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treating diabetic dwarf hamsters with glipizide


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#1 missPixy

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Posted 16 September 2009 - 08:05 AM

since 2000 when i first began caring for dwarfs, i noticed on all the forums the dreaded
D word that seemed to come up again and again with "common dwarf hamster ailments:"
diabetes. the worst of it was that because hamsters are unable to be given I.V. needles
because of their tiny veins, treatments like insulin were unusable... not to mention the
stress such a daily routine would cause to the typical dwarf.

in 2002, i had my first diabetic dwarf. stellaLuna was a beautiful black-eyed pearl campbells,
amazingly one that i found at a petstore. after about a year, stella's behavior became very
manic: eating and exercising like mad; peeing and drinking incessantly. i read that urine
test strips could detect the presence glucose in urine, and therefore diabetes. so i bought
a kit at my local pharmacy, isolated stella in a spare empty aquarium, and tested one of
his frequent fresh puddles.

he had very high readings of both glucose and ketones. which at that time was pretty
much a death sentence. i went on all the available online forums but found nothing other
than dietary changes that could make a difference. hold the corn and all fruits. add pedialyte
to the drinking water. add lots of protein. none of these had much impact and stella died
only a couple of months later.

i felt so helpless watching stella die. from that day i was determined to find some kind of
way to treat this disease in dwarfs, other than adjusting diet. and after a few days online,
my search struck gold. i found a scientific abstract titled: "Spontaneous Hereditary
Diabetes Mellitus in the Chinese Hamster (Cricetulus Griseus); Maintenance of a Diabetic
Hamster Colony with the Aid of Hypoglycemic Therapy."

this abstract referred to a paper published in the January/February 1961 issue of the
journal Diabetes. 1961! i was able to get a copy of the full article from the Premium
Services of the British Library, and my education began.

according to this paper, "Diabetes arose spontaneously during the course of inbreeding
at a time when many of the sublines of four major families approached the fourth
generation of continuous brother-sister mating." during this lab's research, it was
discovered that the drug Phenformin, administered orally, provided the most successful
reversal of symptoms in the diabetic hamsters. other methods, such as insulin
delivered via subcutaneous injection, often resulted in the death of the hamster.

nevertheless, the report points out that Phenformin was only successful in cases where
there was some insulin still being produced by the pancreas; in the complete absence
of insulin production (seen most notably in hamsters 18 days old already exhibiting
extreme symptoms of diabetes such as excessive urination) the Phenformin was not
effective.

so i did some more research, now specifically about the drug Phenformin. i found that
this drug had morphed into a more effective medication called Metformin; and Metformin is
marketed under the brand name Glucophage. my next step was to bring all this
research to my veterinarian in the hopes that we could find a way to try this medication
on seymour, my currently diabetic campbells.

drAder was amazingly receptive to this idea. after reading the information, she made
some contacts to find out about dosing and dilution criteria. seymour was weighed for
his specific dilution. drAder formulated a liquid version of the Glucophage. and so we
began.

i'd be lying if i said i wasn't terrified that i might be killing seymour with this drug. even
though the success outlined in the research paper was encouraging, there was still an
element of experimentation with our treatment. glucophage works by suppressing the
production of glucose; although hypoglycemia was not considered a typical side effect
in humans, i wondered about our own dilution and dosing. suppose we were off just a
bit? another documented side effect of the drug was lactic acidosis, acidification of the
blood. such a condition would kill a hamster within hours.

for that reason, i tested seymour's urine every day to chart his progress. on day 1,
there was no change in his glucose output. after the second dosing, there was a very
marked drop in the glucose present in his urine. fingers crossed! (i should mention
here that i was administering the glucophage to seymour every other day, not
daily). after the third dosing, there was a drastic change. there was absolutely no
glucose in his urine, but instead his ketones were as high as the urine strips would
measure. my heart clenched; was this a sign of lactic acidosis? but seymour was
acting so normally!

