"Why didn't you see such a large tumour on the hamster's hand?" I asked the mother who brought it in for surgery and hoped that it would not die under anaesthesia as the one.
"Usually he hides inside the litter and eat and so we didn't see it."
Big tumours in the hand or leg may be inoperable. The whole paw will then need to be amputated. Front paws are like our hands and are very important for the hamster.
"What is your surgical approach to this case?" I asked Dr Daniel.
"Amputate the paw," he replied.
"That's what I thought at first," I asked him to hold the gentle 18-month-old dwarf hamster for me to take digital images of various positions of the hand tumour. The hamster was put in a bowl and we observed him climbing out of the bowl.
The tumour was gigantic. Imagine your hand having the biggest durian growing out of it.
"It is possible to excise the tumour without amputation," I said to Dr Daniel. "But the vet needs to produce a live hamster at the end of the surgery. To succeed, the surgery must be short and the anaesthesia must be sufficient to prevent pain. Severe pain may kill the hamster as in the bird."
No point doing an excellent surgery and showing a dead hamster on the operating table. "Isoflurane gas anaesthesia is too short and too risky if prolonged," I said to Dr Daniel. "I will use Zoletil 50 IM."
In a cat and dog, IM injections are common and routine. In a dwarf hamster, the needle must be just into the thin backside muscle. Not much of the muscles. Dr Daniel held the hamster while I injected 0.02 ml Zoletil 50 diluted with 0.03 ml saline and injected IM.
"The hamster will become groggy if the IM injection is given correctly," I said. In 60 seconds, the hamster stumbled. Dr Daniel operated. "Give isoflurane gas top up when the hamster moves," I said. "Otherwise he may die from fright and severe pain." The whole procedure took less than one minute.
"Should more tumour tissues be cut off," Dr Daniel asked. "No," I said. "The area is down to the bone and tendons. Any further incision will damage the superficial flexor tendons and the hamster will not be able to hold his seeds and grains with the right hand."
The hamster appeared groggly during the first hour after anaesthesia and this is a common observation. The mother was very happy to see him alive as her son was the one most concerned. Produce good anaesthetic outcome and you get more referrals. It is extremely risky to anaesthesia hamsters for long surgeries as they don't survive. Be observant and be careful.
The owner did not want histopathology as it would cost money. It was a firm white tumour. Could it be a schwannoma? A nerve sheath tumour? Examine your hamster daily and get small tumours excised by your vet early. Tumours don't disappear with antibiotics and so, find a vet who operates on hamsters.
I saw another case of a lady who brought in a hamster saying there was a small lump on the belly area. This hamster had been licking bald the lower part of the belly, below the navel. I held the hamster and felt the nodule which was around 2 mm in diameter. The hamster squealed. However, the owner's preferred vet could not feel any nodule and so sent the hamster home with oral medication and asked to review it in 2 weeks' time. Owners know their hamsters best and if they find a nodule, it is usually there.
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