I've spent a while thinking about what to title this - dwarf hamsters and diabetes? How to spot if a dwarf hamster has diabetes? How we're treating our hamster with diabetes? But I think this pretty accurately sums up how confused and lost I was about the whole thing.
A couple of months ago I got a new baby Russian dwarf hamster who's named Doris, and has the sweetest temperament out of the five hamsters we're had. She doesn't bite or hide away or pee all over you (RIP Jeff). But a couple of weeks in I noticed that she was drinking a LOT of water - about one bottle every two days. Diabetes is quite common in Russian dwarfs, so it's always well worth looking out for them drinking too much combined with eating more than you'd expect and being a bit more lethargic. We'd put her not being as active as our last hamsters down to her still being quite young, but combined with the sheer quantity of water she was getting through, it was worth a phone call to the vets.
This was the start of what felt like a very stressful week of being permanently at the vets. We had to take a wee sample in (which was v difficult to get hold of as you can imagine) - I rushed across our town to the vets in the fear that it would evaporate by time I got there and the whole ordeal of getting the sample would be wasted! The vets do a urine sample first to check the hamster's sugar levels. As with humans, when their bodies can't absorb/handle sugar, they end up becoming much more thirsty so that they drink more water that can flush the sugars out.
Little Doris' sample came back with a very high sugar reading. We then had to take her in to be examined - they checked her weight, made sure she wasn't dehydrated and talked us through what we needed to do to handle her diabetes. It's something that can get out of control quite easily, and we were told to look out for a few key issues to make sure she's not going downhill: she could lose weight very rapidly, stop grooming her fur properly and spend much more time sleeping and looking very lethargic if it's not going so well.
We were advised to take her off of pellets immediately and switch to a diet of vegetables and protein: the main 'safe' foods that we gave her were boiled or scrambled egg (mostly the white with a little yolk and obviously nothing added to the scrambled ones), tofu, broccoli, spinach and celery. It's important to make sure they're not getting too much and leaving it to rot in their cage, but also not too late as they can lose weight so quickly.
The next step to make sure the issue with Doris really was diabetes was to have a blood test. Because she's so small (only about 40g!), they sedated her so that taking the blood didn't make her too stressed and result in an accident. The blood test showed that the fresh food diet was working, but that she was diabetic. We've now switched her to a brand of hamster pellets recommended by the vets that is suitable for her needs. The Science Selective hamster food is the one we were told to buy, and she seems to be much better on it. She's now got a whole lot more energy, loves her new food and isn't drinking anywhere near as excessively!
It was definitely worth talking to our vets about our concerns with her. Diabetes in dwarf hamsters can make them very ill very quickly if they're not getting the care they need.