i stopped the dosing for a week. seymour continued to act normally. but i did notice
his urine output was cut in half from pre-medication levels. so before i did anything
else, after the week ended i did another urine test. his ketones were back down to
nonexistent. and his glucose barely registered on the test strip. so i gave him one
more dosing of the glucophage. his next urine test: no glucose. no ketones.

without further medication, i waited another week and did a urine test. no glucose.
no ketones. and his peeing had cut down to almost normal. it was almost bizarre,
how quickly the medication worked.

seymour required no more dosing with the glucophage. i didn't change his diet at
all. and he lived to 2 years, 6 months.

one important change that my vet suggested when we treated my next diabetic
dwarf, was the switch from glucophage to glipizide. glipizide is another human oral
type2 diabetes medication, but it works a bit differently (and thus to my vet, a bit
more safely) than glucophage: instead of suppressing glucose production, glipizide
creates mechanisms in the pancreatic cells to produce more insulin.

otherwise, we proceeded as we did with the glucophage: the individual hamster is
first tested several times with the bayer keto-diastix urine test strips for consistent
measurement of glucose and/or ketone output. then, my vet weighs the hamster
for a dosing and dilution baseline. the glipizide pill is liquified with a dilution formula
and then administered every other day.

the only times we haven't achieved any health improvements is when the hamster
was already showing very advanced diabetic symptoms when they were very
young (under 2 months old). this is consistent with what the Diabetes article stated
regarding their results with very young versus older hamsters. i'm assuming that
the diabetes at such a young age prevents the body from properly maturing.

but whenever i've had a dwarf who was at least 3 months old with diabetes, the
glipizide worked to reverse symptoms. and as with seymour's case, these dwarfs
have all gone on to live to at least 2 years old.

when i first began using these drugs with seymour, i didn't know if it was just an
isolated lucky case. but when i continued with dwarf after dwarf (out of 10 who
were diabetic, 7 responded to the drug; the other 3 were under 2 months old
and already severely diabetic), it was clear to me that here is a viable, safe
way to control~~ if not reverse~~ diabetes in dwarf hamsters.

i believe there's still a lot we don't know about when it comes to diabetes and
dwarfs. for example, i don't know if they fit into the two neat categories applied
to human diabetes~~ types 1 and 2. maybe dwarfs can have a type 3, a
sluggish pancreas that just needs a bit of a kickstart. what i do know is that if
you have a diabetic dwarf, and a rodent-experienced veterinarian, glipizide
can save your hamster.
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#2 skywilling

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Posted 19 February 2011 - 09:20 AM

I have a question, when testing for diabetes do we use the human amounts or is there a table or something?
I'm thinking of getting one of these strip tests.

#3 missPixy

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Posted 02 March 2011 - 02:12 AM

I've always just used the color code on the side of the bottle
which is of course meant for humans. basically, you dip the
test strip into a fresh sample of urine. two color chips at the
end of the strip~~ one measures glucose, the other measures
ketones~~ change color according to the amount of each
substance present in the urine.

the color code on the side of the bottle indicates how much
or how little of each substance exists in the urine.

#4 skywilling

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 02:44 AM

I feel like testing my hamsters, though they haven't showed any signs of being diabetic... but the little testing strip machine is pretty expensive here.

#5 missPixy

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Posted 05 March 2011 - 12:38 AM

oh it's not a "machine" though; it's just a bottle of paper test strips.
it's sold in a box that looks like this:

#6 skywilling

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Posted 13 March 2011 - 10:08 AM

Maybe I'll get one online then, here they sell the strips along with a machine that "reads" them!

Looking online, each brand seems to do something different? I find cheap ones on ebay that test for Ketone and Glucose, but this one you linked tests for "diastix"? Or am I wrong? What exactly am I looking for? Amazon usually doesn't ship to Brazil.

Edited by skywilling, 13 March 2011 - 10:14 AM.


