Date:   20 November, 2012  

Focus: Small animals - dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pig & rabbits.

A gigantic hand tumour in a dwarf hamster  
Dr Sing Kong Yuen, BVMS (Glasgow), MRCVS
20 November, 2012  
Be Kind To Pets
Veterinary Education
Project 2010-0129
"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 only one performed by a vet. It was a large tumour on the breast area and the hamster died during surgery. "Not all hamsters survive anaesthesia," I said. "Much depends on the health and age of the hamster although the  experience of the vet helps but there is no guarantee even with experienced vets."

"Usually he hides inside the litter and eat and so we didn't see it."

Gigantic tumours in the hand (paws) 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.

Try not to amputate as the hamster needs the front paw for eating & grooming. I used the above digital images to assess the surgical approach
Zoletil sedation provides analgesia in large tumour excision. Top up with isoflurane + O2 is needed The tumour is sliced off with a scalpel
The front paw is saved. The large wound will be dressed daily by the owner and will heal by granulation. As at 6 days after surgery, no complaints from the owner tpvets_logo.jpg (2726 bytes) 5663 - 5670. Try not to amputate the front paw 

"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 groggy 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. 

UPDATE ON NOV 20, 2012
I advised the owner to bring the hamster in when she noticed a small growth. I will then do not need to amputate if I can locate the origin of the tumour.

However, her son who brought in the hamster said: "The hand tumour grows very fast in the last 7 days." I had no choice but to amputate at the wrist joint. I wanted to amputate higher up in case there are remnants of the tumour if I amputate at the wrist joint. However, the poor hamster may not be able to grip his seeds and enjoy a high quality of life nor can he groom himself. So, I used electricity to excise at the wrist joint. It is 7 days after surgery and so far, no complaints.


tpvets_logo.jpg (2726 bytes)5762 - 5765. Hand tumour recurs. Amputation at the wrist joint


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