A big soft lump from below one ear to another and dangling under the
neck in an old Syrian hamster (female, 20 months). This is the type of
surgical condition I dread most. Performing this type of surgery is
"fools rush in where angels fear to tread". The neck area has many
important nerves, arteries and veins and it is not a very dangerous
area to remove tumours especially in a hamster. That area below the
throat is so small (less than 1 cm) compared to a dog or cat. A few
thousand times smaller. There is no luxury of using an operating
microscope and in any case, the surgery must be short as the hamster
can't survive long anaesthesias of more than 1 minute, in my
experience. You can't top up anaesthesia as in the dog and cat. Any
more anaesthesia, the hamster just dies.
Very risky in a lethargic hamster. That means the hamster is not
normal and healthy. The owner of this case waited till the neck tumour
becomes very large. Is it inoperable? In any case, the chances of the
old and lethargic hamster surviving are much lower. Less than 10%. So
why take the case and risk damaging one's hard-built reputation as a
"killer" of hamsters when this Syrian hamster dies on the operating
table? Why not pass the buck to other vets?
DOSAGE OF INJECTABLE ANAESTHESIA IS HARD TO CALCULATE
"How much to give?" I asked my assistant Mr Saw (as part of my
training of the past 3 years with me). He will be going to greener
pastures in 2 weeks' time. "One drop of Zoletil will do," Mr Saw said.
The owner had already said the hamster was lethargic for the past 2
weeks and the lump had exploded to big size during this time.
Therefore, minimal dose as recommended by Mr Saw was the correct thing
I gave one drop of Zoletil by injection IM into the left backside
muscle. Waited for 5 minutes. The hamster looked at me and behaved
normally, walking around inside the plastic container. She ought to be
sleepy but she was much wide awake.
I waited another 5 minutes. She was active and had produced more
faecal pellets. So, this dosage given was not effective. "In Syrian
hamsters (160g), you need to give 4 times the dosage of a dwarf
hamster (40 g)," I said to Mr Saw. But how do you calculate the
dosage? It is easy in dogs and cats because they weight in kg when
adult. But in this adult old hamster, she was 160 g.
"Give 2 drops," I asked Mr Saw to prepare the Zoletil. He filled up
Zoletil 100 in one one-ml syringe and then push out one drop from its
tips. Then I should use another one-ml syringe with a fine needle to
aspirate the two drops.
"Hey, it is better you rest your elbows on top of the operating
table," I said as it is hard to be precise in the present set up. "I
also put my hands on top of the table." I then used the tip of my 25G
needle attached to my one-ml syringe and aspirated two full drops from
Mr Saw's one-ml syringe tip.
I injected into the right backside muscle. Within one minute, the
hamster was lying down on his back.
So far, the Providence had been kind to me. The hamster was down but
not out. Not dead I mean.
Impossible to do in a hamster. The veins are too small. SC injection
of up to 3 ml dextrose saline is possible and was done in this case
After being sedated with the correct, safe and effective amount of
Zoletil 100, the 160-g hamster went down sideways as if she was going
to sleep. There was a window of opportunity to operate as the
analgesia of around 2 minutes permitted me to excise the lump and
suture the skin wound without the hamster feeling the pain and
struggling. Pain can kill the hamster on the spot.
I incised the skin 1 cm. A glistening membrane of the lump appeared
under the skin. It seemed to be cyst but it was not 100% fluid filled
lump. "Pop out the lump!" my 2nd assistant said. I had 2 experienced
assistants helping me and this is one factor of success in hamster
I could not pop the lump as it was not a discrete firm tumour as in
many cases. I had to extend the skin incision by 4 mm as the globular
tumour was just too big for a 1-cm incision done initially.
I saw a large vein from the lump (see illustration below). "Is it the
jugular vein?" I asked Mr Saw to make him think. He kept quiet. We had
never seen jugular veins in hamsters in previous surgeries. Well, this
location of the tumour was the second one I encountered during the
past years of practice.
Know your anatomy well. It was not the jugular vein. I was just making
my assistant think about hamster anatomy. He photocopied many
veterinary notes and illustrations to prepare himself for the setting
up of a private practice in Yangon later in the year. But nothing
beats photocopies like seeing the real thing.
"Is it the jugular vein?" I asked my assistant again. Once
the jugular vein is accidentally cut, the hamster or person bleeds to
My assistant kept his mouth shut. It certainly was the biggest widest blue vein we had
seen under the neck. About 3 mm wide and that is big when you consider
that it is just a hamster, not a dog.
But it was connected to the tumour mass. It was unlikely to be a jugular but since the neck area
is so small in size compared to that of a dog or cat, it would be hard
to discount its presence.
As a guideline, any large vein connected to
a big tumour would be a feeder vein and the artery would be next to
it (see illustration above). The tumour needs more nutrients and the blood vessels seem to
enlarge to supply the ravenous growth.