#7 missPixy

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Posted 13 March 2011 - 10:23 AM

the link I gave you is for a specific brand, "Bayer Diastix," which is
the type I use. but if you can find the same product under a different
brand name, go for it.

just make sure the strips 1) measure both Glucose AND Ketones;
and 2) uses a color chip to give you the amount of glucose and
ketones present in the urine.

#8 TheFeldhamster

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Posted 13 March 2011 - 07:43 PM

Bayer produces 3 Versions of these test strips - "Diastix" (which test only glucose), "Ketostix" (which test only ketones) and "Keto-Diastix" which test both. There are also several products by Roche - the Combur series of test sticks. They have numbers in their name, eg. Combur HC5 (Sometimes called just Combur 5) has 5 test fields. Price varies with the number of fields. Combur 5 can test for glucose and several other things. People use it over here to distinguish between diabetes and cystitis. I have some pics HERE (CLICK!) (sorry, the site is German only).

There are other products by other companies or the name might vary in your country - the important thing is that you look for URINE test strips. Those things with the machine are usually BLOOD test strips if they are for glucose or they are for female hormone levels to find your fertile days - either for getting pregnant or as a method of birth control. Both is useless for testing hamsters.

#9 skywilling

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Posted 14 March 2011 - 04:51 AM

Oh, this is interesting... I thought I did ask for URINE test strips at the pharmacy though, when they told me it was a machine.
I will look in another store and buy them online if they don't have it either.

So just so I get it straight, these three other tests that Combur offers are not necessary? Only ketones and glucose?

#10 Luci

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Posted 14 March 2011 - 06:37 AM

Yes, you just need ketones and glucose :)

#11 TheFeldhamster

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Posted 15 March 2011 - 02:00 AM

Combur offers a series of tests, numbered 2 to 10 and the number corresponds to the number of test fields on the strip. Eg. a Combur 5 stick has 5 test fields, one of which is glucose. BUT the Combur 5 does not include ketones. If you want ketones too you'd need a Combur 7, 9 or 10 which are much more expensive. Better to go with the Bayer sticks for that.

Edited by TheFeldhamster, 15 March 2011 - 02:07 AM.


#12 tinypixie

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Posted 06 October 2011 - 03:09 AM

My girl, Panda Bear started on Glipizide today.

She was determined to be healthy enough. This is why testing the urine for glucose and keytones for any diabetes prone hamster is so important. You might catch that they are in fact diabetic without major symptoms going on.

If I had waited until the symptoms were really bad and/or keytones in the urine, She would not have been deemed healthy enough for the treatment.

I hope to be able to report good news in a week or so.

This is what I got from my vet:

Glipizide (Glucotrol) (10 mg tab) (1 tab)
Concentration: 1mg/ml
Give .01 ml by mouth TWICE daily at 10-12 hour intervals.
Keep Refrigerated.

The solution is mixed in a non-sugar serum.. not sure exactly what it is.

Edited by tinypixiexoxo, 06 October 2011 - 03:11 AM.


#13 Fredsenra619

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Posted 24 March 2012 - 04:41 AM

Hey buddy thanks for the guide, will take care next time on my hamster...

#14 butterscotch2011

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Posted 17 April 2013 - 09:10 AM

Interested in this. I took my hamster to two different vets (at $70 each) and both told me they could not treat a diabetic hamster and to bring her back if she seemed in pain and they would put her down. Not what I was looking for.

#15 missPixy

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Posted 18 April 2013 - 10:21 PM

Interested in this. I took my hamster to two different vets (at $70 each) and both told me they could not treat a diabetic hamster and to bring her back if she seemed in pain and they would put her down. Not what I was looking for.


youi definitely need to work with a vet experienced with hamsters. it's true
that hamsters couldn't have insulin because daily needle pricks would be
very stressful, plus I don't know of a dosing that would be non-toxic. but
the oral glipizide was something discovered (in a more primitive form,
"metformin") by researchers in the 1960s.