neutering Hamsters

Are spaying and neutering common practices for hamsters? And if so, should you choose this route for your new pocket pet?

What do you need to know about spaying and neutering your hamster? Routine spaying and neutering of hamsters are not recommended due to their sensitivity to anesthesia. Hamsters prefer to live in solitude and, therefore, should not be as susceptible to unintended pregnancies. In rare situations, one may choose to spay or neuter a hamster for medical reasons; this should be done as a last resort and only by a veterinarian experienced in caring for small pets.

Read on to learn more about spaying and neutering hamsters so that you can make the most informed decision for yourself and your pet.

What Is The Purpose Of Spaying & Neutering Hamsters?

One of the reasons that spaying and neutering are so fervently recommended with larger pets is that the procedures provide two distinct benefits to the animal’s wellbeing. One of these benefits is the reduction of unwanted litters, and the other is the decreased likelihood of (reproductive) medical conditions. 

Spaying & Neutering: Preventing Unplanned Hamster Litters

Unwanted litters is a significant issue as it contributes to overcrowding in animal shelters and, frankly, is unfair to the surplus of pets unable to find homes. While most unplanned puppies and kittens in shelters will go on to be adopted, that leaves fewer available families for the older dogs and cats in need, and just as deserving, of homes. While significant for dogs and cats, this is really a non-issue for hamsters for two reasons.

Most unplanned pet pregnancies result from feral populations or pets that get loose. This is not much of a concern for hamsters, as they live in enclosures designed to prevent them from escaping.

And while the occasional escape attempt is successful, these adventurous hamsters are unlikely to survive in the wild long enough to even consider finding a partner with which to mate (because of all of those feral and loose cats mentioned earlier). 

The other reason, and the most important one, is that hamsters are uniquely solitary animals. While some dwarf hamsters can live in same-sex pairings if introduced slowly and from a young age, it is not advised even for the friendliest of dwarf hamsters because these tiniest of pets are notoriously challenging to accurately sex.

If the difficulty in sexing does not deter you from keeping your dwarf hamsters together, know that though they can sometimes get along with one another, they will always prefer to live alone (in other words, you are not doing them any favors by taking a chance and housing them together).

You will rarely see a hamster in the wild seeking out another of its kind. It is therefore recommended that all hamsters be kept alone. If these recommendations are followed, there can be no unplanned litters. 

Spaying & Neutering Hamsters: Medical Conditions

One oft-cited benefit of spaying and neutering pets is the decreased likelihood of some cancers. While all pocket pets are highly susceptible to tumors (both benign and malignant), tumors are more commonly found in hamsters in the adrenal glands or the lymph nodes.

This does not mean that there is no risk of your hamster being diagnosed with a tumor in the reproductive system, but the risk is typically slim when compared to the potential complications of preventative spay and neutering. There is one condition that usually calls for an emergency spay of a female hamster, and that is Pyometra (more on this below). 

Is Spaying & Neutering Safe For Hamsters?

Not only is routine spaying and neutering of hamsters usually unnecessary, but it is also dangerous. Any time one goes under general anesthesia – whether one is a human, a horse, a dog, or a hamster – there will be an inherent risk. Though there are exceptions, typically, the smaller the animal, the higher these risks. These risks are usually deemed not worth the benefits of the procedure itself.

One of the reasons that general anesthesia is at higher risk for small pets is because of the size of the airway. It is usually not possible to find tubing that is small enough to fit into the airway of a dwarf hamster, and so this resource is unavailable.

Hamsters also have sensitive cardiovascular and respiratory systems, increasing the risk of complications. Further, the methods of delivering the anesthetic are fewer as IV access is usually not feasible in dwarf hamsters. And lastly, hamsters are timid and easily frightened creatures – the stress of the vet visit and handling on its own will negatively impact the physical state of the hamster. 

Treating Pyometra In Hamsters Through Spaying

While routine spaying and neutering of hamsters are not advised, that does not mean that there is no situation in which your pet would benefit from the procedure. One of the more common and more fatal diseases that a hamster can get is called Pyometra.

Pyometra is an infection of the uterus – usually bacterial – and is most commonly seen in older female hamsters. It is most often contracted during mating, pregnancy, or shortly after giving birth. These are the situations in which there is a higher risk of bacterial contamination to the vaginal canal and cervix. While less likely, Pyometra can also affect younger hamsters who have never been mated and those living alone as well. 

There are two types of Pyometra – open and closed. Open Pyometra is easier to diagnose and catch earlier, because of the external evidence. Open Pyometra occurs when the cervix is open, and the infection (clear fluid, pus, and blood) will leak from the vagina.

Because hamsters do not menstruate, any time you see bloody discharge is cause for concern. Closed Pyometra occurs when there is no opening through which the infection can discharge, and so it is “stuck” inside the womb. Usually, the only noticeable symptoms will be an increase in hydration and an enlarged abdomen. Because there are no clear external signs until the infection is advanced, it is difficult to diagnose closed Pyometra in its early stages.

Antibiotics are not effective against this disease and are usually only used to temporarily improve the health of the hamster while preparing her for an operation or for palliative care (though this latter is usually achieved with painkillers). The only effective treatment for Pyometra is emergency spaying or an emergency removal of both the uterus and ovaries. 

This emergency surgery, while usually necessary to save the life of the hamster, is not always successful and is always expensive. While most of us hate the idea of putting a price on the life of our pets, the truth is that because of the challenges, spaying or neutering a hamster can cost more than $2,000.

Emergency spaying of a hamster with open Pyometra results in a survival rate of 75-90%, while emergency spaying of a hamster with closed Pyometra results in a survival rate of 25-40%. While we would never discourage one from making the decision to go forward with a potentially life-saving hamster surgery, all of the facts must be considered and weighed.

Who To Call For Hamster Spaying & Neutering

If you have weighed all of your options and considered all of the facts, you may still have decided that spaying or neutering your hamster is the right choice for you and your pet. If this is the case, you will need to call a vet with both the knowledge and the equipment to perform a procedure on a hamster.

You may need to call around for this, but most vets, even if unable to perform the procedure themselves, will be able to refer you to someone who can. These vets will likely have the words “small animal” or “exotic pets” in their clinic names. 

Making The Right Decision For Your Hamster

At the end of the day, only you know whether the benefits of spaying or neutering your hamster will outweigh the risks of the procedure. If you have considered everything and have decided to go the route of spaying and neutering, make an appointment at your local exotic pet veterinarian and ask as many questions as you can. The more knowledge with which you can equip yourself, the more confidence you will feel on the big day.

Whatever your decision, know that you are not the first to make it. If you decide not to spay or neuter your hamster, your decision is mainstream and on par with most experts on hamster care. If you decide it is best to spay or neuter your hamster, you have your reasons and you are not the first to make that decision. Feel confident in your decision and know that you are making the best one for you and for your pet.

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