I clamped the tumour and excised the lymphoid cum fatty tumour. Immediately, blue
black blood spilled out as if a dam had burst.
The big vein was risky for me to ligate initially as it was very close to the
pharynx. (Know your neck anatomy).
I dared not ligate by putting the needle under the vein as viewed from
above. The needle might perforate the pharynx if I inserted it under
the vein and then ligate the whole vein.
So I clamped and excised the big tumour first. A deluge of
bluish-blood instantly filled the neck area and spilled onto the
operating table. For a hamster, a loss of around 2 or 3 ml of blood is
very serious as she is a very small creature, unlike a dog.
"Swabs, Give me one swabs" I said. Mr Saw was ready and provided the 3 swabs I needed to clear the
bloodied area. I could see the bleeding area and ligated it. Then another
big spurt appeared further near the neck. Was this the jugular vein?
Was there any hope now. The blood was reddish, not bluish black. It was probably the artery injured during the
first ligation. I inserted the needle under the area which is closer
to the submandibular lymph node and ligated this second bleeder. No more bleeding
now. You could imagine my relief. But the hamster looked dead.
Circulatory shock and impending death appeared to cast black shadows
on the life of this hamster now.
"Stretch the 2 cm skin wound by putting your thumb and index finger on
either side so that the skin can be stitched properly," I said to my assistant. In this way, the skin wound is
stretched out evenly and I could appose the cut skin with 3 horizontal
mattress sutures quickly.
The hamster's neck was not straight in this
type of surgery. No luxury of tying up 4 legs and positioning the head
on a pillow as in the dog surgery. The hamster was just too small to
do all these. Time was of the essence. The hamster was just dead
looking. The surgery must be short so that the hamster could be
revived with subcutaneous dextrose saline injection and the body
warmed by a hair dryer to prevent hypothermia.
My assistant said as I cut out the bits and pieces of this mixed
tumour and started wiping off the large amount of blood from below the
eyes to shoulder: "Stop, I can clean the blood off later. The hamster
is going into shock soon. Stop and wait. Do not stress the hamster."
He has had seen many hamster surgeries during his time with me.
"It is best to clean most blood before the hamster wakes up," I tried to
swab off as much blood as possible as bacteria from the
surrounding will infect the hamster via this outside blood. Blood
encrusted on the neck area would attract bacteria and might even cause
stress as the hamster wakes up.
The hamster started panting. Breathing at more than 100x/minute. Why?
Stress had set in. Was she going to die?
My 2nd assistant took out a hair dryer, set to lowest warmth and warm
up the hamster. "Give 3 ml of dextrose saline SC," I asked Mr Saw to
stop as he started to get normal saline. It was not possible to give
an IV catheter as in the dog because it is practically impossible to
get a hamster's vein and I doubt if anybody can do it. The hamster is
just so small and everything is miniaturised. So subcutaneous fluid
was OK. But it must be dextrose saline in my opinion and this can be
given by SC. Glucose itself cannot be given SC.
As everything was so tense, the vet must have a clear mind and ensure
that proper drugs and saline are given by being observant.
After an eternity of more than 30 minutes of being kept in a warm
room, the hamster breathed normally. I took a photo of her trying to
stand up. It was a good sign.
In 24 hours, I took her photograph and
was glad that she was alive. Not all stories end happily all the time
for all vets. It is best for owners to check their older hamster early
for small tumours. These are easier to remove and take a much shorter
A massive tumour below the neck
in a lethargic hamster is the type of high-risk anaesthetic
situation I prefer not to operate. Generally the outcome is
generally poor, meaning the hamster will die on the operating
table. Such deaths are very emotional for both parties. Yet,
surgery is the only option for the hamster to lead a normal
life. Pass the case to another vet?
I don't relish doing this highly risky surgery as
this area is so small and has the jugular veins, the vagus
nerves and many other blood vessels and nerves.
approach plan. Zoletil 100.
No isoflurane gas used in
this case. Note the large
vein attached to the tumour.
Tumour excised. Bloodied area cleaned. 5/0 absorbable
Barely alive. No signs of breathing. Hair dryer warms
the body and SC dextrose saline injection 2.5 ml.
After an eternity, the
hamster looked up. Then she
started to hyper-ventilate
for the next few minutes. It
seemed like an eternity
again. Would she live or
24 hours after surgery, I was relieved to see that the
hamster was active. Not eating due to the pain as I could see no
faecal pellet produced. She was best nursed at home by the lady owner
and in familiar surroundings. No complaint 3 days after surgery as I
record this case 48 hours after surgery.
BE KIND TO DOGS & CATS --- GET
EYE ULCERS TREATED WITHIN 4
HOURS --- IF YOU DON'T WANT
THEM TO BE BLIND.
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