Liver Failure in Baby Hamsters


I have struggled to find any definitive pages on Google explaining anything about liver problems within hamsters.
Despite this lack of information, I found questions from several people online with the exact same problems as my babies and they weren’t given the correct answer!
So I have taken what I know and what the vet has told me to compile this post.

What functions does the liver have?
The liver is home to lots of chemicals which detoxifies substances in the body. There is no substitution for the liver, it is essential for life in vertebrates.

Symptoms of liver failure in baby hamsters?

  • Yellowing of the skin and belly
  • Swelling of the belly
  • Bloated
  • See-through skin on the belly area
  • Disorientated behaviour
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of appetite
  • Sharp breathing

In this photo, you can see Jeeves has a swollen belly and there is discolouration within that swollen belly. He seems alright at the moment in his behaviour however his appetite has decreased and his balance when walking is severely impaired. The swelling of his belly gets larger and larger and the skin on the belly has become translucent (partially see-through).

Causes of liver problems in baby hamsters?
The only reason for the failure of the liver in such young babies is a birth defect. The fact a whole litter of ours has practically been wiped-out suggests that a birth defect was prominent in this litter.

When do these symptoms appear?
Liver failure can occur at any stage of the vital first 3 weeks of birth however its more common in babies between 5 days and 14 days as they are still developing and the problems can surface and strike whenever.

Treatment of liver problems in baby hamsters?
There is sadly no way to treat liver problems, especially in such small rodents. When they get to a stage where the belly is hugely swollen and their breathing is sharp and painful its best to take them to the vets and have them put to sleep unless they are still in with the mother in which case just leave them to it. The mum has instincts which will kick in and she will either cull the sick and weak and focus her attentions on the healthy babies or she will try to do her best to raise the baby regardless. When the baby dies, the mother will eat the baby unless human intervention occurs and the baby is removed from the nest.

What should you do when you notice your baby hamster has some of the symptoms of liver failure?
Some of the symptoms may not be due to liver failure so whipping a baby out of the nest at the first glimpse of a wobbly walker or a slightly bloated tummy is not the best idea. The mother will take care of the babies and if needs be kill the sick before they have time to suffer so try not to interfere. If you are losing hamsters daily with bloated, yellow tummies then a visit to the vets is necessary. The vet will put the sick out of their misery and give you the option to hand-rear the babies if the mother is neglectful. However this is not a preventable illness so sometimes you will have to go through the heartbreak of losing poorly hamsters to give the healthy a fighting chance of surviving to adulthood.

How long do babies with liver failure live for?
From the first signs of prominent swelling to eventual death, the time can vary from 24 hours to 72 hours. If it takes longer, its hard to say whether this is better or worse for the hamster because yes they are living for longer however the level of suffering will be increasing with each day. It may even be shorter than this time if the babies are in the nest with the mother as she will cull the sick off at the first signs of weakness. As sad as this is, it is nature and you must let them do as they will.

If you are worried your hamster has similar problems, let nature take its course and if the mother abandons the nest then visit your vet before taking further action. Hand-rearing baby hamsters is no small feat and requires 24 hour commitment. 

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Categories: animals, Care, Hamsters, Health, Pets | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

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17 thoughts on “Liver Failure in Baby Hamsters

  1. Jeeves!? What a bummer. This post will be helpful for a lot of people, I’m sure. So sad, though. 😦

    • Hopefully it can answer just one persons worries out there. Its just horrible to know theres not really anything you can do to stop it. ;//

  2. So sorry to hear that it’s not working out for Eve this time. This info will certainly help those in need. Do you think it’s a congenital problem which could plague subsequent litters?

    • Im not too sure however I dont think I want to find out. I suggested having another litter in a few months time and my boyfriend is very against the idea. Getting attached and then losing so many babies is really tough ;( Not somtehing we want to go through again any time soon.

      • We can understand that – horrible to lose those babies. You’ll just have to go back to having the old fun with Eve and Dexter. How’s Eve taking it all?

