It is fairly common knowledge to cat and dog owners that their pets should be spayed (if a female) or neutered (if a male) but hamster owners may not be as aware of the reasons for fixing (or to not fix) their tiny pets other than for population control (or that it can even be done).
Why Should I Get My Hamster Spayed or Neutered?
Hamsters are susceptible to the same reproductive diseases that dogs, cats, and rabbits can get. Males can get testicular cancer and females can get uterine cancer, mammary tumors (which are extremely common in pet rats of both sexes), and even an infected uterus called pyometra. While there are definite risks associated with any procedure performed while under general anesthesia, the benefits seem to outweigh these risks. Other benefits include reproduction control and possible behavior improvements if you have an aggressive hamster.
An experienced exotics vet will have no issue spaying or neutering your pet hamster and will recommend the age that he or she prefers to have the surgery done (typically six to eight months of age). If they have any concerns about the surgery for your specific pet they will let you know ahead of time. Blood work can be done but anesthesia needs to be administered to obtain the blood sample and limited screening is usually performed due to the small sample that can be collected. Intravenous fluids (IV fluids) are also recommended before, during, and after the surgery to maintain blood pressure, allow direct vein access in the case of an emergency and to prevent dehydration but are often unable to be administered due to the very small blood vessels that hamsters possess. Subcutaneous fluids are usually administered under the skin instead.
What Risks Are We Talking About Here?
A concern with any anesthetic procedure, especially those involving small exotics, is of course death. While this is a very scary thing to think about it should not be ignored. The chance of your hamster dying while under anesthesia is very low with an experienced exotics vet who has them monitored by a licensed veterinary technician during the operation. Other risks include surgical complications such as bleeding issues or abnormalities discovered during the procedure. These again are very low for an experienced exotics vet or for a hamster who receives appropriate pain control.
So If I Am Comfortable With My Exotics Vet Why Shouldn't I Have My Hamster Fixed?
The number one reason why people don't get their hamsters spayed or neutered isn't the anesthetic risk or opportunity for surgical complications, it's money. If you can't afford a surgery that will cost, on average, between $175 and $400, for your pet that will live to be about two to two and a half years old then don't do it. One company exists that does provide exotic pet insurance but spaying or neutering may or may not be covered. Check with VPI for their specific exotic pet insurance packages available for your hamster before going to the vet.
Another reason why people don't get their hamsters fixed is that they don't understand how it will benefit their pet. If you have further questions about whether or not you should spay or neuter your hamster ask your exotics vet.
All in all, if you aren't comfortable with your hammy getting surgery and have accepted the risks you are taking by not having your rodent fixed, then the best option for you may be to not have the surgery done. Weigh your options and think things through until you are comfortable with your decision before making one.