        • Of course. I know I havent psoted about then recently but they are getting on just great. They are there to give me furry cuddles when Im feeling down. Eve has become very docile. She listens slot instead of running around and is just very slow – going to have to look up whether hamster depression exists i think.

  3. Mothers are mothers, and I don’t think that she will get hamster depression if she is still looking after her other babies. Give her what she needs and keep things calm for her so she can recover from the labour and birth. People are more at risk, and I am very sorry that you lost the babies, my sympathies! I would be so sad.

  4. Oh this is so sad. I feel bad for you as I know how excited you were about their births. I can’t imagine how you are feeling. 🙂

  5. Pingback: No More Jeeves « Hamster Diaries

  6. Lily

    All my babies have died of this. The last one is dying as I write this, I can’t stop crying. I’m cuddling him in my lap on a hot water bottle and trying to get him to drink some warm milk through a dropper. The vet gave me some antibiotics but they’ve not helped at all.

  7. hi, ive just had the week from hell. my angel(mummy hammy) had 3 babies nearly two week ago. sadly she died last sunday.:( instantly I called the vets and they told me what to do with the babies. (keeping them warm and feeding them). Unfortunately one of them died last Monday 😦 and just when I thought I was getting there with the other two, one died yesterday:( and the other has a huge tummy but is eating really well. I don’t know whether to still have him put down? ? if hes in pain I don’t want to prolong it. I adore hamsters but don’t think I could go through this again. we have two other hamsters buddy and prince who are just over one year and are soo tame.

  8. I also just want to say thank you so much for this website its been really useful to me. I feel really upset and annoyed that vets don’t seem to know anything about hamsters. why is this? ? they r still a very common household pet!!!! I just doesn’t seem fair!!!

  9. Kiara

    I have lost two litters to what i be leave to be liver failure its horrible and taxing because every time it happens you hope its something else and you try your hardest to keep them alive just to see them die one by one.
    Today i started with ten hamsters i lost my two oldest Cream and Jasper this morning and as i type this i have one small baby robo left of four even though i know it will die i will still make it milk and wake up every three hours to feed it and change its hot water bottle.
    My partner left to go see his children and he is my rock, my shoulder to cry on and he is not hear, today has got to be one of the worst days of my life and he will not be back for days.
    But i still have my dogs and other hammies and this little robo pup left and i will try my hardest to keep myself from falling apart for the next few days.
    Wish me luck i shall need it.

  10. Kiara

    It died at 2:16am

  11. Christina

    I want to thank you very much for this blog. I bought my daughter a Hamster from a pet store, needless to say she had a litter of 8 babies within weeks of getting her. The first one died within a few days. Its been almost three weeks, and bout five days ago most of them presented swollen jaundice bellies and died. We were down to two yesterday, I called the pet store and they offered no helpful information. They said they’ve never encountered this problem and suggested I search the net. This morning there was one baby left. Yesterday it was crawling all around the cage, but today he was breathing very shallow and not moving. The mother ate him, now we have no babies. My daughters are so heartbroken, but I am thankful I now have an answer to give them regarding them dying. Thanks for the useful information.

  12. Melissa

    Thank you very much for taking the time to post this information. I am very sorry for your loss and can feel your pain as we have just lost a litter of 17! Mom ate 10 of them and the other 7 died off after trying everything we could to save them. I have looked all over the Internet for info on this and you have been the most helpful source. So again, thank you for posting about your tramadic experience as it is helping others understand and cope as well 🙂

    Since this was posted back in 2012, have you had more hamster babies since then?

    • Wow a litter of 17 is incredible! Such a shame they didnt make it – I am sorry for your loss 😦 I really struggled to find anything when this happened and it seems to be a really common problem judging by the reaction this article gets. I haven’t bred an more hammys since, I still feel so guilty about losing these babies. I might try again in a year or so but want to make sure I have done enough research and preparation just incase the worst happens again.

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